Your older white male coworker Steve comes running into the office, clearly agitated. He reports breathlessly, "There's a bunch of dudes with katanas fighting in the parking lot!" This, you think, is a thing worth seeing in addition to being cause for some alarm. You rush over to the window and discover that the parking lot is empty. "Steve," you say, "where did they go?"

"What do you mean, where did they go? They're right there! Look at them!"

To reassure yourself (and hopefully Steve) that you have not somehow overlooked this scene which on its face seems unlikely to be overlooked, you check the parking lot one last time. Cars, yes. Another coworker strolling into the building, yes. The parking attendant, yes. Two pigeons, yes. But no men fighting with katanas. In fact, neither men nor katanas are anywhere to be found. "Do you mean to tell me that you can't see that there is no one in that parking lot, Steve?"


How concerned would you be about Steve's mental state at this point? You might think he's in the midst of a cardiovascular event that is limiting the flow of oxygen to his brain. You might wonder if he is drunk or high on drugs. Or you might think, and not entirely without justification, that he is having some kind of psychotic break. And if you told your boss and other coworkers what happened, they would agree with you without hesitation that he is acting nuts and you are right to be concerned. Collectively, you would probably call the hospital or his doctor, or at least have someone drive him home. I mean, you wouldn't let someone drive a car after witnessing that kind of inability to integrate the world around him into his thinking. You certainly wouldn't just ignore all of this and let everyone go about their day.

So when an older white male tells a room full of other older white males in a nationally broadcast forum that Muslims have taken over a number of cities including Dearborn, MI and established "no go zones" wherein Sharia law is practiced, why does nobody check if perhaps his collar is a bit too tight? Why doesn't anyone sit him down and offer him a nice cold glass of water while someone else calls for medical help? Insisting on the existence of something that demonstrably does not exist – and remember, this is hardly the kind of thing that could be hidden from view as most conspiracy theories can conveniently claim – is neither a fact, nor a belief, nor an opinion. It is a delusion, defined as "an erroneous belief held despite strong, indisputable evidence to the contrary." Delusions are a sign of, at best, mental fatigue or confusion. In most cases they are an indicator of something much more serious.

It is only because so many people in this country believe things that are demonstrably, incontrovertibly wrong that we do not find this more alarming. We've simply become used to it and we hardly flinch when we see True Believers, with the fires of sincerity burning in their eyes, insisting that whatever fantasy occupies the far right at the moment is true. It is odd that labeling these delusions as part of our political or religious beliefs inoculates them from the kind of reaction they would get if "Muslims" was replaced with "unicorns."

50 thoughts on “DISORDERED THINKING”

  • The fact that one side of the political discourse in America is absolutely, irreversibly CRAZY is the great unspoken reality about American politics. As the blogger Driftglass has pointed out over and over, the lie that Both Sides Do It is the Big Lie that keeps all the little lies going. The failure of mainstream American journalism to be honest about this state of affairs is perhaps the biggest untold story in decades. Even Paul Krugman, whose seat is about as safe as anyone's, will criticize the right wing, but he won't criticize his fellow media people for continually giving a pass to liars.

    Older heads than me: Was it ever thus, or is this a particularly bad period for US politics? Are we in the middle of a Dark Age like the one in the run-up to the Civil War, when one senator actually beat the shit out of another with his cane?

  • HoosierPoli,

    I don’t think you can tar Krugman with that particular brush. Example:

    Back in 2000, George W. Bush made a discovery of enormous consequence: you could base a whole political campaign on claims that were flatly untrue, like the claim that your big tax cuts for the wealthy went to the middle class, or the claim that diverting Social Security funds into private accounts would strengthen the system’s finances, and reporting would never point this out. That’s when I formulated my doctrine that if Bush said the earth was flat, headlines would read Views Differ on Shape of Planet.

    — Paul Krugman, December 4, 2011

    Reference: http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/12/04/lies-damned-lies-and-elections/

  • I've lived in one of the UK cities which the more deluded Republicans claim to be Muslim-dominated no-go areas under Sharia law. Shockingly, non-Muslims like myself don't seem to have much of a problem there. The butchers stock halal chicken instead of pork sausages, and there are some women in veils or headscarves. That's about it.

