A World of Discovery

September 2, 2010

Dead crazyperson and one-time eco-crusader James Lee has stirred up a veritable shitstorm of political opportunism with his recent hostage-taking at the Discovery Network. Here, you can see all the fun posts about the political associations of nutcrackers by travelling to Wonkette.

The Washington Post begins the thread by calling Lee an “environmental militant”. Think Progress then says one thing. Anthony Watts anotherJoe Romm another. Whee! This is fun.

No, but seriously. This event, like most of these events, is the result of a person who is seriously out of psychological balance. He was not sorting the world into goods and bads, as the Washington Post seems to assert. He was not sorting out good and bad ideologies. He was having difficulty identifying goods and bads, rights and wrongs, full stop. He was exercising exceptionally poor judgment, and we have evidence of this in his actions today. In effect, he had a problem with reasoning.

The lesson here, I think, apart from the truism that mental illness is a serious problem and that we need to provide help to those who aren’t capable of finding that help for themselves, is that it is incredibly easy to use crazy people for political gain, to ignore the serious burdens that reason places on us by appealing instead to all of the nutty dumdums who pepper our nightly news broadcasts.

Much as I believe that there are many unreasonable people — even completely nutty people — who disagree with me politically, it does nobody any good to focus on the nutty. To say that some position X will cause other people to Y, or that some position A is the consequence of derangement or disorder, is to psychologize reason away. Far better to focus on the reasonable, to hone in on an argument by deploying the principle of charity, to find the best representative of a given position and dismantle that position on its own terms.

In this respect, Stanley Fish’s column this week is incredibly prescient:

The formula is simple and foolproof (although those who deploy it so facilely seem to think we are all fools): If the bad act is committed by a member of a group you wish to demonize, attribute it to a community or a religion and not to the individual. But if the bad act is committed by someone whose profile, interests and agendas are uncomfortably close to your own, detach the malefactor from everything that is going on or is in the air (he came from nowhere) and characterize him as a one-off, non-generalizable, sui generis phenomenon.

The only thing more breathtaking than the effrontery of the move is the ease with which so many fall in with it. I guess it’s because both those who perform it and those who eagerly consume it save themselves the trouble of serious thought.


  1. Atrios had it pithier and just as right

    I’m sure I’ve been guilty of it myself at some point in the past, but the now standard race to define every violent nutcase as a right wing nut or a left wing nut is a bit depressing. Mostly nutters are driven by the fact that they’re nuts, whatever ideological motives they channel their nuttiness through.

  2. Allow Eli another tack. The issue is not the nuts but the nut-enablers.

  3. I agree with both you Ben and Eli. Whether a nut is trying to protect the unborn by killing an abortion doctor or trying to protect the environment – they are just nuts and their actions should not be attributed to the cause they are manifesting their nuttiness through.

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