Have you ever wondered what makes other people hold the ridiculous political opinions they do?
Is it just a matter of them being grumpy and old and therefore mad because the world has changed? There does seem to be a lot of that going around.
Or are they really mad in the other sense? Have people who disagree with us taken leave of their senses and become stark raving bonkers, which I believe is the standard psychological classification?
It is very satisfying to think so. For one thing, it relieves us, the self-identified sane people, of the obligation to engage further and seriously debate conflicting ideas. You are crazy, I am sane, so take my insult and just go away.
There’s a lot of that going around, too. You should see my email inbox some weeks.
No wonder the nation is in such a ridiculous state, when people on each side think those who disagree with them are psychologically disturbed. Worse yet, this view has been encouraged from on high in the culture.
How many times are we told that “liberalism is a mental disorder”? The ones who email me this clearly think they are being so darned witty. Of course, they would never have come up with this if talk show host Michael Savage hadn’t written a book with the same name as his contribution to the debasement of humanity.
Likewise, Ann Coulter, who has made a career of trying to be caustically cute, also believes liberalism is “an aspect of mental illness” and claims to have said this first. Well, that’s something to be proud of.
But psychological name-calling is apparently a crowded field. There’s also a book titled “The Liberal Mind: The Psychological Causes of Political Madness,” by Lyle H. Rossiter Jr., M.D. The good doctor may not be as well-known as the others, but the description of his book on the Amazon site is a classic, a risible tour de force:
“The Liberal Mind is the first in-depth examination of the major political madness of our time: The radical left’s efforts to regulate the people from cradle to grave. To rescue us from our troubled lives, the liberal agenda recommends denial of personal responsibility, encourages self-pity and other-pity, fosters government dependency, promotes sexual indulgence, rationalizes violence, excuses financial obligation, justifies theft, ignores rudeness, prescribes complaining,” etc., and on into the night.
Gosh, at least we liberals are kind to our pets. As a liberal living an untroubled life who strongly believes in personal responsibility and who can’t ignore gross rudeness, I can say that I personally know no liberal whose beliefs fit the description above. When it comes to psychological disturbance, I can only kindly suggest: Physician, heal thyself.
My favorite conservative slur (irony alert) is one I blush to write, although it has taken its slimy place in common parlance — “libtard.” Of unknown authorship, it is the daily-double winner in the offensiveness sweepstakes. It combines the words “liberal” and “retard.” How clever! How amusing! How totally bereft of human decency a person must be to be so amused.
But it is true liberals also have waded into the same murky waters in their attempts to paint conservatism as a mental disorder. They just haven’t been as successful despite a seemingly plentiful supply of material to work with — the conservatives’ irresistible impulse to shut down the government periodically, an obsessive belief that America would be better off if fewer people had medical insurance, an unfounded dread of Sharia law taking over what is seen as a Christian country.
Actually, recent scientific studies have suggested a genetic explanation for political preference, so maybe Savage and his ilk are vaguely onto something, although if liberalism is a mental disorder, then conservatism is logically one too.
Maybe we are not quite the masters of our own political souls as we like to think. Maybe we didn’t come to our beliefs by studying the political party platforms, but through old-fashioned self-interest, family influence or tradition, or some deep emotional or psychological need we barely recognize. A recent New York Times story suggested that your birth year may influence your political views. Happy birthday to you, or not.
Call me mentally disordered, but it seems to me the nation urgently needs to find ways to disagree without being disagreeable. If you don’t call me stark raving, I won’t call you bonkers — unless you contact me personally to say otherwise, in which case I am happy to take your word for it.
Reg Henry is deputy editorial-page editor for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.