    On a related note, some years ago Pat Robertson was involved in some sort of business venture with the Bank of Scotland. (BoS later merged into the mega-bank Lloyds-TSB-Halifax-BoS which soon afterwards imploded in the financial crash and had to be taken over by UK taxpayers, but that's a topic for another rant.) There was a public outcry at BoS doing business with a homophobic bigot, and they eventually severed ties with Robertson.

    Robertson claimed Scotland was a "dark land", ruled by homosexuals. I lived there at the time and this is something of an exaggeration. However the Scottish branch of Stonewall were amused by Robertson's statements about how awesomely powerful the gays are in Scotland, and used them in some of their publicity material.

  • HoosierPoli says:


    He'll criticize The Media, but as far as I've seen he's never Named Names (although he's come very close with David Brooks a couple of times). That's not meant as a criticism of him personally – his editors and their bosses and their bosses bosses are the ones pulling those particular strings.

  • Emerson Dameron says:

    Just think, Fox could actually, you know, "check out" some of these "No Go Zones" and see what's going on there – maybe send in the fearless Ollie North himself! – if they had anything resembling a legit on-the-ground news-gathering apparatus.

  • Here's what's worrisome:

    Fox (especially their "opinion" shows) have used the repeated lie, very effectively, historically.

    Somehow, somewhere, someone has organized multiple people to spew this "no go zone" lie. Multiple people. Over a prolonged time. With details. Whatever force is doing that will, no doubt, also be able to encourage, plant, or create real evidence to support their claims, eventually. (Right now, maybe they're encouraging the replacement of street signs with Arabic in Dearborn, or Banksy-ing fake propaganda, or …)

    My concern is that this seems less like the rantings of a madman, than it does the proclamations of the true believers, according to a script.

    So when they find even the tiniest bit of supporting evidence (however falsely created), it has tremendous propaganda value—people think 'well, what if those guys actually WERE right?' or, worse, 'They WERE, and now we've waited.'

    I just suspect the stories will be intimated to be true in the next few years…

  • But if you want to be true to your analogy, Steve needs to have 3 or 4 other buddies with him, who also insist they’re out there fighting. If you think about those classic conformity experiments from the 1950s, the whole conservative bubble makes more sense. There’s reality and then there’s what the herd insists reality is, and Asch judged that for about a third of Americans the second one is the more convincing.

  • Flat-out nutso notions seem to be the new chest hair in some parts of the older puffy-white male crowd, without which one is suspected to be of no account.
    They walk among us, they breed, they vote, they get the mic. Reality doesn't penetrate their world but along the edges.
    Decades of sermons invoking imaginary characters in wild stories does something to the brain. Why wouldn't they believe other fantasies as well? Especially when hyped up on fear, dread and false suffering all day long.
    It would be surprising if these types didn't come up with crazy ideas. That they do isn't surprising at all to this correspondent. How not, sad as it is.

  • Charles P. Pierce over at Esquire has been writing about the insanity that has taken over the GOP for years. HoosierPoli, I think the crazy has been there since at least 1964 (Goldwater wasn't a Bircher, but pretty close), and kind of took off with Nixon's Southern Strategy (welcome, unrepentant racists!) and the party's embrace of Evangelicals in the 70s and 80s (its own brand of crazy). I think with Fox and right wing radio it's just better publicized nowadays. On the other hand, check out this Salon story about Big Business' creation of "Christian America": http://www.salon.com/2015/04/19/christian_america_is_an_invention_big_business_right_wing_politics_and_the_religious_lie_that_still_divides_us/

  • c u n d gulag says:

    When the airwaves are full of TV and radio people spinning conspiracies out of thin air, the old air-heads (and some younger ones) will believe it.
    Because they want to believe it.

    They see America is changing – and not, in their opinion, for the better.

    So, instead of looking at themselves and realizing that they're no longer keeping-up with the times, they look for external forces that are conspiring against them and theirs.

    Hell, they used to own this country – or, at least, have a very teeny-tiny portion of it, and minorities, women, and gays used to keep their mouths shut and obey!

    But now, those minorities are gaining power – if not wealth.

    Why, we even have a Nigrah as President, and he's in the White (people's) House.

    And so, these delusions comfort them.
    Things are going downhill for them, because of conspiracies.
    But, if they elect a like-minded politician, maybe he or she can turn back the non-white tide.

