Sunday, October 26, 2014

Word of the day: psychosis

Well I recall, from several decades ago, when a friend explained to me the difference between a schlemiehl and a schlemassel:
   The schlemiehl is a klutz who is always spilling the coffee.
   The schlemassel is the one it usually gets spilled on.

In this spirit, we proceed to differentiate the neurotic from the psychotic, and indeed from the sociopath.

  Neurotic:  Think Woody Allen.
  Sociopath:  Think Hannibal Lector or the Joker.

And psychotic?  Well, it’s harder to think of a (non-sociopathic) cinematic representative.  For the psychotic has become quite unmoored from reality, the contents of the unconscious backflushing into the ego and cognitively disabling the patient.   Not an interesting subject for art.

Neurosis is the everyday lot of all of us, to some extent.  Sociopaths are a matter for the police.  And psychotics belong in an asylum.


Now, if that were all there were to it, I wouldn’t have bothered to post.  But there is a linguistic subtlety, which shades into something politically crucial. 

Headline in the New York Times:

The reference is to the thousands of increasingly unruly illegal aliens, most from the Horn of Africa, who have collected in the tunnel- and ferry-town of Calais, on the English Channel.   A picturesque village has become a nightmare landscape. The problem has been building for years, and is swept under the rug by the socialo French government, paralyzed by political correctness.

Indeed the Times article pulls no punches, making clear how bad things have become.  (It even mentions the very touchy subject of African intruders raping Frenchwomen, which I had not seen mention of in the French press;  too hot to handle.)  But as so often happens in the NYTimes, the headline writer tries to spin things into bien-pensant correctitude.   For:  if the attitude of the French residents of Calais is a “psychosis”, then they are psychotic, delusional, and out of touch.  And the Eingdringlinge may be as sweet and innocent as the Gentle Giant, Saint Skittles, the Sandwich Man, or suchlike paladins.

Here, however (unlike earlier cases we have reported), the after-inkslinger has not made the verbiage up out of whole cloth:  for indeed the article contains the following line:

“The discontent has turned into a real psychosis,” said Emmanuel Agius, the deputy mayor of Calais and a member of the conservative Union for a Popular Movement party. “The migrants of today no longer fear breaking the laws.”

Yet even from this very paragraph, it is clear that the deputy mayor is not dismissing the concerns of his electorate as being merely delusional (psychotic sensu stricto);  just the contrary.  So what is going on?

What is going on is that the speaker undoubtedly said, “C’est une vrai psychose.”   And the reporter, lazily or inexpertly, translated psychose as psychosis.

The French word, however, is (outside of technical psychiatric contexts) about a thousand times more common than the English cognate;  its commonest use can best be translated as ‘panic’, specifically as moral panic (for which see Wikipedia).


Thus, a parallel to the crisis outlined here:
Official inaction, even denial;  and a public pushback that, having no moderate outlet allowed, turns ugly.

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