Recent conceptions of Mania have likened it to a Seizure Disorder. In this construct, an unstable groups of cells in the Cerebral Cortex become highly excitable and begin to fire with an increased frequency and intensity. As they stimulate all of the neurons with which they have synaptic connections, these neurons are recruited into an ever widening network of neurons firing at elevated rates and intensities. In a Seizure disorder, the network rather quickly becomes disorganized and the neural functioning becomes grossly impaired. The result is a disorganized firing of neurons leading to loss of consciousness and uncontrolled stimulation of the end organs (muscles) which results in the typical spasmodic twitching of the Seizure victim. In Mania, such elevated firing rates and intensities overwhelms the baseline neural activity which causes disturbances in sleep, appetite, and energy level/expenditure, as well as impairing the higher cognitive functioning of the brain. As a result the manic patient loses his ability to accurate perceive and test reality. In other words, he misunderstands reality in ways which are characteristically pathological. The Manic patient, whose antic behavior brings him into conflict with his loved ones and often with authorities, perceives the efforts of others to control his behavior as persecutory. He is typically quite irritable and irrational, in the worst case ready to fight at a moment's notice, and often becomes overtly paranoid and delusional. At that point the person has usually become a danger to himself and/or others and must be hospitalized for the protection of himself and the greater society. No amount of reasoned and rational debate can convince the patient that his psychotic weltanschauung is disordered.
On occasion, large groups of people exhibit behaviors that, if found in an individual, would be understood as Manic and Paranoid. Throughout human history there have been periods marked by seemingly psychotic and bizarre actions sweeping through entire populations. These Millennial movements usually take place during times of severe societal stress but are only predictable in retrospect. [HT: Richard Landes]
I hesitate to go as far as Melanie Phillips, who labels the growing, frenzied international vilification of Israel "a global pogrom in the making." No, it seems to me more like widespread loss of sanity. The general hysteria, not just in the Islamic world but in Europe and the Americas too, brings to mind the words of the late British historian Norman Cohn, written more than a decade ago:
There exists a subterranean world where pathological fantasies disguised as ideas are churned out by crooks and half-educated fanatics for the benefit of the ignorant and superstitious. There are times when this underworld emerges from the depths and suddenly fascinates, captures, and dominates multitudes of usually sane and responsible people, who thereupon take leave of sanity and responsibility. And it occasionally happens that this underworld becomes a political power and changes the course of history."
We now seem to be witnessing such a period of insanity, and it may well change the course of history. While the trend has been gaining momentum for some time, it took a grotesque distortion of Israel's operation against the Gaza flotilla to reveal the level to which much of the international community has sunk. One of the pinnacles of lunacy came from Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, who, without blinking an eye, told reporters over breakfast in Washington that Israel's action was Turkey's 9/11.
None of this [exculpatory evidence- SW] makes any difference to the raving hordes that are storming the Israeli embassies, drowning out Israel's voice in the universities and flooding the airwaves and thousands of opinion columns in the press with their delirious portrayal of Israel. To them, facts seem to be a nothing but a distraction, and no evidence from Israel will change their mind. At the moment, even friends appear to have been bitten by this bug.
In a world gone mad, to be right is not good enough - we need to be smart. Israel needs to immediately establish its own independent commission of inquiry. In fact that should have been Prime Minister Netanyahu's first public announcement after the flotilla operation. By delaying the announcement, Israel has lost valuable points once again.
There are going to be very difficult times ahead for Israel. We need to reduce our conflicts with the international community to the ones that are most critical for our survival, and stick to them.
