Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Paranoias

I thought it was going to be easier to generalise between liberal and conservative and liberal paranoias, and trends would emerge that would allow me to say something brilliant.  But after reading about QAnon as a reverse game, with guided apophenia making you the playing field instead of the player, I am chary of seeing patterns just for the fun of it.

Ultimately, though, that won't stop me. The seriously paranoid groups seem to come more often from the right.  There are few of them in relation to the whole, but the paranoia goes deep and quickly includes worldwide forces.  I repeat the examples I gave before, of the Endtimes 666 groups of the 70s and 80s, the Trilateralists and New World Order believers (Henry Kissinger overlapped with these groups), the old Illuminati and newer Bilderberg worriers, the guys showing satellite photos of Obama's FEMA camps.  Liberals have their paranoias, but the style is different.  They believe crazy things about Monsanto and GMO foods, but they don't think the Pope, Queen Elizabeth, and Donald Trump are in on it. A greater percentage of liberals are involved, but it's less global.  A mile wide and an inch deep, while some conservatives are trying to tunnel a single well to the center of the earth. Why is that?

This has been shifting recently, but I don't think it is because of Donald Trump.  I think he got elected because that more generalised paranoia has been increasing. He used to be quite liberal, remember, and in many ways is a liberal turned inside-out now. The conservative fears now have a fair bit of real stuff to draw on, however much people add in ridiculousness like goat-horn signs.

Even though the Buffalo Springfield claimed that paranoia strikes deep, that was mostly just getting the crowd excited. The left was paranoid then, more visibly so, but it was vaguer, and had that same wide distribution.  It wasn't a relatively small cadre of powerful people colluding to oppress us, it was the richest 10% in general, creating a system that oppresses.  That still holds true today, with the idea that the even narrower 1% has designed a system that works for itself but the rest of us participate in perpetuating it. Conservatives make it personal.  It's a few people, and they have evil, not merely selfish intent. They are much less likely to say "We have set up a system which rewards politicians for intervening, for doing any damn thing, so they keep making up rules" and more likely to say "Governor X is a fascist who wants to make people dance to his tune."

Into all this neat division I have pretended is the story comes some messy data. The black community, especially urban black communities, have both types of paranoia, that it's a system, and also that the CIA or FBI is running experiments on the black community in specific, and that very specific politicians are thoroughgoing racists who spend a lot of their energy on keeping black people down. Just one example. Anti-vaxxers are present on both sides of the spectrum. [Tangent: Interesting research reported by Jonathan Haidt, that anti-vaxxers show an unusual pattern of moral foundation, very high on purity scores and low on respect for authority scores, which does indeed draw from both left and right.] The belief in toxins being everywhere and demanding constant vigilance to keep them at bay is found on both left and right, as is a lot of alternative medicine.

I will mention again that liberal fear of conservative paranoia and vice versa may have a lot to do with projection because of the style. If - and I am speculating - liberals sense that among their own tribe the extreme suspicion that is sometimes paranoia is widespread, then when they see paranoia among conservatives they may assume it is similarly universal. News reports that focus on extremes would certainly feed that idea.  Putting that idea in the mirror, conservatives may fear liberal paranoia more because they sense among their own that when it is bad it is very bad, needing to be contained and shuffled off to the fringes, and worried that liberals don't seem to be doing any such containment, but letting environmental catastrophism or critical race theory just flow over the landscape. But liberals don't tend to all believe those things in any intense way. They say on paper that they agree that we are in big trouble on both counts, but then they don't do much about that.  They just go on with other things in their lives, almost as if they didn't really believe it at all. 

Next up, I'm going to try and get some historical perspective on whether this is worse or better than usual, and more importantly, is it going to get worse. 



By the way, the song was written about the closing of  dance club in Los Angeles and the protests about that.  Just a reminder about people getting completely unhinged about universal oppression of a generation on the basis of rather trivial events.

15 comments:

PenGun said...

"That still holds true today, with the idea that the even narrower 1% has designed a system that works for itself but the rest of us participate in perpetuating it."

You doubt this is true?

james said...

If predisposition to conservative/liberal as defined in our current parties is drive by values influenced by heredity, then you'd expect that the misfeatures would present differently. Is that what you're looking towards?

It would be interesting to see how the values cluster differently (if they do) in other than Western cultures, and how things like suspicion and paranoia appear and are distributed there.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

I am hoping but not expecting that,because the definitions of political terms is so hard to hold constant. But it sure looks like something personality hard-wired is in there.

Coming from other cultural viewpoints may be my best way back in.

Christopher B said...

You sparked a thought that the dividing line could be people who are invested in a system being generally ok are more inclined to identify the individuals or groups they think are going to subvert, corrupt, or otherwise manipulate that system. If the system is longstanding then the same villains are likely to reappear. People who are more likely to see the current system as the problem may identify a villain but it will probably be a villain du jour, and likely to change as circumstances change, especially as different groups become identified with the system.

james said...