    And, the politicians – conservatives and Republicans, one and all – feed the beast that is their base.
    A base that consists of fools, morons, rubes, twits, nit/half/dim/fuck-wits, and gullible and bigoted. stupid and ignorant, white Christian stooges.

    The GOP politicians should know better – and yet they shill to the base to get elected, and stay in office.
    Hey, there's money and power in them thar shills!

    And so, America rots – from the inside.

    Never mind the alleged ancient Communist "Fifth Columnists" that conservatives feared during the Cold War, and all of the imagined EEEEBIL MOOOOOOOZLUMZ taking over today – as he great Pogo – by Walt Kelley – once said, "We have met the enemy and he is us."

    The barbarians aren't at the gates.
    They're sitting in armchairs, watching FOX "news" until it's time to vote.

  • The crazy has always been there in America.* Witness Salem. We believe in magic in the form of doctrine that supersedes facts and experience, whether that doctrine is Calvinism or Supply Side Economics. (Or the hellish collusion of charismatic Christianity and Social Darwinism ushered in by the Reagan years–my particular favorite, since it combines racism, sexism, hatred of the LGBT community, AND the smug enjoyment of collective hunger/disease/homelessness with the nauseating claim to the loving enlightenment of the "Saved.")

    But to confirm the general consensus here: What's made a change in the past few decades is the collapse of the integrity of the other side–our side. Inasmuch as the media is now entirely market-driven, and inasmuch as the market is weighted towards an older, more conservative audience, we cannot expect journalism to stand against the insanity of the right. Nor can we expect the rudderless mass of well-intentioned online speakers to do so, since, again, as soon as you start to do stuff for money, you're driven by traffic, and traffic won't bear rationality–we click on the outrageous, not the substantive.

    It's easy to sneer at the failure of Occupy Wall Street–and Lord knows, they invited that failure mightily by believing that organization and leadership would save, rather than undermine their cause–but the ease with which we allowed them to be characterized according to the Fox News narrative of petty, envious, lazy Fifth-Columnists is on us, not on Ailes and his cronies. We are so shell-shocked by failure–and by the scrambling mess of our economy, which renders us helpless to engage in activism, for fear our de-unionized employment will be yanked away, leaving us to fall through the tatters of the safety net–that we do not speak, even when the truth is apparent.

    We let Al Gore lose–Bush was what we deserved. I don't actually blame Dick Cheney for being Dick Cheney–he can't help it. I blame us for seeing evil (and if he isn't the embodiment thereof, come ON) and saying "Well, it's only four/eight years." Or "Hey, Gore had a pretty radical agenda too." Or "I don't want people to think I SUPPORT Al Qaeda!" And so on.

    The Emperor BELIEVES he's clothed. He's insane. We know he's naked. We're cowards.

    *For the record, I'm pretty every large group of people produces its own kind of collective delusions based on equal parts ignorance and fear–witness the notorious beliefs of large numbers of sub-Saharan Africans towards the real nature of diseases, for example–but American crazy is what we've got to deal with, so let's do.

  • There have always been places cops declined to enter, particularly at night, at least while in uniform. But add signs in Arabic, use the word "zone", and you are triggering flashbacks in veterans and setting a movie scene in the minds of the wannabes. Around an irrelevant and miniscule truth the pearl of a gun religion grows, and the NRA is Billy Sunday.

  • Nice summation JDryden!

    We—myself included—did after all elect "the most Republican President ever" to the White House. Because, he was clever enough to exploit the petty in fighting of all of the 'micro-interests' within the Party and say "I'm your best hope. Who else are you going to vote for? Bush?" And so we did. Twice!
    Ironically just about everything Perot warned us about with the Slick/Bush conundrum pretty much came true. Now we're about to do it again.

    Yes, the entertaining of "Third-Way" wing shows how little integrity our side has. It effectively takes the mask off of those in power to show how little respect they have for us. It shows how FAR to the Right the conversation has been drug, that Shrub's policies can be considered viable "liberal" policies.

    You're right JDryden, we do get what we deserve.

  • @J.Dryden – saying "Well, it's only four/eight years."

