Thursday, September 9, 2010

5% Crazy?

Gail Collins talks about how 5% of Americans are going to be crazy, talking about the Koran burning proposed by a teeny tiny church.  This reminds me of one of my oldest posts, where I explain how Academic Politics is similar to Ethnic Politics: the key issue is not the presence of insane (or evil or stupid or lazy) people but whether the rest of the society treats them as relevant.

When this sort of thing happens, it is important to remember that about 5 percent of our population is and always will be totally crazy. I don’t mean mentally ill. According to the National Institute for Mental Health, 26 percent of American adults suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in any given year. So, basically, that’s just normal life. I mean crazy in the sense of “Thinks it is a good plan to joke with the flight attendant about seeing a bomb in the restroom.”
There is nothing you can do about the crazy 5 percent except ask the police to keep an eye on them during large public events, where they sometimes appear carrying machine guns just to make a political point about the Second Amendment. And, in situations like a Koran-burning, make it clear that the rest of us disagree.
The reality is that most of our models of politics focus on the middle and the mainstream, on how dissenters mobilize to become big enough to be politically relevant.  Most of our work does not focus on the anomalies, the folks way outside the mainstream.  I spotted a Larouche Democrat (that is a non-democrat) outside the gates of McGill yesterday.  I doubt that we have a good general explanation for a) folks who follow Lyndon Larouche [I am wondering/regretting who will link to my blog with this name in it]; or b) why such folks would be in Canada since Larouche and his ilk "compete" in US elections. 

Collins concludes her piece with a quote about crazy people in every society.  But the question really is not their existence, but how do the sane folks marginalize the insane?  A recurring theme in this blog has been that folks who have bad ideas/have been responsible for policy failures (Cheney, that would be you) and so forth get more attention than folks with good ideas and good policy histories.  Is this the result of 24/7 media channels that find the most outrageous stuff is what gets attention?  Is this the Fox-ization of the news?  Is it a product of the Republican party shifting to the right and having an outbidding type process that will push it further and further to the loony side? 

I do think that the recent days have seen folks distance themselves and even attack the potential Koran burners.  This is progress.  But in the aftermath of Mosque Madness, it may be too little, too late.  The 50 nuts will seem like all Americans given the cacophony over the Muslim community center in NY.

1 comment:

Chris C. said...

Wouldn't the responsible thing to do from the media have been to ignore the Quran-burning-idiots entirely? The only reason anyone knows/cares about them is that the media is breathlessly reporting it, then breathlessly reporting the reaction to it.

Same with the dude who took hostages at the Discovery Channel last week. His "cause" got tons of media coverage and I wouldn't be surprised if it encouraged more nutsos to do these kinds of dangerous publicity stunts.

I do understand that nobody in the media wants to be left behind-- i.e. if CNN doesn't cover it, MSNBC will or if the major networks don't cover it then the bloggers will--but there has to be a stopping point. (Wasn't there some recent interesting research on the relationship between terrorism and the media? I need to go look that up again...).