The Deep Crazy

Michelle Bachmann signs on to a “Marriage Vow” offered by a right-wing group in Iowa. In doing so, she pledges herself to hostility not just to gay marriage but to Islam.

The Republican Party continues its descent into madness. A group run by Huckabee’s Iowa state chair in 2008 has come up with a “Marriage Vow” – a loyalty oath to the most extreme wingnuttery – that it’s going to ask all Presidential contenders to sign. They have to promise unending hostility not only to gay marriage but to combat roles for women, “quickie divorce,” pornography, and “Sharia Islam.”

“Sharia Islam” is an interesting phrase. They’re not talking about the imposition of Sharia law through civil legislation: they believe in letting religion dictate public policy, but only fundamentalist Protestantism. The statement seems to imply that there’s some form of Islam not involving Sharia and therefore tolerable, but that “Sharia Islam” is a form of “totalitarian control.”

Now, Sharia is simply the legal aspect of Islam, as Halacha is the legal aspect of Judaism. Both, of course, are fiercely contested within the two traditions, but there is no more an Islam without Sharia than there is a Judaism without Halacha. So the candidates are being asked to “vow” hostility to an entire faith tradition.

You might dismiss this as a mere fringe document, as no doubt it is: not just extreme, but so badly written as to be incomprehensible in part. (See fn. 12 linking the decriminalization of gay sex by the Supreme Court to polygamy, the imposition of Sharia, and the persecution of homosexuals. In addition to the craziness, it doesn’t actually parse: see what sense you can make of the phrase starting with “laws against.”)

But Michelle Bachmann (R – Nephelokokkygia) has just signed it. Do you think Pawlenty can hold out?

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact:

25 thoughts on “The Deep Crazy”

  1. digby had a post today about the loss of common sense in general in American society

    It is not just the presidential nomination candidates of the Republican Party. These people are treated seriously by both a fair chunk of the Republican masses, and by supposedly non-partisan pundits and reporters. The apparent lunacy of the leaders must reflect a People in its dotage.

    Every where we see policy that makes not a lick of sense: default, disinvestment and dis-employment to “improve” an economy with high, persistent unemployment and stagnating or falling wages. Having people take off their shoes and show an attendant their 3 oz bottle of shampoo at airports.

    Idiocracy was a 2006 movie satire that associated the craziness with a corrupt, commercial, television-driven celebrity culture gone wild.

    1. Thanks! I’d meant to put the link in the post, and have added it now.

  2. So I assume they spell it their name as “FAMiLY LEADER” to make some demented point about the role of “I” in family? Folks, when your ideology precludes standard spelling and typography it’s a bad sign.

    And in regard to point four – I really don’t want Presidential candidates taking any official stands on what leads to better sex, thanks.

  3. OK, drkrick’s comment intrigued me enough to look at that fail there is remarkable. My god, the density of fail there is extraordinary. Just from a couple of quick glances:
    It’s probably not great optics to start your statement, to have as your very first bullet point, a paragraph ranting about the parlous state of the Black family, about how it really was much better when Those People were still kept as chattel, and with a swipe at the first Black President to boot. Still, it might be good politics, strictly for appealing to their base – the same people who are convinced that Obama’s dusky hue means he can’t be an American.
    They contrast “polygamy” with “polyandry”. This is of course an error (“polygamy” is gender-neutral). It’s a fairly common misunderstanding that “polygamy” means “polygyny”, but they’re not really the right people to get away with making errors like this. If the main animating principle of your group is to control the definition of marriage, it would probably be a good idea to learn the terms involved. (I will admit, I noticed this mainly because I went straight to bullet point four after reading drkrick’s comment. drkrick’s complaint turns out to be about point five).
    The lurid vision they spin of the fates awaiting American women serving in the military are a bit shocking; more so is the way they frame this as being some sort of a plot by senior officers who need to be punished for endangering the flower of America’s womanhood in this way.

    Still, it’s nice that they stand foursquare against the human trafficking of American-born children. Way to take a brave and lonely stance there, folks!

