Friday, June 04, 2021

Too Hot to Handle: Going Crazy

In which our regular writers toss around subjects a little more volatile than usual.

What could inspire a perfectly pleasant secular gay man to trumpet the virtue of belief on YouTube? Well, in this case, it’s a new Pew Research study which reveals that a staggering 56.3% of white, liberal women age 18-29 have been diagnosed with a mental health condition at some point.

Tom: The report also indicates conservatives of both sexes were only half as likely (16.3% vs. 33.6% and 27.3% vs. 56.3%) to be diagnosed with mental health issues as their liberal counterparts in the same age group, which understandably prompted Dave Rubin to start talking about the value of having a fixed set of beliefs.

Believing in Something

Rubin commented as follows:

“I don’t think you can disconnect that from having something to do with belief. It’s such a strange place for me to be arguing from, but I really do believe that conservatives, generally speaking — and not all conservatives are believers, obviously — but believing in something helps keep people sane in the storm. It keeps the ship afloat.”

What do you think, IC: is Rubin on to something with that observation?

Immanuel Can: I think it may well be the least-surprising study in the history of studies.

Tom: Agreed. One possibility we should probably consider up front is that maybe conservatives are less likely to seek help with mental health issues than liberals. The Pew questions and answers won’t help us figure out if having reservations about the usefulness of the mental health profession or considering going to a psychiatrist a dishonor comes into play at all. But the startling 2-1 disparity between the two groups strongly suggests to me that there’s more to it than that. When people have real problems dealing with the world, they tend to look for help regardless of their political leanings and ideologies.

Real Problems Dealing with the World

IC: They do. We might also wonder if one group finds it easier to recognize when they need help and the other has more difficulty knowing it. That would be the case if, say, the one group were more normal and the other were more lunatic and radical. The person in the radical group would likely be much slower to recognize that their mental state was abnormal and that they needed help, since the regular behavior of their peers would be more lunatic and radical. The more normal, stable group would tend not to “cloak” the mental distress as well as the radical one. So it might well be that, say, the conservatives are the first to seek mental help when needed, and not reluctant to do it at all. We’d need more data to know that.

Tom: But they aren’t, that’s the thing. It’s the folks with the radical worldview who are looking for help at much higher rates. It’s precisely the opposite of what we might predict if we use that reasoning.

IC: And a 2:1 ratio? That’s a big, big disparity, statistically speaking. It’s highly unlikely that some sort of vague instinctive antipathy to seeking psychiatric help accounts for it. That would be some fractional difference, more likely. As you say, people tend to seek out help when they get really distressed. So it’s more plausibly indicative of a very significant difference in the basic mental hygiene in the two groups. That certainly squares with what we’ve all observed, I think.

Tom: Certainly confirms all my biases!

The Woke Narrative

But seriously, Rubin does take a minute or two to suggest one reason this might be the case, and his reasoning seems plausible to me. His idea is that woke leftists are far more likely to believe the woke media narrative we are constantly bombarded with, so they experience a higher rate of cognitive dissonance when the narrative shifts, as it inevitably does, and the real world fails to conform to their hopes and expectations. Conservatives tend to expect less from the media and believe less of what they hear and read, so they are less likely to be disappointed. I think there may be something to that.

IC: Oh, certainly. Jordan Peterson has referred to their situation as “ideological possession”. That’s a really appropriate coinage: like demon possession, enslavement to an ideology deprives one of normal mental faculties and makes one prone to acts of moral wickedness one would never consider if one were in one’s right mind. There’s a kind of “loss of self” that happens to people who are devoted to an ideology; and as that ideology fails deliver its promises in reality, the ideologically possessed person looks around for a way to make it work — which means more and more extreme and wild measures to bring it about. And then the possessed one starts to look for explanations for the ongoing failure of her ideological hopes; and she decides other people are to blame. And then she falls into patterns of wilder and wilder demonstrations of zeal, hatred of ‘enemies’, and more violent gyrations to bring the ideology into reality … and through all of it, she believes she’s being intensely pure-hearted, devoted and good.

When that “house of sand” falls, then great is the fall of it. The more idealistic she was, the higher the height from which she fell. And the more mental trauma she suffers. And the more radically her world is shaken. And the more radically her world needs to be reconstructed.

No wonder this occasions unnaturally high levels of help and therapy. By the time the collapse comes, the ideologically possessed person is far, far away from reality.

Leftist Hysteria

Tom: Agreed. We’ve seen some of the leftist hysteria over President Trump on YouTube. It borders on deranged. And every one of us probably knows a few of these “ideologically possessed” folks at work, and we are well advised — at least in the workplace — to stay well away from their field of vision. Some Christians I know have these folks in their families, making Christmas and other holidays times of great tension, because ideological obsession often trumps every other loyalty in a person’s life.

