Saipan — It’s seven months until the November election, but a lot of people are already afflicted with Political Derangement Syndrome.
How do you know you have PDS?
It’s just like what the comedian/actress Cristela Alonzo has noted: When you hate someone — and in politics you usually hate the opposing camp and its candidates and supporters — everything they do just pisses you off.
You see a political opponent at a restaurant eating chicken, and you can’t help but say, “Look at that b**** eating chicken. Why you eating chicken, b****?” It can be tofu or green salad. You don’t care. It’s still a hateful sight, your political opponent. Everything he says or does is questionable.
You and your candidates have principles and are principled people. The other guys? Unprincipled, if not bought and paid for by the elite/oligarchs/special interests/Deep State/etc.
You and your guy are for the common people! For education! For healthcare! For public safety! For more government programs! For jobs! For a better economy! For rainbows and unicorns! For science! If the other guys say the same thing, then they’re lying.
Those with PDS also believe that it’s now or never! And that we’re practically living in the end times! Democracy is at stake! The Constitution! The future! The children! It will be a historic election! (Every election, of course, is historic, but don’t tell that to the politically deranged.)
What do the (sane) experts say?
“Elections are capricious collective decisions based on considerations that ought…to be largely irrelevant — and that will, in any case, soon be forgotten by the voters themselves.” (“Democracy for Realists: Why Elections Do Not Produce Responsive Government” by Christopher H. Achen & Larry M. Bartels, 2016, Princeton University Press.)
In other words, an election is basically a crapshoot but with plenty of speeches and free bumper stickers.
Politics and “dispassionate mind” do not go together. Like politics and good sense.
“A dispassionate mind that makes decisions by weighing the evidence and reasoning to the most valid conclusions bears no relation to how the mind and brain actually work,” says another expert, clinical psychologist and political strategist Drew Westen.
“What passes for reasoning in politics,” he adds, “is more often rationalization, motivated by efforts to reason to emotionally satisfying conclusions.”
As Westen himself points out, Francis Bacon said it first, in 1620 (not a typo):
“The human understanding when it has once adopted an opinion…draws all things else to support and agree with it. And though there be a greater number and weight of instances to be found on the other side, yet these it either neglects or despises…in order that by this great and pernicious predetermination the authority of its former conclusions may remain inviolate.”
According to Westen, the brain “gravitates toward solutions designed to match not only data but desire…. [O]ur brains have a remarkable capacity to find their way toward convenient truths — even if they’re not all that true.” In addition, “the more sophisticated people are politically (e.g., the more they know about an issue), the more able they are to develop complex rationalizations for dismissing data they don’t want to believe.”
So why do many of us ordinary folks take politics seriously? I think it’s because we usually don’t remember how ridiculous it was the last time we voted.
(In my case, in 1992. My candidate had a law degree from the University of the Philippines, a master’s from Harvard, and a doctorate from Yale. In a seven-person race, he finished sixth, behind Imelda Marcos whose sterling qualities as a candidate included the ability to sing “Dahil Sa Iyo” [Because of You] like an opera diva. That election cured me of politics.)
Here in the CNMI, partisans are bemoaning the “problems” that have existed even before the establishment of the Commonwealth government. Many insist that electing their guys will “solve” those problems. No one remembers that previous candidates also made the same promises in previous elections.
For anyone who cares to listen, I offer the following advice: read lots and lots of history, and various news items from other places, and maybe you’ll realize that things have been “bad” or “worse” since forever, and yet life goes on. It can even be pleasant now and then, especially if you’re not into politics.
Zaldy Dandan is editor of the NMI’s oldest newspaper, Marianas Variety. His fourth book, If He Isn’t Insane Then He Should Be: Stories & Poems from Saipan, is available on amazon.com/.