What is happening in the Muslim World is nothing less than a Millennialist movement in Islam. Shia Islam has always been a Millennialist sect; the extremist group in charge of Iran, followers of the Twelfth Imam, believe that by precipitating the final clash between Good and Evil they will set in motion events leading to the emergence of the Twelfth Imam from the well in which he has been hiding for 1000 years and the Caliphate will be restored. One plausible explanation for Turkey's recent moves presenting themselves as an authentic protector of the besieged Palestinian victims, is that by so doing Turkey will be able to wrest the leadership of the Muslim world from the Shia Persians, with whom the Turks have been at odds for several hundred years. At the same time, by enabling the Iranian nuclear program while demonizing the Israelis, the Turks support Muslim solidarity while creating conditions that rationalize their need for their own nuclear program, in public to protect against the hated Jews, in private to offset the hated Persians. However, there is a problem with riding the tiger of Millennialism: [My comments are in parentheses.]
Fourth, millenarian ideas have qualities which makes them tend to form the nuclei of narrative communities. The believers in the millenarian story have a role to play in the story, and so to accept the story is to feel that one is, or should be, part of the community of believers. Non-believers are not part of the community. But, in such situations, there is a natural tendency to think that everyone who is not part of the community is an enemy of the community, and since the real enemy is the Adversary, they are (at least) the Adversary's tools. [Community=The Ummah] ...
Fifth, there is an element of positive feedback at work. [Millennial movements must grow, ie recruit new members, or begin to die out, extinguish. Since the movement si sustained by a manic passionate intensity, it cannot last indefinitely.] ...
Sixth, millenarian movements are not sustainable, for the simple reason that the millennium is not now at hand, and never has been. [Emphasis added- SW] When this becomes apparent --- and the human capacity for wishful thinking is not so great that it won't, eventually, become apparent --- something has to give. Either the movement ceases to be millenarian, or it collapses qua movement, leaving behind, perhaps, a few die-hard followers who keep finding reasons why the glorious day should be just a little more remote than they thought.... (Logically speaking, the failure of all previous millenarian expectations doesn't mean that they will necessarily be disappointed in the future. By definition, however, at most one of them could succeed.) The first five considerations apply, mutatis mutandis, to many other kinds of movement, like novel political ideologies; this one does not.
Taking these things together, we reach the conclusion that, in order to become large, a millenarian movement must grow very rapidly, if it is not to be killed off by disillusionment, but that this is hard, because many mechanisms work against rapid growth, particularly the rapid growth of a small movement. But under what circumstances will those inhibitory mechanisms not apply?
Read the rest of Cosma Rohilla Shalizi's post for some further discussion of Millenarianism, including its roots and the conditions that foster its spread. Consider that the current conditions are ripe for such a movement. Modernism has brought the failure of the Muslim world into unmistakable focus. The presence of a Jewish state, run by dhimmis, in land once formerly part of the Dar al Islam, is a constant reminder, a constant irritant, to the Muslims whose pride and honor are damaged more everyday by the insult of Israel's continued existence. The passions being aroused in the Middle East are not amenable to reason or reality.
Further, and more chilling, the wild fire of anti-Semitic Millenial rage flowing through the Umma, cannot be quenched as long as Israel continues to exist. This means that the existence of Israel represents an existential threat, on many different levels, to the versions of Islam being promulgated by the Shia and Sunni Millennialists in the Middle East. The pressure must intensify against Israel. Iran is certainly playing their part, as their genocidal, eliminationist rhetoric escalates. If Israel cannot be destroyed by the Iranians, and soon, the spasms of passion and rage will either dissipate or need to be re-directed against a more available opponent.
Israel's best hope is to hunker down and play defense. They may well be forced into making the terrible decision to protect themselves from an existential, nuclear attack (though so far, it appears that Iran does not yet have the capacity to attack Israel with nuclear weapons.) Israel must not be drawn into another War it cannot win. The more time that passes without an Iranian nuclear attack, the more likely it is that Israel will weather the storm. The more time that passes, the more likely it becomes that the Millennial passions now at play will burn out; the manic episode will pass, and all will be able to breathe a sigh of relief. Israel must work on its defensive missile screen, Iron Dome and derivatives, protect itself as best it can, and wait.
For the Umma, the lessons of Psychiatry and Neurology should be understood and recognized: The aftermath of a Seizure is a period of confusion and enervation; the aftermath of a Manic episode is a Depression.