    I was arguing with some people on reddit when they were blaming the baby boomers for Scott Walker and Bobby Jindal and one actually said they were going to wait 25 years until the baby boomers had all died, implying that magically overnight everything would be better. I told them that in the mean time, these asshole politicians would have made every thing worse.

  • @vista, tell those dopes on reddit that Scott Walker was born the same year as Kurt Cobain. I don't think the boomers dying off is going to remove the crazy from our politics. Or at least not the corporatization.

  • Actually, this is all well explained by neuroscience. The right-wing news sources operate on a steady diet of fear and information overload.

    The amygdala is what processes both of these. Once the amygdala is "hijacked," it impedes the processing of the neocortex, which is involved in rational thought. So, the more fear, the more information overload of irrelevant "facts," the less rational thought. Pretty soon, there is no rational thought at all — just parroting of talking points.

    Fox News is built on this phenomenon. If you can throw enough shit at people and scare the pants off of them, you can sell them pretty much anything.

    I've lost my siblings to Fox News. It goes on the minute they get out of bed and is the last thing to get turned off before they go back to bed. They play it so loud that when I talk to them on the phone, I have to ask them to turn it down so I can hear them.

    My best friend has the same experience with his parents. Non-stop Fox. Someone asked them once why they watched only Fox. His mother said, "It's important to know these things, and Fox is the only place we can get the truth."

    My friend flies — a lot — on business and has a zillion airline miles. He offered to give his folks an all-expense-paid trip to Italy to see their granddaughter — first-class all the way. His mother refused. ISIS, she told him, is just waiting for them to leave the country so they can kill them. She heard it on Fox.

    But to Ed's point of why we tolerate this bullshit, it's because we've adopted the false idea that everyone's statements and opinions "deserve respect." That, quite frankly, is bullshit. You may have an opinion, but unless you can back it up with something substantial, I can call bullshit on it.

    The media has fostered this with polls, asking people to make definitive statements about things they have no real knowledge of. Online polls are even worse.

    It's one thing if it's a matter of taste. If you think the steak is too salty, well, that's OK. I think it's fine, but we have different standards of taste. no argument there.

    However, do you think we should bomb Syria? Well, do you even know where Syria is? Can you find it on a map? Do you know the parties involved in the conflict? Are you familiar with the history of Syria and the history of the current conflict? Do you have any idea why people are fighting? Do you have any idea what the outcome of bombing would be.

    If you don't, then your opinion is just oral flatulence and does not deserve "respect."

    It's like "respecting" religious beliefs. I respect your right to hold religious beliefs, but I don't have to respect the beliefs, especially if they are odious The fact that they are "religious" doesn't make them any less odious.

  • Geoff, I have not had a chance to read it, but Richard Hofstadter published "The Paranoid Style in American Politics" in 1964. While he undoubtedly was researching and writing it for many years prior, it's probably not a coincidence that it came out when it did. The reaction to the civil rights and women's rights movements and the early Cold War must have been on his mind.

  • Right-o, Skipper. I feel as if my willingness to listen and try to understand has been hijacked.

    Dryden asserts we're all to blame when someone like Bush gets elected twice because we just didn't work hard enough to prevent that happening. The trouble is, when you're a fish in the water, it's hard to see a social tidal wave developing until you're flopping around gasping on the shore.

    A long essay on what seems at first glance to be a tempest in a teapot about some science fiction award actually provides a nice snapshot of this phenomena of social decency, cooperation and tolerance exploited by reactionary bullies:

    Philip Sandifer, Genius

    I like his proposal to treat these delusional nitwits as followers of an aesthetic, not as intellectual adversaries. Poseurs, not the intellectual toughies they pretend to be.

    The money quote [in Part Four: On Fascism, if you want to get right to the rest of this little gem deposit]:

    The easiest mistake to make when trying to understand fascists is to think that they are best described in terms of a philosophy – as though fascism is a set of tenets and beliefs. This is a mistake that largely benefits fascists, who are generally disinclined to actually call themselves fascists, since they recognize that, much like “Nazis,” it’s not exactly a label that does a great sales job. On top of that, fascists have a remarkably well-developed vocabulary of jargon and a propensity for verbose arguments that puts me to shame. What this means is that if you attempt to get into some sort of practical, content-based argument with a fascist, you will suddenly find yourself staring down a thirty item bulleted list with frequent citations to barely relevant and inaccurately described historical events, which, should you fail to address even one sub-point, you will be declared to have lost the debate by the fascist and the mob of a dozen people on Twitter who suddenly popped up the moment you started arguing with him.