    PS If Bachmann has signed this steaming pile of tripe, she is quite literally guaranteed to break it; I quote:

    We the undersigned do hereby solemnly vow* that no .. primary candidate for the U.S. House, Senate, Governor, state or municipal office – will .. benefit from any substantial form of aid, support, endorsement, contribution, independent expenditure, or affirmation from any of us without first affirming this Marriage Vow.

    If I read that rightly, Bachmann has comitted herself not to say anything nice about any politician who hasn’t signed the Vow – certainly not to endorse them nor permit her leadership PAC to give them money. It’s inconceivable that she’ll even attempt to follow this proscription.


    1. Dissolution of marriage shall not be granted by the United States or by any State except on grounds of adultery, whereof one of the parties shall have been duly convicted.
    2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

  5. outlawing “Sharia Islam” is like outlawing “bible-based Christian fundamentalism”

  6. How many christian sects have a written canon law tradition? Obviously the catholic church does, and some other sects have some basis of written rules, but I’m under the impression that for the most part it’s much more of a common-law situation, aka “whatever your pastor/bishop/etc tells you the bible says.”

  7. Bruce…
    The Death of Common Sense?

    Do you mean the idea that global warming doesn’t exist despite the basic math of the Keeling curve showing 312 ppm CO2 in 1957 and 384 in 2010?
    Or do you mean the death of Keynes, that government should exhale during recessions and inhale during booms?
    Or that the FED exists to lessen the gasping betweens bubbles and busts?
    Or do you mean the headlong rush to tattoo oneself and promote one’s tattoos on Facebook?
    Or do you mean Michelle Bachmann creeping up on Romney in New Hampshire?

    Or do you mean the rounding summit of Peak Crazy:

    If you missed the news, the new San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge is being built in China as modules to be assembled in California. Fourteen million Americans are officially unemployed and the U-6 (real) rate of unemployment in the Golden State is 22 percent. The project is, according to the New York Times, “part of China’s continual move up the global economic value chain — from cheap toys to Apple iPads to commercial jetliners — as it aims to become the world’s civil engineer.” The original Bay Bridge was built during the Great Depression by Americans, employing thousands and, along with other infrastructure investments of the era, stimulating numerous American industries. We used to do these things and do them well. But no more. We buy plastic tubs from China at Wal-Mart to fill with other stuff we buy from China at Wal-Mart while working, if we’re lucky, at stagnant- or low-wage jobs. We’re crazy.

    The last space shuttle mission is scheduled to begin Friday. After that, we cede space low-earth orbit to the Russians, who I guess won the space race after all, and more important exploration to China and India. In my lifetime, we put men on the moon, not because it was easy but because it was hard. NASA has been neglected since the Nixon administration, with the inadequate shuttles our only manned program. Now, nothing. We’re told the private sector will take over. And it will do this…how? Why? Corporate America is sitting on its profits, not hiring Americans, not investing in America. I don’t doubt some or another space boondoggle using federal corporate welfare, but Boeing is not going to take us to Mars. Where’s the profit margin? We once did great things. Now we’re crazy…

  8. You’re absolutely right — this stuff is beyond crazy! The good news, at least in my opinion, is that the crazies are a dying breed. I think all this theocracy, control-everyone-else’s-sex-life BS is just the death spasm of a dying and discredited movement. On the positive side, look at New York state, where support for same sex marriage has rocketed in recent years. The same is true of the nation as a whole. Attitudes are becoming more liberal very quickly. Yes, Michele Bachmann has her crazed supporters, but I don’t think she’s electable. Thankfully, most people think she’s a wackjob, even when you use Palin as a yardstick.

  9. Is it wrong that what struck me as the single creepiest thing here is the phrase “the innocent fruit of conjugal intimacy”?

  10. “Faithful monogamy is at the very heart of a designed and purposeful order–as conveyed by Jewish and Christian scripture”

    Speak for yourselves, goyboys.

    Jewish scripture was quite polygamous. Abraham and Hagar; Jacob, Rachel, Leah, and their handmaids; the sin of Onan (i.e., not shtupping his sister-in-law); David and a cast of thousands; Solomon and a cast of tens of thousands, etc. (And this is only making the kindest assumptions about David and Jonathan.) Ashkenazi Judaism became monogamous around the year 1000 or so; Sephardi Judaism has never quite made the transition in principle, although I think is monogamous in practice.

