About “Crazy” and the Montana Legislature: A Reflection

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Crazy. Insane. Lunatic.

All words I’ve used to describe the first half of the Montana Legislature’s session, some of the bills, and even a few of the members of the Republican caucus, and all words I regret using. I don’t regret their use because I’ve come to realize that the Republicans are making sense and developing consistency, but because the language is unnecessary and perhaps even damaging.

I have serious disagreement with the direction the GOP seems to want to take the state. Their vision of Montana is one I don’t recognize—one with draconian cuts in social services, religious intrusion into healthcare, and more guns than any state could ever need—to name a few issues. I think their agenda is reactionary, extremist, and dangerous, but they’re not “crazy.” They’re just wrong.

As bad as the proposals get, though, it’s no reason to use language that stigmatizes people with mental illness. Far too many people suffer from mental illness in silence, at least in part because our language delegitimizes their experience and shapes the perception that mental illness is a more shameful illness than a physical ailment.

I’ve struggled with it in post after post, and often catch myself when I post headlines, but I’ve used these terms for too long as easy shorthand for concepts I don’t mean to convey.  As George Orwell put it in his masterful Politics and the English Language, “if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought. A bad usage can spread by tradition and imitation even among people who should and do know better.”  Simply put, language matters, and I’d like mine to be better.

I hope this post doesn’t come across as condemning anyone else’s writing or as something self-righteous, as I probably used the language here as frequently as anyone and am quite likely to slip up in the future. I just would prefer not to.

Tinfoil, though? I’m keeping that one.

About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba is a eighteen-year teacher of English, former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.

His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.

In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it’s a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.

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  • I get caught in that trap, too, Pogie. The misuse of words doesn't help advance a cause. I find the use of "fascist" or "Nazi" to describe right-wing antics to be inaccurate and distasteful, although these words often appear in posts and comments.

    I like the word "wacky" when referring to some of the bills coming out of the Montana legislature. What else could they be called?

    But I agree, calling individual legislators "crazy" or "insane" is an injustice to those with real mental health issues. I try to avoid the name calling, although I'm not always successful.

    One would hope that the other side of the aisle would stop the name calling, too. Saying that Barack Obama is a socialist is a case in point: he's pretty far removed from socialism.

    We should all take the high road but it ain't easy with some of the crap (that's OK to say, right?) trickling down from the legislature and Congress.

    Anyway, I appreciate your post.

    • Sorry your comment was held in moderation so long, Pete. I can't check during the day–and missed it this evening.

      I'm trying to decide if I can use "daft" or "barmy." Both make me feel quite British.

  • Oh my goodness – the GOP is going to lose your vote in 2012 Pogie, as well as the other dozen bloggers here.

    The GOP got a big mandate about 4 months ago to start undoing the damage of 6 years of Schweitzerism, and two years of Obama/Reid/Pelosi, and they are being successful thus far.

    You'd better get used to it.

    • Eric, how's that Wisconsin thingy workin' out for ya? It's over, dude. You guys aligned yourself with the complete wackos. It was a huge gamble, and you got outed. Are you personally really on board with all the nonsense? Are you a Kochhead?

      LK

    • Yeah, Eric, the GOP got a mandate to boost employment and fix the economy. Instead, it’s giving us wacky nullification, militia, and gun bills; invasion of privacy, anti-environment, anti-dignity in death, pro-cyanide leaching and marriage advice bills; anti-local governance and pro-discrimination bills … the list goes on.

      Is this what I should be getting used to?

  • Well, Pogie, you’re an educated man, a very good writer, and you’re WRONG on this one. You have forgotten the past, and hence, are doomed to repeat it.

    These folks are INDEED not right in the head, or crazy if you prefer, because they are consumed by hatred. A culture based solely on hatred makes for a dysfunctional society. Every culture in the world, even the most primitive, realizes that and has ways of dealing with it.

    Look, EVERYthing these teabaggers espouse is right out of the jonh birch society playbook and philosophy. You’re kinda young, but I REMEMBER all this wacko crap. It’s unAmerican, anti-democratic, and pure, unadulaterated HATRED!

    Oh sure, the code words are all there taken directly from the Birchers, but it’s still hatred. Here, a little excert from the 60’s. Sound familiar? Well, it should.

    Kinda hard for me to believe that bircerism has become mainstream. And REAL scary. Please take the time to familiarize yourself with just WHO these folks are. Hey, we can’t change the world, but we can WORK LIKE HELL to prevent hate from taking over the Montana we love!

  • Describing a type of person, or persons, however interesting, does not open the debate on the effect and consequence of their actions. There is way too much fear out there to waste time on atmospherics. There are real policy corrections afoot that need to be stopped, and more that need to be corrected from past legislatures. If language and educations matter, policy and practice matter too.

    • What are you TRYING to say? Didn’t come through too well. Have you EVER maybe studied propaganda? As EQUALLY as important as policy matters are the historical ORIGINS of those policies I would argue! If you DON’T understand why the New Deal was such a big deal, you WON’T understand why repeal is such a big deal!

      If you DON’T understand just WHY unions were formed in the first place, and how much blood was shed to institute them, and what working conditions were like prior to the unions, you will have NO concept of why they were important, and still are.

      And if you don’t understand the code words of the fascists and racists, and these are simply newer versions of states rights and “freedom”, etc., you won’t even be able to comprehend that the birther bills are simply code for n*gger!

      Sorry, you don’t make much sense.

      The point that I always try to make to folks younger than myself is that I actually REMEMBER the folks who lived through the depression era, WWII, union busting, etc. They expressed very clearly what those times were like. But,unfortunately, nearly all those folks are gone now. We’re losing them fast.

      It’s hard to see that the country is going to have to suffer all over again in order to figure things out, and THEN, re-fight all those bloddy old battles!

      And the outcome will be anything less than certain. And that’s what we’re up against.

      And lastly, I learned looong ago that yes, HUMOR is a legitimate tactic against nazis and fascists! As is music, literature, and all the arts! It’s part of our American culture. The far right IS nuts! Wendy Warpburpin’, Bubba Birther Bob, Derek Skeester, Jumbo Jimmy Knoxious ARE humouous characters! Are they dangerous? Of course. But they also need to be laughed at, VIROROUSLY, to remind us that they are simply aberrations of normal, civil society. Hey, it’s OK to laugh at people when they do things deserving of laughter!

      Just my HO.

      LK

  • Thanks for this, Pogie. I try to think twice before using words like crazy, but I know I slip as well. You're setting a great example.

    What we need are words that describe what we're talking about that aren't borrowed from the realm of 19th century 'mental health' vocabulary.

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