An Epidemic of Paranoia

As one who nurses a few conspiracy theories of his own — but only ones that fit the Seven Secret Rules of Plausibility😉 — I actually find most of the run-of-the-mill-kneejerk stories, concocted by modern loonies (not only on the far right, but also plenty on the far-left) to be just plain dumb. They are nearly always based on several self-flattering premises:

1) that the powers who are supposedly performing the conniving-nefarious activity are nearly all-powerful, nearly all-knowing and have unlimited supplies of eager, willing, compliant, conscience-free, yet staggeringly competent henchmen, who somehow commit their acts with perfect timing, without a glitch, hiccup or anyone deciding to blab… and

2) that somehow, in a world filled with skilled scientists, cops, investigators, journalists. intelligence agents and dedicated enemies of the (purported) conspirators, somehow it is the believer and his or her close-aligned pals who are the only ones smart enough to see through the smoke and mirrors to the truth… and

3) that lots of people on this planet can be delusional crazy while vigorously denying it, yet nevertheless go on to proclaim, in serene confidence — “But I’m not one of them!”

Days after Osama bin Laden’s death, a wealth of conspiracy theories have been spun, claiming that Osama was actually a U.S. agent, that he had actually been dead for a decade, his body kept on ice in some super-secret location. Or that Osama is actually alive and well, being interrogated by U.S. officials on a remote island hideaway. Or possibly that President Obama invented Osama’s death to boost his re-election campaign, or as a distraction from Trump pushing the “birther” issue (clever use of one conspiracy to kill another…) And yet, in order to conspiracy OBL’s death, they are going to have to malign and impugn the US Navy Seals. That won’t be easy.

There are powerful psychological drivers behind conspiracies: A need to explain one’s own poverty and failure. The allure of enticing pattern recognition. Above all, the warm feeling we get from being in the know…from being part of the “elect group” that can see what’s going on! There are no richer mental drug-highs than self-righteous indignation, resentment, and contempt for fools. See my article on Conspiracies and Wishful Thinking. Self-delusion is the greatest of all human talents.

=== IS IT ALL A MATTER OF PERSONALITY? ===

This seems especially pertinent, given America’s recent swerve down Kookoo Lane. Belief in Conspiracies linked to Machiavellian Mindset — a firm belief that “they did it” is linked to the concept that “I would do it”…if I could! It’s exactly what I would have written, if they hadn’t systematically stolen my ideas. Wait, am I confusing conspiracy theorizing with paranoia? Easy to do… except when the conspiracies are real, but only a few can see them!

Or might it all be chemical? In work that gives cranky teenagers another reason to blame their parents for all life’s woes, researchers have uncovered a genetic link to happiness. The study of more than 2,500 Americans revealed two variants of a gene that influenced how satisfied – or dissatisfied – people were with their lot. Those born with two long versions of the gene (one is passed down from each parent) were more likely to declare themselves “very satisfied” with life than those who inherited two short versions.

=== MORE PARANOIA? ===

Your GPS-enabled cell phone allows your location to be tracked at all times. Even the photos you take on such a device have a location-coding attached when you upload them to the internet, pinpointing the precise coordinates of your home or where you had that weekend tryst.

Is your entire life on your cell phone? Arresting officers may be able to search the arrested person’s cellphone, downloading everything from address books, photos and websites to thousands of texts… plus everything the phone touched in the Cloud… all without a warrant, because the phone was on your immediate person, and thus “like” a pocket or a purse or a set of keys? Or is the phone something much more? A “portal” into your whole life, meriting a warrant to rummage through?

How about the Corn Conspiracy? Ethanol (made from corn) may be responsible for high food prices worldwide. Federal mandates on ethanol have helped push corn prices up from $3 to $7 a bushel. And of course, corn syrup appears in nearly every item of processed food…

From the Washington Times: How the U.S. Treasury Department froze Libyan assets. They expected $100 million, but found over $30 billion — mostly all in one bank. To put it in perspective: In 2009, Libya had a gross domestic product of $62 billion. Anybody remember the “Helvetian War” from my novel EARTH — to retrieve the money stashed by dictators or drug lords in secret Swiss bank accounts?

=== AND FINALLY, UNDERLYING REASONS FOR PARANOIA ===

“Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works. Anything that’s invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it. Anything invented after you’re thirty-five is against the natural order of things.” — Douglas Adams

Calm down. Remember, the thing that you are trying to defend… against those who are conspiring to bring it down… is a calm, enlightened, pragmatic civilization filled with smart problem-solvers, who appreciate knowledge, wisdom and skill… and who negotiate with one another.

