You’d be Insane to Vote for That

Attributing political inclinations to mental illness is nothing new. Historian Richard Hofstadter wrote forty years ago about a “paranoid style” that characterized much of American politics (specifically, Hofstadter was writing from the postwar liberal consensus position against the rising conservative movement, but I’ve always believed paranoia is a trait common to either end of the political spectrum). But is extreme partisanship, or pathological bias, itself a mental illness? Modern psychiatrists are pondering that very question. People can in fact be disabled by extreme racism, homophobia, and other prejudices, so does pathological bias warrant an official psychiatric diagnosis? The question seems silly on its face–I’m inclined to think extreme bias is a secondary manifestation of other mental defects, not to mention how the variability of the definition of “bias” is ripe for abuse–but what of those people who are so afraid of X or have so much hatred for Y that they can’t function in a normal capacity? They may not be mentally ill in the traditional sense, but they certainly have demons they need to conquer.

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