I just got around to watching Cristina Rad’s rebuttal of Jaclyn Glenn — it’s often difficult to find a spot of time and a quiet place to watch videos when I’m flitting about. It’s very good.
It pins down a lot of my difficulties with the “He’s Crazy!” brigade. It’s just not an explanation. It’s about as useful as declaring that he’s possessed by a demon. It’s also as universally applicable: was Adolf Hitler insane? How about George W. Bush? Nelson Mandela? Richard Dawkins? If you’re just going to say that mental illness is believing strongly in something that other people find repugnant, then they’re all bug-buggering nuts, and ought to be locked up.
Or if you’re going to try and narrow it down to just those who rationalize doing physical harm to others (you’d have to be crazy to murder people, you know!) then please, do send the men in white coats to pick up Obama. And all the legislators who passed ‘stand your ground’ laws, and support the death penalty. And the entire roster of the Texas Open Carry organization. And at last, we’ll be able to lock up Sheriff Joe Arpaio. It might also mean you get locked up, but I’m willing to pay that price.
I think part of the problem is an excessively reductionist attitude that leads to a kind of identity essentialism. You are who you are because that is your nature (an entirely circular argument), and that nature is determined, so that if you differ from my nature, it can’t be because you are misinformed, confused, miseducated, or warped by your circumstances — it must be because your nature is broken and defective. And sadly, there’s nothing to be done about that other than to label you as someone outside the healthy circle of humanity and ostracize you.
That’s also visible in the recommendations some people make to deal with these problems. Bullies, rapists, misogynists are treated as an external force of nature, rather than as part of our communities already — they only possible response is for us sane ones to change our behavior to defend against them. We can’t possibly recognize the bullies’ existence as part of us, because that would change our essential view of our society as a good one. So we set them apart, insist that it is neither our responsibility nor within our power to change their beliefs, and we let ourselves suffer to maintain the fiction. The demons will occasionally possess one of us, making them an Other, and thereby justify isolating them.
Gosh, I hope the word doesn’t get out that you have to be insane to not go to church. Or has it already?