But I want to talk a little about Rubin’s proposed solution, “believing in something”. Obviously that’s inadequate, and Christians know it. It may explain the reason conservatives, while represented at a much lower level among the diagnosed mentally ill, are still represented. The problem is that “something” doesn’t cut the mustard. The prophets of Baal believed in something, but Baal didn’t hear them, even when they cut themselves with knives and prayed for hours. So sure, being grounded in a worldview that tells you mankind is not his own end is preferable to believing we have to solve all our problems for ourselves, but the kind of God you believe in is even more important, isn’t it?

IC: Yes, obviously. It’s very clear that leftists do “believe in something”. Their “something” is their political party, cause, or group, and they believe in it as passionately as anyone can. So something more must be said about what kind of beliefs tend toward more mental health.

Rationalizing the Difference

Let’s take the conservatives, for a second. They have a significantly lower rate of mental illness, apparently. But why? Would we say that belief in God is statistically higher among them, so mental health is also? Or are we to think that some of them might be atheists or agnostics and still be better mentally-balanced? Again I feel the need for more data if I wanted to answer that question.

Tom: Well, I think we can take it as read that the vast majority of Christians are leaning conservative, even if they call it something else. Classical liberals from 20 years ago would be labeled as conservatives today if you parse their convictions on various issues. When Pew refers to “liberals”, what it means is the woke Left, these people who are experiencing “white guilt” and other phantom complexes. Notice that the mental instability Rubin refers to is highest in liberal white women. Women of color do not have the same high rate of diagnosis. That may be because they can’t afford mental health care, or because they don’t need it, or because they don’t have the same guilt complexes. Again, we can’t tell from the limited data set.

But what is notable is that mental fragility today is worse in women than in men, and worst of all in white women. White men in any age category have much lower rates, and white conservative older men, lowest of all. I’d speculate that as members of the mythical “patriarchy”, we are used to being vilified and have given up caring about what people think of us.

IC: Truth be told, I never cared much in the first place. It always seemed quite obvious to me that the twaddle about “patriarchy” was simple-minded nonsense.

White, Leftist Women

But that is interesting: white, leftist women, eh? I want more information, but again, I’m just not surprised at all.

Tom: I think they are spending the rest of their lives apologizing to the world for the rest of us white people. Now, we are not perfect by any means, and there have been a fair share of abuses over the years, but to call in one’s tab on a generation of whites who don’t even value — and actively despise — the legacy their forefathers have left them seems a tad ironic.

IC: There does seem to be a correlation between mental illness and leftism. What data we have are probably too significant to dismiss. But there are still difficulties in interpreting the meaning of that correlation.

One is that, as the old saying goes, “correlation is not causality”. In other words, just because two things — in this case, mental illness and leftism — occur together, that does not assure us that leftism causes mental illness. It could be the case that mental illness causes people to join leftist cliques … that the people in the data set were already mentally ill, and so became leftist. Or it could be that there’s a third factor, one not collected in the data set — say, overexposure to social media, or the exceptionally high number of white women in higher education Humanities programs — something like that — that accounts for both the woke-ism and the mental illness.

Averaging the Numbers

Perhaps what we can safely suggest, though, is that when we see a substantial group of white leftists there is likely to be far more than the average number of mentally ill individuals present. And this seems confirmed by the behavior of such groups, especially recently … by their actions and interactions, by their propaganda and emotionalism, by their irrationality, their illogical antipathy to all order, morality and common sense, and the abundance of their antisocial behavior. There are pretty good indicators that something is seriously mentally messed up there. We don’t even need the DSM 5 to tell us that, for sure.

Tom: DSM 5?

IC: Sorry. That’s the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, version 5, the current official handbook of psychiatric diagnosis for professionals. I note that the definition of “mental illness” in the study was clinical diagnosis, not merely some kind of general opinion.

Tom: Good to know. Well, let’s ask this: as Christians, is there anything we can do for our neighbors, family members and friends afflicted with some form of mental illness and obdurately refusing the remedy we know to be the only solution?

IC: Mental illness isn’t always curable by a change in worldview. There are chemical and biological factors that can contribute, of course. But one thing for sure: nobody is mentally improved by clinging to a phony, ideologically-driven view of the world, especially one full of hatred, self-loathing, racist obsessions, guilt and unreality. And that’s pretty much a summary of what the radical left worldview provides.

The foundation of mental health is recognition of truth. And today’s left doesn’t even profess belief in truth as a concept, let alone as something to which they owe any belief.

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