Friday, July 07, 2006

Free-Floating Outrage

The Assistant Village Idiot Changes His Mind About Why Leftists Say What They Say.

Update on board below.

Second update - a non-political one - on board below that.

There is a concept used in psychology called "free-floating anxiety." It describes an anxiety which does not derive from obvious external circumstances, but attaches itself to whatever is handy in the environment which might be thought to provoke it. The anxiety is already there, but the sufferer misattributes it to her job, or her relationships, or aspects of her health. As any of these things could drive anxiety, they are seen as driving this particular anxiety.

We don't use the terms "free-floating depression," or "free-floating paranoia," but something much the same happens with these as well. The mind seeks explanations, seeks a narrative which accounts for bad feelings. Come to think of it, the mind seeks explanation for good feelings as well. Early in a first psychotic break, the patient will often recognize that his paranoia doesn't make sense. "I know it sounds crazy to you but..." or "There's no reason why people should be spying on me..." Soon enough, the paranoid explanation becomes imbedded, and the patient no longer has access to the reasonable part of the brain which knows it's impossible. There's a chip implanted in my brain. No, there really is. The FBI had it put in because I know something about drug deals in my neighborhood.

The need for a coherent narrative seems to be stronger than the need to hold onto reality. People believe that the television is giving them special messages, even though they were previously not the sort who would adopt unusual ideas. The impression that the TV is speaking to them is so strong that finding an explanation for this becomes the brain's primary objective. It is not enough to say to oneself "That is an hallucination. It's not really happening." Because it is happening.

I've seen first paranoias change over the years. In the 70's, people in their first break would believe it was the CIA; when the Godfather movies came out it was the Mafia; satellites, computers, and now implanted chips have all had their run. Whatever is in the air becomes the explanation. High school students who are angry can always find something about their school or their parents that must be causing it.

The point to remember is that once anxiety, or depression, or paranoia is occurring, the mind will seek an explanation for it, and will not rest until it has done so. Once imbedded, it is no longer responsive to reason. No amount of counter-evidence will ever be enough. Any radically new information will simply be grafted into the old explanation somehow. If your brother was spying on you and your brother dies, then you will believe that some other family member has taken over the job.

In the 1994 elections, the Republican victory was attributed to "angry white males." They (uh, we) were supposedly insecure because of changing masculine roles, or affirmative action robbing us of status, or whatever, but we weren't aware of it conciously, so we redirected that anger onto the political arena and voted to restore our ancient glory because the Republicans had so skillfully manipulated these feelings in us. Agree with it or not, if you get that concept then you get this one: the Left has free-floating outrage. They're angry and they don't know why, so they attach it to whatever George Bush (and his cabal, cronies, henchmen, thugs, junta, etc) does. The data no longer makes any difference. There were enormous complaints then about the economy, and that's why they hated Bush. The economy has been going brilliantly now for years, but they no longer notice. Environmentalists complained about conservative's attitudes. We are now ahead of the Kyoto Protocol goals even though we didn't sign it, and the Europeans lag. The air and water keep getting cleaner, alternative energy is increasingly used, and there's more wilderness, but that's irrelevant. Bush hates the environment, he's evil.

Joe Wilson's a liar? No, he's a hero. Chemical weapons are found? No, can't be.

Until quite recently, I thought the lefties must just be lying. The economic news crossed the AP wire, why was it on page 14? Investigative panels absolve the accused but the accusations persist. Reporters must know that when your only document is a hoax/forgery, then you have no case, so why is the TANG story still extant? I concluded they must be lying. They know the unemployment numbers but conceal them because it hurts their cause.

I have at least partly changed my mind on this. While some on the left and in the MSM may be lying, I now think most have free-floating outrage instead. They are unhappy about "where this country is going," so they pick up something close to hand that's vaguely related and attribute it to that. Conservatives often call it a template but it's stronger than that. It is the narrative by which they live and have value that is collapsing. We all tend to hear what we like and allow the uncomfortable to recede, but this has moved to the point of the bizarre. The left is not merely cherry-picking data to make a point, but completely ignoring an entire side of the balance sheet.

