»  Taki's Magazine

January 12th, 2011

  Republic of Hysteria


hysteria — conduct or an outbreak of conduct exhibiting unmanageable fear or emotional excess in individuals or groups [fr. Gk. hystera womb]
                — Webster's Third

There's a lot of it about. The January 8th shootings in Tucson set off extraordinary shrieking and projectile vomiting on the political Left. You are familiar by now with the stories: Paul Krugman castigating tad-to-the-right-of-center political mediocrities and media blowhards as "purveyors of hate," that dimwit sheriff gibbering about "vitriolic rhetoric," Daily Kos blaming Sarah Palin, some semi-literate DHS goon fingering American Renaissance for the crime, Hillary Clinton telling Arab students that the Tucson killer was our equivalent of their jihadist terrorists.

How on earth did the Left get this way? Hysteria in politics is not, of course, a new thing. The U.S.A. has been especially susceptible. Historian Paul Johnson in his book Modern Times: "America seems particularly prone to these spasms of self-righteous political emotion in which all sense of perspective and the national interest is lost." (He was writing about the Watergate frenzy of 1973-74.)

The Left hysteria of our own time has, though, some characteristics that link it to larger social and intellectual trends.

Let's start, since we are discussing the actions of a lunatic, with the issue of madness. I've been thinking about this a lot these past few months, since well before the Tucson shootings, as a friend of mine recently went mad.

I live on the east coast and my friend lives on the west coast, so there wasn't much I could do, but his wife called to ask for my advice. Not having a clue, I consulted an acquaintance who'd had a family member go mad. He: "Every time there's an episode that might in any way be construed as threatening, call 911. They won't do anything in response to any one call; but the calls are all logged. With all those calls you're making a paper trail, and when the paper trail's long enough you can make a case for institutionalization."

It needs to be some darn good case, as institutionalization of the mad is deeply unfashionable nowadays. This attitude came in with the biophobia that swept the Western world's educated classes from the 1960s onward — a peculiar, almost religious hostility to any discussion of Homo sap. as belonging to the natural world and obeying the laws thereof. Carleton Coon — out: Stephen Jay Gould — in.

The latest milestone on this march away from reality came last month with the announcement that the American Anthropological Association has dropped the word "science" from its mission statements. The AAA has long been under the control of the postmodernist far Left, so the announcement was no great surprise.

The proper study of mankind may still be man, but that study now belongs not to science but to the humanities, along with Chicana Studies, Queer Literary Theory, and Post-Colonial Discourse.

The bio-con blogger OneSTDV makes the Tucson connection.

Why can't we characterize this man for what he is? And then why don't we, as a society, have any measures in place to act on what we know about this crazy person?

Well, to define this man as irredeemable would constitute surrender to biological determinism, the bane of liberal creationists and social constructionists. Liberals will not allow society to "give up" on anyone, not even the most hardened criminals or the dumbest children. Liberals imbue society with immeasurable power to successfully cultivate, nurture, and mold every single individual. It takes a village, from the cradle to the grave.

Attempts to redeem the intractably irredeemable now seem to consume most of our national energies: rebuilding Haiti, bailing out General Motors, turning Afghanistan into a liberal democracy, Leaving No Child Behind, …

The can-do spirit for which the U.S.A. was long renowned, and that put men on the moon, slipped its moorings years ago. It is now drifting aimlessly in the open ocean, having thrown overboard the essential insight that the success of can-do depends crucially on having some clue about how to do.

We knew how to get men to the Moon; we have no clue — not the faintest ghost of a shadow of a clue — how to civilize Haiti or make dumb kids smart. Most likely neither thing is possible.

This blithe refusal to entertain the possibility of impossibility in human affairs ascended to conventional wisdom just as U.S. society was decaying down into the condition described by the late Sam Francis as "anarcho-tyranny," where the state gives up on its primary responsibilities as being too difficult or distasteful and redirects its energies to petty harassment of ordinary law-abiding citizens.

We have 100,000 federal officials telling us what size print we may use on food packaging, but we don't lock up crazy people any more, not until they have vented their craziness in some such manner as the January 8th murders.

Even then we can't cope with them. I just saw a legal expert on TV tell me that legal proceedings against Jared Loughner could drag on for years.

The guy opened fire in front of a streetful of witnesses, killing six and wounding another thirteen. In a sane republic under effective governmental and judicial authority he would be tried, convicted, sentenced, and executed — or institutionalized for life — in a week. We do not live in such a republic.

The mix of infinite ambitions for human transformation with corrupt, decadent public institutions is profoundly toxic. Probably it has already killed off any prospect of us enduring as a nation.

I once posed the question: Will the United States Survive Until 2022? I was too optimistic.