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November 09, 2007

Stop Calling Them Nuts

Just as I wish everyone would stop calling Saddam Hussein and George Bush lunatics, so too with the US media:

[A waitress said] that Mrs. Clinton had failed to tip after eating at a Maid-Rite diner in central Iowa, an assertion that ricocheted around the Internet on Thursday...the story had been picked up and expanded upon on by, among others, the Drudge Report, which included a link to a report about a tip that Mrs. Clinton neglected to give in 2000. The Web sites of NBC News and ABC News also carried the story...

Reached at her home in Iowa, the waitress, Anita Esterday...said she did not understand what all the commotion was about.

“You people are really nuts,” she told a reporter during a phone interview. “There’s kids dying in the war, the price of oil right now — there’s better things in this world to be thinking about than who served Hillary Clinton at Maid-Rite and who got a tip and who didn’t get a tip.”

But the people who work for the New York Times, ABC, and NBC aren't nuts, nor is Matt Drudge. Their actions are completely rational. They're just doing what their bosses want them to do, because they want to keep their jobs.

It's true they seem nuts if you believe their constant yammering about how their only motivation is the search for Truth and Beauty. Likewise, Saddam seemed nuts if you believed his constant yammering about his only motivation being his luv for Iraq. And Bush seems nuts if you believe he's motivated by luv for America.

Why is it so difficult for societies to understand this about those in authority? I suspect it's connected to family dynamics. It's less scary to believe dad loves you, but is acting crazy, than to accept he's not crazy but genuinely doesn't care whether you live or die.

Posted at November 9, 2007 11:02 PM | TrackBack

Maybe that's what the Oedipal myth is really is all about: the hidden desire to kill daddy stemming from the intimate knowledge that daddy doesn't care if you live or die.

Posted by: En Ming Hee at November 10, 2007 12:56 AM

I like this theme of yours regarding the relativity of Crazy. I'm going to repeat it.

Posted by: Krinn DNZ at November 10, 2007 01:04 AM

She should have said "You people are really disgusting".That would be right on target. Isn't it?

Posted by: Ajit at November 10, 2007 03:01 AM

A to-the-right-of-Bush friend told me she had seen on the Internet that Obama DIDN'T PUT HIS HAND ON HIS HEART FOR THE PLEDGE OF ALLEGIANCE!!! She saw a video of it, so that proves he's a commie--uh, an Islamfascist, a baby killer, a....
Maybe it isn't our leaders who are nuts.

Posted by: Rosemary Molloy at November 10, 2007 07:51 AM

A to-the-right-of-Bush friend told me she had seen on the Internet that Obama DIDN'T PUT HIS HAND ON HIS HEART FOR THE PLEDGE OF ALLEGIANCE!!! She saw a video of it, so that proves he's a commie--uh, an Islamfascist, a baby killer, a....
Maybe it isn't our leaders who are nuts.

Posted by: Rosemary Molloy at November 10, 2007 07:51 AM

I agree with you frequently, but here you've left for a distant planet where all communication consists of Spock-like rational statements of the literal truth.

When I, or Atrios, or Anita Esterday observe that the mavens of our national media seem like a bunch of silly, twittering nuts, what we're doing is being deliberately insulting. We're engaged in a rhetorical strategy designed to encourage those around us to disregard those people's sober claims to authority. If in the process we happen to occasionally chip away at the media people's (large, but surprisingly fragile) self-regard, that's a political benefit too.

It may or may not be effective, but it is in fact typical of the way political communication happens on planet Earth. And it doesn't mean anyone is ignorant of where the self-interest of national media employees lies.

Posted by: Patrick Nielsen Hayden at November 10, 2007 09:15 AM

It may or may not be effective, but it is in fact typical of the way political communication happens on planet Earth

Dear (most of the) U.S.Americans,

Please realize that Earth ≠ the U.S.A/Western Hemisphere.


Posted by: almostinfamous at November 10, 2007 10:37 AM

Better than being insulting by calling them "nuts" is to try to appear dangerous by calling them "evil." We treat the sane but malicious differently than the poor deluded souls.
Saddam, for instance, in the final instance did not get therapy.

