‘Paranoid’ political culture

Posted by AzBlueMeanie:

Lucy2 Greg Sargent writes at The Plum Line – Can "paranoid" political culture trigger violence in the unhinged?:

I'm going to second Steve Benen's claim that this column by Harold Meyerson is an important addition to the debate over the shooting:

The primary problem with the political discourse of the right in today's America isn't that it incites violence per se. It's that it implants and reinforces paranoid fears about the government and conservatism's domestic adversaries.

Much of the culture and thinking of the American right — the mainstream as well as the fringe — has descended into paranoid suppositions about the government, the Democrats and the president. This is not to say that the left wing doesn't have a paranoid fringe, too. But by every available measure, it's the right where conspiracy theories have exploded.

A fabricated specter of impending governmental totalitarianism haunts the right's dreams.

Again, this is why mental illness professionals say that even if we have already concluded that Jared Loughton is a nut, we should still be asking whether the overheated political climate — and violent, incendiary or paranoid rhetoric in particular — might have played some kind of role in pushing him over the edge.

As Dr. Marvin Swartz told me yesterday, the key operative insight is that culture can play a role in shaping the delusions of the mentally ill — so it's entirely appropriate to ask whether our political culture can do the same. In other words, the chief argument from the right — "Loughton is a nut who is totally detached from reality, so therefore our political climate couldn't possibly be to blame for the shooting" — is off point. Rather, the question, as Dr. Swartz put it, is this: Can those who are already delusional find their delusions — and behavior — further shaped and influenced by overheated political discourse and imagery?

Meyerson makes a similar point today, arguing that the likes of Glenn Beck and Fox News are "responsible for promoting a paranoid culture that makes America a more divided and dangerous land." In reality, Swartz says, the connections between political culture and political violence are poorly understood. But the point is, trying to understand those connections is an entirely legitimate line of inquiry, and we should be using the shooting as a jumping off point for it.

This line of questioning is entirely separate from the narrow battle over whether Sarah Palin or Glenn Beck or any particular personality is specifically guilty of inciting this specific act of violence. You can say No to that question while still pursuing answers to the larger questions at play. Those who are caught up in the back and forth over that narrow blame game — on both sides — are missing an opportunity to hash out a much larger set of issues that could have untold consequences later.

Here is Greg Sargent's earlier post with a leading expert in mental illness, Dr. Marvin Swartz, a psychiatry professor at Duke University who specializes in how environment impacts the behavior of the mentally ill. The Plum Line – Mental illness expert: We should be asking whether political climate helped trigger shooting.

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