Sunday, July 12, 2009

Peter Kramer Disses Sarah Palin

As a famous psychiatrist Peter Kramer knows the dangers of diagnosing people one has never met. He also knows that it is unethical to use diagnoses as ad hominem arguments against people with whom one disagrees. Link here.

Thus, Kramer refuses to jump on the bandwagon of those who have declared that Sarah Palin suffers from narcissistic personality disorder.

And as Kramer correctly notes, it is difficult to call Sarah Palin a pathological narcissist when she has: "a devoted husband, admiring children, a loyal circle of friends, a governorship, and a vice presidential nomination."

One of the first things every philosophy student learns is to avoid the "argumentum ad hominem." This means attacking the person instead of addressing the issue. Those who use these ad hominem arguments are showing themselves unwilling to engage in a rational debate.

I am sorry to say that what Peter Kramer gave with one hand he took away with the other.

Unable to resist the temptation to indulge the ad hominem, he denounced Sarah Palin for possessing a gaggle of character flaws: "She is, in my reading of her behavior, dogmatic, incurious, irascible, vindictive, dishonest, manipulative, trivial in her view of the world, and unjustifiably self-righteous." For good measure he adds that she is "opinionated and erratic."

But surely, it is difficult to believe these things about someone who has a devoted husband, admiring children, and a loyal circle of friends. You would even find it hard to believe if Kramer had gotten the syntax right and referred to her circle of loyal friends.

So, why did Kramer yield to temptation and stoop to the level of character assassination? Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that he works in an academic community and wants to continue to be a member in good standing of that community.

Within that community Kramer would not need to offer any evidence. Strong feelings, coupled with stereotypes and shibboleths, would suffice.

But Kramer incurs a risk here. He risks falling into the trap of what his profession calls projective identification.

For those who do not belong to the therapy profession, you can understand this as the boomerang effect. After you sling a bunch of mud at someone it gets caught in a wind gust and comes back to hit you in the face.

Kramer's list of Palin's character flaws could also apply to Kramer himself. Does his attack not sound dogmatic, vindictive, irascible, opinionated, incurious, and erratic.

And when Kramer riffs about how Palin seems to be fully integrated into her home community-- thankfully he does not say that it is primitive-- he invites us to think of his own, academic, community.

How well do his adjectives apply to today's academic world.

Dogmatic, check.
Incurious, check.
Irascible, check.
Trivial in [its] view of the world. Check.
Unjustifiably self-righteous. Double check.

The moral of the story is that people who live in an academic world where everyone thinks exactly the same thing, where diversity of opinion is severely proscribed, and where self-righteous moralizing counts as serious thought... should not yield to the temptation to engage in character assassination.

To end this post on an up note, I am happy to link a great article by Carl Cannon about the one relationship that should engage our interest: the one between Sarah Palin and the press. Cannon is a non-denominational journalist, and he buttresses his arguments with facts. It is a long article, but it is well worth the read. Link here.

Hat tip to Neo-neocon for bringing it to our attention and for her own comments. Link here.

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