All of us who spend our time interacting with the Birthers have experienced their irrational, single-minded, and unshakable belief that American law requires two citizen parents in order to be a natural born citizen. As an analogy, think of the Abortion issue. Those of us who believe Abortion is morally wrong, and should be illegal, do not cross the dividing line into Delusional Territory to promulgate the belief that Abortions are illegal. There is a boundary between what we believe the law should be, and what the law actually is, and we are quite able to appreciate that distinction and work from our side to change the law, while those opposed work to maintain the status quo.
But, for the Birthers, that distinction does not apply to the Eligibility Issue. There is no logical barrier to the Birthers simply advocating the position that citizenship by bloodline is superior to citizenship by place of birth and then working to change the law governing presidential eligibility. However, they will argue, in spite of any and all evidence to the contrary, that the current status of the law mandates two citizen parents in order to be eligible. No matter how many times the truth is pointed out to them, no matter how many court cases are cited, and no matter what the degree of divergence with reality and history, they will perform whatever logical contortions and acrobatics are necessary to adhere to and support this erroneous belief.
For example, if a judge flatly, definitely, and simply says, “people born in America are natural born citizens regardless of the nationality of their parents” and cites more than sufficient case law to back up his decision, the Birther will go to whatever lengths are necessary to deny that the holding is law. Over time, it has become apparent that for the Birthers, the eligibility issue has little or nothing to do with legal realities, partisan concerns, logic, rationality, or even basic common sense. For them, the issue has transmogrified into an article of faith, and they are simply immune to any fact which contradicts that belief.
That is why it is pretty much useless to quote Wong Kim Ark, Ankeny v. Governor, or any of the recent decisions to them. I feel safe saying that none of us on the other side of the issue has ever witnessed a Birther admitting that they are wrong. In the Birther Universe, there is only that erroneous two citizen parent belief. This is why we witness Birthers ignominiously seeking to negate 1898 Supreme Court cases by citing 30 year earlier congressional speeches, or blatant misinterpretations of Minor v. Happersett.
The important question here is . . . WHY???. Perhaps the concept of idee fixe, will help to explain this phenomenon. Wiki has a very good article on Idee Fixe, and I will quote extensively from it, and bold the most relevant parts:
Idee fixe is a preoccupation of mind held so firmly as to resist any attempt to modify it, a fixation. The name originates from the French [French : idée, idea + fixe, fixed]. Although not used technically to denote a particular disorder in psychology, idée fixe is used often in the description of disorders, and is employed widely in literature and everyday English.
As an everyday term, idée fixe may indicate a mindset akin to prejudice or stereotyping.
- Here again cognitive psychologists have done miracles in disclosing the well-nigh unlimited capabilities and eagerness of human beings to ward off contradictions inter alia by closing their eyes to data that are at variance with their assumptions. … people who accept the stereotype…are forever coming up with evidence to support their idée fixe and seem unable to notice any information which might disturb their belief.
- – H. S. Versnel, Inconsistencies in Greek and Roman Religion
However, idée fixe has also a pathological dimension, denoting serious psychological issues, as in this account of Japanese culture for a popular audience:
- Although her husband did not reproach her, she became like a woman possessed, continually begging for his forgiveness. This he readily gave, but her guilt — and his imagined umbrage — had become for her an idée fixe. Unable to stomach food, she went into a decline and died soon thereafter.
- –Jack Seaward The Japanese
Idée fixe began as a parent category of obsession, and as a preoccupation of mind the idée fixe resembles today’s obsessive-compulsive disorder: although the afflicted person can think, reason and act like other people, they are unable to stop a particular train of thought or action. However, in obsessive-compulsive disorder, the victim recognizes the absurdity of the obsession or compulsion, not necessarily the case with an idée fixe, which normally is a delusion. Today, the term idée fixe does not denote a specific disorder in psychology, and does not appear as a technical designation in the Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders. Nonetheless, idée fixe is used still as a descriptive term, and appears in dictionaries of psychology.
The term idée fixe was introduced as a medical term around 1812 in connection with monomania.As originally employed in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, idée fixe was “a single pathology of the intellect”, distinct from monomania, a broader term that included idée fixe, but also a wider range of range of pathologies that did not stem from “a single compelling idea or from an emotional excess”. A second difference is that the victim of idée fixe was understood to be unaware of the unreality of their frame of mind,while the victim of monomania might be aware.
At that time, idée fixe was discussed as a form of neurosis or monomania:
- The meaning of monomania in the technical medical sense in which it was first used, was very close to the popular meaning it would soon acquire. It denoted an idée fixe, a single pathological preoccupation in an otherwise sound mind.
The idea of monomania was developed by Esquirol as a diagnostic category in his work Des Malades Mentales (1839) and related to the idée fixe by Griesinger (1845) who viewed “every single idée fixe [as] the expression of a deeply deranged psychic individuality and probably an indicator of an incipient form of mania”.
The “pathologicalization” of political convictions was used to discredit political anarchists. The further historical evolution of idée fixe was much entangled with the introduction of psychologists into legal matters such as the insanity defense, and is found in a number of texts.
Possibly the best example of the role of idée fixe in an insanity defense today is its use in identifying the paranoid personality disorder.
