Minefields of the Mind
Originally posted May 2007. The observations made and concepts discussed still ring true.
I don’t know about you, but I find myself increasingly dismayed and astounded at the antics and shenanigans of the liberal Left and the so-called Democratic Party (if truth in advertising were to apply to party names, we should really call this the Socialist Party; and yes, the Republicans should probably be called something like the Spineless Wonders given their recent history). But when alleged leaders such as Harry Reid can bluntly state that if a general gives him an eyewitness report that he doesn’t like, he won’t believe it, well, I think it entirely justified to question their grasp on reality, let alone their patriotism. I’ve recently pointed to Bill Whittle’s essays on Seeing the Unseen, an excellent effort in three parts, of which we have only two to date. In part 1 he shows how one applies the ability to think critically to the canards of Bush Derangement Syndrome, blowing them away in the process, and in part 2 he likewise shreds conspiracy theories with Occam’s Razor. (Part 3 he says will be on global warming, and I can hardly wait to see how he deals with that globaloney.) Now, it is great fun watching him present the relevant facts and data that destroy these fairy tales, but there are some additional thoughts that he briefly pursues to which I’d like to turn at this juncture.
Given the way the facts so oppose the aforementioned canards and conspiracies put forth, how can a rational person embrace them with the fervency one all too often sees on the left and in the Democratic side of the aisle? At one point in part 1, Mr. Whittle says,
Seriously now, there are millions and millions of people on this planet who will torture logic and reason to mind-bending extremes in order to believe monumentally ridiculous ‘theories’… theories drawn from an emotional need so warped and debased that you are catapulted beyond anger and disbelief directly into pathos and the desire to call 911 before these people hurt themselves.
Then in part 2 he concludes,
But these denialists – the Moon Hoaxers and the 9/11 ‘Truthers’ – these are a different breed. And they are cut from precisely the same cloth. That is to say, they suffer from the same disease: an unwillingness to face reality and its consequences.
He later continues:
I am more interested in the psychology of someone who believes in these conspiracy theories. I exempt people who have only heard one side of the story, as I did. Sadly, skepticism doesn’t sell as well as hysteria….
Intellectually honest people, people without a deep, vested emotional need to believe the worst, are usually relieved to hear the facts that demolish superstitions like the Bermuda Triangle and the Loch Ness Monster. While there may be disappointment at the loss of an unseen world, people who have chosen to live in reality find comfort in the fact that reality is, in fact, made up of the real and not the wished for.
No, what fascinates me is the emotional motive of people who, presented with overwhelming evidence that the events that transpired on November 22nd, 1963 or September 11th, 2001 really happened exactly the way it appeared, continue to spin ever more elaborate webs in order to get to a place they need to be emotionally. Who are you going to believe: them or your own lying eyes?
As he says, normal people embrace truth regardless of where it leads, they don’t make it up if they don’t like it. Again, I strongly suggest reading Mr. Whittle’s essay; the common sense it uses is desperately needed in our country today. At the end of part 2, he points to another blogger with M.D. credentials in clinical psychiatry and aerospace medicine (an interesting combination that minimally says, she’s smart!) whose moniker is Dr. Sanity, who has taken his effort and expanded it into the clinical psychiatric realm with her profession opinion and conclusions. Her analysis should be required reading for anyone seeking to understand this phenomenon that is running amuck in our culture today.
The tools of the paranoid are denial, distortion, and projection. These psychological tools are almost always pathological when used to cope with the real world. For the user these three primitive psychological defenses permit a [hopefully temporary] rearrangement of external reality so that an actual, often unpleasant or painful reality may be avoided; for the beholder, the users of these mechanisms frequently appear crazy or insane. These are known as the ‘psychotic’ defenses, common in overt psychosis, in dreams, and throughout childhood.
Denial is a refusal to accept external reality because it is too threatening. There are examples of denial being adaptive (for example, it might be adaptive for a person who has a terminal illness to use some degree of denial). But for the most part, denial is only useful as a short-term strategy, to permit a person to come to terms with reality. As a long-term strategy to protect self-identity, it is potentially lethal – since the person or group that uses it extensively is blinded to the real danger that might be out there.
Let me interject here, we all use a healthy form of denial when we take a break from work and go to get some entertainment, be it sports, or a movie, or television. In fact, it is often pointed out that to truly enjoy a movie, one must engage in a willing, and I might add, knowing, suspension of disbelief. The difference between healthy denial and pathological denial is that one is still in control in healthy denial and can return to reality at a moments notice. You’re watching TV and your child hurts himself badly, you don’t sit there watching TV, you go to take care of your child.
Distortion is a gross reshaping of external reality to meet internal needs. Hinchey’s bizarre accusations against the evil genius Rove are a perfect example. It is more acceptable to believe that some evil person has tricked you, than it is to believe that you behaved stupidly.
To combine denial and distortion in a more neutral but compelling example, healthy denial without any distortion is sitting in a movie theater enjoying the escape of a movie, and quickly getting up and leaving when the fire alarm goes off. Reality can interrupt the fantasy, however rude we may think it is to do so. The pathological combination is when the fire alarm goes off and you sit there continuing to watch the movie, sure that there is no fire and that the fire alarm is the fantasy even as the flames are surrounding you.
