Ethopathy and Religion
I am a daily rider of the New York City subway system. I buy a
monthly Metrocard for seventy dollars, but with incessant interborough
travel my wife and I rack up over two hundred dollars' worth of rides
on it. If everyone in New York were like us, the Transit
Authority would go broke very quickly.
Dr. Joseph S. Salemi
Department of Classics, Hunter
One consequence of this protracted subway ride is that I get to see
hundreds of advertisements posted in the trains and on the
stations. They come and go with amazing regularity. You get
a sense of what a madhouse of commercial solicitation the modern world
has become, and how utterly pervasive advertising is in our
lives. Madison Avenue is a metastasizing cancer that is out of
However, I'm not going to go into a reactionary rant about it. I
suppose there has to be some way to sell deodorants and flavored vodkas
to a mass population. After all, you can always close your eyes,
or read a book.
What is really troubling is the way in which advertising is used not
just to flog products, but to encourage ethopathic disorders.
This is a frightening sign of how degraded modernity has become, and
how utterly amoral capitalism is. Corporate America encourages
ethopathy among the less intelligent strata of the public in the same
way that South Bronx crack dealers encourage drug addiction among the
Everywhere you look there are ads for dubious vitamin supplements and
energy-revivers. There are ads for diets and weight-loss
nostrums. There are paeans to "wellness," whatever the hell that
means. There are, if you can believe it, ads for prescription
medicines without any reference to the disorders that they supposedly
treat. There are ads for convoluted exercise equipment and
workout contraptions. There are ads for elective plastic surgery,
and for psychic healing via quack therapies. There are truly
surreal ads, like the one for cholesterol-free orange juice (which is
as absurd as pushing "nitrogen-free water").
I see these ads day in and day out, and I ask myself "What pathetic
little schmucks are buying this shpiel? How empty-headed do you
have to be to fall for this crap? What sort of a dream world are
you in if you think that a combination of health food, vitamin pills,
aerobic exercise, cosmetic surgery, and psychobabble will save you?"
The answer is the dream world of ethopathy. It is a parallel
universe in which an increasingly large segment of the populace lives.
As I have explained in several previous essays, ethopathy is my coinage
for a wide-ranging syndrome of self-destructive behavior that is now
ravaging the developed world. Its manifestations are legion, but
its essence can be put in a nutshell: ethopathy is a fixation on some
stupid notion or practice, and adherence to that stupidity in the teeth
of all contrary evidence and all bad consequences.
Ethopathy is religion without the dogmatic sanction. Now many
religions ask believers to accept things that seem incredible or
impossible, but these religions acknowledge that they require a
conscious leap of faith from their adherents. When the Christian
apologist Tertullian said Credo quia
impossibile est ("I believe it because it's impossible") he was
giving his allegiance—as supernatural religions demand—to mystery and
the ineffable. Likewise, when St. Paul calls faith "the substance of
things hoped for, and the evidence of things unseen," he alludes to the
humbling of the human intellect before the unknowable.
But ethopathy is only a pathetic simulacrum of religion. In fact,
it is a desperate substitute for the real thing. Ethopathy is the
religious impulse cut loose from any valid object, while hopelessly
grasping at something transitory or meretricious. When people
become food neurotics counting calories and obsessing about
cholesterol, that is a childish kind of pseudo-religion. When
they spend hours in fruitless New Age therapy sessions listening to
psychobabble, that is sheer superstition. When they go on
rampages against cigarette smoke and alcohol and pornography, that is
simon-pure witch-hunting. When they blather on about animal
rights and veganism and same-sex marriage, that is obscurantist
ideology of the worst sort.
These are only a few examples of the ethopathic sicknesses that plague
us, and that get worse every year. More and more people are
caught up in them as the West's bad habits spread globally. The
psychologist C.G. Jung called these transpersonal manifestations of
mental disorder "psychic epidemics," and warned that they were
extremely dangerous under modern conditions because they could infect
mass populations quickly.
Communism and Nazism are perfect examples of psychic epidemics.
