The Psychopathology of the Liberal Mind
(This article first appeared at www.americanthinker.com on 2 Dec 2012)
The ever-increasing culture of entitlement was correctly identified by Mitt Romney as a leading factor in the Democrats’ victory. However, running in parallel is another culture on the rise—one far less well-identified, which bodes ominously not only for the GOP’s future prospects, but, more importantly, for the democratic process itself.
If the culture of entitlement is illustrated by 47% of the population believing they have a right to live off the country’s teat, then what could be termed a “culture of pseudo-idealism” is the mindset that gets its self-worth from assisting them to do that.
Pseudo-idealism is a term coined by the Australian biologist Jeremy Griffith to describe apparently charitable behavior that on scrutiny is revealed as selfish, because the giver is engaging in it only so that he or she can feel good about him- or herself. It is a characteristic commonly found among the left, and it constitutes what the author Geoffrey Wheatcroft recognized as the left’s inherent dishonesty.
The problem for Republicans is that pseudo-idealism becomes a more and more attractive option the more dysfunctional a society becomes. By contrast, a healthy, pioneering country, where the family unit still instils strong values, will far more readily produce sound, self-reliant adults with little or no need to escape themselves by taking up feel-good causes. However, as these values are eroded and society and the family unit begin to break down, it is inevitable that new generations will carry greater emotional scars than previous generations. What this means is that recent generations will have an increased motivation to find escape from their condition through deluding themselves that they are genuinely compassionate by taking up some moral high ground-simulating cause.
The clear and present danger is that this sort of dysfunction is skyrocketing. The psychologist Michael Carr-Gregg was reported as saying that “Generation Y is being ravaged by depression, anxiety disorders and stress disorders.” Statistics are readily available that show that all of the attributes identified by Carr-Gregg have gone off the graph over the last 20-30 years.
In one of the few analyses of its kind, Lyle H. Rossiter, Jr., M.D. identifies this dysfunctional psychology that lies behind liberalism. He writes in The Liberal Mind: The Psychological Causes of Political Madness that liberalism is “rooted in fears of separation, abandonment loss or abuse— the residual effects of early attachment gone wrong.”
Those suffering from this particular psychosis, then, naturally enough, become preoccupied with seeking relief, in particular through pseudo-idealism or “celebrating” victimhood. Rossiter says, “What the liberal mind is passionate about is a world filled with pity, sorrow, neediness, misfortune, poverty, suspicion, mistrust, anger, exploitation, discrimination, victimization, alienation and injustice.”
Griffith, while presenting an explanation for the human condition which he claims reconciles the differences between left- and right-wing politics at a fundamental biological level, is even more explicit in drawing the connection between dysfunction (what he terms “upset”) and this culture of pseudo-idealism. He says, “With the levels of upset in the world becoming extreme, relief-hunting became a huge industry, to the extent that we became, as sociologist Frank Furedi recognized, ‘a society that celebrates victimhood rather than heroism.’”
Answering the idea that pseudo-idealists are just trying to make a better world, Griffith says bluntly, “What rubbish— it’s a selfish attempt to gain relief from the agony of the human condition!”
As signaled at the beginning of this article, should this trend toward pseudo-idealism continue, there is a real danger that there will be a corruption of the democratic process as a viable mechanism for making sound decisions about what is best for society. Griffith points out: “The whole democratic process that our society depended on for there to be effective progress was being destroyed by mad desperados, by a group of people who were misusing democracy for their own selfish need to make themselves feel good, rather than for what democracy was designed for— a tool to decide what was right or wrong in any particular course of action.”
The predictable response by liberals to this charge is that without their social agenda, there would be no compassion at all for the marginalized. To be fair, there is a point where most of us will agree that conservative attitudes can go too far “right.” Wheatcroft identified this potential when he said, “The great twin political problems of the age are the brutality of the right, and the dishonesty of the left.” However, it is part of the dishonesty of the left that it exaggerates this potential for brutality.
Altruism, when it is required, is a mark of a healthy, responsible society, and it is not alien to the conservative mindset— but real compassion has none of the degenerate morbidity that characterizes the liberal’s. As Rossiter attests, the compassionate instinct is a natural one: “When not lost in the torment and dysfunction of mental disorder or discouraged by the oppressive hand of government, charitable service to others feels inherently gratifying and even fulfilling, not burden-some, to the mature adult. This altruistic pole of human nature, a rational expression of a biologically determined nurturing instinct, is one of the pillars of social order.”
It is critically important to understand this profound difference between genuine and pseudo-idealism, and it is critically important to understand that more and more people will flock to pseudo-idealistic causes simply because they cannot withstand the temptation of the relief that it brings them. The challenge is to understand this impulse well enough to resist it; otherwise, its carriers will lead us down a path from which we won’t recover— all the while, in sickly sweet tones, claiming the moral high ground.