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Law Of Inverse Pathological Enthusiasm

Defining an underlying principle of how left-wingers manage social justice discourse by pathologizing dissent
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One of my liberal readers dings me in the comments over my “obsession” with Hungary. Now, I have been in Hungary since February 2, and will be here through the end of April. It is true that I have written a lot about Hungary, for some easy to explain reasons: 1) What’s happening in Hungary is important to right-of-center politics in Europe and the US; 2) I am actually living in the country, unlike nearly all the Western commenters who offer opinions about the place and its government; 3) earlier this week, I was in a group of visiting Western intellectuals who spent 90 minutes talking with Viktor Orban, Hungary’s leader. That sort of thing doesn’t usually happen in any country, so naturally I wanted to write about it.

It is certainly true that I am passionate about Hungary, and enjoy writing about it. But “obsessed”? I looked up all the posts I’ve written since arriving here. There are twenty-six, in total. I broke them out by category. Not all of them fit into specific categories, but compare and contrast:

Wokeness: nine posts

Canadian trucker protest: four posts

Hungary: five posts 

So, after two weeks spent in Hungary, during which time I met with the Hungarian prime minister, and participated in a conference in which lots of visiting American and western European intellectuals talked about Hungary, resulted in a grand total of 20 percent of my TAC posts being about Hungary. Some obsession!

This is a typical example of how leftists view dissent from their ideological priorities: as a sign of psychological pathology. The issue is not that conservatives talk too much about homosexuality (or race, or gender fluidity, etc.). The point is that conservatives don’t agree with progressives. Therefore, we must be obsessed with the issue. This is a straightforward attempt to manage the discourse to render dissenters as mental defectives.

Here is an example. Pro Publica and the Texas Tribune sound the alarm against crazy right-wingers who are trying to stop or otherwise restrict the presence in school libraries of pro-LGBTQ books, on the grounds that this kind of advocacy is age-inappropriate. Excerpt:

On the campaign trail, the women promised to comb through educational materials for any signs of “indoctrination” in the form of books or lesson plans that they charged promote LGBTQ ideology or what they referred to as critical race theory, a university-level academic discipline based on the idea that racism is embedded in U.S. legal and other structures.

“When my daughter was 4 years old, my parental rights were taken away here at the public library in Hood County,” Graft, who said on the campaign trail that her school-age children did not attend Granbury public schools, told attendees at a GOP forum before the election. “I stood up for my daughter then, and I’ll stick up for our kids now.”

The yearslong journey in Hood County offers a window into the fiercely contentious debates over curriculum and library books that have cropped up across the state and country in recent months. Once-nonpartisan school board races are taking on a decidedly partisan tone, and administrators are now sounding like political operatives.

What these conservative campaigners are doing strikes me as normal democracy. They believe that people should have a say in how public schools educate their children. This is considered by progressives to be a sign of bigoted obsession. Mind you, the conservatives might be wrong — I don’t think they are, but for the sake of argument, let’s consider that they are — but that is beside the point. Pro Publica frames them as menacing bigots for exercising their rights as parents and as citizens. I have no problem with commentary criticizing these efforts. That is also the right and the responsibility of progressive citizens. What I object to is the pathologizing of conservative dissent. 

Some years ago, when the debate (“debate”) about the legalization of same-sex marriage had moved into the mainstream (circa 2005), I was an editorial writer and columnist on The Dallas Morning News. One day, I was discussing with a colleague my view that our newspaper was badly biased in its coverage of the issue, giving little or no space to writing about opposition — this, even though we lived in a conservative, religious part of America.

My colleague, a good guy, had no idea what I was talking about. He agreed that the News was biased against conservatives on this issue, but he thought that was a good thing. He said, “Would you consider us to be unfair if, during the Civil Rights era, we believed we were bound by fairness to give equal time to the Ku Klux Klan?”

He genuinely thought that religious and social conservatives who opposed same-sex marriage were the moral equivalent of the KKK, and should be suppressed. I tried to explain that sexuality is not the same thing as race, but he wasn’t buying it. He wasn’t even buying that someone could in good faith disagree that race and sexual desire were categorically different. His mind was made up. To him, opposition to same-sex marriage could only be a sign of bigotry, which is irrational, and therefore a sign of evil, or at best mental instability.

Back in 2019, the political scientist Zach Goldberg did a deep dive on the Lexis/Nexis database of news stories, checking the frequency in which words and phrases associated with left-wing social justice ideology appeared in the media. Here is a link to his entire Twitter thread. Here’s how it begins (sorry for the profanity, but that’s what he wrote, and you need to see the charts):

It goes on and on; read the entire thread here.

This is plain, irrefutable evidence that the mainstream US media began talking constantly about these issues, to a degree you might even call obsessive. And mind you, this was before the George Floyd spasms of social justice logorrhea! Yet it is conservatives who stand accused of obsessing over these issues. This is gaslighting, straight up.

