Saturday, February 18, 2017

Has America Gone Insane?

Here’s a hint about rhetorical strategy: if you want to denounce someone as irrational and emotionally overwrought, you should not sound irrational and overwrought. If you do you will be emulating the example you are denouncing. If it is worth denouncing, it cannot be worth emulating.

As we have seen, a small number of mental health professionals have attacked Donald Trump as unfit to serve as president. They say that he is suffering from one or another psychiatric disorders—like malignant narcissistic personality disorder—and therefore should be disqualified.

Being mental health professionals they have allowed their minds to be overcome by their emotions. They have failed to note how many previous American presidents have suffered from one or another psychiatric condition. And they ignore the fact that there is nothing in the constitution that prevents us from electing someone who is severely depressed—like Abraham Lincoln. Let’s not forget the number of politicians and commentators who declared Theodore Roosevelt to be utterly unhinged.

On the other side a number of mental health professionals have rejected their colleagues’ wish to diagnose someone they have never met. Correctly so. But then, they denounce Trump for his totalitarian tendencies. In so doing they indulge the totalitarian tendency of using psychiatry to shut up one’s political opponents.

Anyway, mental health professionals are men and women of science. They have demonstrated some restraint and have offered opposing views of the Trump psyche.

Better yet, someone named Louise wrote in to the New York Times to school psychiatrists in the matter of the Trumpian psyche. She makes more sense than most, so I assume that she belongs to the field:

Trump's personality traits, along with his inherited money and his contacts, have enabled him to become POTUS, acquire a succession of young and socially impressive wives and get even richer. 

This is not how mental illness generally works; the key feature of mental illnesses is that they are to a significant extent disabling to the people who have them. Personality disorders in particular tend to produce inflexible and inappropriate thought patterns and behaviour which make it hard for people to function effectively and form solid relationships. Trump's behaviour is bizarre, vain. inconsiderate, erratic and downright despicable but it's also calculated and very effective with the audience he's aiming at. When he lies it's with a purpose, when he appears confused it's usually misdirection, when he ignores or trivialises the important issues it's because he doesn't want to deal with them.

Louise finds much to dislike in the Trump performance— limited as it is—but at least she understands the difference between mental illness and public political performance.

Now, we have the honor of reading the thoughts of a distinguished American professor, one W. J. T. Mitchell of the University of Chicago. Mitchell’s thoughts appear in the Los Angeles Review of Books and they offer a sense of what is wrong with the American academy—a place where no one even pretends to care about empirical reality.

While mental health professionals have been relatively restrained in their diagnoses, Mitchell, who teaches literature and art criticism, feels no such compunction. As he sees it, the American people are suffering from a mass psychosis. Since psychosis is a well-defined clinical category no mental health professional uses it lightly or promiscuously. Mitchell knows nothing about psychosis, so he invokes the authority of that famed syphilitic philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche. Where else would you look for a definition of psychosis?

A well-known Chinese aphorism cursed people to live in interesting times. Mitchell declares that we are living in insane times. Being a master of absurd analogies, he declares the election of Donald Trump to have been as cataclysmic as September 11, 2001.

I kid you not:

For the majority of Americans who did not vote for Trump, the events of the days since November 8, 2016, have seemed as if the nightmare of history that Stephen Dedalus describes in James Joyce’s Ulysses has come upon us with a vengeance. And there is no possibility of awaking from it; it is a reality that will not go away; it has only just begun. Like the nightmare of September 11, 2001, it marks a historical epoch, underscoring the correctness of Nietzsche’s aphorism, which stipulates that it is not only a matter of collective insanity (“groups, parties, nations”), but also of “epochs,” those turning points and momentous events such as revolution and war that make us feel that we are living in extraordinary, even insane, times.

Let’s see: would you like to offer a description of the mindset of someone who declares that we are living through a nightmare and that it will never go away? One appreciates Mitchell’s prophetic powers, his ability to see the future and his encouraging thought that we will never awake from the nightmare. We awoke from 9/11, didn’t we? Mitchell is trafficking in mental drool.

Mitchell occupies an august positions in the American academy. He must count among the best and the brightest in that world. If that doesn't give you nightmares, I don’t know what will.

Anyway, Mitchell does not refrain from expressing his contempt for the American people. If you want to know why Hillary lost, you could not do better than to weigh Mitchell’s words:

As democracy is perfected, the office of the president represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day, the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last, and the White House will be occupied by a downright fool and complete narcissistic moron.

I need not tell you that “complete narcissistic moron” does not appear in the DSM V. It tells us that Mitchell is flailing… but also that he sees the Trump presidency as wish fulfillment, the wish of the plain folks to see the office of the presidency occupied by someone who expresses their inner soul… which is to be a fool and a completely narcissistic moron.

How does Mitchell know that America has gone completely mad? You guessed it: the nation has not done enough to stop climate change. It takes your breath away. You have to read it to believe it. So, here it is:

When the world’s most powerful nation goes crazy, the consequences are global. And this is nowhere to be seen more clearly than in the absolute silence about the greatest challenge facing the world community in the foreseeable future, namely, climate change. The issue never came up in the presidential debates, and received little coverage in the media. Admittedly, climate change is a hard sell to people who do not read newspapers. But when, in a rare moment of collective sanity and wisdom, 195 countries come to an agreement that climate change is real and must be addressed, one would think that the issue is, as we say, a no-brainer. But Trump is a climate change denier who intends to tear up the Paris agreement as a “bad deal,” and who has nominated a fossil fuel lobbyist who, like many Trump appointees, would like to destroy the very agency he has been appointed to direct, namely, the Environmental Protection Agency.

Does anyone really believe that the nation has ignored climate change? In truth, the Obama administration was obsessed with climate change, to the point where it was willing to shut down industries and put people out of work to save the planet. It’s one good reason why Hillary lost.

And, by the way, what does a professor of art and literature know about climate change? The fact that a bunch of nations got together and signed an agreement transferring wealth from America to the poorer countries of the world does not confirm that America is responsible for climate changes. Everyone understands that the climate changes. The question is whether or not human beings—that is, privileged white males-- ought to be punished for it and whether the Industrial Revolution should be repealed to save the smelts.

Since Mitchell correctly notes that the balance of powers in the United States Constitution is a wondrous thing, we must add that the treaty signed by the Obama administration has skirted constitutional scrutiny because the administration called it a deal and not a treaty.

For your and Mitchell’s edification, I provide a link to some remarks that Prof. Richard Lindzen at a seminar conducted at the British House of Commons in 2012. Since Lindzen has been the head of the climate science lab at MIT I trust you will agree that he knows the subject. Something we cannot say about Mitchell.

When it comes to the dogmas of climate change Mitchell and others who know nothing about climate science are absolutely  convinced that they are right and that everyone who disagrees with them is—not wrong, but insane.

Mitchell says:

Or does it have real potential as a way of analyzing a mentality, a style of thinking and feeling that is resistant to persuasion, but might be susceptible of understanding? It is one of the characteristics of an epochal moment like this that it is going to be very difficult to distinguish rational analysis from polemic. It may in fact be the case that there are times in history when reason and outrage have to converge, and the whole liberal style of calm deliberation and the comfort of long views will seem radically inadequate. 

Is Mitchell showing himself to be amenable to rational argument? Is he willing to consider the views of important scientists who disagree with him? Not at all. If a bunch of nations, along with Pope Francis, have bought the idea, then it must be dogmatic truth, never again to be questioned.

I will mention in passing that since Nietzsche was not a sufficient authority on the question of madness, Mitchell quotes Freud himself. One of the twentieth century’s greatest pseudo-scientists has no real authority on mass psychosis or even on individual psychosis. Admittedly, Freud did do some work on psychosis—he wrote a commentary on a memoir written by a psychotic. Yet, Freud was a neurologist and aside from the fact that his dangerous method did not work on neurotics, it most certainly did not work on psychosis.

While Mitchell agrees that we ought not to diagnose political leaders and that Trump himself is not psychotic, he still argues that Trumpism is madness and that it should be treated with psychoanalytic methods that have fallen seriously out of favor because they do not work. No one has ever believed that they work with psychosis. Only serious humanists have failed to see this fact:

But what about Trumpism, the mass syndrome that now grips this country and threatens the world? It fulfills the basic criteria of psychosis in its hostility to reality-testing and its potential to be “a danger to itself and others,” the legal standard for involuntary confinement of the insane. Any politics that sets out to cure the disorder of Trumpism will have to find a way to think of it in relation to psychology, not as a set of polemical labels, but as a therapeutic method, a listening cure.

Mitchell knows nothing about psychosis, but his suggestion that everyone who voted for Trump, everyone who is responsible for Trumpism is participating in a mass psychosis and should be involuntarily confined is madness itself. If not that, true stupidity.

15 comments:

Sam L. said...

"I need not tell you that “complete narcissistic moron” does not appear in the DSM V."
Some of us are willing to believe that description fits Obama.

Sam L. said...

You ask if America has gone insane. I can only say that part of it has, with Trump Derangement Syndrome.

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

"Here’s a hint about rhetorical strategy: if you want to denounce someone as irrational and emotionally overwrought, you should not sound irrational and overwrought. If you do you will be emulating the example you are denouncing. If it is worth denouncing, it cannot be worth emulating."

Dr. Schneiderman, with all due respect, our media culture has descended to the point where engagement with opposing views is largely impossible.

One might think it is because of the content and tenor of those exchanges.

I disagree.

Notice I did not say our entire culture... I said our media culture. There's a big difference. I'm talking about the Glowing Box: the distribution system. And it helps explain the media's apoplectic reaction to President Trump. Talk about something worthy of psychiatric study...

We are so far apart that it is impossible to
discuss public issues rationally because the stakes are too high. The therapeutic-victim industrial complex has made everything so personal. Ideas are no longer ideas. Ideas are an extension of self-actualization, self-worth, and ultimately self-expression... where one's worldview meets the public sphere. It is all tied to the sacred self.

So you question another's ideas, and you are "attacking" or "assaulting" them. Literally. The self has become so sacred, special and unique that it cannot be questioned.

Had enough therapy, indeed.

We are living a gigantic, realtime performance of "The Big Lebowski," where everyone talks, but nobody listens. It is a tyranny of subjectivism.

Have I been unfair to Ares Olympus in commenting on his comments? On occasion I have. I own that. My counter is that's there is no access point to someone who is completely subjective -- writing journal entries disguised as comments -- who simultaneously believes that what he says is objectively-derived and fact-driven. If that were the case, other commenters could engage. Yet there's no room to engage. It's not even clear what he is saying.

This is the tyranny of subjectivism: righteousness animated by opinion, posing as fact and absolutism. It is neither, neither, neither. Engaging with such a person is silly. Hence we get the pot shot comments (my own included sometimes (sigh)), because there is no access point. There is nowhere to start. It's just a muddled, subjective mess by one claiming to be objective and factual.

So when shrinks render judgment on a duly elected official, they claim their own subjective evaluation is actually "science." Well, it may be science according to some manual, but the diagnosis is a value judgment. If a medical doctor takes out a patient's pancreas and the person dies, we know the cause. This is not true of psychiatry, except in the case of TRUE mental illness. This is not the point of view with these psychiatrists you cite.

We will eventually have to arrive at this conclusion: social sciences are not sciences. They are human approximations. If it were science, we could draw an accurate conclusion and predict behavior. We cannot. Alas. Wish it were true, but it ain't. That's why people are so shocked -- SHOCKED! -- that anyone could believe differently than they do.

It's because we have glorified subjective judgment because it suits us. We get to be all-powerful, with great confidence in our delusions. And everyone should follow along.

That''a crazy. And it's why America is crazy. Well, at least SOME Americans...

No More said...

Great writing; better thinking.

Ares Olympus said...

Stuart: Mitchell knows nothing about psychosis, but his suggestion that everyone who voted for Trump, everyone who is responsible for Trumpism is participating in a mass psychosis and should be involuntarily confined is madness itself. If not that, true stupidity.

If we ignore the strawman of "should", the "mass psychosis" seems entirely useful and accurate. Of course the problem is that the Left and Right both are apparently in mutually distinct but codependent mass psychoses.

And of course the Right can better see symptoms of the Left's psychosis, like the SJW causes which attempt to end all possible oppression by all oppressive means possible. Jonathan Haidt has well described this.

And it might seem fair to call it a gender divide, even if its not fully divided by gender of individuals, with the Right inhabiting a Masculine hero fantasy, and the Left inhabiting a Feminine victimhood rescue fantasy. I do agree if we could just blame the feminists for "causing" this it would be much easier.

I remember poet Robert Bly told a story about three modes of being, he called White, Red, and Black, and individuals inhabit different modes at different times. And he suggested culture rewards women for going into White, which is a more innocent place, where rules are followed, like political correctnss and rights of all are respected, while men are more rewarded by expressing aggression in the Red mode, and the bully can inhabit there, but also the truth teller, someone who can say things as they are. Anyway, Bly suggested both the White and Red contain oppresssive elements where self-righteousness takes over and we overstep in our exuberance and hurt people, and if its people we actually care about, we eventually back down to reality, and fall into Black, and were we see our own oppressiveness to others, and then there's a chance we can take responsibility for that.

