The Long View 2004-11-18: You Can't Make This Stuff Up, But People Do Anyway

Unfortunately, Bush Derangement Syndrome has proven to be a permanent feature of American politics since 2004, with the object changing every so often.

You Can't Make This Stuff Up, But People Do Anyway

The expression "Bush Derangement Syndrome" seems to have been coined by Charles Krauthammer last year. Conceived as a witticism, it referred to the fury that afflicts some critics of the Bush Administration, a fury with the peculiar property that those who have Bush Derangement Syndrome don't recognize it as anger. The term has become widespread: David Kaspar uses it to describe the German media's reaction to Bush's reelection.

But if Bush Derangement Syndrome was supposed to be a joke, what are we to make of Post Election Stress Trauma [PEST]?

Boca Raton News: Mental health officials in South Florida blasted Rush Limbaugh on Monday, saying the conservative talk show host’s offer of "free therapy" for traumatized John Kerry voters has made a mockery of a valid psychological problem..."Rush Limbaugh has a way of back-handedly slamming people," said Sheila Cooperman, a licensed clinician with the American Health Association (AHA) who listened Friday as Limbaugh offered to personally treat her patients....Cooperman, whose professional practice is based in Delray Beach, said the election-related symptoms she sees in the Kerry supporters more than [qualify] PEST as "a legitimate syndrome or disorder within the trauma spectrum," according to the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

I suspect PEST is a joke, too. I am afraid to check. However, it is true that some people really do view the recent election as a medical trauma for which they require treatment.

* * *

Whenever discussion of a public issue begins to use therapeutic terms, you normally find that someone is trying to get back on-message because pesky facts are interfering with their opinions. We saw quite a bit of that during the Nuclear Freeze Movement, when psychologists began to diagnose support for the Reagan Administration's Soviet policy as "psychic numbing." This had the convenient effect of relieving the opponents of that policy of the need to discuss the nature of the Soviet Union, much less of the need to actually know something about arms control. Psychology is not the only way to keep on-message, however. Translating an issue into Marxist terms used to be a sure-fire way to obviate the need to mention unpalatable realities. More recently, feminism has served the same function. I think that we are seeing an example of this in Theodore Dalrymple's piece in City Journal, Why Theo Van Gogh Was Murdered:

But why kill Theo Van Gogh, of all the people who have expressed hostility to radical Islam? Perhaps it was mere chance, but more likely it resulted from his work’s exposure of a very raw nerve of Muslim identity in Western Europe: the abuse of women...Were it not for the abuse of women, Islam would go the way of the Church of England. ...Religious sanction for the oppression of women (whether theologically justified or not) is hence the main attraction of Islam to young men in an increasingly secular world.

So now we know. Islam does not make converts in every Western country because Westerners seek to ground a sober way of life in the transcendent, a desire that secular modernity cannot satisfy. They do it to abuse women. (Those converts who are women, presumably, do it to be abused.) In fact, one might surmise from Dalrymple's argument that the oppression of women is the only real attraction that any religion has.

There are no mitigating circumstances in the slaughter of Theo Van Gogh. There is an explanation, though, which is that he was Michael Moore without the tact (or the body-guards). From what I can tell, Van Gogh does seem to have shared something of Dalrymple's contempt about the religious roots of human life. In Van Gogh's case, I suspect, willful ignorance of the dangers he faced made him vulnerable. Secularists who adopt Dalrymple's analysis will similarly be blinded to the nature and the enormity of the threat.

* * *

Meanwhile, not only are physicians taking money to cure parodic diseases, but parody publishing concept are appearing in the light of day. Consider, for instance, this passage from an imaginary business-philosophy book that Walter Kirn described in his novel, Up in the Air:

In The Garage, I propose a bold new formula to replace the lurching pursuit of profit: "Sufficient Plenitude." Enough really can be enough, that is. Heresy? Not to students of the human body, who know that optimum health is not achieved by ever greater consumption, but by functioning within certain dynamic parameters of diet and exercise, work and leisure.

Very funny, but then what are we to make of this new publication?:

Plenty hits the newsstands today and is scheduled to be published six times in 2005. It is aimed, the creators say, with no apparent comic intent, at the "environmental consumer" and promises "smart living for a complex world." The idea is that you don't have to be stodgy and self-flagellating to be green.

I am almost certain that Plenty is for real. Again, I am afraid to check.

* * *

On the subject of timidity, those of us who are too timid to simply confront the future have long been comforted by the opportunity to read about it ahead of time in the books of Strauss & Howe, with their beguiling cyclical generations model of American history. The problem they have faced since 911 is whether that event began the long-predicted generation of Crisis. They recently addressed the matter again:

As we wrote at the time, and as many readers have remarked, 9/11 came a bit early in the cycle--before Silent influence weakened sufficiently, before Boomers began entering old age with generational imperatives, before Gen Xers began entering midlife as societal anchors, before Millennials began coming of age and asserting themselves politically. In The Fourth Turning, we set 2005 as the time when that generational constellation would make a shift from the third to the fourth turning more likely...On domestic as well as foreign issues, America is now primed for a spark to catalyze the new mood far more fundamentally than 9/11 ever did outside the two attacked cities.

The difficulty is that, if 911 was the beginning of the Crisis, like the financial collapse of 1929, or like the Dred Scott decision of 1857, then the corresponding "regeneracy" event is just about due, like the beginning of the New Deal in 1933, or the inauguration of Abraham Lincoln in 1861. S&H cast doubt on whether the election of 2004 was a sufficient template for a new departure of that magnitude, so they wonder whether some incident still to come might serve to begin the Crisis.

In my opinion, the crisis that began on 911 was quite critical enough. As for the regeneracy, who knows what 2005 will bring?

* * *

Returning to merely historical history, John J. Dilulio Jr. argues in The Weekly Standard ("Wooing Purple America": November 17, 2004) that the Democratic Party has a dim future, unless it breaks its ties to the Cultural Left:

An old Philadelphia Democratic committeeman once put it this way: "I don't like [Moral Majority fundamentalist preacher] Jerry Falwell or [Grateful Dead drug-culture rocker] Jerry Garcia, but if I had to pick one Jerry to watch my grandkids, I'd sure pick Falwell."

Once again we see the old principle: give the people a choice between Us and Them, and the people will inevitably choose Them.

* * *

Finally, I have often complained in this space that the 21st century does not have all the technologies I had looked forward to, and it has other technologies that don't interest me, or are otherwise unsatisfactory. It was with some relief, therefore, that I saw this report about a good old-fashioned 21st-century system about to go into operation:

CHICAGO (CBS 2) Mayor Daley officially opened a new city operations center Tuesday that will include a dramatic increase in camera surveillance on Chicago’s streets...real time video and audio information from 2,000 cameras and microphones stationed around the city..The operations center will respond to anything from terrorist attacks to gas leaks...The new system also has the ability to instantly report the sound of gun shots within hearing distance of the microphones planned around the city.

The only problem is that the system is obsolete. Why doesn't the city just set up webcams that everyone can use?

Copyright © 2004 by John J. Reilly

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