- A frequent manifestation of … paranoid personality is the presence of an overvalued idea … a fixed idea (idée fixe) … which might seem reasonable both to the patient and to other people. However, it comes to dominate completely the person’s thinking and life. … It is quite distinct phenomenologically from both delusion and obsessional idea.
The extreme case of paranoid psychosis” … includes preoccupation with delusional beliefs; believing that people are talking about oneself; believing one is being persecuted or being conspired against; and believing that people or external forces control one’s actions.”
The legal issues surrounding paranoia include judgment of competence to stand trial, conditions for involuntary hospitalization, involuntary medication, and a focus upon awareness or not of unreality at the moment when the defendant “snapped”.
The rest of the article may be found here:
The above discussion of idee fixe nails many of the characteristics evident in the Birther community. The Birther Think Tank has already written about the delusional aspects of Birtherism, most recently in its discussion of the de Vattel Delusion Disorder. It is also interesting to note how this concept of idee fixe was applied to political anarchists in the 1800′s when one considers the links between the Birthers and militias and the Sovereign Citizen Movement. Witness, for example, Walter Fitzpatrick, and his Citizen’s Arrest Campaign.
Additionally, Birthers are extremely distrustful of government, believing in effect, that all the organs of government and the elite are aligned against them to cover up Obama’s alleged usurpation of the Presidency. The idee fixe approach also helps explain the Birther’s excessive reliance on the “crooked judge” or “rigged judicial system” excuse when they get clobbered in court. It is simple paranoia.
I am sure most of us have marveled at the degree of apparent gross stupidity exhibited by the Birthers and no doubt have wondered how some of these people manage to feed themselves. We wonder how they can hold some of the beliefs that they do, such as the mis-interpretation of Minor v. Happersett, when all history post-MvH contradicts them. They appear able to read and construct sentences, but their logical functioning is practically non-existent. It is easy to suppose that they are simply lying and pretending to be that stupid. Yet, the concept of idee fixe recognizes that a victim may function perfectly well in all aspects of their life except for whatever has become the focus of their obsession.
I believe there is much value and insight to be gained from a more in-depth study using the idee fixe approach. This would also help explain much of the frustration we experience trying to understand why the Birthers are sooo resistant to reason and common sense. Theoretically, it should be a simple matter for reasonable people to determine the status of current eligibility law by reading the few applicable legal cases. Yet, as we can all attest, that approach goes nowhere with the Birthers.
Rather than question or fault our logic and debating skills, we need to realize that we are often not dealing with rational people. Most of us have sensed that, but now we can give a name to what is wrong . Not all Birthers are so afflicted. Some are no doubt simple opportunists, or attention-seekers. Another subset will probably consist of less-educated and ill-informed persons who are impressed with the legalistic Birther jargon and blather.
We must understand that our audience for the presentation of legal cites and case are those ill-informed persons. Because rationality and reason will work slowly, if at all, with the delusional. And the opportunistic Birther has no incentive to admit that he is wrong. Realizing the mental illness aspects of the Birthers dictate that rather than engage in those 1,000+ response threads that we have all fallen into, we should instead consider making a shorter statement of the relevant facts, and then withdraw from the debate.
The more time we spend on the minutia of Wong Kim Ark, the more we will lose the attention of the ill-informed. If the typical Birther refuses to read and acknowledge the clear holdings of judges, there is little chance they will listen to us. Perhaps it is better to summarize the holding, provide a link, and tell the listeners/debaters/audience to read it for themselves. Ankeny v. Governor is a good short read, and in my opinion, better than sending a non legal experienced person to Wong Kim Ark. (Re: Ankeny, The Bither Think Tank has shortened the case to just the natural born citizen part, and given it a catchy title, The Case The “Two Citizen Parent” Birthers Just HATE!!!)
I still believe ridicule is a useful tool. The degree of idee fixe probably varies from Birther to Birther, and those on the less-insane side of the spectrum can not help but notice they keep losing their cases. Ridiculing the losers may serve to shake loose some of the Birthers who still have some pride and functioning cerebral function left. Perhaps it is also possible to turn the Birthers’ paranoid tendencies against the Birther opportunists. There seems to be some of this already occurring with Orly Taitz where some are beginning to accuse her of intentionally sinking the cases.
All in all, I think we have a lot of thinking to do about this, and approaching it as a mental illness problem instead of argumentative problem may make us more successful. Realizing that we often are dealing with mentally ill persons may encourage us to decrease the amount of time we spend debating with them, and focus more on a good short knockout punch. Plus, we may help ourselves break-away from the prolonged circular argument cycle and keep us from becoming co-dependent with a bunch of maniacs.
I hope this has been an informative Internet Article.
Note 1: The Title is a play on the Symphony Fantasique by Hector Berlioz, where the theme of idee fixe plays a central role. To fit the Birther motif, the word Cacophony is more appropriate:
cacophony – a loud harsh or strident noise
- sound of any kind (especially unintelligible or dissonant sound);
cacophony- loud confusing disagreeable sounds
Note 2: Psycho. The quotations in the image above are from Alfred Hitchcock’s 196o film, Psycho ,starring Anthony Perkins as the Birther, I mean as Norman Bates. The full quotes are:
Norman Bates: Uh-uh, Mother-m-mother, uh, what is the phrase? She isn’t quite herself today.
Milton Arbogast: Well, if it doesn’t jell, it isn’t aspic, and this ain’t jellin’!