Monday, August 17, 2009

Preexisting Conditions

The level of hysteria and stupidity surrounding significant (and not-so-significant) national events here in the USA is reaching levels unheard of in my experience. Not a day goes by that I don't shake my head in amazement at the utter lack of common sense, ordinary thought, and simple civility reflected in the actions of otherwise normal people who become hysterical lunatics over topics great and small. I refer, of course, to topics like:

1. President Obama's birth certificate;

2. Health care reform; and,

3. The economy.

I've written before about the lack of civility and about the failure of some people to engage their brains before speaking, but it's a topic that just keeps on inviting comment. I'm not the only one who sees it, either. In yesterday's Washington Post, columnist Rick Perlstein penned a great piece titled, "In America, Crazy is a Preexisting Condition: Birthers, Town Hall Hecklers, and the Return of Right-Wing Rage."

The article isn't too long, and is worth reading for its historical perspective on the lunatic behavior we're seeing now. In short, Mr Perlstein points out that America combines distrust of government, deep conservatism, and short attention span in a toxic stew that tends to boil out of the pot during those periods when more liberal administrations are in power. After illustrating his point with several historical references, Mr Perlstein writes,

"...crazier then, or crazier now? Actually, the similarities across decades are uncanny. When Adlai Stevenson spoke at a 1963 United Nations Day observance in Dallas, the Indignation forces thronged the hall, sweating and furious, shrieking down the speaker for the television cameras. Then, when Stevenson was walked to his limousine, a grimacing and wild-eyed lady thwacked him with a picket sign. Stevenson was baffled. 'What's the matter, madam?' he asked. 'What can I do for you?' The woman responded with self-righteous fury: 'Well, if you don't know I can't help you.'"

If you don't know, I can't help you. This seems to me to sum up the problem we face. People are enraged because of things they don't fully understand and don't want to take the time to's easier to echo the rantings and writings of right- (and left-) wing demagogues than to tax the mind to learn the facts...or to learn that the "facts" in which one has fervently believed actually aren't true at all. The nearest analogy is the one every married man knows: your wife is mad at you, you don't know why, you ask her what's wrong, and the answer is if you really loved me, you'd know.

For the record, I flunked mind-reading in college, along with integral calculus.

If you are interested in the topic of why people act so crazy, I can recommend two excellent books: Michael Shermer's Why People Believe Weird Things, and Eric Hoffer's The True Believer. Both are superb analyses of the topic, with Shermer focusing on specific issues (like Holocaust denial, alien abduction, and creationism) and Hoffer looking more at the larger forces that push people into following mass movements, whether religious or political.

Have a good day. Think, rather than parroting what you've heard. The rest of us will thank you. Well, most of us, anyhow.

More thoughts tomorrow.



Amanda said...

Thats what I like about your blog. It always reminds us to think.

Actually, this post has also reminded me of a pet peeve I have about people who act like they know something about whatever topic you're talking about (breastfeeding, short selling stocks, cooking Cantonese style or scriptwriting). When in fact, all they're repeating is what they have heard from somebody else. And then, they try to offer solutions for everything.

Leslie David said...

I think my favorite sentence in his article is, "If you don't understand that any moment of genuine political change always produces both, you can't understand America, where the crazy tree blooms in every moment of liberal ascendancy, and where elites exploit the crazy for their own narrow interests."

The crazy tree is definitely in bloom.

Mike said...

lunatics - That word has come to mind a lot recently.

The Mistress of the Dark said...

I just wish people that were lucky enough to have health care paid for either partially by their employer or wholly would consider that even those of us that don't make the big bucks deserve to be treated by doctors without fear of huge bills to pay.

Through this whole debate I feel like some of my family members hope that I'll die, because I don't make a huge salary. I don't know that I want the gov't to have total control of health care, but health care is a killer for those of us that work for small businesses.

Malaise Inc said...

I take it as given that there will always be crazies. So, I don't know what bothers me more. That the Republicans pander to these crazies through blatant demagogery, that the mainstream media gives them a platform but is so lazy to not call bullshit, or that the Democrats are so gutless to be influenced by this ginned up circus.

Anonymous said...

So I take it you don't buy into the whole, "Obama is going to kill your grandmother" theory either? hahhahaha