Craziness in politics by mattsteinglass
August 28, 2009, 1:13 pm
Filed under: Conservatism

Megan asks how liberals know that gun toters at Obama events are militia members. I was going on the information Michael Roston points out, that two of the guys prominently featured on the news were members of the same far-right group, and the guy who did a pre-planned YouTube interview with one of them used to be in a ’90s militia.

On the “crazed” question, I think there may be a philosophical issue, in that we largely define “craziness” as a drastic deviation from a norm of behavior. These guys are getting put on TV, and their behavior is eliciting so much reaction, largely because people feel it is a drastic violation of social norms. Obviously you can’t take that kind of attitude too far; people speaking in tongues appear to be doing something rather crazy to most Americans, but that form of behavior is a socially protected, defined zone where we allow and want people to feel free to do whatever it is they feel spiritually prompted to do. Carrying a gun to a political rally is different — as is carrying a gun into a church, for that matter.

I’d compare it to the way one would say John Yettaw, the guy who swam across the lake to visit Aung San Suu Kyi, was “crazy”: he clearly had expectations about the way other people would respond to his communicative behavior that were completely at odds with the way people actually could reasonably be expected to react. That kind of communicative disconnect really is a typical part of what we think of as “craziness”. Obviously, within the circles in which the gun-toting folks move, their behavior is not outside the norm at all. So, again, you don’t want to psychiatrize dissent. But it is also true that groups of people can evolve collective expectations about how people outside their group will perceive their behavior that are a form of collective insanity. And to me, the idea that you can not think that someone else ought to feel threatened by the fact that you, a private citizen, show up to a political event heavily armed, is a kind of crazy collective belief that some people on the right have developed amongst themselves over the years. These people are not foaming at the mouth. But the social assumptions they’ve managed to convince themselves of are nuts.


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One thing Megan was fair to point out was that she was originally linking to a story about a guy with a gun at a rally who was a pro-health care Democrat (Note: Not one of the stops on Obama’s road tour).

Great, so now both sides will be packing. Can’t wait to show up to that future rally.

Still, the big difference is that the Broughton and Kostrics are engaging in rhetoric that involves acts of violence against the Obama administration. That wasn’t the case with the Democratic fellow she referred to.

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