Ed Driscoll

The Paranoid Style

Hugh Hewitt had Karl Rove on his show today, who said:

We have had two strains in American politics. We’ve had the strain of bipartisanship in foreign affairs, particularly in the decades of the 40’s and the 50’s, and 60’s, 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. That has obviously frayed somewhat. We’ve also had a tradition of internationalist strong Democrats: Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, John Kennedy. You know, the hyperventilation by some Democrats can be chalked up to having lost an election or political aspirations. But I’m at a loss to explain why so many Democrats seem intent upon focusing their energies and efforts upon hatred of this president, rather than staying focused on the principal responsibility that all in government, and all in the public life of our country have, and that is to sustain the country in a time of war.

In February of 2004, just as the election year was gathering steam, I wrote:

Arguably beginning with Hillary Clinton’s “Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy” quip in early 1998, why have so many conspiracy theories been coming from the left?

Dr. Sanity answers the question in the first of a two-part post titled, “The Political Paranoia of the Left“:

Even if, hypothetically, every single justification for the war would be eventually proven not to have any basis ( and this is already demonstrably impossible); it would still not validate the absurd claims on the part of the left who, in characteristic paranoid fashion, have come up with all sorts of conspiracy theories and paranoid fantasies that connect dots in a much more irrational and delusional manner than what they accuse the President of doing.

The President simply acted on facts that were accepted at the time (even by the people now accusing him of lying); and responded appropriately to a real threat that had materialized on his watch and resulted in the murder of 3000 American citizens. The paranoia of the left can be seen in their attempts to undermine his actions by resorting to ridiculous connections that simply don’t compute– just as fluoridation being a plot of the communists didn’t resonate with reality; neither does Michael Moore’s fictional documentary, Fahrenheit 9/11, make the paranoid case for some underlying conspiracy.

While there is merit in debating how best to go about achieving our objectives in the war in Iraq and the GWOT; believing that terrorism is a conspiracy cooked up by Bush and Co. to consolidate power and institute (take your pick) a fascist state; a theocracy; or both; is simply a paranoid fantasy that consoles those of the liberal left who cannot cope with their loss of power and influence.

The hallmark of the paranoid individual and the paranoid style is constant anticipation or expectation of either attack or personal betrayal. Paranoia finds causal connections everywhere and in everything; for them, nothing is coincidental. They can develop complicated conspiracies about innocuous behaviors and seemingly irrelevant events. Their paranoia makes them constantly on guard, searching for hidden motives and meanings in everyone else’s behavior. (Just go check out the Democratic Underground, where these fantasies on every action or inaction on the part of the Bush administration are immediately converted into conspiracies and plots). The tragic death of a reporter — Bush et al had him killed because he knew too much. Osama’s most recent tape — a Rovian plot to show how frightened we should be. And so on.

Paranoia can be conceptualized as “rationality in the service of the irrational.” Once fixed on a particular idea or explanation — no matter how bizarre or irrational; the paranoid person looks for evidence to validate their prejudices. It is almost impossible to change their minds. Their entire concept of themselves is tied up with the paranoid idea or conspiracy. If it did not exist, or was proven to be untrue or false– then they would need to question their underlying assumptions and ideas–and those are what usually form the foundation of who they believe themselves to be.

For example, a belief that one is important enough to be the subject of a determined (and often vague) FBI or CIA plot may be frightening, but is likely to be vastly superior to accepting that you have a severe and lifelong psychiatric disorder.

It is far easier to disregard reality; and/or to simply incorporate the person who tries to disabuse you of your idea or conspiracy into the complex paranoid fantasy itself, rather than deal with the trauma of a disintegrating self.

When setbacks occur, or when something goes wrong in the life of the paranoid, they will prefer to believe that another person or group is to blame, rather than accept any personal responsibility.

Needless to say, be sure and read the rest (including Part II)–if the voices in your head allow it, of course.

Update: Somewhat related thoughts about that mindset, here. (Don’t miss the punchline!)