    No, the useful way to understand fascism, at least for the purposes of Beale, is as an aesthetic – as a particular mix of fetishes and paranoias that always crops up in culture, occasionally seizing some measure of power, essentially always with poor results.

    Yes, it's time for us herd of worms to start turning into vipers and calling out the lies and delusions with flat-out dismissal and ridicule. Eat poseur mice, no argument.

  • That guy is trying to sell "security services" and needs some bogeymen to help him do it. I'm sure he doesn't actually believe this shit it's all about the Benjamins.

  • Skepticalist says:

    Most of us don't have the time to stay afraid of the crank's A-Rab terrorists without a nudge. Gotta eat first. How to stir the pot? Bring it up on Fox News and on go-to-meetin' type TV. It's cheap too. Big corporate news has a helluva good time. The crazies are more than happy to provide all the fun.

    The Nazis would have loved Sharia law. It makes for great short hand. It's funny of course to those who read more than Bible belt headlines. They mistakenly only set it aside and wait for the next chuckle. It's too silly to worry about after all. Of course it is.

    All we can hope for is that it gets boring. I'm not optimistic though.

  • One more answer for Hoosierpoli. It's definitely gotten crazier in terms of what people are willing to say. People themselves are, no doubt, largely the same going right back to the Salem witch trials and whatever they were doing in the Old Testament.

    But in the High and Far Off times of the 1960s and 70s it was not acceptable to sound like that, so people didn't. I think there were two reasons: Fairness Doctrine. If every highly opinionated broadcast has to be followed by time for the rebuttal, it's a lot harder for people to get quite so hypnotized. And the other reason is everybody watched/read pretty much the same media. ABC, CBS, NBC, the major newspapers. They all had professional news teams and editors. Total drivel would not have looked good on their CVs in those days. (Now, I gather, so long as it drives up the clicks it's all good.)

    I know that at this point the usual question is "But who'd want to go back to those boring days now?" I'm as pleased not to be bored as the next person, but some kind of truth-in-broadcasting (and "broadcasting" includes addressing hundreds of people in any way on the internet) rules are obviously essential to the survival of a rational electorate. No, I don't know how to implement that.

  • @geoff – That's why I was arguing with them in the first place as I had initially pointed out that Jindal, Walker, Paul Ryan, etc were not baby boomers and the redditors then blamed the boomers for voting them in to office because supposedly there was more of them than gen x & y's. They also complained that they didn't have time to vote because they had jobs, kids activities, blah, blah, blah as if they were the only ones throughout the decades to have problems getting out to vote.

  • I think it's a little unfair to relate this to the Salem witch trials. Back in the Salem days, people did sincerely believe in the bible. And they sincerely believed the in devil, witches, and hell. That concerned them a great deal. And the bible says that there are witches and that they should be put to death.

    Now, we can scoff at that today as superstition, but they really believed it. And it was a widespread belief. You didn't have some guy just pulling it out of his ass and selling it to the community. It was a totally different phenomenon from what we're seeing today. Most of the claims these charlatans are making can be disproven — and fairly easily. But the first effort of any cult is to convince its recruits that only the cult is telling them the truth, and that everyone else is lying to them. That's what Fox has done.

    Right now, I'm off to the doctor. Fox will be on in the waiting room, and my blood pressure will be abnormally high. It's either Fox or listen to the geezers in the waiting room complain about "we don't need no government health care" — as they fill out their Medicare paperwork, sitting in their government-supplied "mobility scooters."

  • Skipper, why not complain – loudly – that you're goddam sick and tired of Fox news and request that they shut the goddam thing off?

  • Hey, it's not too outlandish. After all, much of the US really is under the control of an extremist, conservative religion with similar ideas.

  • anotherbozo says:

    Dynamite post. Didn't know where it was going halfway through but had to hang on and find out.

    Why I attend these seminars.

    And any way we can maintain a sane sense of perspective, any literary device, is worth it.