This is because if they had to attend to the other side of the balance sheet, and engage in a discussion about whether Bush has simply overstepped Constitutional authority, then they would have no explanation for their outrage. If they can't blame it on Bush, they will have to examine it and see where it comes from. It would be a reasonable discussion to ponder whether there was more this administration could have done diplomatically to build a coalition for Iraq, but that discussion doesn't occur, because even winning the argument would not give sufficient cause for liberal rage. It has to be that we were unilateral, that we alienated our allies, that we were imperialists who fought for oil, that we have made the world less safe. If those things were true, they would be sufficient reason for outrage. I am outraged, therefore those things must be true.

There are a lot of subterranean reasons why liberals don't like where the culture is going, but cannot admit to themselves. I will tell you one, from personal experience. See if you can extend it out to a fuller explanation.

Social workers resent hearing about people in other, unworthy professions, who make more money than they do. "I have a friggin' Master's and I barely make $40,000/year, while (fill in the blank) barely got out of highschool and is making twice that."

Update: Gagdad Bob over at One Cosmos posts at length on a related topic.

Second Update: This morning's readmission was particularly interesting in this light. I knew Tim twenty years ago on his first admissions. A personable, intelligent young man with quite voice and refined features. Over his last few admissions for unsafe hoarding (bags of food, which he retrieves from the dumpster as soon as his MIMS worker leaves), he has shown more isolation and less affect. He showed a great deal of affect this morning.

We very frequently encounter patients who do not believe they have an illness, or that they do not need medications. Less frequently, our clients might believe that they are not actually being evicted when they are, or that the people who claim to be their family are imposters. Todays denial, delievered with real anger, was new to me. "The Mental Health Center is closed. It's gone out of business. They're going to make it into apartments. I don't have to go there." From there he took it a step farther. "I never did go there. I don't think it ever did exist." That's denial at impressive levels.


David Foster said...

There is a huge and growing class that I call "the intellectual lumpenproletariat." It consists of people who drank the economic kool-aid and got advanced degrees in soft they are working at Starbucks and they are mad as hell. It would be understandable if their rage was directed at the academics who exploited them for purposes of ego inflation and monetary gain, but it rarely is. Instead, they are furious with "this society."

I suspect that an awful lot of the "progressives" fall in this category. Many of the rest are people who *have* succeeded in their careers, and are still furious--in their cases, they are angry that their success in a particular field has not given them more authority over American's social and political direction. This category includes movie stars, tenured professors, etc.

Anonymous said...


"There are a lot of subterranean reasons why liberals don't like where the culture is going, but cannot admit to themselves."

Y'know, so much of the modern liberal zeitgeist is the assumption of the "underdog" mantle.

This has, since FDR's 4 terms in office, been a demonstrable load of bullshit, but the libs won't give up this cherished myth that they are the ones "fighting City Hall", "stickin' it to The Man" and "Raging against the Machine".

Tough to reconcile the reality that they ARE the entrenched and reactionary power structure with the belief that they are the "sans-cullottes" manning the barricades...against themselves.

That's how they end up espousing policies that are like legislative Moebius strips...
the Party of the Working Class wanting to extend workers' rights to people who do not work.
The Party of Equal Opportunity denying opportunities to people based on color and/or gender
The Party of Empowerment disarming law-abiding citizens.
The Party of Big Labor presiding over the mass exodus of American jobs.

These folks do not know whether they are the fire chief or the arsonist...and they do not know which they want to they end up trying to be both.

And they succeed in being neither.


Anonymous said...


"It would be understandable if their rage was directed at the academics who exploited them for purposes of ego inflation and monetary gain, but it rarely is. Instead, they are furious with "this society.""

