The American Conservative, 20 October 2008

Psychotherapist Jim Pittaway looks at John McCain and sees a man badly in need of psychiatric evaluation.  Pittaway stresses that he would never diagnose a patient whom he has not met, but published accounts of McCain’s experiences and behavior suggest that he may suffer from moderate Traumatic Brain Injury.  Pittaway writes:

There are three signal characteristics of moderate TBI: emotional disregulation (volatility), perseveration (inability to let go of thoughts or feelings or to see them in broader perspective), and concrete thinking (abstractions and nuance are compressed into right or wrong, good or evil, people are either “for me or against me.”) 

McCain’s notoriously bad temper (for example, hitting a 93 year old colleague on the Senate floor), his insistent repetition of ideas that have been proven false (for example, claiming that Iran was arming the anti-Iranian group “al Qaeda in Iraq,” a claim that earlier this year humiliated him when he had to be publicly corrected by a friend- and which he then continued to repeat at subsequent appearances), and his habit of describing every conflict as a moral struggle (for example, briefed on some structural difficulties in international finance his response was to ask the briefer “So, who’s the villain?”) suggest the behavior patterns associated with moderate TBI.  Torture and beatings McCain has described receiving from his North Vietnamese captors could hardly have failed to inflict substantial injury on his brain.  Psychiatric tests and neurological scans can rule TBI in or out rather easily, but McCain has made it clear he will never submit to such examination.  McCain’s stated belief that he avoided any psychological damage by sheer willpower is what psychologists call “magical thinking,” and suggests that his psychological wounds are surrounded with a formidable structure of denial. 

Pittaway himself has treated many TBI patients, and his description of their lives is terrifying if it applies to a man who may find his finger on the nuclear trigger.  “Difficulties with abstract thinking breed obsessive behaviors and tendencies to personalize issues in very concrete terms in lieu of dealing with nuance and complexity.”  Moreover:

In my work with TBI patients with moderate symptoms, I am invariably struck by the level of frustration they encounter on a daily basis.  Unless it is severe, brain injury is a closed wound.  Since victims appear undamaged, everyone around them expects- and they themselves often expect- normal skill sets, behaviors, and emotional ranges.  The energy it takes to compensate for functional deficits is extraordinary, and the absence of affirming feedback breeds a senseof isolation that morphs over time into deep-seated resentment.  It ismuch, much easier to stay focused on one thing, which accounts for the characteristic obsessiveness.  Execution is driven by resentment and anger rather than objective circumstances.  Thisbreeds a toughness that can endure enormous amounts of stress before decompensation- which is almost always of an extremely violent nature- occurs.

Elsewhere in the same issue, David Gordon looks at Public Choice Economics.  Public Choice economists argue that indifference to politics is rational among voters, inasmuch as no one vote is likely to decide an election.  Gordon points out that there are other motives for voting than the hope that one will decide the election.  For example, even votes for a losing candidate may send a message that the eventual winners will notice, and being among the winners of a high-profile contest brings a satisfaction that many people desire. 

John Derbyshire reviews the “Stuff White People Like” book.  Unlike The Atlantic‘s reviewer, Derbyshire doesn’t get the significance of the phrase “White People”-the targets of Lander’s mockery are trendy progressives who would hate to be labeled as typically white.  He does mention Lander’s personal favorite among sites that have imitated his, “White Stuff People Like” (plaster, cream cheese, plastic bags, swans, mayonnaise, cocaine, and snow are the list so far.)

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  1. cymast

     /  November 3, 2008

    I don’t think McCain should be singled out to provide his medical records for public scrutiny and submit to a psychiatric evaluation. I think ALL people seeking positions of leadership and authority should be REQUIRED to provide their medical records and submit to psychiatric evaluations on a regular basis. This includes everybody in the military, government, police, judges, prison guards, teachers, and doctors.


    Gordon makes sense in this “vote or be un-American” culture.


    So it’s mostly white stuff that white people like?

  2. acilius

     /  November 4, 2008

    “ALL people seeking positions of leadership and authority should be REQUIRED to provide their medical records and submit to psychiatric evaluations on a regular basis”

    Sounds good to me. Certainly to undergo some kind of basic screening.

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