Is supporting populist political parties a mental disorder?
It’s just over a month until the UK general election and many Brits seem to have lost trust in their traditional politicos. Whether it’s the UK Independence Party (UKIP) scapegoating the European Union and immigrants, a rise in nationalism (the Scottish National party), or Russell Brand’s teenage anarchism, faith in facile, and sometimes ugly, solutions is on the march. It’s a huge relief, therefore, to hear that the editors of the DSM (the main reference book for psychiatric classification), are considering a new category of disorder to cover this condition. Clearly many critical things have been said about the burgeoning amount of psychiatric diagnosis, here and elsewhere. However, I’ve just looked at the DSM draft entry (reproduced below), and think that this time, the American Psychiatric Association might really be onto something. In fact, all I can say is bring it on.
Populist Politics Disorder (Draft for consultation)
A disorder characterised by a passionate, often recently acquired, belief in populist political parties and/or broad and ill-defined solutions to complex social and economic problems. This can last anything from two weeks to several years. Sometimes it may persist for life. Manifestations include pompous and self-righteous discourse in conversations, social media exchanges and car stickers. As well as the cardinal symptoms outlined above, a number of other signs may characterise the presentation:
- An overly simplistic idealisation of the party or solution, often ignoring obvious shortcomings or turning a blind eye to the complexities of a debate. What is manifest here is blind love.
- A corollary wish to condemn or demonise other parties or issue groups to a degree not commensurate with the differences in their actual views. In many cases, in fact, the closer the views of other groups to that of the venerated group, the greater the need to castigate them. For references in popular culture see, ‘The zeal of the convert’.
- Ordinary language being replaced by slogans generated by the idealised party or issue group. Use of these may be intensified when contrary views are put, or deeper analysis of relevant issues is requested. Examples include, ‘Don’t blame me, I voted UKIP’ and ‘The SNP offer a fresh approach’.
- Opponents may be referred to as ‘career politicians’, ‘elites’ or , ‘The Establishment’. If a populist group or party makes this charge the sufferer will instantly ignore the phalanx of pollsters, strategists and PR people around the idealised group’s leaders and see them as ‘one of us’.
Do you know someone with Populist Politics Disorder? Unfortunately there seems to be no ready treatment available, beyond the obvious public health measures: block these bores on Facebook and walk away from them in cafes. As GK Chesterton remarked, you cannot reason a man out of a position he has not reasoned himself into. Can the Election offer a cure? We can only wait and see.
By John McGowan