Delusional Projection occurs when an individual or group have delusions about external reality, usually of a persecutory nature.
It is easy to see how all these psychological manipulations work together to keep a person or a group insulated from reality. In truth, we witness such behavior all around us (and it is certainly not exclusive to one side of the political spectrum–though the political left has almost exclusive rights to it at this point in history).
Knowledge of these tools, these mines that can be set in the mind like IEDs against reality, should prove very helpful in detecting and understanding some of what is coming out of the fever swamp these days. Dr. Sanity continues:
How do you tell a fact from a distortion? 9/11 was a FACT. Millions of people experienced it directly; millions more watched it unravel indirectly. There are mounds of evidence and data that it was planned and funded by Al-Qaeda and carried out by Islamic terrorists. These are FACTS. The widespread belief among Muslims that the Jews are behind 9/11 and that they did it so that the blame would fall on Muslims is a DISTORTION, which comes from DENIAL of the facts; and represents a PSYCHOLOGICAL PROJECTION. It is a PSYCHOLOGICAL PROJECTION because many Muslims want desperately to believe that Islam is a peaceful religion and prohibits such acts, despite what is said in the Qu’ran, and what is practiced in the real world.
Likewise, the widespread belief on the political left that the Bush Administration and the US government is behind 9/11 and that they did it so that they did it because— oh who the hell can possibly understand all the frivolous reasons they cite– is also a DISTORTION, which comes from DENIAL of the facts; and represents a PSYCHOLOGICAL PROJECTION. It is a PSYCHOLOGICAL PROJECTION because many on the left want desperately to believe that their socialist ideology/religion stands for peace and that Republicans/Conservatives/Neocons are behind all the evil in the world, instead of their utopian fantasies, despite all the horrors their fantasies have produced in the real world.
The primary characteristic of a fact is its objectivity, that is, it is true regardless of what you want or what you feel about it. It can be observed by more than one individual, and exists quite apart from your own personal preferences. The progression Dr. Sanity outlines is instructive: denial, distortion to rationalize the denial, and then psychological projection. And why all this energy into this process? Why not simply embrace reality and roll with the punches?
Many people desperately need to cling to something – anything, no matter how bizarre or psychotic – that proves (at least in their own dysfunctional minds) that their beliefs about President Bush being a fascist dictator, another Hitler, about to implement a Christian theocracy are true. They believe this so deeply that it is impossible for facts to debunk such a religious fantasy. In their minds, if it is true, then they are not such losers for believing in an ideology that is responsible for the deaths and misery of millions around the world.
Their mind is made up, don’t confuse them with facts. There is a subconscious recognition that they and their beliefs are wrong, but pride refuses to allow them to acknowledge this possibility.
The paranoia, projection and denial all serve to make them feel better about themselves; make them feel less like the losers they are. By inventing themselves as the victims of the BushHitler — or the Jews, or the neocons or whatever – they can, like a typical, arrogant paranoid psychotic, pat themselves on the back at their heroic, courageous, and ‘principled’ stand against the forces of oppression. Their failures are NOT THEIR FAULT. Everything in their life would be better if THE EVIL OPPRESSORS would go away. Their need to externalize blame for their own failure will trump any facts and obscure any contradicting reality. Without the paranoia, they are nothing.
Emotions are an important part of life, but if you base all your behavior on what you FEEL, then you are vulnerable to all sorts of psychopathology. Paranoia is an extreme of what otherwise would be helpful and normal reactions to the perception of danger. Paranoia distorts reality in the service of protecting the self from having to deal with unacceptable thoughts or feelings. It is useful to protect the integrity of the sense of self–sometimes even at the expense of one’s life.
Here is why it is the left, the liberal, the progressive that is so susceptible to this paranoia: their worldview depends on feelings, not facts. It is more important what you feel about something than it is what you think about it. As Michael Ledeen has said in a different context:
The theory that you must have the correct emotions in order to understand a body of knowledge or master a particular subject is a corollary of the doctrine that there is no objective truth (knowledge being no more or less than an instrument of power). Every idea is held to be subjective, and thus – again – emotions and feelings are the most important things. Indeed, for a certain kind of contemporary liberal, they are the only things that matter.
If you believe that, there is obviously no point in studying anything, except to provoke emotional reactions, and you will be unable to distinguish between the validity of conflicting emotions.
Dr. Sanity continues:
Paranoia helps individuals and groups defend against their own hostility and their perceived insignificance. Often the emotions displayed by the paranoid are covering up the exact opposite emotion within. Paranoia is reason in the service of the irrational. The paranoid cannot afford to examine his or her premises and face reality because to do so would do two things:
(1) it would display to the world the deep, irrational hatred which he is defending himself against by making himself the ‘victim’ of someone else’s deep, irrational hatred; and
(2) it would cause him to admit his own insignificance, because if he is NOT the center of a plot and the focus of his ‘enemies’ then he must be shamefully unimportant – a nobody.
Pride plus dependence on emotions to define one’s world leads to psychological rationalizations that ultimately results in a separation from reality. As Michael Savage has said, liberalism is a mental disorder…indeed!