Millions of otherwise intelligent people accepted, defended, and even
died to promote these two evil and insane ideologies. We look
back now in horror at such thought systems, and wonder how any rational
human being could have accepted them. But entire nations did so,
and created cataclysms of slaughter in their name. Psychic
epidemics are just as virulent and contagious as biological ones.
How can these epidemics be prevented? Well, traditional religion
provides you with a vaccine against a great deal of the absurd mummery
that passes for progressive thought. If you believe in the
resurrection of the body, you are not going to fall for something
degrading and ridiculous like cryogenic freezing. If you believe
that God gave man dominion over the earth and the lower animals, you're
not going to be taken in by deep ecology and veganism. If you
believe in the Virgin Birth, you're going to have a real respect for
women, and not the politicized claptrap that feminism offers. If you
believe that serious sin is lethal to the soul, you're not going to be
wasting a lot of time in worry over carcinogens and cholesterol.
Traditional religion, properly and devoutly practiced, inoculates
people against trendy idiocy.
One of the terrible things about ethopathy is its compulsiveness.
Ethopaths are driven to act stupidly by a deep inner need that checks
all reason or self-interest. Those two tyrannical words, MUST and
OUGHT, govern their every move. It's as if some computer chip in
their brain made it impossible for them to act freely. They have
to follow a prescribed pattern of response drilled into them like
catechism answers. A potent mix of peer pressure, trend-chasing,
and fear of ridicule works to enslave their thinking.
Blind compulsiveness is becoming increasingly common in modern society.
Let me give an example from the field of pedagogy. One of my
tasks is to teach prose composition to undergraduates. Now as far
as I'm concerned, the only real test of ability in prose is generating
it yourself, without the crutch of research or source
consultation. If you can't write a simple essay except by using
the library or going to Google, you're an incompetent. For this reason,
in all my classes I insist that students submit papers with no
citations, quotes, or references of any kind whatsoever. I tell
my students this: If you include a single quote, citation, or
bibliographical reference, I will give your paper an F.
What happens next is as predictable as clockwork. About ten
percent of the class completely disregard my directions. They
have been brainwashed by dimwitted faculty in other departments who
think that all prose is a pastiche of footnoted references followed by
a tedious bibliography. So, despite my warnings, these students
dutifully hand in papers filled with citations and references. I
then give those papers an F grade, as I promised.
You can't believe the look of dazed incomprehension on these students'
faces when they come whining to me about their grades. I say "I
told you: No quotations or references." They then babble on
vaguely, saying "But... but... I thought a paper had to be researched
and supported... all the other professors insist..."
Here is a perfect example of people doing what they think they ought to do, regardless of their
explicit self-interest. Someone has drilled it into them that an
essay must have references and citations. And, ignoring my
instructions, they have kept faith with that absurdity. Like
British troops at the Somme, they marched in closed ranks against
machine guns, blindly obeying their jackass officers.
At least at the Somme men could argue that they were under military
orders, and had no other choice. But what excuse do ethopaths in
our society have? No one is forcing them to eat health food, or
get body piercings, or go to group therapy. No one is threatening
them with court-martial if they don't follow asinine trends and
fads. No one is compelling them at gunpoint to be vegans or
transsexuals or feminists or politically correct lemmings. In short,
the raging epidemics of stupidity in our society are purely
self-generated and self-sustained.
For this reason I am not particularly sanguine about the possibility of
large-scale change or regeneration among ethopaths. What is
happening in the Western world today is the end result of a deep-rooted
and intractable sickness of the soul, something endemic to modern
industrialized life and its alienating horrors. Legions of
ethopaths are stupidly self-destructive because everything in this
media-and-money driven colossus actively encourages their madness, and
profits from it. Their mental enslavement therefore has the
impenetrable armor of both external ratification and internal
logic. When millions of sick people can say that their
compulsions enjoy social sanction, why should we expect things to
All that is left is the revenge of satire. The setting down in
cold print of ethopathic follies, along with the testimony of one's
personal loathing for them, is the last bastion of sanity in a world
gone mad. It is a decidedly small comfort, but a real
Joseph S. Salemi
Copyright 2005 Joseph S. Salemi
All Rights Reserved