by Edward Ring
The term “derangement syndrome” has made it into everyday speech, thanks to the now-ubiquitous use of the term “Trump Derangement Syndrome,” a term coined by Esther Goldberg back in 2015.
Writing for The American Spectator, Goldberg offered prescient observations as to how Trump Derangement Syndrome had afflicted “ruling class conservatives” such as George Will and Charles Cooke. These two were among the first “NeverTrumpers,” and since then Trump Derangement Syndrome, or TDS, has spread across America. But TDS is only one of the many derangement syndromes of our time.
The British conservative author and journalist Douglas Murray made derangement a central theme of his recent book, The Madness of Crowds. Writing in the Daily Mail, Murray contends, “We are going through a great mass derangement. In public and in private, people are behaving in ways that are increasingly irrational, feverish, herd-like and unpleasant.”
In his book, Murray claims that in postmodern society’s retreat from the great narratives offered by religion, patriotism, and traditions of family and community, people have found new ideologies to absorb their passions: social justice, identity politics, and intersectionality.
Taken only at face value, these ideologies aren’t especially toxic. Who doesn’t want social justice? Who isn’t proud of their heritage? Who would not acknowledge that the various group identities embodied in any individual intersect in a manner that helps define how they view themselves in the world? The toxicity comes from what overlays these ideologies: oppressor versus oppressed, empowered versus powerless. Murray explains how nearly every segment of our society has an activist cohort that purports to speak for them and demands restitution; women, gays, lesbians, transsexuals, and every conceivable ethnicity.
The examples of derangement syndrome recounted in Murray’s book are too numerous to summarize. But a central theme appears to be the deranged idea that the victim invariably must be treated not merely with deference and afforded special privileges and preferences, but is actually morally superior to anyone belonging to the alleged victimizer’s group. How this plays out in terms of policy-making fosters additional derangement, as people are asked to believe things in this new narrative that are obviously untrue.
While Murray’s book focuses on derangement oriented to identitarian ideology, there is an equally encompassing subset of derangement oriented to environmentalism. In both cases, these derangements stem from people needing a sense of purpose in their lives. And in both cases, the purpose they’re finding is divisive and impossible to implement, stoking further derangement.
Here then, joining TDS, are some of the derangement syndromes of our time.
Climate Derangement Syndrome
There was once a time when the lunatic screaming in the streets that the world was about to come to an end was the extremist, and those of us who believed the world was not about to come to an end were considered moderate and sane. No longer.
Today, a lavishly financed, petulant teenage truant from Sweden can hector the intelligentsia of the world and receive adoring media coverage, while at the same time the patient logic of one of the preeminent economists of our time is scandalized as a “lukewarm” because he “denies” that the end of the world is nigh.
The climate change catastrophe narrative fails on so many fundamental levels of logic and evidence that it’s impossible to imagine how it became a mass movement—unless you understand the power of its emotional, irrational appeal.
The science is not settled, and even if it was, the energy economics are impossible, and practical steps to implement “solutions” are attracting one of the most corrupt coalitions of megalomaniacs, tyrants, and profiteers in the history of the world.
The moral imperative to generate cheap, abundant energy using fossil fuel and nuclear power until there is global ZPG should be crystal clear. Cheap energy equals prosperity equals literacy equals people voluntarily choosing to have smaller families equals a lower human ecological footprint. Expensive “renewable” energy equals poverty equals ignorance equals large families equals a devastating planetary horde of humanity, peaking at 12 billion strong, stripping the planet in a desperate search for food and shelter.
Inclusive Derangement Syndrome
Back when nations were ethnographically homogeneous, or very nearly so, it didn’t matter if you allocated every job, every promotion, every college admission, and every government contract based on proportional representation by race. But America’s non-Hispanic white working population is on the cusp of becoming a minority, which means that more than 50 percent of all working-age Americans will now belong to protected status groups. Add women to that equation, of course, and you have roughly 75 percent of working-age Americans belonging to protected status groups.
The problem with this is not simply that, as Murray points out, trying to enforce proportional representation, everywhere, is a fool’s errand. To be sure, trying to implement such a scheme is guaranteed to fail and guaranteed to foment resentment, with the only winners being those enforcement bureaucrats, hired by the millions in government, academia and the corporate world.
But there’s a deeper problem—all identifiable groups do not have, on average and as groups, equal abilities, and skills. It’s not even close.
As with the climate change debate (you know, the one that’s “settled”), logic and evidence challenging the Inclusive Derangement Syndrome are overwhelming. It isn’t necessary to know why huge disparities exist, wherein Asians tend to overachieve in academic disciplines critical to America’s economic growth and national security, and other ethnic groups in America do not. Fix the public schools. Restore the sanctity of marriage and keep families intact. Whatever. But in the meantime, don’t force proportional representation, at every level, into every institution in America.
Heather MacDonald, author of The Diversity Delusion, argues that mandated inclusivity threatens America’s technological competitiveness. “Now,” she writes, “we are to believe that scientific progress will stall unless we pay close attention to identity and try to engineer proportional representation in schools and laboratories. The truth is exactly the opposite: Lowering standards and diverting scientists’ energy into combating phantom sexism and racism is reckless in a highly competitive, ruthless, and unforgiving global marketplace.”
