I gather that some fat bloke who always refers to himself in the third person has suggested that Gordon Brown might be “bonkers.” Right-thinking people have condemned this. My complaint is different. It’s that, to paraphrase Niels Bohr, Brown is not “bonkers” enough.
Take first the jibe that Brown is “faintly autistic”. The National Autism Society says that one symptom of Aspergers is a love of routine. But this is just what politics should be: the routine application of simple rules of law, and the routine delivery of public services. As Alfred North Whitehead said, “Civilization advances by extending the number of important operations which we can perform without thinking about them" - that is, by the application of routines. By contrast, one complaint I have about Brown is that he is insufficiently concerned with routine, but flits from headline to headline and from one ad hoc intervention to another.
Also, there’s some evidence that people who are slightly depressed have better cognitive functioning than what are absurdly called “normal” people. In particular, they are less prone to the illusion of control and to the optimism bias. And extremely depressed people are too (pdf) pessimistic (pdf).
And these are good things in politicians. A policy-maker who recognized that he couldn’t always (or often) be on top of events, and who knew that grand projects often end in failure would favour much more limited government than we have. Regrettably, however, Brown does not display these useful symptoms of depression.
So, perhaps, everyone - except Tom in this superb post - has got it wrong. The problem isn’t that Brown is bonkers. It’s that our political system not only expects its politicians to be always in control, but thinks it normal when they appear to be. If we define mental illness in Szaszian terms - as merely a deviation from the consensus - then there should be a little more of it.