I promise, if a large number of people with any power start calling Russert "evil" and deliberately destructively malicious, with an implication of appropriate steps to silence him, he will take notice. "Crazy" he will just laugh at.

Posted by: bob mcmanus at November 10, 2007 11:08 AM

YOU want crazy??? Well hewe's crazy---Call Nancy Pelosi @1-202-225-0100 and DEMAND IMPEACHMENT. (what's REALLY crazy is that it's CRAWLING BACK ON THE TABLE.)

Posted by: Mike Meyer at November 10, 2007 11:18 AM


Posted by: Mike Meyer at November 10, 2007 11:20 AM

I won't go at length here, but even if they don't go as far as I do, Jonathan & Scruggs are much more correct than Atrios or PNH. Our enemies are not educable or healable, cannot be removed from power and then reasoned to enlightenment, really cannot be allowed to fester like a gangrenous sore waiting to re-infect the system. Only a rhetoric of evil and elimination will empower the carpenters to build the guillotines.

But liberals never get it. And so millions of innocents die, and the rich eat the poor. Until we all live with the jackboot on our necks.

Posted by: bob mcmanus at November 10, 2007 11:26 AM

Patrick wonders about the effectiveness of the madhouse imagery. From a rhetorical point of view, it is weak because it is as much a statement about ourselves as it is about the other.

A. "I'm going to cross Antarctica on a unicycle."
B. "Man, you are nuts!

A. "I'm going on a hunger strike: Gitmo's gotta go!"
B. "Wow, that's crazy!"

A. "Check out my proof of Poincare conjecture!"
B. "2000 pages? Geez, you are one big-ass fuckin' mad scientist!"

A. "How was shock and awe?"
B. "Let me tell you: it was insane!"

A. "I hear voices."
B. "Shine on you crazy diamond."

Now look at the insulting power of the loony lingo. In

(1) you congratulate someone on his physical courage (presumably compared with yours).

(2) you congratulate someone on her moral character and thereby acknowledge your inferiority;

(3) you recognize your own intellectual limitations;

(4) you confess your inability to cope;

(5) you show compassion in the face of mental illness.

Doesn't exactly make you the Mike Tyson of the debating universe.

No matter how you cut it, to call someone nuts leaves the door open for the possibility that it is you who just doesn't get it.

Hey, if you call me nuts, I'll just point out that your brain is simply too small to absorb the full greatness of my thinking. If you call me a giant asshole, then, well, I'll have to check about the greatness of another part of my anatomy. Or just concede the point.

Posted by: Bernard Chazelle at November 10, 2007 11:32 AM

Over the last six years the more I have seen Bush and the more I have found out about his background the more I have thought that he is psychopathic.

But I've been reading a book on the subject and now I'm not quite so sure. The true psychopath cannot truly feel emotion or empathy towards another person. Dubya is certainly able to dismiss other people's suffering. But in a true psychopath that can result in an absolute lack of trustworthiness. You don't see Bush screwing his own. He's constant that way.

I suspect that many of the elements of psychopathy are adapted by the ruling class. Certainly, a lack of caring for others and the ability to lie, as well as a lack of concern about the pain and death of others, are all valuable tools for a despot.

I think that some upper-class families, like the Bushes, tend to teach their children how to be controlled psychopaths. This requires a kind of compartmentalization that most people can't manage. For example, while World War Two raged and his son was a pilot in the Pacific Prescott Bush had no problem managing Nazi investments and Nazi funds. He was aiding the enemy while his son was fighting it. He was able to dismiss what the Nazis were doing with Jews and Slavs and others while hiding their money. And after the war he was rewarded for his work when the Nazi-owned Union Bank cashed out.

George H. W. Bush and his wife were parents to criminals. George H. W. probably had been recruited by the CIA while he was at Yale, his career path suggests it, and suddenly became head of the CIA the last year of Ford's Administration (1976) where he served the Agency by blocking access to much of the information that various Congressional investigations (assassinations, CIA spying, etc.). He undoubtedly was behind the Letelier assassination, so you can add murder to his rap sheet. Think about Neil, Jeb and Dubya's business profiles. If they were of a lower social status they would have been no better than a criminal enterprise, and Barbara would have been the equivalent of Ma Barker. Bank robbers, swindlers, con men, sprung from the loins of that hideous woman.