12 Comments

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12 responses to “An Epidemic of Paranoia

  1. Chuck Rothman

    Worse — conspiracy believer think the conspiracy is all-powerful, but also makes dozens of stupid and obvious mistakes that the believer can easily spot. They never see the contradiction in those two assumptions.

    You really have to be very naive to believe in grand conspiracies. You have to ignore everything you know about human behavior and how organizations work.

  2. Paul

    Most rational and intelligence “conspiracy believers” as you call them never think the a conspiracy is all powerful. They are all too-human and know that those conspiring will make mistakes, guaranteed. And it is these very same conspiracy theorist who look for those mistakes. I for one am not a conspiracy theorist or conspiracy believer. Because these are loaded terms that assume I immediately and without thinking believe everything is an ominous conspiracy. Lets face it, anytime two people get together to discuss something behind closed doors it has become a “conspiracy” in the strictest sense. An intelligent conspiracy theorist understand this basic definition and when looking at world events tries to determine with *evidence* what that conspiracy may or not be. Given whatever evidence is there, theories are presented to explain that evidence, and further revised or ditched based on further evidence. This is the basic scientific method. For example, there are many anomalies around the official 9/11 story. These anomalies have yet to be explained or debated in an open and intelligent way, as it remains a very emotionally charged issue. I would love to see a rational and calm discussion of these anomalies with both sides being able to present their arguments in a refereed setting if needed. If I was to suggest the first piece of evidence it would be the video tape showing the “plane hitting the pentagon”. Actually it doesn’t show that, only a whiff of air, followed by an explosion. I’ve heard both sides of the argument on this and have thought about it very carefully, including analyzing frame-rate physics to determine if in fact there was a plane. The evidence from what I can tell shows no such plane hit the Pentagon, especially when you examine the resulting explosion dynamics. I am perfectly willing to accept that a plane did indeed hit the Pentagon if my reasoning can be refuted. There are of course hundreds of other such pieces of evidence that bring doubt to the official 9/11 story.

    A rational society, an enlightenment society examines all the evidence in an open forum where healthy and rational debate can take place. I have yet to see that happen in the sphere of politically and emotionally charged events like 9/11, Osama bin laden, the war on terror, etc., etc. Calling people who are willing to question and examine alternative narratives to the “official government line” as mere irrational conspiracy nuts is not in alignment with your (David’s) call for an enlightenment culture.

  3. ewh

    I think at least some people gravitate toward conspiracy theories is that they describe a world in which events are at least under someone’s control. It’s more comforting, in a way, to believe in conspiracies than to believe that things like Kennedy’s assassination, or the failure to detect the 9/11 attacks happen for random or impersonal reasons. A world out of control is scarier, or maybe harder to imagine than one where events are controlled by someone malevolent. After all, the latter means that if we can simply by get rid of the conspirators everything will be fine.

  4. BonBan

    If the Bin Laden ‘chain of events’ were sent to court, the discrepancies of the ‘official stories’ would be put in jail. Human shield gun fight into, no shots fired, no questions asked, execution only. Why do you trust this murder inc crap so much David?

    We, the USA, supplied a lot of arms to the mujahideen throughout the Russian / Afghan war. OBL was a part of that. To think that he “met” some of our boys over there doing covert action isn’t too nutty is it? He might know a few things that the general public would love to hear about behind the scenes ‘how I did it’ since his bragging and hero building was something he liked to do. Due process could find the truth in there, but that’s ridiculous under this medieval / mafia type “kill first, ask later” scene. It’s easier to make up truths when there is no evidence or person refuting with facts. We’ve seen some weird chain of events, some with no logic involved, the carpet walk for conspiracies will be strutting for years from this idiotic charade of events.

    Do you read any of the docus Wikileaks has posted? Do you just accept the paste issued by the leaders?

  5. BonBan

    Great quotable:
    “A rational society, an enlightenment society examines all the evidence in an open forum where healthy and rational debate can take place.”

    That’s not possible anymore apparently.

  6. Tom Parsons

    I’m a fan of conspiracy theories. The most entertaining conspiracies in my experience are seen on the rugby and soccer fields, where members of a fast-moving but amorphous pack of people assess their common aims on the run, and quickly adjust their actions to work optimally together for those common aims.

    Of course they *do* know who is on their side and who isn’t, and they take some trouble in private and off the field to develop certain talents and connections.

