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[Insert Name] Derangement Syndrome:
You've probably noticed that with the election around the corner, a lot of people are saying some very extreme things about politicians. Politicians they don't support are not just weak, or poor choices for office. Instead, those politicians are dangerous, illegitimate, and maybe even criminal. Anyone who supports them must be disingenuous or in denial. We've seen a lot of that kind of talk all around the blogosphere, in more modest forms even at this blog.

  Why? It's a complicated question, I think, but I wanted to offer some preliminary thoughts.

  I think the psychological need for moral clarity is the primary reason we see this kind of language. In a democracy, the citizenry chooses which leaders we will have. Because we have diverse opinions, we will always have disagreement about which candidates and which ideas they embrace are the best ones.

  The unfortunate reality is that we really don't know much about political candidates and how they will govern. No matter which way we vote, we're gambling. This is true not only of candidates as individuals but also of their policy proposals: While we may each have instincts as to which ideas will work and which won't, our instincts are normally just that, instincts.

  That sort of uncertainty is really uncomfortable for a lot of people. We want to see our side as right and the other side as wrong: We want certainty that we are correct. And the higher the stakes, the more anxious we are that we may be wrong, and the more we want to be — we must be — right.

  I think this leads to a human tendency to demonize political candidates we oppose and deify candidates we endorse whenever the stakes are high. If the politicians you don't like can be portrayed as corrupt or dangerous, then you never need to get to the difficult questions of what they are actually doing or the merits of their policy proposals. You can satisfy yourself that you are 100% correct at the outset very easily, because at least you're not supporting the candidate that is illegitimate. As a result, politicians we don't support aren't just good people who have bad ideas that we think on balance won't work out for the best. Rather, they are treated like they are illegitimate and maybe even criminal.

  I realize I'm painting with a very broad brush here, and as a result I'm lacking a lot of nuance. But a number of people have remarked to me about the tone of the election both in the blogosphere generally and at the VC in particular, and I wanted to offer a few thoughts as to why that may be. If you disagree, please let me know in the comment thread (in a civil way, of course).

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