Philosophy, Film, Politics, Etc.

Monday, February 25, 2008

What's A Delusion, Anyway?

Hillary Clinton, and she is not alone in this, has suggested that Barack Obama's campaign is more rhetoric than substance, and that people should "get real."

During the recent debate in Austin, Barack Obama turned it around on Clinton, saying that she implies that the millions of Obama supporters are "delusional" and have been "duped."

Obama's remark got a chuckle out of a number of those present, including Clinton. Clinton's response did not extend beyond that chuckle, however.

I was not amused by the "delusion" remark. To me it seemed just another example of Obama's rhetoric. Indeed, Obama did not offer any evidence that a great many Obama supporters aren't delusional, or that they haven't been duped. It was apparently enough to just use the word "delusional," as if that made the case for him. I guess it is just obvious that delusions cannot be held on such a large scale.

So what's a delusion, anyway?

According to this medical dictionary, a delusion is "an idiosyncratic false belief that is firmly maintained in spite of incontrovertible and obvious proof or evidence to the contrary."

Clinton's remark did not suggest that Obama's supporters were unwilling or unable to listen to reason or evidence. She did not, therefore, suggest that they were delusional. She merely suggested that they have been swayed more by rhetoric than by substantive argument, and that the reality of the situation is that she is more prepared and more qualified to be President.

Obama's "delusion" remark was, it seems, just another example of him using rhetoric to avoid or misinform. But he raised the quetion, so let's consider it: is it possible that there is mass delusion among the Obama supporters?

Mass delusions are possible, after all.

Scientists will tell you there is incontrovertible and obvious evidence that the human species emerged through an evolutionary process taking millions of years, yet how many people firmly maintain that it is not so?

How many millions of people believe there is life after death, when an overwhelming amount of evidence points to the contrary?

It may be that you need religion or some spiritual element to engender mass delusions such as these. Religion and spirituality certainly seem to help, anyway. As it turns out, some such elements are not just present in Obama's campaign--they are primary ingredients.

Now, I haven't been to an Obama rally, yet from the way people talk about them, it seems they have a sort of revivalist feel to them. And it seems pretty obvious that the enthralling experience has little to do with unexpectedly penetrating arguments or stunningly revelatory policies. It's about the experience of hearing Obama speak, and feeling the surge of excitement and enthusiasm of the crowd. Rational criticism apparently has little to do with it.

Additionally, as indicated by some quotes in this article, there tend to be distinctly spiritual themes. At one rally, Michelle Obama declared, "Barack Obama is the only person in this race who understands that, that before we can work on the problems, we have to fix our souls. Our souls are broken in this nation."

In less spiritual language, Mrs. Obama put it this way: "Barack Obama . . . is going to demand that you shed your cynicism."

The idea is that getting involved--voting, trying to make a difference, and getting over the cynicism--is the healing process. Well, I'm all for people trying to get over their cynicism and trying to make a difference. But is Obama really the only candidate who understands that? And, really, what evidence is there that there is an abundance of cynicism in America?

Look at American cinema and television--look at the stories Americans consume and live by. They tend to be anything but the product of cynical minds. They are generally overly romantic, fantastical, and ridiculous, with very little connection to the realities of human existence. (I cite "Lars and The Real Girl" as one of the more odious and recent examples.)

Americans tend to be anything but cynical. But, couch it in vague, spiritual terms (everybody can identify with the idea of a broken soul) and offer an easy solution (vote for Obama), and now you have millions of Obama supporters thinking that Obama alone is responsible for voter turnout. Obama is the man who renewed the people's faith in politics, and offered them spiritual guidance in the process. Obama alone can bring about real change in Washington, change you can believe in. And it is believed in adamantly and irrationally.

We cannot give Obama credit for the desire for change in America. We cannot give him credit for creating the immense amount of interest in this Presidential campaign. Indeed, there has been record voter turnout in a number of states, and a lot of those votes went to Hillary Clinton. Just look at Florida for a stunning example.

This is an historic election because these are historic times. The American people feel that, and they didn't need Obama to make it so.

Does this mean Obama's supporters are delusional?

Not necessarily.

It's only a delusion if the false beliefs are stubbornly held even when confronted with undeniable proof or evidence of their falsehood.

It could be that many of Obama's supporters have false beliefs about him, not because they are delusional, but simply because they are gullible and desperate for something to believe in.

Some have no doubt been misled by biased media coverage. It is not hard to find Obama supporters who regurgitate falsehoods about easily verified election facts. For example, take Florida and Michigan. Some Obama supporters think Clinton's was the only Democratic name on the Florida ballots. Some think Clinton even campaigned in Florida or Michigan, when no Democrats were allowed to do so, and that she put her name on the ballots after agreeing to remove it from them.

How many of Obama's supporters are delusional? It's an open question. What remains apparent, however, is Obama's ability to use rhetoric to evade and mislead, and the almost religious devotion he cultivates through his speeches and rallies. These are the issues Clinton raised, and Obama evaded them with rhetoric and a chuckle.