Yesterday, the media was filled with reports about Indiana Representative Bob Morris, who refused to sign a legislative resolution recognizing the 100th anniversary of the founding of Girl Scouts of America.
In case you missed it, the Associated Press report read in part as follows:
“… Morris said he found online allegations that the Girl Scouts are a tactical arm of Planned Parenthood, encourage sex and allow transgender females to join. He also wrote that the fact that first lady Michelle Obama is honorary president should give lawmakers pause before they endorse the Girl Scouts.”
Morris went on to say that Girl Scouts were being taught to be “feminists, lesbians and Communists.”
I’m going to resist the temptation to deconstruct this, or to note that using the terms feminist and lesbian to mean undesirable or unAmerican is itself unAmerican.
Instead, I want to talk about mental illness–as in genuine psychoses, not as in a snarky label to be thrown at someone with whom we disagree.
I know that we Americans have been going through some rough times. We’ve been involved in two unsettling, seemingly endless wars. The economy tanked, and people get more than a little destabilized in times of economic stress. There are unpredictable terrorist attacks around the world, and unthinkable as it is, some of those are right here in the USA. The pace of social and sexual and technological change continues to accelerate. If you are an older white guy (and this does seem to be the cohort most affected although it certainly isn’t the only one), you are trying to make sense of a world in which your wife is no longer submissive and dependent. Your unmarried daughter may be living with some guy–or worse (at least in your worldview) with another woman. There’s a black guy in the White House and a neighbor speaking Spanish. Your television showcases very different “lifestyles” from those you approve. Your grandchildren are playing with strange handheld devices, listening to rap music on their IPods, and texting their friends. It goes on and on.
It’s understandable that people who lack adequate resources to cope with stress and dramatic social change would be confused and even angry at finding themselves in such a strange new world. But a not-insignificant number of them have gone well beyond resentment and anger; they have responded by literally disconnecting from reality. And on Fox News, or the brave new world of the internet, it’s easy to find validation from someone who shares their worst fears and fantasies.
So Rep. Morris burrows into his conspiracy theories about Girl Scouts. Rick Santorum accuses Protestants who fail to share his religious zealotry of “leaving Christianity” and criticizes President Obama not for specific policies but for following a “false theology.” Republican Senators–men in powerful positions–find themselves pandering to a political base that rejects science and reason, demonizes the U.S. President and First Lady, and is terrified of the “socialists” who are conspiring to destroy the country by providing universal access to health care and raising the top marginal tax rate.
There are all sorts of websites and organizations trying to counter some of the more outrageous fantasies with logic and facts. The problem is, as a friend used to say, you can’t reason someone out of a position he didn’t reason himself into. Someone who believes that Adam saddled up his trusty dinosaur will not be amenable to learning about the science of global climate change. Someone who believes that God doesn’t want women to control their own bodies–who believes, like Rick Santorum, that contraception is morally wrong because it divorces sexuality from procreation, and allows people to do “wrong things”–is unlikely to read the research about the benefits of birth control or the dangers of overpopulation. Someone who believes that marriage has “always” been between one man and one woman, despite ample evidence to the contrary (plural marriage, for example, remains legal in 50 countries right now) is simply not going to look at the evidence and support same-sex unions.
Withdrawal from reality–an insistent belief in things that are demonstrably untrue (think “death panels” and United Nations black helicopters and “Agenda 21”) is a sign of paranoia. I don’t know what psychiatrists call an irrational antipathy to people who are in some way different–gay people, immigrants, etc.–but as my mother would have put it, “a wellness it isn’t.”
The Girl Scouts aren’t learning to be lesbian communists. Sane people know that.
Barack Obama is not a Muslim Socialist who was born in Kenya. Sane people know that.
Teenagers will not become gay because the Indiana Youth Group gets to put a message on Indiana license plates. Sane people know that.
The Earth is more than 6000 years old and climate change is a fact. Sane people know that.
We need to do something about the not-sane people. But I don’t know what.