  • Fred Clark at the "Slactivist" wrote about a similar phenomenon – the infamous "Proctor and Gamble is run by Satanists" rumor. His insight – which is that these people are knowingly spreading falsehoods – is lengthy and meanders a bit, but is very much worth reading, IMHO:



    Money quote from Part II:

    "This is why the rumor doesn’t really need to be plausible or believable. It isn’t intended to deceive others. It’s intended to invite others to participate with you in deception.

    Are you afraid you might be a coward? Join us in pretending to believe this lie and you can pretend to feel brave. Are you afraid that your life is meaningless? Join us in pretending to believe this lie and you can pretend your life has purpose. Are you afraid you’re mired in mediocrity? Join us in pretending to believe this lie and you can pretend to feel exceptional. Are you worried that you won’t be able to forget that you’re just pretending and that all those good feelings will thus seem hollow and empty? Join us and we will pretend it’s true for you if you will pretend it’s true for us. We need each other.

    You can’t be doing well if it seems like an improvement to base your life and your sense of self on a demonizing slander that you know is only a fantasy. To challenge that fantasy, to identify it as nothing more than that, is to threaten to send them back to whatever their lives were like before they latched onto this desperate alternative."

  • Oh merde… my comment above was an add-on to a comment that's being held in moderation. I thought this one would get held as well.

  • I live in Dearborn, MI. Everything stated by the clearly mentally disturbed individual in the linked article is false. There are not "no-go" zones. The "Detroit Metro SWAT team does not exist. Detroit police do not have jurisdiction in Dearborn because we are a separate municipality of nearly 100k people with our own police force. Many private-sector businesses have bilingual English/Arabic signage and one can get official city documents in both languages at City Hall, but there are no street signs in Arabic (how exactly would "Hubbard", "Neckel" and "Schlaff" translate?). The Catholic parishes where I grew up and received sacraments are flourishing, as are the mosques and other churches in the city Interfaith Council.

    I suspect that, like many of the individuals who've informed me that I have no idea what I'm talking about when in comes to Dearborn, this individual has never set foot in the area.

  • Yeah, labels are one of the problems. we're humans; we're built to be snap-judgement, quick-decision, short-term thinkers. Labels and stereotypes are preferable because it saves us from thinking – but if it waddles, quacks and swims like a fascist, that "Hello, I'm a LIBERTARIAN" nametag probably isn't accurate.

  • So two gay guys can walk down the street in downtown Dearborn in short shorts holding hands and kissing and not get harassed? I don't know the answer to that, but it's definitely worth finding out. Fox should get on this.

  • @bjk: I don't know either. I have to agree with Andrew that most of America is still not entirely safe for openly gay men or women. Given that many in this country are so fond of insisting that this is a "Christian" nation, I don't think we can blame this sad and unfortunate situation on a supposed application of Sharia law. My point in my earlier post stands.

  • Chris Ekman says:

    To HoosierPoli, regarding Krugman:

    "He'll criticize The Media, but as far as I've seen he's never Named Names (although he's come very close with David Brooks a couple of times)."

    In that particular case, there's a reason. The Times has a policy that their writers aren't allowed to take overt shots at one another. So even though Krugman addresses Brooks' arguments all the time, and he's clearly dying to call the guy out, he's prohibited from doing so.

  • @Chris Ekman:

    Fortunately, for most of us, Krugman need not be overt in criticizing a tool like Brooks for us to know that Brooks is a lying fuckbag.

  • Pingback: orkutluv.com
  • This is way late, BIDK..

    There are 240 million people in the U.S. who are > 18 years old. Fox News gets about 2 – 3 million of them (assuming no young people watching) on their 'best' show (O'Reilly) and not all of those are Right Wing Nutjobs.

    No matter the valid criticisms of Fox and Talk Radio (whose audiences are very cross elastic) presented here, tell me who is delusional again ?

    I see a very good argument for both groups being delusional, but when 1 – 2% of the whole friggin' adult population is inflated into Godzilla – that's delusional as well.


  • Putney Praha says:

    Steve Sounds like a Sanderista, cheering on the army of impoverished leftists who are running to volunteer and donate and register now that they have someone to vote FOR instead of AGAINST. That or an Elwior, insisting how he knows in his heart that No means Yes and Warren will declare her candidacy any day now.

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