Know any grifters, Dave? The more educated the mark, the easier it is to flim-flam him, since the sucker THINKS that he's TOO SMART to fall for the con.

And the mark of the TRULY master grifter is when the chump walks away with a vacuumed wallet and thinks the HE'S the one who came out ahead in the transaction.

Stupid sumbitch buys two duct-taped cinder blocks in a box marked "Panasonic" from the trunk of some guy's car, gets it home, and then calls Panasonic to bitch about the picture quality.

Chump been GAMED!

"It consists of people who drank the economic kool-aid and got advanced degrees in soft they are working at Starbucks and they are mad as hell."-Dave

It makes me mad as hell that the taxpayer subsidizes these studies for degrees that have very little job prospects.

George Meany of the AFL-CIO had a memorable line:

"I'd rather live in a town that had lost all of its lawyers than live in a town that had lost all of its plumbers.".


Assistant Village Idiot said...

You guys are doing my work for me here. Great.

copithorne said...

Discussions of "the left" which include zero quotes from any actual person representing "the left" are expressions of projection.

I believe that it is possible for you to imagine someone being angry about 2500 of their fellow citizens being killed. Your assertion that this is unfathomable to you is a rhetorical pose.

I believe that if I took out credit cards in your children's name and ran up thousands of dollars of debt a year, you would be angry about it. Your argument that this is unfathomable to you is a rhetorical pose.

copithorne said...

There is something to say that there is a class of complaints that are argumentative. I don't think that people are angry that George Bush bailed on his TANG service. Maybe real Vietnam Veterans have cause to be angry, but I'm not outraged by it.

I don't think people's votes are really changed by that.

People might bring that up (though I haven't heard it in a while) as a rhetorical argument, as evidence about an overall picture of character and service to nation.

Just as I don't think people were really changed by Bill Clinton having an affair. I don't think people are really changed by Tom Delay's law breaking. People bring these up as rhetoric to reinforce their political views that they come to based on other factors.

But when you suggest that behind the rhetoric, there are zero real issues at stake, that's manifestly false. You trivialize serious consequences of public policies that have been pursued in the last six years.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Exactly my point, copithorne. If you were actually outraged about the deficit, you would be encouraged by the great recent news how quickly it's coming down. If you were actually angry about the soldiers sent into harms way, you would at least give a passing nod to the soldiers killed by Islamists over the years, and what we plan to do about it.

You still believe the anger at Clinton was about the affair, and that Delay is guilty without conviction. You believe without evidence about Bush's TANG service and in general repeat the standard, often answered complaints that the Democrats use as campaign fodder. You are in fact a stunning example of what I'm talking about.

Your anger attaches to these things, but they are not the cause of your anger. Lord only knows what you actually are angry at Bush and/or Republicans and/or conservatives about, but the evidence is out for all of us to see. If these issues were the actual cause, you would respond differently.

You're not being insincere, as far as I can tell. You just don't want to look at what copithorne brings to the equation for some reason.

copithorne said...

If I stole four thousand dollars from your children in 2004 and then stole 3750 dollars from your children in 2005, you would not congratulate me. You would not be encouraged. Yet when you do that to my children, you think I am going to congratulate you?

I don't understand your sentence about nodding towards soldiers killed by islamists. I salute the soldiers and I'm touched by their sacrifice and I'm angry that their character is not matched by the character of the people who send them into battle. The way you talk, not only are you untroubled by the death of your fellow citizens, you are unable to imagine anyone who is.

I think some combination of political reasoning and internet blogging leads you to express yourself in a manner that is entirely abstracted.

katje said...

Actually copithorne, you are the one coming off as "abstracted" to me. I'm still trying to figure out why you want to take out credit cards in AVI's kids' names and run up debt on them...

As to some of AVI's other points, I would suggest that one of the greatest disservices modern "education" (and I am using this term very loosely, given the quality of teaching going on in some institutions) does to students today is imbue them with a false sense of entitlement along with their diplomas.