WRT other cultures: I did a naive google search to see what would turn up, and found the site which hosts this--posters and commenters from the Indian diaspora. Curious, jargon-filled, indicating some very different takes on the world. Razib Khan posts there sometimes.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Thank you both. I have more to think about than my poor brain can manage, and I am still yearning to get to an exploration of Chesterton/Borges/Theater of the Absurd/Magical Realism, all in conjunction with CS Lewis's Till We Have Faces. So far that is not at all clear. I had better hold that off while I work on the paranoia questions.

David Foster said...

"very high on purity scores and low on respect for authority scores"...re the Purity part of this, there were some very interesting thoughts in Claire Berlinski's book 'Menace in Europe'. See my review of her book, here:

https://chicagoboyz.net/archives/44959.html

...specifically the chapter on the French farmer and anti-globalization leader Jose Bove, whose philosophy Berlinski summarizes as “crop worship” and which she connects to recurrent social phenomena over the last 15 centuries.

Grim said...

“The black community, especially urban black communities, have both types of paranoia, that it's a system, and also that the CIA or FBI is running experiments on the black community... Anti-vaxxers are present on both sides of the spectrum.”

Part of the problem there is that the government really did run the Tuskegee Experiment. It doesn’t take too many actualities to make the paranoia seem rational. Indeed, given a sufficient number it would become rational. I’d be pretty salty about government-mandated vaccines if I were a Uighur in China right now.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

@ David Foster - I wrote years ago about the differences in birthrates among the oppressors, victims, rescuers, mixed, and neutrals. https://assistantvillageidiot.blogspot.com/2006/04/oppression-and-birthrate.html in WWII. I thought at the time that this was related to a basic optimistic/pessimistic outlook about the future, and I have heard confirming words from the young people I know who are contemplating children. Those with an optimistic viewpoint have more children. I think that is indeed related to having a culture one believes can and should be preserved, as Berlinski says. The resultsd were pretty dramatic. Looking at it now, I wonder which is cart and which is horse.

Tom Bridgeland said...

In the US context, if conservatives control government, there may be tweaks around the edges, but little real change. A few weak-kneed changes in abortion laws, for example. If liberals win, they at least say they want fundamental changes in how our society runs.

There was a worldwide 'conspiracy' for international communism that everyone in my generation grew up with. The Soviets did support groups, often violent groups throughout the west and the world. Not all conspiracies are fake.

A side note. I dislike the common use of the word 'conspiracy'. Hil Clinton talked of a right-wing conspiracy against her. That was simply stupid. Political opposition is not a conspiracy. There was nothing hidden or secret about opposition to her or any other normal political figure. It is possible to talk of a conspiracy against Trump, if the FBI/CIA actually used their power to surreptitiously target him, but nothing of the sort happened to Hil.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Yes, and it is worth noting that conspiracies occur all the time, they just don't tend to last very well, because someone inside finds it advantageous to act against the needs of the others, and the more who are in on it, the more likely this is to happen.

Paranoia is not always a crazy thing. It continues to recur because it has survival value that we at least have that program on disk. We might need it someday. One of the things I have been thinking is that conservatives are remarkable in sensing accurately that some terrible thing is up, but then blame the wrong people and pick the wrong hills to die on.

Grim said...

"Paranoia is not always a crazy thing. It continues to recur because it has survival value..."

This sounds to me like the distinction between Post Traumatic Stress and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It's a disorder if it causes problems. If it doesn't cause problems, well...

In fact, it can be adaptive in the right circumstances. All that means it that it satisfies pragmatism's concers, i.e., it works out practically in the world we live in.

True Pragmatism, as a philosophy, holds that a thing is true if it is adaptive in this practical way. A belief or a thing that does not work out practically can be said to be false in the same way.

If something like that is right, then it is not correct to view paranoia as a medical condition in need of treatment in all circumstances. Sometimes it is a valuable adaptation, and 'treating' it could therefore cause harm in violation of the Hippocratic Oath; or, as they used to say, 'it's not paranoia if they really are out to get you.'

Texan99 said...

My definition of paranoia is not intended to be medical. I call it paranoia when someone is consistently prone to overestimate dangerous patterns. It's part of a spectrum, the other side of which is obliviousness to dangerous patterns. Any ability to detect patterns is a useful trait, provided we can preserve some skepticism. What's tiresome about a paranoid person is the tendency to lock into threatening interpretations of ambiguous patterns, without the ability to test assumptions and consider alternative explanations. Twitching at too many dangers at once depletes our ability to respond effectively to the greatest ones: there's only so much vigilance and so many resources at our command.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

@ T99 - I read a saying once that if you guard your toothbrushes as closely as your diamonds, you will lose fewer toothbrushes, but more diamonds.

Grim said...

There's a cost, to be sure. My old comrade with TBI / PTSD has gained something in passing through warzones without further injury; but he's lost something, too. Although I think it's the TBI more than the PTSD that is costing him. That's not quite the same thing; it's just an injury, not an adaptation.