  11. Thanks, koreyel. But, do you really think we still have a ways to go, to reach peak crazy?

    And, is it, “crazy”, or just an irresponsible disrespect for logic and evidence? Is there a difference?

  12. I think its nephelococcygia, the act of seeking and finding shapes in clouds; something kids love to do. But it is also often defined more satirically as Cloud Cookooland

  13. And, is it, “crazy”, or just an irresponsible disrespect for logic and evidence?


    I keep thinking back to early in Malcolm Gladwell’s Tipping Point, when he sets the foundation of his book on the little things no one would guess that can cause major changes. In the book the main push for that is the story of cleaning up graffiti and stopping free-riders on the NY subway. And that those changes set up a trend away from all NY crime in general. Which is all to say: We are incredibly responsive to our environment in ways we aren’t aware. This idea has always rung true with me. Your peers (your culture) is far more a determinant of your behavior than are your parents. Which of course means Brooks got this wrong too: The Saga of Sister Kiki

    So what does it have to do with Crazy?

    I think the early tempestuous days of the Internet changed our culture in ways we haven’t begun to understand. The battle for eyeballs coupled with the sudden freedom of an alias that could do anything and say anything and be anything altered us fundamentally. The net has also lent itself to “the big sort” in a big way. We no longer have a Cronkite stabilizing our culture and helping us to share values. Instead we are hyper-fractured and buried in self-selected news that is hyper-cooked and half-crocked. Then too there is the historical argument that income disparity drives a culture into warring camps and feverish partisanship.

    So I would argue Peak Crazy has not one cause…
    I’ve given a couple…
    No doubt there are many more acting on us….

    One could even argue that Global Warming Denial itself, is such a blatantly hard lie to maintain, that it could drive the entire social organism into some sort of neuroses.
    One thing for sure: American culture is deeply sick…

  14. “How many christian sects have a written canon law tradition? Obviously the catholic church does, and some other sects have some basis of written rules, but I’m under the impression that for the most part it’s much more of a common-law situation, aka “whatever your pastor/bishop/etc tells you the bible says.”

    Heck, why not look at how Geneva was run back in the good old days and strive for that?
    Cromwell Britain (sans Christmas and all) might make another good role model.

  15. I do not think it is at all useful to think that this US craziness is specific to the internet, or to our historical situation.
    Fare more useful, I think, is to see the analogy with various earlier religious obsessions, or with certain political revolutions.

    Here’s an excerpt from a letter I wrote my brother recently after seeing a movie about the French Revolution:
    Of course we have that Lenin learns his techniques and what can and can’t be done successfully by seeing how a small group took control of the French Revolution, but that’s obvious and not especially interesting — every discipline, even politics, learns from the experiments of the past. My point is the larger question of WHY Lenin felt this was a direction he wanted to go (especially given how the French Revolution turned out), rather than say the model of the US revolution.
    In this context, I think that studying the Reformation is they key. It seems to me that, at ALL times and places, there are individuals who possess a certain combination of
    – scrupulosity (a kind of OCD rooted in the emotions of disgust and contamination, but transferred to the intellectual realm)
    – “rationality”, in the sense that, starting with a set of premises, the individual proceeds onward to whatever conclusions follow, no matter how unsavory

    and that, if these happen to be coupled to charisma, and outside events are favorable, they can rally up a mob to their ends. (Though, as far as I can tell, the mob itself only dimly cares about rationality and scrupulosity. It starts off driven by anger, desire for revenge, hunger, frustration, etc; and by the end is going along sullenly and driven by fear.)

    Such mindsets are universal, but exactly WHAT they latch onto is what is historically/culturally conditioned. If they grow up in an environment of christian religious obsession, they’ll give rise to the reformation; if they grow up in czarist russia, with marx in the air, that’ll inform their scrupulosity and starting set of axioms; and if they grow up hearing nothing but Ayn Rand politics, and that a certain parody of economics are the key to all human behavior, THAT is what they will latch onto, and refuse to compromise, not for intellectual reasons but for much deeper reasons that they don’t even understand, rooted in the psychology of disgust.

