Political Masochism

You need a psychiatrist to understand politics.

During the oil shock in the early 1970s, Charles Peters in the Washington Monthly suggested gas rationing. He remembered it from World War II and felt it had worked well. He was enthusiastic about it and looked forward to it.

That seems strange.

Why do some pundits seem to celebrate bad news? A clue is in the novel "The Left Hand of Darkness". One character in a quasi utopia asked his friend what held their society together. The answer he got was: "shared pain". This is the heart of a lot of political commentary. Some writers value social solidarity above almost all else, so they tend to welcome bad news: it brings shared pain.

They are partially right. Shared pain does bring people together. Studies support that conclusion.

We can see something similar at work in the climate change discussion. If an activist truly believes that climate change is really the most urgent challenge, then he would support anything that would alleviate it. That would include nuclear power (to substitute for coal and natural gas), genetically modified organisms (to provide food that can grow in the new climate), and geoengineering (seeding the ocean with iron, putting particulates into the high atmosphere, putting mirrors in orbit). But they tend to oppose those things. Among the Democratic candidates for President, only Andrew Yang and Cory Booker definitely support nuclear power. Only Andrew Yang definitely supports geoengineering. It makes you wonder what they really want.

Thomas Szasz wrote a masochist believes "it is better to be wanted as a victim than not to be wanted at all". Many activists appear to believe that the pleasure of social solidarity outweighs the pain of social adversity. Seeking pleasure through pain is the definition of masochism.

Posted 2019/October/04