Part of this has come with the shift in our overall wealth as a society. 50 years ago, it was either or for someone to attend college, and society's expectation was that young people, whether college grads or no, had to work their way up from the bottom into positions of wealth and authority. Since fewer people had them, having a degree was special - a mark of distinction. Now, a college degree is the standard - few well-paying jobs are available to a person without a degree. But once everyone has one, it's no longer special. And therein lies the problem.

The reward systems you cite, AVI, provide rewards for students on an immediate, personal level (ie. the thrill of coming up with an exciting new sociological theory, or identifying a psychological syndrome) . Even on a fairly large campus, the dedicated student can carve out a name for him/herself.

But eventually this student graduates with a degree in their chosen field, transitioning from being a big fish in a small pond, to being a small fish in a big pond. And worse, a small fish with a posh, brainy degree, but no practical life experience.

I think David got it right at the beginning, especially in specifying that many of the dissatisfied tend to hold degrees in "soft" subjects that are generally of little immediate practical use to society at large.* You don't tend to see much of this kind of free- floating- outrage coming from physics or chemistry majors, do you?

And lastly, copithorne, that toss-off line about caring about the troops but not for the people who are sending them off into battle - you do realize that the generals and admirals sending the soldiers, marines, airmen and sailors into the war are, by and large, remnants of of the junior leadership that saw how not to do things in Viet'Nam? Many of them are highly conscientious, dutiful people who care deeply about their troops, and don't want to lose a single one. Try to lose the 'Nam-era archetype of the fat, political general who's never driven anything more powerful than a desk, or fired anything heavier than a cigar. Even our much-maligned President still opens his morning briefings hearing the names and bio's of any and all troops wounded or killed since the last briefing, and NO, not to rub his hands and cackle that he got another one!

Every American holds his or her opinion about the war and its conduct, but I really wish people would stop these blanket condemnations of the military leadership and the administration without at least rudimentary research (Come on, surely your college must have taught you how to look things up at least?!)

katje said...

Oops. The asterisk was to tell a story about a friend of mine back in the '80's who was studying Russian with me. He held a Master's Degree in Classical Greek Literature, and we all used to tease him ruthlessly about working in a gas station: "Hello, sir, will that be regular or unleaded? And while I'm washing your windows, let me tell you about the Illiad."
Mind you, we had some really great discussions on those classics...

copithorne said...

Kate, how would you caculate the debt burden placed on my children of a $400billion annual deficit?

I place it at around $3-4 thousand a year, but that's a rough figure. I'd be interested in how an accountant would value it.

2500 hundred of your fellow citizens killed doesn't anger you. It doesn't anger AVI. But 2500 dead is not an abstraction. It is something very real. It is possible for people to be concerned about those deaths. If AVI wasn't abstracted, he wouldn't need to puzzle and psychoanalyze why someone would value the lives of their fellow citizens.

"The people who sent them into battle" are the political forces -- civilian politicians and their supporters -- who started the war in Iraq. These people valued the thoughts in their head more than the lives of their fellow citizens.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Copithorne, you have no basis for the accusation that people do not care about the soldiers killed. I despair of explaining to you how it is that no one from the government is going to be coming to my four sons and demanding extra checks for thousands of dollars. We will all pay interest on the money. It will slow things down. No one is going to die from it.

I think you simply do not understand some of the points being made, and so give the same answers again. I don't know how to fix that for you.

Anonymous said...


"Social workers resent hearing about people in other, unworthy professions, who make more money than they do. "I have a friggin' Master's and I barely make $40,000/year, while (fill in the blank) barely got out of highschool and is making twice that."

Almost like you have psychic powers:

Concerning Deborah Frisch:

"Frisch, 44, said she quit her $32,861-a-year part-time position not only because she fears for her safety, but because she regrets the UA ended up in the middle of what was intended to be a "sick joke." -from:

Heck, I barely got out of high school and I doubled that last year, and only worked 10 months.