The CIA is the moral equivalent to a mob, only with legal status and the ability to hide its criminality.

When you examine Dubya's dubious psychological history (killing little animals, torturing pledges at Yale), he of all the Bush Family offspring displays the most psychopathic behavior. There have been persistent rumors about Dubya being gay. Having something so central to one's own personality, and having to hide it, submerge it, can really warp one's "self." I suspect that Hitler's abusive childhood and his hidden homosexuality functioned to sculpt him in the same way, although I don't think that in the Bushes' case this development is all by chance.

That is, I think that a kind of controlled kind of psychopathy is being taught from generation to generation. I would suspect that a study of ruling classes where power is inherited would show elements of this.

Posted by: Bob In Pacifica at November 10, 2007 12:08 PM

Could I add "Stop calling them stupid" to the list?

George W. Bush, for example, is an absolute genius when it comes to the only thing that matters to him: the personal advancement and enrichment of George W. Bush.

If, back in 2000, Bush couldn't tell us the name of the President of Pakistan, it's not because he's stupid, it's because he doesn't give a shit who the President of Pakistan is. If George Bush thought he could make a buck or score some coke off knowing the name of the President of Pakistan, you can bet he would know.

When Upton Sinclair said, "“It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it” he wasn't making a comment about stupidity, he was making a comment about intelligent self interest. And people like Bush have the intelligent self interest thing down cold.

Posted by: SteveB at November 10, 2007 12:14 PM

SteveB, the operational word here is "cold."

Posted by: Bob In Pacifica at November 10, 2007 02:09 PM

Crazy becomes the norm when the lunatics have taken over the asylum.

Posted by: Agi at November 10, 2007 03:05 PM

1.ok, what would you like us to call them? you could have an ATR contest or something. How about "imperious shitmonkeys?"

(the US media, not the gov't leaders.) that's my entry, if you do decide to have a contest.

2. almost: KTHXBYE?

Posted by: jonathan versen at November 10, 2007 06:30 PM

I guess I just don't cotton to cutesy fads, almost, but thanks for the explanation.

I think things would be a lot better if we had an Eisenhower in the White House and 2 Oldsmobiles in every garage, even if one of them was a hybrid. I also miss the New Deal.

Posted by: jonathan versen at November 11, 2007 05:12 AM

can you tell me where you found that time machine?

or at least the hallucinogens?

Posted by: almostinfamous at November 11, 2007 01:01 PM

This quote (from Esterday) was one of the best things I've read in a while. In this celebrity-obsessed society she deserves a lot of credit for choosing to deflect rather than bask in the attention of the all-seeing eye, and especially for doing it with such righteous indignation. It was a beautiful slapdown, and I admire her for delivering it.

As for what she actually said, I agree with her completely, and I think your criticism is misplaced in this case. There's no contradiction between saying that the media is nuts to focus on such mindless trivia and realizing that they're rationally attending to their own self-interest; it's just a matter of which perspective you're speaking from at that moment. By the same token, from a strictly pragmatic viewpoint I can accept that it's perfectly rational for Chevron to continue pursuing its economic interests at the expense of destroying the planet. From a human perspective, though, it's crazy. And from a rational standpoint I can agree that boiling dissidents alive is a sensible and likely very effective strategy for Islam Karimov's government, but from a moral or ethical standpoint I think it's not only repulsive but insane.

It all comes down to the voice one is writing (or speaking) with at the moment. There's a time for speaking analytically and there's a time for speaking from the heart, and I think it's important to recognize the difference. In this case Esterday was clearly doing the second and not the first.

Posted by: John Caruso at November 12, 2007 02:08 AM

Not everyone who calls people in our government insane is speaking rhetorically, though. It needs to be emphasized that these people are not insane. The insane are not fully responsible for their actions in the eyes of the law. These people don't deserve an insanity plea.

Posted by: StO at November 12, 2007 10:08 PM