    Hmm. Is this really so different from the rest of life? Or is it just a reflection of the way we humans evolved, and the way we have always acted?

  7. Ferenc

    “Paranoia” is all you need to explain it all, really. Litteraly. From a psycho-analytic point of view, the average conspiracy theorist shows almost all the symptoms of pathological paranoia : delusions of grandeur, refusal to accept a world in which he has no power or status, rejection of common sense or usual logic ( seen as brainwashing tools used by the “enemy”), extreme contempt for “other” people.
    “Local paranoia”, which doesn’t affect one’s social life and stays limited to one specific area of his mental life, is much more common than people imagine ; when people hear “paranoia”, they usually imagine a batshit insane, raging psychopath, but most paranoid disorders are pretty localized and don’t necessarily “show”. Every normal person goes through periods of denial to some level (it is, after all, a normal function of the mind, used to stay healthy in times of failure or self-worth crisis), but some just find too much benefit in it to try to snap out of it.

  8. Pingback: Someone else’s perspective « Arthur Goldwag

  9. My favorite conspiracy theory is the Collateral Murder conspiracy:

    Collateral Murder

    I am glad that all the skilled scientists, cops, investigators, journalists and intelligence agents could see through the smoke and mirrors to expose the truth regarding Collateral Murder.

    Sometimes Governments think they can get away with murder! Thankfully it has been shown how journalists can open Governments. The mainstream purveyors of truth say: “We open governments.”

    I also am interested in the following conspiracy theories:

    Jean Charles de Menezes

    Linda Norgrove

    Ian Tomlinson

    Jessica Lynch

    I’m sure there’s no conspiracy regarding the body of Bin Laden but I can understand why people think it’s a bit fishy to irretrievably hide the body in the sea less than 24 hours after the killing. Collateral Murder shows us how a Government can get away with murder thus people will wonder about the correct procedures when an extrajudicial killing of an unarmed man occurs. Surely investigatory oversight should be correct procedure when such killings occur but when the body is very quickly disposed of, in an irretrievable manner, then secondary investigations are impossible. Independent autopsies are impossible if there is no body. During a war, armed conflict, or the apprehension of a suspect, one wonders if it is correct International Law to shoot an unarmed person. Yes mistakes happen, and with suspected terrorists you cannot take risks, which was the reason why the unarmed and innocent Jean Charles de Menezes was shot seven times in the head. In the aftermath an independent investigation is a good idea but if the body has been disposed of then investigations are difficult. For a significant amount of time after Jean Charles de Menezes was killed, the media, police, and politicians stated a terrorist had been killed.

    Here is a Press cutting regarding the killing of Jean Charles de Menezes

    Purely from the legal viewpoint of the relatives close to Bin Laden (at the hideout) who are likely are to be charged with assisting a terrorist, Bin Laden’s body should have been kept to ensure there was actually evidence that Bin Laden really was at that hideout. If I had been arrested for assisting a terrorist I would want my own legal team to confirm there was proof I had assisted a terrorist thus I would want my legal team to perform their own independent DNA tests on the body of the alleged terrorist. Correct legal procedures must be followed. The prosecutors, CIA, or army, cannot just assume they are correct and then throw away the evidence before the counsel for the defense has time to independently verify the evidence.

    Thankfully regarding Collateral Murder the evidence was not thrown away although with hindsight, regarding the WikiLeaks debacle, I bet the US Government wishes they had thrown away the Collateral Murder evidence. Maybe they learned their lesson thus this is the reason why Bin Laden’s body wish very quickly disposed of in a irretrievable manner?

  10. Traditional V

    How many “official” Presidential, Navy Seal and CIA stories were defrauded with facts? It might surprise you, but the people running this country are as corrupt as they ever were. If you can there is a video of the secret history of the CIA. Fascinating and horrible.

    “We will never sell arms to terrorists. Read my lips.”

    Years later we found out not only were they selling to anyone who had money, but bringing in cocaine from Columbia to finance a very nasty war in El Salvador. Its a mysterious laughable paranoid conspiracy, then it becomes a fact, confirmed with age and freedom of information act, as time passes.

  11. lorq

    I think the key phrase, right at the beginning of this article, is “self-flattering.” If there’s a conspiracy, that means you’re important enough for someone else to feel the need to conceal something from you. Ultimately conspiracy theories are reassuring, because they give “us” a specific, active, living relationship to a powerful “them.”

  12. David Brin

    You are a bunch of fun/free fellows. Stay tuned. I’ll have a BIG essay on conspiracies soon.

    david brin

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