On the Left, it is easy to imagine someone like Donald Trump could never be on the Left. Its easy to imagine any woman on the left, if she acted like Trump, i.e. expressing overt bullying, she'd be instantly rejected an "unfit" for the presidency, and that "feeling" makes Trump's success seem extra outrageous. When men "lean in", they gain power, and when women "lean in", they are dismissed as unserious and rejected.

But I admit its probably untrue, and everytime someone hears what Trump says and thinks "Trump calls things as they are", surely repressed and resentful women would feel the same way when a bullying and aggressive woman rose up and said what's on the mind of repressed women who don't feel allowed to speak. And if you looked over the last 150 years at various stages of the Women's movements, angry women have rose as leaders in identical ways as Trump, and like the Temperance movement contains some of the same energy as Trump's scapegoating of Muslims or Mexicans.

Men often become abusive when they drink, so if you could just get rid of the booze, men would naturally start behaving themselves, or so the women thought. But they didn't predict the backmarkets, and the rise of the mobsters with bigger guns and faster cars than the police.

Anyway, if we agree the Temperance movement was a "mass psychosis" then maybe Friedrich Nietzsche was right and "Insanity in individuals is somewhat rare. But in groups, parties, nations, and epochs, it is the rule."

But since you can't lock'em all up, we'd better find something more humane, like letting them have the run of the china shop, and after enough damage is done, they'll see they are the chaos they feared, and they'll stop and reassess who needs to clean up their act to restore order to the universe, and Robert Bly's Black mode of being will restore a path to individual and collective redemption that don't need others to be blamed.

Anonymous said...

his suggestion that everyone who voted for Trump, everyone who is responsible for Trumpism is participating in a mass psychosis and should be involuntarily confined is madness itself. If not that, true stupidity....

No, not stupidity but just the 3rd of the laws of SJWism.

1.) SJW's always lie. 2.) SJW's always double down. 3.) SJW's always project.

SJW's believe or have delusions which is a sign of a major psychiatric disturbance, i.e. Psychosis.

As I have said before many others in 1998....Liberalism(progressivism) is a mental disorder.

Ares Olympus said...

IAC: ...This is the tyranny of subjectivism: righteousness animated by opinion, posing as fact and absolutism. It is neither, neither, neither. Engaging with such a person is silly. Hence we get the pot shot comments (my own included sometimes (sigh)), because there is no access point. There is nowhere to start. It's just a muddled, subjective mess by one claiming to be objective and factual.

I agree it is important to separate facts from opinions, and perhaps that's why I may pick and choose certain questionable "facts" rather than attacking opinions as simply wrong.

Like here's a fact. I see on my FB feed that Norma McCorvey, who helped legalize abortion has died at age 69.
http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2017/02/18/norma-mccorvey-roe-roe-v-wade-dead-abortion/98093844/

And it quotes from a Catholic priest, first an opinion of victimization and explotation and then an alleged fact of 58 million "children" killed since 1973 (which seems close enough, while the rate has dropped in half since 1990), and stating his goal to abolish legal abortion.

Are we on the cusp of making abortion illegal? And while were speaking of "mass psychosis", does the prolife movement represent one side of a "mass psychosis" while the pro-choice movement the opposite "mass psychosis"? Is that a useful way to understand this divide? And itsn't it strange that its almost impossible to be a Republican and be pro-choice, and almost impossible to be a Democrat and be pro-life? Does that seem unlikely, that dozens of unrelated issues can be neatly divided between these two sides?

Is it a fact or opinion that abortion ought to be "safe, legal, and rare?" Apparently it is an opinion if you can remove the second one.

And what is Father Frank Pavone's opinion on birth control? If he wants to eliminate legal abortions, shouldn't he also support birth control? But we know the Catholic church is against birth control, except for the rhythm method. So a woman who gets married at age 19 ought to have 7 children along with 3-4 miscarriages, like my grandmother did, because that's what God wanted.

Or is that an opinion? Is this "tyranny of subjectivity" to let a declared holy book and its divine interpreters dictate the law of the land?

But really I more worry about the political slavery - how people can take a single issue like Abortion, and magically everyone who is pro-life automatically believed in oil pipelines and disbelieves in climate change. Of course the new pope himself, being a bundle of contradictions, sees climate change is imporant, and merely says we don't need to breed like rabbits.

