I was on the trash-pickup crew for the co-op Wednesday, a job I enjoy. There is a 15-minute break in the garage while the grounds manager drives the truck to the town dump. When he returns, we cover the park again, picking up the recycling. Television service and classic cars are the two favored topics of conversation. Not mine, but I'll play along easily. Several of the older guys here own a restored Mustang or some such, and all of them have invested money in their TV screens and other equipment. They were grousing about whether it was better to get a dish, or to switch cable providers, and they talked openly about sharing Netflix passwords with their children, jailbreaking firesticks without regard to whether they were watching copyrighted material, and other workarounds to avoid paying for stuff. I only know the rudiments of what is legal and what's not, as we have not had TV since 1979.
But what struck me was the repeated use of the word "they," especially by one guy. "They always screw us on the cost, I don't mind screwing them back." "They've been overcharging us for stuff for years. I don't see how they get away with it." The they, when you break it down, seems to be "big companies that charge money to provide equipment or content that I watch on my screen." That these are different companies in different decades, even different industries, is not part of their schema. It's "they." Note that this cannot fairly be called paranoia, but it has some aspects of paranoid thinking. I do believe we have a certain baseline level of mood, which floats around a bit because of circumstances. It seems probable that lifetime events could move the propensity for depression or anxiety up or down. Yet I now believe that baseline is much more solid than I used to even ten years ago (certainly twenty).
Even though if you challenged them that these were not any sort of united group - which they certainly know and could probably describe even better than I could - they would not modify their view much. They're all the same. They've got you over a barrel and they can charge whatever they want. It's a good thing to screw them right back.
I used to see this working at the hospital. People would get admitted and refuse to answer questions, saying "You know all this already. Just look it up and don't bother me." It was hard to convince them that we did not have access to what the police reports were saying about them, or even if they had a criminal record. (We did get notified if someone was a registered sex offender or if they had an outstanding warrant, though we were not told the specifics in either case.) This was even more pronounced when children were admitted. Parents would assume we knew what was happening at the school, in the juvenile justice system, in the community agencies. And they were angry at it all. It was all of us, THEY, who were ruining their child, or at least not "giving him the help that he needs." That not only were all these agencies not in cahoots, but were sometimes quite opposed in their assessments of the situation was foreign to them. We might listen to a description by parents about a first-time admission and say after the conference call "I'd like to hear what the special ed coordinator/JPPO/therapist has to say. She is leaving things out." But we were also very prepared to say "This school district is not doing its job. They just want to punish the kid." Or"That kid needs a different therapist. Where the f- did they find this clown?"
There is no grand collection of "agencies" that is acting on you or your child. We have to get permission to talk to them, and if you don't give it, we don't know it.*
Often this is merely pitiable, of people who have a terrible illness and just don't understand how systems work, or a kid with frightening behaviors and no one who seems to have any solution. Even if they are angry and unreasonable, you try to put yourself in their shoes and give the best service you can. Life is hard, and ridiculously hard for some people. You want to help them negotiate their way through. Yet others do have some understanding of systems. Our nightmare patients and parents are physicians themselves, or psychologists, or attorneys, or elected officials who understand systems quite well and know what buttons to push. Yet amazingly, many of these also have a "they" mentality. To them it is all connected in spirit somehow. The World is arrayed against them, has victimised them for decades, refuses to listen to them. Sympathy for such folks is different. One retains the there-but-for-the-grace-of-God pity, speculating on whether we would do any better in their shoes. Yet we also know that these people are dangerous. They ruin their own lives or the lives of their family members. They spread crazy medical and psychological information, dissuading people from getting the treatment they need because they have a Better Idea, usually based these days on "natural" solutions, though alternative medicine and cockamamie treatments can take many forms. The Scientologists are merely the worst of the lot, not the onlies. They poison the well against the only people who have a track record of helping at all, even if THEY (we, me) have the usual percentage of pricks, cranks, bitches, and arrogant bastards.
Notice again, this is not quite paranoia, though it can be paranoid in its more extreme expressions. It is paranoi-ish, or paranoid-adjacent, as Zoomers might say. But it is mostly just a cynicism out of control. It's that baseline level of paranoia again, just applied to social services. It isn't psychotic. However, it is not just logically weak. These are not always logic issues or education issues or where-you-get-your-news issues. Some of it is a bit crazy and comes from within.