Compassion Derangement Syndrome
This is perhaps the most insidious of all the derangements of our time. Who doesn’t feel compassion? Who wouldn’t do whatever they can to help someone in need? But there are intractable problems with compassion gone wild. In practice, misguided compassion breeds debauchery and dependence.
Anyone wishing to see the former is invited to drive the streets of San Francisco, where they may smell human excrement, tons of which are deposited each week on the sidewalks and gutters by the city’s nearly 10,000 homeless. They may witness thousands of intravenous drug addicts buying and injecting this poison in state-sanctioned acts of slow-motion suicide. Anyone wishing to see the latter is invited to tour pretty much any legacy housing project in America, where welfare checks and free rent made the presence of a father not merely unnecessary but economically disadvantageous.
Compassion derangement syndrome, and its close cousin, morality derangement syndrome (which holds that all truths are relative and subjective and equally virtuous), are perhaps the grandparents of all of America’s contemporary derangement syndromes. For example, President Trump, rough around the edges (to put it mildly), tramples on the compassionate sensitivities of his critics, despite that his tough-love policies are likely to improve the general lot of most Americans.
When you examine the currency of the Left in America today, it’s striking how much they have to rely on the narrative of conflict and resentment. The oppressive white patriarchy. The exploitative capitalist destroying the planet.
As Douglas Murray points out, the great battles to achieve equal opportunity in Western Europe and America largely have been fought and won. Similarly, the great battles to clean up our air and water, and to preserve vast reserves of North American wilderness, largely have been fought and won. Yet the resentment and polarization today is worse than ever.
The sad thing about America’s many derangement syndromes is they take the trajectory of these movements away from where they might legitimately have gone next. What women have achieved in America is still largely denied them in many nations around the world. Why isn’t that the focus?
As for “climate change,” why aren’t environmentalists focusing on international poaching, or industrial trawlers strip mining fish out of the ocean, or restoring the coastal mangrove forests whose absence is the real reason tsunamis have gotten deadlier, or fighting genuine air pollution still belching out of Chinese cities, or stopping rainforest incineration to grow “carbon neutral” biofuel?
Finding Pathways Out of Derangement
If the only prerequisite for a rational society were prosperity, America’s many derangement syndromes would disappear. But people and societies aren’t rational. They’re filled with passions, which until a few decades ago found expression in religion, patriotism, family, and community, and now, increasingly, find expression in identity politics and climate anxiety.
Is rational human rights advocacy compelling enough to channel such energy? If it were, America’s identitarians would turn their focus to the truly tyrannical regimes around the world.
Is rational environmentalism compelling enough on its own? If it were, children would be marching for clean fossil fuel and nuclear power, and Bjorn Lomborg, not Greta Thunberg, would be speaking to enraptured crowds.
In his earlier book, The Strange Death of Europe, Murray suggests that those forces still extant in Western societies that resist the derangement syndromes of our time—the secular and the religious—put aside their differences and unite to save their civilization. That’s an interesting idea not only because it might enable a critical mass of resistance to arise, but because it represents a new synthesis of Western culture that might help defuse the mutual resentment of Right and Left.
In the new book, Murray goes further, and discusses how the derangement syndromes of our time have “created a world in which forgiveness has become almost impossible.” In his conclusion, he proposes a series of solutions. Cynics may consider these mere bromides, but when it comes to repairing our polarized society, even bromides are in short supply these days. Murray’s ideas are worth repeating.
In response to the narrative of oppression, Murray’s first idea is to ask repeatedly “compared to what?” America’s flawed legacy nonetheless looks pretty good when compared to pretty much any other society, past or present, anywhere on earth. Murray resists the implicit wisdom of the Left, which always ascribes the moral high ground to the victim. There is simply no basis to assume the underdog is always morally superior.
Murray asks his readers to imagine what’s next if identity politics are pursued to their logical conclusion. This same thought experiment might apply to climate change policies. Imagine what it would be like to live in a nation where every Green New Deal fantasy became reality.
Finally, Murray urges us to depoliticize our lives. When politics saturates everything, including comedy, sports, fine art, music, and even cuisine, derangement syndromes are perpetually reinforced.
Nurturing a culture of forgiveness might not be enough by itself to melt away the derangement syndromes of our time. On the other hand, if forgiveness culture were truly to inform the tone of a durable new alliance between religious and secular conservatives, it might be irresistible. It could become the latest iteration of America’s unprecedented ability to assimilate.
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Edward Ring is a senior fellow of the Center for American Greatness. He is a co-founder of the California Policy Center, a free-market think tank based in Southern California, where he served as their first president. He is a prolific writer on the topics of political reform and sustainable economic development. Ring, a fifth-generation Californian, has an undergraduate degree in political science from UC Davis, and an MBA in finance from the University of Southern California.
Photo “Trump Protesters” by theodoritsis. CC BY 2.0.