Americans in record numbers are exercising their metastasized souls and fickle appetites. And it’s not on eBay – it’s on the presidential primaries. I thought this was supposed to be a presidential election, not a national installment of “American Idol.” But I was wrong. Showing their collective appetite for fashion, sound bites and easy rhetoric, my fellow Americans are throwing themselves at candidates who mouth the juiciest phrases and have “good personalities.”

Reality check: the public seems to be disfunctioning big time. I call this randomized, ubiquitous hysteria, apocalyptic behavior. This is occurring at every juncture: viz. our mass idolatry of TV personalities and fascination for Britney Spears, hand-held technology, and cheap clothing made by children in China. We have become a nation of media junkies (George Orwell was here first) in thrall to just about everything we see on a computer or tube. Any tube. CNN, Fox, BBC, YouTube, MySpace, QVC, every single blog du jour. We don’t know why trans fats are bad for us, but we do know that Nicole Kidman is finally pregnant.

Just saying a word doesn’t bring about a new state of affairs. Chants, mantras, slogans — these are only verbal billboards, paraded before worshippers high on the moment and unwilling to consider consequences. But the morning after, many will be ashamed that they allowed their emotions to seduce their ability to think.

Of special note is the recent stampede for a barely-qualified politician with less substance than sugar-free chewing gum. Like Oakland, there’s now another individual whose name also begins with “O” – and has no “there there.” No plan, no specifics, no shame. Just a word, repeated over and over again.

Remember what happened in the “election” eight years ago? Apocalyptic behavior is what’s happening now – and the results may plunge this country into even steeper moral, economic and social decline than it currently enjoys.

For even more food for thought, check Gloria Steinem’s op-ed piece in today’s NYTimes.