Longtime readers will have suspected that this has been a setup to this point, and that is fair, because I do that. It is not my intent to trick you, to suck you in, to build a case and then pull the rug. But it is very much my intent to provide a context of "Oh yeah, I can see how that could be the case in general" before getting to a specific case about something you aren't going to like nearly as well.
This year it happened to conservatives about covid. These are my people, or were. Now, perhaps, I have no home. I keep reading about what they told us about vaccines, or distancing, or projections, or mandates, or school closings, or children, or Europe, or Sweden, and the they might be the CDC, or school boards, or the pharmaceutical industry, or Joe Biden, or any of 50 governors, or Andrew Cuomo, or academic researchers, or the Washington Post, but no, no no, it's all the same thing. They told us. It is often based on some real information, though scant. Fauci did say mask/don't mask. And then for eighteen months every skeptical article about covid has led with that in the first paragraph. We were misled about the possibility of it being a lab leak rather than a bat flu - which is important when considering what is going on in government in general and who is protecting whom, but has absolutely noting to do with vaccines, school closings, masks, mandates of any sort, distancing, Karens, or your personal suspicion that THEY-are-always-trying-to-take-our-freedoms. Nothing. It's not making the right distinctions, it is responding with emotion rather than logic. Various industries have set masking and vaccination requirements. States have had intermittent rules about same. The federal government proposed sweeping requirements, as they always do, and then...well, not much happened. Even over the things that they do control, like federal employees, it was only some o' this, some o' that.
Hospitals and clinics required people to mask and to get vaccinated, on the basis of very good hard information about contagion. Oh gee, what a horrible infringement on our liberties that was. Maternal outcomes were better, the flu season was low, we even had fewer colds. So the medical people, in their own space, having no authority over anyone else, had it exactly right and proved their point. If it wasn't worth it for the society as a whole about business closings, many of which were voluntary, that is no skin off their nose. When you break the theys down into individual components it all looks different. How did your specific governor do, and what did s/he do right or wrong? What did your specific industry, your church, the stores in your town do? There is no they. Don't Karen me about this. She doesn't matter.
Even here, and at the relatively reasonable sites I frequent we get people telling me that it's not a real vaccine, because it's not 100% effective and people still can get the disease. Like that's not true of all vaccines.** Because somehow it is they who are not to be trusted, and they are telling us what to do. Key point: the friends who are quite careful in their own writing about what is logically supportable and what needs qualifiers still keep linking to crazy people who don't come close. What am I to think?
Oh look! We found a fact! Let's use that to support every skeptical argument we can unearth. Like no one has ever done that before.
It's not psychotic. It's not paranoid. It's just that cynicism run amok I was talking about. I have positive acquaintances, people I liked to work with who are emphatically not psychotic who would ask "But don't you think it's odd how few Jews were killed in the Twin Towers?" Or "Reiki helps so many people but you can't get anyone to acknowledge that. Don't you think the Medical Establishment is trying to downplay how effective it is?" Or the old standards about the Catholic Church not letting you read the Bible or Roosevelt knowing about Pearl Harbor in advance. But let someone go on Tucker Carlson and try to claim that these deaths are not covid, but really just 25-44 y/o's getting the vaccine, and no one at any of the entirely reasonable conservative sites I go to seems to be saying "Fuck this! I'm never watching him again and I'm telling my friends not to either. These people are loons." They think it's good that alternative points of view be available. Well fine. Let them be available. Go over to Unz.com.
A humorous comparison. Years ago, there was a charming and attractive woman who went to my church who was skilled at winning over both women and men. She just told men to pick stuff up and move it here or move it there and they would just do it, wondering why later. Women would quote the funny things she said at women's events. A beloved and truly talented person. Somewhere along the way I picked up that the smiliness was only part of it. She intuitively invaded your space just a bit, still smiling. Men interpreted it as vaguely flirtatious. Women felt it as a sisterly intimacy. She was back for that Swede Nelson memorial service I mentioned and frankly, she's still got it. But I keep my distance now, smiling myself. She had two daughters, very attractive, the same age as my oldest son. When he was in junior high youth group I noticed at an event once that he looked just a touch wide-eyed, just a touch overwhelmed and frozen. One of those daughters was talking to him, just that little bit too close like her mother, and the poor boy was at sea. I wanted to shout "Swim clear! You'll be fine if you just get a bit of distance!"
I say that to my conservative friends now: "Swim clear! You'll be fine if you just get a bit of distance.!"
There is no "they." If you find yourself thinking that in any way, swim clear.