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Ed Driscoll

I Used To Be Disgusted, But Now I’m Merely Tragically Manichean

March 8th, 2010 - 11:20 pm

At Reason, Michael Weiss explores “The Five Varieties of Bad Political Thinking,” including:

Hysterical Conspiracism. What begins in a tradition of healthy skepticism culminates in a universal suspicion of anything presented as established wisdom. As Francis Wheen puts it in his recent book, Strange Days Indeed: The 1970s: The Golden Age of Paranoia, “You start by reading your horoscope in the newspaper; then you dabble in chakra balancing or feng shui, saying that it is important to keep an open mind; after a while your mind is so open that your brains fall out, and you read the Protocols of the Elders of Zion without noticing anything amiss.”

Or as the famous quote invariably, but incorrectly attributed to G.K. Chesterton goes, “When a man ceases to believe in God, he doesn’t believe in nothing. He believes in anything.”

On the other hand, the description of Wheen’s book on Amazon claims:

The 1970s were a theme park of mass paranoia. Strange Days Indeed tells the story of the decade when a distinctive “paranoid style” emerged and seemed to infect all areas of both private and public life, from high politics to pop culture. The sense of paranoia that had long fuelled the conspiracy theories of fringe political groups then somehow became the norm for millions of ordinary people. And to make it even trickier, a certain amount of that paranoia was justified. Watergate showed that the governments really were doing illegal things and then trying to cover them up.

While the 1970s were a golden age of paranoia, they were also a golden age of naivete (the two mental states are of course remarkably intertwined). As Victory Lasky noted at the time, It Didn’t Start With Watergate.

(Just ask the Kennedys.)

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