Sunday, January 29, 2006

Recovery From Delusion

There has been a lot of discussion over the last few months at Dr. Sanity, neo-neocon, Sigmund, Carl, & Alfred, One Cosmos, Dr. Helen, and GM Roper about liberal beliefs and their psychological foundations. I have encouraged and contributed to this discussion, which has focussed on the more extreme statements of prominent Democrats and liberals. Distinctions are made which often go unheard, if the comments sections are any indication. "Government can be a force for good" is not a delusional statement, and no one has made that claim. It might be right or wrong, but it's not crazy. "Abu Ghraib is as bad under the US as it was under Saddam," now, that's just nuts. Similarly, Bush stole the election...war for oil...squandered international support...crushing dissent... and all the other familiar attacks fall under a different category. They are not merely wrong, but fevered and overwrought. Those are fair game for commentary by mental health professionals, and speculating whether such things are the result of denial, projection, displacement, etc is intellectually valid. This is because these are ideas which could possibly be true, but have been found to be so devoid of supporting evidence that belief in them reveals something unhealthy about the thinking.

Alternative medicine provides a reasonable analogy. The initial consideration that magnets or copper bracelets or cabbage juice might provide treatment or relief of certain ailments is not delusional. Those beliefs may be odd or unlikely, but heck, stranger things have turned out true. They become delusional when the evidence is in and they are shown to not work, yet people believe in them anyway. At that point it becomes reasonable for a psychologist to consider why the belief persists in spite of adequate disproving evidence.

Many people who vote for liberals are not delusional, but simply inattentive or intellectually lazy. They might cynically believe that something is fishy about Republican motives, but don't bother much about it and get on with their lives. It is worth remembering that such people are likely to vote for sensible Democrats once they become available.

All that was just an incantation to nullify troll mind rays. My real point runs off at 45 degrees from this. It often happens that when people go back on their clozapine and stop hearing satellites beaming messages into their heads that their interpretation of previous events does not change. Oh sure, no one's out to harm my mother NOW, but they were a year ago. This is, needless to say, frustrating for families.

Beliefs that are not based on active hallucinations, but on misinterpretation of everyday events, can be more persistent. The group of Democratic voters I mentioned above, who are cynical and uninformed rather than paranoid, may never change their interpretation of the events of the last 6 years. They might start to favor Joe Lieberman- or Zell Miller-style Democrats, but still think the neocons were too ready to go to war in Iraq.

This will be fine. Conservatives, listen up. This will be fine. Getting people to rewrite their own narratives is very difficult, and only those people who live in the world of ideas and abstracts care very much whether they got it right 20 years ago. It still frosts conservatives that people would think that Gorbachev -- not Reagan, Thatcher, and John Paul II -- brought down the Soviet Union, but just live with it. What we want is for the Democrats to make sense again.

If we get to a situation where the Democrats are wrong but not paranoid, and start attracting the undecided vote back from us, that will be an enormous improvement over the current state of affairs.

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