Sunday, October 14, 2007
You can't spend any time in internet political discussion groups or chat rooms without confronting the Limbaugh phenomenon. The dittoheads are everywhere, and this makes for a very sad and depressing presentation of a supposedly civilized society.
The proper study of this phenomenon lies not in politics, but in psychology.
The psychiatrist Carl Gustav Jung believed that for every case of full-blown insanity in modern societies, there are ten more who are teetering on the brink, and "whose views and behaviour, for all their appearance of normality, are influenced unconsciously by pathological and perverse factors."*
I'm not sure the murderous rage of the dittoheads, openly flaunted as if it was a virtue and source of pride, qualifies as possessing the "appearance of normality," but Limbaugh's listenership and fan base is widesperad enough that it's become part of the landscape.
Jung says further of these semi-lunatics that "the relatively small numbers of the population figures they represent is more than compensated for by the peculiar dangerousness of these people. Their mental state is that of a collectively excited group ruled by affective judgments and wish-fantasies. In a milieu of this kind (a society constantly agitated and stimulated by mass-media entertainments and sensationalist information) they are the adapted ones, and consequently they feel quite at home in it. They know from their own experience the language of these conditions, and they know how to handle them. Their chimerical ideas, sustained by fanatical resentment, appeal to the collective irrationality and find fruitful soil there; they express all those motives and resentments which lurk in more normal people under the cloak of reason and insight. They are therefore, despite their small number in comparison with the population as a whole, dangerous as sources of infection..."
The infection Jung speaks of and its manner of spreading is immediately apparent to those of us who spend any amount of time in internet discussion groups. Superpatriots and cheerleaders for monopoloy corporatism, military dictatorship, and endless war burst into these forums in a state of high excitation, agitated by resentment and rage. They accuse anyone who disagrees with them of all manner of crimes, and of sinister and evil motives -- collusion with the enemy, wishing for the impoverishment and misery of their own people, hoping for the triumph of moral degeneracy over virtue, and so forth. The accused naturally enough are offended, get angry, and are suckered into responding in kind, rather than doing what they should, and responding calmly. That's how the contagion spreads.
This all makes not only for a sad and tragic state of public discourse, but for truly dangerous and potentially violent domestic politics. And on the world stage, of course, the violence isn't potential, but real, massively deadly, and destructive of everything this country once stood for.
It's time to stop debating. We need to call in the police and mental health authorities and show them the evidence, which will consist of any Rush Limbaugh broadcast chosen at random.
*All remarks quoted from Jung are drawn from his essay "The Undiscovered Self," available in "The Undiscovered Self with Symbols and the Interpretation of Dreams," published in 1990 as part of Princeton University's Bollingen Series and sold on Amazon.com.