Maybe we should agree to disagree like sane people

07/16/2014 5:53 PM

07/16/2014 5:53 PM

Have you ever wondered what makes other people hold the ridiculous political opinions they do?

Is it just a matter of them being grumpy and old and therefore mad because the world has changed?

Or are they really mad in the other sense? Have people who disagree with us taken leave of their senses and become stark-raving bonkers, which I believe is the standard psychological classification?

It is very satisfying to think so. For one thing, it relieves us, the self-identified sane people, of the obligation to engage further and seriously debate conflicting ideas. You are crazy, I am sane, so take my insult and go away.

No wonder the nation is in such a ridiculous state, when people on each side think those who disagree with them are psychologically disturbed.

How many times are we told that “liberalism is a mental disorder”? The ones who email me this clearly think they are being so darned witty. Of course, they would never have come up with this if talk show host Michael Savage hadn’t written a book with the same name as his contribution to the debasement of humanity.

Likewise, Ann Coulter, who has made a career of trying to be caustically cute, also believes liberalism is “an aspect of mental illness.”

But psychological name-calling is apparently a crowded field. There’s also a book titled The Liberal Mind: The Psychological Causes of Political Madness, by Lyle H. Rossiter Jr., M.D. The good doctor may not be as well-known as the others, but the description of his book on the Amazon site is a classic, a risible tour de force:

“The Liberal Mind is the first in-depth examination of the major political madness of our time: The radical left’s efforts to regulate the people from cradle to grave. To rescue us from our troubled lives, the liberal agenda recommends denial of personal responsibility, encourages self-pity and other-pity, fosters government dependency, promotes sexual indulgence, rationalizes violence, excuses financial obligation, justifies theft, ignores rudeness, prescribes complaining,” etc., and on into the night.

I personally know no liberal whose beliefs fit this description.

My favorite conservative slur is one I blush to write, “libtard.” Of unknown authorship, it takes the word liberal and combines it with retard. How clever! How amusing! How totally bereft of human decency.

Liberals have waded into the same murky waters in their attempts to paint conservatism as a mental disorder. They just haven’t been as successful.

Recent scientific studies have suggested a genetic explanation for political preference. So maybe Savage and others are vaguely onto something — although if liberalism is a mental disorder, then conservatism is logically one, too.

Call me mentally disordered, but it seems to me the nation urgently needs to find ways to disagree without being disagreeable. If you don’t call me stark raving, I won’t call you bonkers.

Reg Henry is deputy editorial-page editor for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. rhenry@post-gazette.com

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