Politics & Policy

Disagreement as Mental Illness

Olivia de Havilland (in straight jacket) in The Snake Pit (1948)
All dissent from leftist orthodoxy is based on irrational “phobias” that must be rooted out.

Since al-Qaeda is now regarded as weak tea compared to the strong broth of  the Islamic State, the presidential declaration that global warming is a bigger threat than terrorism may have given them ideas about how to get back in the game. The intelligence community will no doubt pick up some “chatter” about upcoming events:

‐ Islamist agents will infiltrate every major city in America and Europe, rent some vans, and leave them at major intersections with motor running.

‐ Lobbyists will be paid to suggest building coal-fired plants next to Jewish community centers.

‐ Polar bears wearing suicide vests will be sent into shopping districts.

‐ Taking advantage of the porous border, our e will send in thousands of jihadists who will, under cover of darkness, build the Keystone pipeline.

And so on. Obligatory note: the Crusades, man. Also obligatory: In the Deep South, it was socially acceptable to arrange your cutlery in the form of a Christian cross at a segregated lunch counter. So the West shouldn’t get up on its high horse. If it can find a high horse, that is; the Western horse has been sprawled in the hay for some time, twitching at flies with its tail. (Also known as leading from behind.)

Did we mention the Crusades? Good. It is necessary amongst the intellectual class to parade ancient Western misbehavior, just as it is necessary to pretend that the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul was intended to be a mosque, but was somehow built 900 years before the Saracens showed up to claim it for Allah. (Prior to that point it was perhaps a community center of some sort.) West-bashing is not Westophobic, because (1) it’s true! We’re awful! And (2) the “West” is not a race, ethnicity, or sexual identity, but a set of ideas. You can preach hatred of the West’s faults all you like, and you will not be arrested for voicing a phobia.

Gosh, that’s peculiar. One of the great rhetorical achievements of the Left is defining disagreement as a mental illness: Since there is no rational basis for disputing their tenets, you must be afraid of their ideas, and this fear is so pathological it is a phobia, like a mortal dread of clowns, or spiders, or clowns with eight legs. Your primitive, irrational brain converts fear into a brackish swirl of bilious ichor, and before you know it, you’re a Hater.

Really? I hate Brussels sprouts, but I do not fear them. (Unless they are served by clowns.) I fear my child getting hit by a car, but I do not hate Henry Ford for mass-producing the internal-combustion engine.

Note: Some hates are signs of a healthy mind. When shown a picture of a Koch-funded hospital, you are expected to react as if shown a picture of Emmanuel Goldstein butchering an endangered Amazonian toad.

Yeah, yeah, you know all this, so? Well. In England — of course, one thinks with dismay, England — the Labour party has a new idea. Says the Guardian:

People convicted of homophobic, transgender or disability hate crime would be put on a “blacklist” to warn future employers of past misdemeanours under new proposals by Labour.

The shadow home secretary, Yvette Cooper, will on Monday unveil a strategy to tackle the UK’s soaring rise in antisemitism, Islamophobia, homophobia and abuse of people with disabilities. The package includes making homophobic and disability hate crimes an aggravated criminal offence, ensuring that police treat such offences in the same way as racist hate crimes.

#page#Now, some folks might think that criticizing such a law means you’re in favor of hating gays, Muslims, and anyone not as pale as a 17th century English lord wearing pancake makeup in January, but it’s actually not quite that straightforward. Personally, I think people who hate gays, Muslims, and people of other races are horrid gibbering dolts who have no place in civil society. I support their right to express their malodorous opinions, just as I support the rights of banks to put exploding dye packs in the money they give to robbers; it helps identify the miscreants.

But. The terms “hate speech” and “phobia” are malleable tools a government can use to silence anything that deviates from the happy-clappy doctrine of the day. The other day in the Corner, Charles C. W. Cooke noted this story, about the police dropping ’round to see who’d ordered a copy of Charlie Hebdo:

Wiltshire Police confirmed one of its officers visited a newsagent after the Paris attacks, requesting names of the four people who bought the magazine.

In a statement, the force claimed the officer’s motivation had been “purely around enhancing public safety.”

Once it became news, the BBC noted, the police backed off:

“Wiltshire Police would like to apologise to the members of public who may be affected by this.”

Translation: we regret this got out. We’ll be more careful next time.

But honestly, can’t you see their point? Isn’t it possible that someone who wanted the magazine was interested in its jaundiced view of Islamic extremists, and if so, isn’t it likely that person held a dim view of Mohammed, and if so, isn’t it certain that person’s internal gauge swings a tick into the red on the subject of Islam, and if so, can there be any possible explanation for that opinion other than irrational fear? If so, is it not the duty of the police to detain this person, lest he harm others by writing a letter complaining that the local pub’s decision to change its name from the Pig and Thistle is a sop to multicultural correctness? Some people are offended by pigs, you know. Best to be sure; let’s go talk to the chap:

So, do you think the Queen should be veiled?

What? No.

I see. So you disagree with a hypothetical person who thinks the Queen should be veiled.

’Course I bloody well do. She’s bleedin’ Q of E, ain’t she?

Right then. Come with us, please.

It’s only a matter of time before doubts about anthropogenic climate change will morph into a phobia, followed by full-blown Gaiaphobia. Then you can only imagine what will qualify as hate speech. You could say “I hate solar panels,” but only if you’re referring to a meeting you’re required to attend. Also: Don’t say it; the words might traumatize someone who overheard it and didn’t have context. Better safe than scary.

— James Lileks is a columnist for National Review Online.

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