Recently I had lunch with a friend, a very successful businesswoman, who went off on a rant. She said three things that made me laugh.
First she quoted some of the wackier comments of the current GOP presidential candidates (particularly Michele Bachman, Rick Perry, and Ron Paul). There were some doozies.
Then she said she blamed Ronald Reagan. Again I laughed.
"No, really," she said. "Reagan cut funding for mental institutions. So there are more crazy people on the streets.
"And you know," she said, leaning forward, eyes wide, "we find crazy people very attractive!"
I laughed again. But the more I think about it, the more I think she's right.
I don't watch TV much, but at a hotel one night I surfed around until I found some kind of game show. Ladies were licking bugs off the windshield of a car. For money, I think. I hope they got money.
And when they completed that task, the gleeful emcee said, "OK, but will they...?" and I flipped the channel. I have no idea what revolting ordeal was next, but I had no doubt that the contestants were up for it. Or that millions of people at home could hardly wait to see it.
Crazy people say things we simply wouldn't, and do things we'd never dream of.
On the one hand, that's because many of us have or had mothers who would be mortified.
On the other hand, there's a sneaking admiration for the unfettered tongue or body. Sometimes, looneyness looks like courage.
But this isn't a political blog entry. (Yet.) I just read about a seminal psychological study.
It was called "On Being Sane in Insane Places," by David Rosenhan. It was published in the prestigious journal "Science" in 1973.
There were two parts to the study. The first part sent to mental institutions eight perfectly sane people complaining of brief auditory hallucinations. All eight were admitted.
Afterward, these people reported that they hadn't had any more problems. One got out in seven days. One of them endured fifty-two days of "treatment." Not one of the institutions caught on that the pseudo-patients were faking it.
Oh, except that the other residents did catch on. THEY could tell.
The second part of the study was a response to one of the hospitals who said that they would never have fallen for such a ploy. So Rosenhan said he would send a few pseudo-patients to them over the next three months. Then didn't.
Nonetheless, this institution reported that 41 of the 193 patients admitted in that time were fakes, and another 42 were suspected to be.
In other words, the only people who can recognize genuine mental illness are those who suffer from it. Sane people who have the misfortune to find themselves in insane institutions may never escape.
And it just might be that insane people, with enough media attention (and voter approval), could wind up being in charge of those institutions.
Or as Adlai Stevenson once said, "In America, anyone can become president. That's one of the risks you take."
Some relevant words of wisdom from Pogo's Walt Kelly:
"I'll tell you, son, the minority got us out-numbered!" - Congersman Frog
"It ain't that your majority is outnumbered, you're just out-surrounded." -
Tammananny Tiger (to Pogo)