Lunatic fringe strikes back

On 5 December 2012 the House of Representatives passed legislation approved earlier by the Senate removing the word “lunatic” from all Federal laws in the USA. Not everyone is in agreement.

Full-moonAncient philosophers argued that the full moon induced insanity in susceptible individuals, believing the brain to be mostly water and affected by the moon and its power over the tides. A modern hypothesis is that in the past the phases of the moon may have had an effect on individuals with bipolar disorder by providing light during nights which would otherwise have been dark and affecting susceptible people through sleep deprivation.

The House of Representatives voted 398-1 to strike the term from all federal legislation with the aim of removing language that has become outdated or demeaning from the US code. The decision was based on the argument that federal law should reflect contemporary understandings of mental illness and that the continued use of what is considered a pejorative term has no place. Nevertheless, the word still appears in some parts of federal law. There is a section of financial regulation, for example, that addresses the power of a bank to act as a “committee of estates of lunatics” – which may go some way towards explaining the current financial and banking crisis.

The single contrary vote came from conservative Republican congressman Louie Gohmert, who said it was madness for lawmakers to waste time on such a measure when more high-profile issues loomed, such as the federal debt. He proposed retaining the word “to describe the people who want to continue with business as usual in Washington.”

Caribou-oilGohmert’s views on a number of issues might be described as tinged with lunacy. He has made it clear that he does not believe in human made climate change and said that data supporting the theory is fraudulent. He made bizarre comments about the 2012 Aurora, Colorado Springs, shooting, about “terror baby plots” in what he described as a Middle Eastern citizenship scam. Recently, Gohmert supported a trans-Alaskan pipeline as a means for caribou to have more sex. According to him, the caribou enjoy the warmth the pipeline radiates, “So when they want to go on a date, they invite each other to head over to the pipeline”, which has resulted in a tenfold boom in the caribou population. Gohmert asked, “Do we need a study to see how adversely the caribou would be affected if that warm oil ever quit flowing?”

In Act 5 of William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Theseus makes a speech concerning lunatics, lovers and poets:

“More strange than true. I never may believe
These antique fables nor these fairy toys.
Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,
Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend
More than cool reason ever comprehends.
The lunatic, the lover, and the poet
Are of imagination all compact.”


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