It is certainly a subjective "choice", whether to have kids, how many kids to have, how stable your family structure is before you have kids, and how many kids you can afford without becoming a burden to others for your fecundity. There can be no right answer, and individuals will be more or less responsible, and cause varies burdens to society when they fail to be responsible.

And when I go to objective information, my worries say there are limited resources and exponential growth has limits, and sooner or later we're going to have to learn how to not grow, and if we don't, if we breed like rabbits, we become someone else's problem eventually, and they may not care for us to be their problem, just like the refugee problem.

My objective mind will feel more secure if we were not burning a cubic mile of oil every year to keep everything going, and that the ancient sunlight will eventually run dry, and I don't want to make future generations learn lessons harder than we are willing to live. But that's an opinion, and maybe people in the future will all be smarter than us, right? Positive thinking got us this far, right?

Dennis said...

When I was in the Air Force I spent a lot of time on airplanes like C47s, C54s and their nice little tail stands, C97s, $19s, C130s, C123s, C141s, et al. I loved the $19 because the first thing they gave you was a parachute and a Mae West. If one believes it is interesting for a bumble bee to fly then one can truly understand the joys of the $19.
Suffice it to say most of these flights took a long time so one either sleep, played game or read. I read a lot about myths, religions, et al. This naturally lead to Psychology and Freud, Jung, Ellis et al. I have to admit that some times the books on myths made more sense. Of a matter of course Kant, Locke, Bacon, Hume et al was included.
What intrigued me about this site is it's name and the fact that I had come to that opinion on the practitioners of what seemed to be a step above magical thinking. As you might guess i hold little respect for people who think they actually understand the human psyche and less for people who actually think that this makes them smart. This further enforces my opinion.
An aside here for those who think Jefferson did not have an animus towards news reporting. http://press-pubs.uchicago.edu/founders/documents/amendI_speechs29.html

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

Ares Olympus @February 19, 2017 @1:24 AM:

"Or is that an opinion? Is this 'tyranny of subjectivity' to let a declared holy book and its divine interpreters dictate the law of the land?"

Where do you get your marching orders from?

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

Ares Olympus @February 19, 2017 at 1:24 AM:

"Is it a fact or opinion that abortion ought to be 'safe, legal, and rare?' Apparently it is an opinion if you can remove the second one."

Incorrect. It is an opinion if it should be legal and rare. Why should it be rare, Ares? Help us navigate that moral conundrum.

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

Ares Olympus @February 19, 2017 at 1:24 AM:

"And when I go to objective information, my worries say there are limited resources and exponential growth has limits..."

People like you have been wailing and obsessed with "limits" since Malthus. We're way beyond that now. How do you explain their error?

Perhaps you are in error? Perish the thought?

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

Ares Olympus @February 19, 2017 @1:24 AM:

"My objective mind..."

It's not.

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

Ares Olympus @February 19, 2017 @1:24 AM:

And that (read: everything you've written here) is more of what I pointed to.

Keep digging, Ares.

In the meantime, Thai is a fantastic opportunity for you to resume your blog and spare us. It awaits you...

Ares Olympus said...

IAC: People like you have been wailing and obsessed with "limits" since Malthus. We're way beyond that now. How do you explain their error?

We're agreed its a big world, but we've never had a world of 7.4 billion people before (heading for 11-12 billion by 2100 if nature allowed), all trying to live like Americans, if they could.

Fracking has created a nice oil production spike after a 40 year decline in oil production, but it does look like it really is a spike, and domestic oil production will be back down to the conventional production curve within a few years.

Like the Bakken production peaked over 2 years ago. Perhaps a new spike of $150/bbl oil will raise production again, although people like my 22 year old niece are not going to like that for her SUV and 300 mile weekly commute.
http://peakoilbarrel.com/is-the-bakken-a-bust/

My judgement is we had a choice to chance paths, to learn how to run an economy without consuming ever more fossil fuels, but we turned down that chance.

If you want to explain our collective psychosis, being energy addicts must certainly be a part of that. Liberals can't face declining energy because their social programs are funded by surplus. Conservatives can't face declining energy because, well, I'm not sure. You'd think conservatives would prefer to conserve one-time resources for future generations.

So instead we've substituted exponential increases of collective debt for temporary prosperity, and I'm sure you wouldn't disagree with that.