Mass Hysteria of 2009

Throughout the U.S., democrat Representatives are being assailed at their town-hall meetings by organized groups of angry conservatives. Like the closet confederates who could never concede they had lost the civil war, these citizens are still in denial that their party has lost the election - and lost it in a big way, at that. The base of the republican party is now exhibiting signs of mass hysteria, similar to the Dancing Plague of 1518. If you don't like 'mass hysteria', how about mass psychogenic illness, collective obsessional disorder, or collective hysteria? These are described as
...the sociopsychological phenomenon of the manifestation of the same or similar hysterical symptoms by more than one person. A common manifestation of mass hysteria occurs when a group of people believe they are suffering from a similar disease or ailment.
Symptoms first start appearing following a period of stress, as when a black man finally becomes president of the United States. These symptoms include manifestations of conspiracy theories - like the President is not a U.S. citizen, he is leading the country into socialism, he wants to kill your grandma, and he wants to take your guns away, among many others. None of these have any basis in fact, yet talking heads like Mark Levin, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, and Glenn Beck foster and perpetuate these myths. Corporate lobbyists also create campaigns to organize so-called 'grass roots' movements, loosely known as the 'tea-baggers'. Besides buying and hording guns at an unprecedented pace, these groups are descending onto local town-hall meetings with the sole purpose of disrupting the events by shouting down their elected representatives. Although a minority, they have been successful at gaining media attention. Their manic hysteria is cheered on by the conservative talking heads in an endless feedback loop.

But is it just the extreme right wing of the republicans suffering from this illness? From the title of a Politico article, Town hall trouble from both sides now, you might think democrats are also joining in with the rabble republicans. The article quickly clears up the misconception, though the headline is clearly misleading:
But Democrats — especially those who have expressed anything less than full-blown support for the legislation before Congress — are getting back-home pressure from the left, too.

It’s just usually a bit more civil.

On Tuesday, about two dozen activists gathered in front of Democratic Rep. Eric Massa’s office in Pittsford, N.Y., to deliver close to 5,000 petitions from New York voters urging him to support the House health care bill.
Obviously, the democrats are operating from a more traditional playbook on conducting protests, one that tells them to leave their pitchforks and torches at home. The behavior from the right, however, is increasingly uncivil and irrational, to the point that one democrat congressman has been threatened that he may lose his life over the health care bill.

While saner voices on the right still exist (example), their audiences are smaller and they are easily shouted down by 'right wing opinion media' (which is about as respectful as I can be to them). These demagogues rule over malleable minds which makes it all the more easy to perpetuate the hysteria. A recent FoxNews headline reads "Conservatives Vow No Letup in Health Protests", following with
Activists are vowing to keep up their fight against President Obama's health care plans, even as the Democratic Party pushes back hard, accusing Republicans of organizing angry mobs.
These are more than mere 'protests' and accusations of rabble-rousing is not 'pushing back hard'. It's closer to journalism - reporting the facts.

Perhaps when the country regains its economic footing, an important stressor will be relieved and rational heads prevail. But until that time, fomented irrationality may turn to hate - and we all know where that leads.

1 comment:

melior said...

Along these lines, I highly recommend Charles Mackay's classic, Memoirs of Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds. Even though it was written over a century ago, it gives many more fascinating examples of this kind of mass hysteria.

You can download the entire text free here: