Postrel and Nussbaum explain Bush Derangement Syndrome

Virginia Postrel notes:

When I was in New York a few weeks ago, a friend in the magazine business told me he thinks the ferocious Bush hating that he sees in New York is a way of calming the haters’ fears of terrorism. It’s not rational, but it’s psychologically plausible–blame the cause you can control, at least indirectly through elections, rather than the threats you have no control over.

Charles Krauthammer (former psychiatrist) identified this ferocious Bush hating as Bush Derangement Syndrom (BDS)

the acute onset of paranoia in otherwise normal people in reaction to the policies, the presidency — nay — the very existence of George W. Bush.

Although both Postrel and Krauhthammer’s accounts are anecdotal, they appear to be identifying something very real. Over at Reason, Martha Nussbaum (who taught at Brown when I was there) places these emotions in a broader psychological context:

Disgust, I argue (drawing on recent psychological research), is different. Its cognitive content involves a shrinking from contamination that is associated with a human desire to be non-animal. That desire, of course, is irrational in the sense that we know we will never succeed in fulfilling it; it is also irrational in another and even more pernicious sense. As psychological research shows, people tend to project disgust properties onto groups of people in their own society, who come to figure as surrogates for people’s anxieties about their own animality. By branding members of these groups as disgusting, foul, smelly, slimy, the dominant group is able to distance itself even further from its own animality. Such irrational projections have been involved in antisemitism through the ages, and in misogyny in more or less every society.

So perhaps liberal intellectuals hate Bush so much because these people have a deep desire to be non-animal. Being non-animal means being above/outside the reality of cultural/religious/national/tribal conflict and competition. Being animal means realizing that occasionally one must choose between killing or being killed and acting now or acting later.

Lee Harris thinks we talking only about forgetfulness:

Forgetfulness occurs when those who have been long inured to civilized order can no longer remember a time in which they had to wonder whether their crops would grow to maturity without being stolen or their children sold into slavery by a victorious foe. . . . They forget that in time of danger, in the face of the Enemy, they must trust and confide in each other, or perish.

They forget, in short, that there has ever been a category of human experience called the Enemy. And that, before 9/11, was what had happened to us. The very concept of the Enemy had been banished from our moral and political vocabulary. An enemy was just a friend we hadn’t done enough for — yet. Or perhaps there had been a misunderstanding, or an oversight on our part — something that we could correct.

And this means that that our first task is that we must try to grasp what the concept of the Enemy really means.

The Enemy is someone who is willing to die in order to kill you. And while it is true that the Enemy always hates us for a reason — it is his reason, and not ours.

Although his account of the enemy is correct, the problem is not simply forgetfulness. Although it would be nice to believe that reminding is the cure, Nussbaum et al give us reason to believe more is required. We are looking at active rejection of contamination. Although, I don’t think the emotion is disgust exactly, it certainly looks related.


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