Conservatives and Mental Health

  • How Republican fears reveal their own mental health crisis;
  • How Trump voters trust him more than family, friends, or clergy;
  • How the worst people run for office (from Adam Grant), and how SF has anticipated this (from Isaac Asimov).

This seems plausible enough, given evidence every day.

Salon, Kirk Swearingen, 20 Aug 2023: Guns, Republicans and “manliness”: We all suffer from the right’s mental health crisis, subtitled “Republican men seem massively troubled about their masculinity — and that’s literally causing death and suffering”

I’ve long noticed that when Republicans accuse Democrats of doing this or that (e.g. stealing elections), they do so with innuendo but without evidence, while simultaneously revealing their own predilection for (e.g.) trying to steal elections. This is a kind of projection: winning by any means, even stealing elections, is how Republicans think about the world, so they naturally assume, or presume, that everyone else, i.e. the Democrats, do so too. Just yet another thing that Republicans/conservatives believe that is not true. Some of the rest of us really do believe in principles.

I see that Swearingen makes this point in his opening paragraphs.

In the face of what seems like endless gun carnage in the U.S., Republican politicians call for more mental health funding even while withholding it. Not only are there now more guns than people in this country, many Republicans and the right-wing media continue to profit by leading people, especially younger men, to despair.

They’re projecting their own unexamined mental health issues on others. As Salon’s Amanda Marcotte has often pointed out, for Republicans it seems that every accusation is a confession.

When Donald Trump and his confederates claim that Democrats cheat in elections, that’s what is known as a tell, since cheating at elections is precisely what they themselves are trying their best (or worst) to do.

Followed by more examples of accusing the Biden’s of being a “crime family” (considering Trump and his family) or of accusing liberals of trying to destroy the country (while DeSantis is destroying norms in Florida in favor of a very particular demographic group).

So Republican politicians and their media allies call for more mental health spending as a supposed solution to the gun violence crisis, one suspects that’s a reflection of their own mental strain in championing an absurd interpretation of the Second Amendment and steadfastly ignoring the fact that people in other large Western nations have issues with mental health too, but for some reason don’t shoot each other, or themselves, nearly as often.

Republicans in favor of unrestricted gun rights never seem to be able to explain this last point.

What caught my eye when I skimmed this piece yesterday was this passage:

So many conservatives live in an incessant state of fear — about books and experts and science and liberals and immigrants and independent women and people of color and people with different sexual preferences or gender identities — that it’s no wonder they appear mentally and emotionally unhealthy.

This aligns with another general observation, widely observed: conservatives are in general more fearful of ‘the other’ and of change, than the balance of the population. (Including the entire intellectual elite who have built the modern world via science and technology.) They live in a constant state of, as the phrase goes, clutching their pearls. Always looking around for something new to be outraged about.

The article goes on and on, summarizing trends from recent news. One more pull quote:

The right just won’t give up — I don’t mean on issues of principle or policy, since it doesn’t have any, but in its crusade to “own the libs,” take rights away from people who are not like them and enforce theocratic minority rule.

Anyone paying attention, and not part of the cult, sees this.


Then there’s this, as widely reported.

Washington Post, Aaron Blake, 21 Aug 2023: Trump voters trust him more than they trust friends and family, subtitled “A new poll’s finding shouldn’t be too surprising, and it masks what is actually a low level of trust in the former president”

I’ll just quote this:

The percentages who say they trust each of the following to tell them what’s true breaks down like this:

  • Trump: 71 percent
  • Friends and family: 63 percent
  • Conservative media figures: 56 percent
  • Religious leaders: 42 percent

In one way, this finding is stunning, given that Trump’s presidency involved more than 30,000 false and misleading claims. Trump voters trust him even more than they do the people they know and love — what could be more emblematic of the informational bubble that exists around him?

Of course this was a survey of Trump voters. It’s evidence of cult mentality, frankly. And more and more I see the culture divide as about divides in psychology — not policies.


One more substantial item, for today.

NY Times, Adam Grant, 21 Aug 2023: The Worst People Run for Office. It’s Time for a Better Way.

This is something science fiction, which of course extends to social and political themes, has anticipated. But let’s quote from Grant (author of the 2021 book Think Again, which I reviewed here), first.

On the eve of the first debate of the 2024 presidential race, trust in government is rivaling historic lows. Officials have been working hard to safeguard elections and assure citizens of their integrity. But if we want public office to have integrity, we might be better off eliminating elections altogether.

If you think that sounds anti-democratic, think again. The ancient Greeks invented democracy, and in Athens many government officials were selected through sortition — a random lottery from a pool of candidates. In the United States, we already use a version of a lottery to select jurors. What if we did the same with mayors, governors, legislators, justices and even presidents?

People expect leaders chosen at random to be less effective than those picked systematically. But in multiple experiments led by the psychologist Alexander Haslam, the opposite held true. Groups actually made smarter decisions when leaders were chosen at random than when they were elected by a group or chosen based on leadership skill.

I’ll not try to summarize the rest of the Grant essay. But the core issue, as I understand it, is to undercut those who *want* to be elected as leaders, because they are likely to do so for their personal vanity or will to power, rather than to serve their constituents responsibly.

Science fiction has anticipated this, most prominently in the Isaac Asimov story “Franchise,” published in 1955. Wikipedia entry here. You survey the populace to see who is most “qualified,” along various lines, and then select that person, no matter how obscure, to become president.

Adam Grant closes:

Other countries have begun to see the promise of sortition. Two decades ago, Canadian provinces and the Dutch government started using sortition to create citizens’ assemblies that generated ideas for improving democracy. In the past few years, the French, British and German governments have run lotteries to select citizens to work on climate change policies. Ireland tried a hybrid model, gathering 33 politicians and 66 randomly chosen citizens for its 2012 constitutional convention. In Bolivia, the nonprofit Democracy in Practice works with schools to replace student council elections with lotteries. Instead of elevating the usual suspects, it welcomes a wider range of students to lead and solve real problems in their schools and their communities.

As we prepare for America to turn 250 years old, it may be time to rethink and renew our approach to choosing officials. The lifeblood of a democracy is the active participation of the people. There is nothing more democratic than offering each and every citizen an equal opportunity to lead.

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