    We saw this in Old Testament times with the switchover from the israeli god being simply one of many gods, but the one chosen by israel, to hardcore monotheism; but of course the details of this transition are unknown.
    We see it again in the Reformation, with Luther and then Calvin, and then a range of Puritans being ever more aggressive in teasing out “Given that god is a and b and c, and the bible says d and e, we should do f and g”, no matter how unpleasant and unnatural f and g might be, whether it’s dying because you refuse to say certain words, or killing other people because they refuse to say those words, or starting wars you can’t win or whatever.
    There’s a strain of cynicism that says people always do what they do for material advantage, and I think believing that is not helpful. MOST people are not motivated by these crazy impulses, and so those people are happy to say whatever is most convenient, or to switch religious rites as is most helpful, giving us Henry IV converting to Catholicism to become King of France, or the occasional Catholic Protestant alliance during the 30 yrs war. But there ARE those who hear the voices in their heads and refuse to compromise, and they tend to be the ones willing to turn everything around them upside down, heedless of the dangers to themselves.

    Getting to the French Revolution, and then again the Russian, I think again this is the driving impulse behind the initial monsters of the revolution, Robespierre and Lenin. Both are so in love with the abstract idea of where they are headed that, faced with the practical problems of government (including most specifically the fact of serious internal and external opposition) they can’t bear to accept contamination of their ideals.

    The reason I think this is all especially relevant today (and why the standard historical view frustrates me so much) is that I think this is precisely what we are seeing in the US today. Once again we have a crowd of zealots driven by what are essentially religious impulses (in some cases directly christian, in other cases libertarian). The details differ, but the large picture is the same:
    – “rationality”, and so an insistence on a utopian result that is the endpoint of a long chain of logic from ludicrous (but unquestioned) principles, regardless of the inhumanity and empirical consequences of this result,
    – scrupulosity and so an unwillingness to compromise and negotiate (because that would result in contamination of the ideals)
    – lack of concern with harm along the way, because the paradise of that end-point justifies the means.

    Once again, I think, most people are simply willing to go along with whatever is easiest, and can’t believe that others really are true believers, ready to sacrifice the world to achieve salvation (eg, to destroy the US’ debt rating and allow the US to go bankrupt so as to usher in the future economic paradise). In the past nutcases of this sort existed in the US, but had no real political traction. But they appear to be reaching a critical mass in political power. We’ve already seen that, when the talk turns to enemies of the state, these people are willing to torture, or kill without trial. All we need is to turn that talk inwards, to define everyone, not just brown-skinned muslims, as a possible enemy of the people…
    I really do think that academics who view the world in political terms, rather than in the psychological terms I’m describing, are missing the essence of what is going on.

  16. Remember when the tea party people were going around telling people that they were so different from the Republicans of two years prior and how they just wanted to focus on economic issues? How’s that working out for you?

  17. A thoughtful essay, Maynard. You made me think of the 17th century English Civil War(s) — there were three phrases — which modern historians have taken to putting under the more general heading of the Wars of the Three Kingdoms. The 17th century in the British Isles saw the Deep Crazy in full bloom, and, also saw it give way, gradually, to the 18th century Enlightenment’s measured tolerance and stable, regular (and corrupt) Tory v Whig politics. The breakdown of a common religious tradition in the Protestant Reformation, and the breakdown of feudal political and economic arrangements, cleared the ground and opened the Hell’s Mouth of deeper, foundational controversies.

    If you think our present debt-ceiling politics are silly-stupid, the English Civil War provides a special treat: the wars began in earnest, when Charles I, a king who evidently found little enough use for his head while he still had it, after a decade of trying to make himself an absolute monarch, not dependent on Parliament for tax revenues, by the expedient of sitting out the continental Thirty Years’ War and attendant expenses, managed to manuever himself into a war . . . with himself (over details of religious practice). Yes, he managed to provoke a war between England and Scotland, in which he was responsible, as King of England, for the expenses of the English Army, and, as King of Scotland, for the expenses of the Scots Army, as well.

