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Psychology Today has published one mental health professional’s diagnosis of the pathology of the Tea Bagger. Dr. Michael Bader provides an astute examination of a serious emotional malformation, complete with clinical examples and prognosis. Bader’s conclusion is that the victims of this brewing epidemic of acute paranoia warrant our sympathy and understanding.
Bader begins by describing some of the causes of paranoia as the mind’s attempt to “make sense of and mitigate feelings of helplessness and worthlessness.” The goal is to manufacture redemption and absolution. In some cases that goal takes precedence over objective reality, which is frequently more frightening and less forgiving than the paranoid inventions.
“…the tea party folks find in their paranoid views about politics a narrative that ‘explains it all,’ that reduces their sense of helpless confusion, and that channels their feelings of victimization into ones of self-righteous militancy. They go from passive victim to active agent, from guilty to innocent, but all at the price of distorting reality into one full of malevolent conspiracies.”
Many Americans have been burdened with hardships that are testing their capacity to cope. The loss of jobs, homes, and security, threaten their sense of self-worth and provoke feelings of guilt and failure. For some, the discomfort of these conditions compels them to find alternative explanations that render them innocent victims of some other more powerful, irresistible force. And, as Bader notes, the vulnerable are getting help in constructing their emotional defenses:
“For new tea-party members, however, the drift toward paranoia is facilitated by the right-wing media machine that offers several ready-made narratives perfectly designed to help its consumers clear up their confusion, understand their helplessness, absolve them of any blame, and offer a way out. The conspiratorial alliance of business and government, a growing tyranny intended to disenfranchise, disarm, and exploit ordinary citizens, secret pacts to overthrow the constitution, etc. all currently led by an un-American, godless, colored, elitist, contemptuous, foreigner – Barack Hussein Obama. A grim and frightening picture of the world to be sure.
Fox News, of course, is the foundation of this electronic therapy. They happily feed the conspiracy-primed psyches of people whose barriers to irrationality are already severely weakened. The loss of tangible assets like property and work leads to a fear that more significant intangibles like liberty and faith are also at risk. They are convinced that the human values that have been present in society for centuries are under assault and are losing the war. So they invent explanations that soothe their conscience, even while creating new dangers and anxieties. Why would they do this, Dr. Bader?
“Psychologically speaking…it offers relief from helplessness and a sense that things are falling apart. It offers a sense of cohesion and identity based on certainty, a commonality of interests, innocence, and even martyrdom. While the world of the tea-party’ers is filled with danger, it is a danger mitigated by moral certainty, clarity of purpose, and a definable external enemy.” […]
“The ‘problem’ is that tea-party activists move from legitimate feelings and normal longings to paranoid political positions that are dangerous and cruel. But because these positions serve an important psychological function, because they resolve an emotional dilemma, they can’t be changed by rational argument.”
That level of certainty, combined with delusional foes lurking behind every acorn, is a formula for fiasco. And recent events in the news bear this out in the most horrific way. The gunman at the Pentagon. The suicide pilot in Austin. The murder at the DC Holocaust museum. The shooting at the Arkansas recruiting station. The assassination of Dr. Tiller. All of these tragedies were the result of diseased minds convinced that their actions were required to right some perceived wrong on the part of entities too large to confront any other way.
Just try arguing rationally with them – or with Tea Baggers who want the government to keep it’s hands off of their Medicare. They are a perplexing group of activists who actually advocate against their own interests. They reside in a world that can’t be reached from the real one the rest of us inhabit.
The same warped reasoning is the inspiration for birthers, patriot militias, and gold hoarders. It produces contrived plots like FEMA building concentration camps, and health care being a secret plan for reparations or total control of every citizen’s body. Liz Cheney’s McCarthay-esque campaign against the imaginary Al Qaeda 7 in the Justice Department is exactly the sort of media red meat that fuels these delusions (both liberals and conservatives are now rebuking Cheney). And Fox News’ repeated misrepresentation of “reconciliation,” a conventional parliamentary procedure, as a “Nuclear Option” is purposefully designed to invoke anxiety.
Glenn Beck is the acknowledged master of delusion. He is still peddling economic Armageddon, treasonous government moles, and the fear of Obama’s clandestine army of progressives (or fascists, or communists, or Raelians) perverting our principles and our children. Just this week he aired a special he titled: “The Indoctrination of Our Kids: An American Epidemic.” He ascribed all manner of evil (his actual word) to the most mundane social interactions and studies. One book he spoke of was so abhorrent that he wouldn’t even utter it’s name, or that of the author. He called it “Eric’s Book,” and sought to portray it as another link in the chain of villainy that the government (or progressives, or teachers, or the overlords) are tightening around our throats.
For the record, it was Eric Greenberg’s “Generation We.” Beck played clips from this companion video in which he saw an assembly of depraved young Americans. What do you see?
Ghastly isn’t it? These kids, who are concerned about the future of the nation and the world that they will inherit, are obviously puppets of Obama’s robot dictatorship.
But you can’t slip this past Glenn Beck. No, he knows what’s going on:
“What’s going on? Well, there’s a battle for the hearts and minds of your children. While you’re busy trying to make a living and navigate through the daily madness piling up all around you, progressives are working on indoctrinating America’s youth, your kids.”
Beck’s paranoia is operating at full steam. There doesn’t seem to be much hope for restoring whatever sanity he may have started out with. But Dr. Bader appears to be more optimistic about the prognosis for the Tea Baggers. Perhaps it is his experience with patient care and analysis that gives him this perspective:
“It would help if we found ways to get into relationship with them, to demonstrate a genuine curiosity not about their paranoid theories but about the underlying pain and fear that is the source of them. In this way, perhaps we can figure out how to speak to that pain and fear in ways that are both authentic and comforting. Perhaps we can figure out what experiences they might need to have in order to feel safe enough to at least listen to another narrative – ours.”
That’s a worthwhile strategy, but I can’t say that I’m as hopeful as the good doctor. After all, Fox News and talk radio are still around to fire up the crazy. How will the Tea Baggers heal when they are still being fed contaminated slices of unreality? How do you replace the paranoid narrative when Beck and O’Reilly and Hannity and Cavuto and the rest of Rupert Murdoch’s messengers of malignancy are churning out fractured fables that reinforce the Baggers’ dementia?
The Murdoch cartel is explicitly designed to keep weak souls strung out and gasping for another fix. Murdoch is the pusher and the Baggers are addicted to the phony melodramas that bring them the comfort of having an enemy onto which they can project their gnawing guilt and shame. It doesn’t matter that it’s all a litany of lies. The more outlandish the falsehood, the stronger the rush and, in the end, the more tragic the consequences. To these poor suckers anything is better than facing the harshness of reality and taking responsibility. Particularly if it involves sacrifice and charity and other scary socialistic notions of fellowship. It’s much better to be distracted and confused by nefarious forces from the outside.
That’s where Rupert Murdoch comes in with his international media empire, devoid of national allegiances or personal conscience. This paranoia factory could only be run by such an entity. It requires massive resources and ambition. It works because Murdoch is a man of wealth and (dubious) taste. And what’s puzzling you is just the nature of his game.