In the past week, I published three posts here about Sam Brinton, the sadomasochism advocate who is also a nuclear engineer, and a Biden appointee to a senior post in the Department of Energy. As I wrote, Brinton’s out-and-proud genderfluidity and sadomasochism, which includes his wearing female clothes provocatively in his meetings with political leaders, and his being rewarded with a high government post despite this (and maybe even partly because of it), got me accused by some liberal readers of being, yes, obsessed with LGBT. But Brinton, on his website, confirms that he dresses like this in part to force us to talk about it:

See how this works? We are encouraged to talk about this stuff, but only if it is to agree that it is a good thing. Don’t share that view? You’re an obsessive.

So, in the spirit of my Law of Merited Impossibility (“It will never happen, and when it does, you bigots will deserve it”), let me offer a new law explaining a core principle of progressive attempts to manage discourse by pathologizing dissent:

The Law of Inverse Pathological Enthusiasm: To a left-wing observer, discussing social justice issues  incessantly from a progressive perspective signifies moral commitment to justice, but talking about them at all from a dissenting point of view is evidence of insane obsession with the topic. E.g., Progressive: “Gay, gay, gay, gay, gay, gay, gay!” Conservative: “Gay?” Progressive: “Why are you so obsessed with homosexuality, you bigoted lunatic?!”

In the Soviet Union, the totalitarian state punished some dissenters by committing them to mental hospitals, on the grounds that only a lunatic could oppose Communism. The same spirit is at work here, among the soft totalitarians of wokeness. I write about this in Live Not By Lies. One of the reasons I talk about Hungary so much is that unlike in the US, Hungary is governed by a conservative party that understands how this stuff works, and is prepared to use the power of the state to do something about it.

UPDATE: A reader writes to say that the Law of Inverse Pathological Enthusiasm applies to how the US media covered Pope John Paul II’s encylical Veritas Splendor. From the Los Angeles Times‘s media columnist, writing in 1995:

Eighteen months ago, the Vatican released a 179-page letter–an encyclical–from Pope John Paul II to the bishops of the Roman Catholic Church. It was a complex, tightly reasoned condemnation of moral relativism and situational ethics–a call for strict adherence to the principle that some acts are just plain wrong (“intrinsically evil”) and cannot be justified by extenuating circumstances, no matter how compelling.

The encyclical–Veritatis Splendor (Latin for Splendor of Truth)–is widely regarded as the most important statement of John Paul’s 16-year pontificate, even more important than last month’s Evangelium Vitae (Gospel of Life).

Veritatis Splendor was six years in preparation, and long before its release, global media speculation focused on the sex-related strictures it was expected to invoke. Once it was out–and on front pages worldwide–much of the media continued to focus on its (presumed) sexual emphasis.

But Veritatis Splendor specifically mentioned sexual behavior in only one paragraph. Only twice–once in passing–did it mention birth control.

So why did ABC’s “World News Tonight” devote most of its encyclical report to the sexual issues? Why did the Boston Globe say the encyclical “largely centers on the birth control issue”? Why did Colman McCarthy in the Washington Post dismiss Veritatis Splendor as “a 179-page message ordering Catholics not to use condoms”?

The most obvious explanation is that sex sells. Most journalists know that it’s much easier to interest editors, readers and viewers in a sex story than it is to try to parse this Pope’s scholarly, often obscure and turgid prose.

But many critics say the simple proposition that sex is sexier than religion exposes just one of many structural flaws in the news media. They say these flaws–a propensity for sensationalism, conflict and oversimplification and an ignorance of (and often hostility toward) religion in general and Catholicism in particular–have skewed coverage not only of Veritatis Splendor but of John Paul II’s entire papacy.

They may well be right.


Peter Steinfels, a longtime religion writer now on leave from the New York Times, says the American media generally emphasize the subjects they think they know best–sex and politics–regardless of context; they force even the most nuanced of papal issues into those and other predictable but not necessarily applicable categories–liberals vs. conservatives, traditionalists vs. modernizers, authoritarians vs. free spirits.

The whole gay marriage debate (if you can call it that) was characterized by the media only in terms it could understand. One often heard liberals say things like, “Why haven’t conservatives made an argument against gay marriage other than, ‘The Bible says…’?”  Hey, those arguments were being made all the time, usually by Catholic intellectuals! I was there! But the media did not care. They knew which side they were on, and that was that. If theologians or philosophers wanted to talk about the meaning and function of marriage, they found few if any journalists willing to listen. The entire debate was framed by the media as one of both individual rights and civil rights, period, the end. It was easier to make the case for gay marriage if the only argument your opponents had was, “The Bible says.” So they ignored the theologians and philosophers, and pretended that there was no real argument against gay marriage, only bigotry.

Incidentally, they also claimed that accepting same-sex marriage would not change anything in society, only serve to integrate gays and lesbians into the bourgeois social order. Today, less than a decade after Obergefell, the same movement has added even more accomplishments in its campaign to re-form the American social order around sexual desire. From a new Gallup poll:

Now, if I were to talk about these facts as a great victory for sexual freedom, I would be lauded by the Left, and encouraged to keep spreading the good news. But I think this is very bad news. Therefore, under the Law of Inverse Pathological Enthusiasm, my having brought it up here is evidence that I am an obsessed bigot. See how that works?