    There was, in this period, what you call “scrupulosity” aplenty. I’d call attention to another aspect of the politics, though: the insistence on arbitrary government, from which opposing views and interests are excluded. Human thought, I suggest, is the product of social activity, social process, however much individual ratiocination takes place. When inevitable conflict can not be tolerated, and institutional arrangements deliberately preclude contention, prescribing conformity and submission, we make ourselves collectively stupid. When people decide that they no longer have any obligation to participate in the maintenance of consensus reality, and the labor of reconciling idiosyncratic subjective impulses with shared perceptions and “objective” or measurable references under common observation, they are short-circuiting the social processes of thinking.

    People can launch themselves onto other social processes, by banding together tribally, based on shared subjective experience or the espousal of arbitrary theses. But, if the reconciliation of conflict is abandoned for the elimination of conflict, in the acceptance of arbitrary power or dogma, then thinking is abandoned, and political adaptation to circumstance is hobbled. The simple, collective capacity to rank-order sensibly priorities or to work out plausible cause-and-effect is lost. Blasphemy, for example, can become an outrageous crime, despite the absence of observable material or moral consequences, and a penalty, with severe material consequences can be seen as just.

    In our own times, for all our noisy controversy, I look upon the legal and political tendency to eliminate conflict, with alarm. The courthouse door is closed, by the Supreme Court’s interpretation of class-action procedure. The representation of common interests by, say, labor unions, is eliminated. The dedication of both Parties, and the whole corporate Media, exclusively to plutocratic interests means that we can not debate whether to increase Social Security benefits, only how much to cut them, and the taxation of the rich cannot be considered.

    People have always had a fundamental ambivalence about conflict and controversy, and that aversion to conflict can, and is, exploited to promote claims to an arbitrary power. Deep suspicion concerning the legitimacy of the claims of those, who specialize in process and procedure for the reconciliation of conflict, be they priests, scholars, lawyers, politicians or technocrats, is frequently well-founded. My point, though, is that teh Stupid is rooted in truncation of conflict, which, in turn, subverts the associated controversy. When Power no longer depends on Persuasion, rational inquiry and the associated effort to measure perception and to denote by pointing toward common observation, in order to make one’s self understood by those with other, conflicting views and interest, loses its political value to engaged partisans. It loses its value, because it is no longer necessary to “winning the argument” in the conflict between interested parties. But, having lost its internalized value to contending powers, its abandonment means that we also lose its externalized value in rationally adapting to circumstance. Arbitrary quickly becomes stupid, because thinking is a public good, produced by social processes of argument in conflict.

    The French Revolution was not the product, in the first instance, of the revolutionaries. It was the product of the intransigence in reactionary power of the French parlements, which refused to allow the Rich to be taxed, to the point of bankrupting the French state. Attempts to rationally reform the state’s finances, on the theoretical strength of the arbitrary power of royal absolutism proved unavailing. The English Civil War and subsequent establishment of constitutional monarchy had prepared the ground in Britain for government, which, at least, rationally balanced the conflict of commercial interests. The c1720 South Sea Bubble, in the British political context created by the events of the 17th century, resulted in the consolidation of the power of the Bank of England as a proto-Central Bank, the establishment of the unassailable credit of the British government, and created the financial foundation for financing the canals that drove the industrial revolution. The c1720 Mississippi Bubble in France accomplished the opposite.

  18. Keep in mind that the candidates who are asked to sign this pledge come from a party whose last presidential nominee was, when he was more able, enough of a horndog as to make Bill Clinton look chaste by comparison.

    How many Republicans compared Barack Obama’s values as a husband and father to the was John McCain treated the first Mrs. McCain? Carol McCain was seriously injured while her husband was imprisoned in Vietnam. Upon his return, he dumped her and took up with an anorexic beer heiress/beauty queen, who later stole drugs from a charity she was affiliated with.

    I am disappointed that my fellow Democrats did not make more of the stark contrast between the family lives of the two nominees.

  19. Sorry, that should have been “the way John McCain treated” his first wife.

  20. So I assume they spell it their name as “FAMiLY LEADER” to make some demented point about the role of “I” in family?

    Perhaps they are merely Turkish.

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