The Paranoid Style


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An insightful 1964 essay by historian Richard Hofstadter titled The Paranoid Style in American Politics revealed that often in American history, groups within society could be identified by a determined attitude of fear toward certain issues. The Populists of the late nineteenth century feared that an international gold cabal was attempting enrich themselves at the expense of the poor of the world. There were anti-Catholic movements, anti-Mormon alarmists, fear of an international banking consortium takeover of the world, and of course, the infamous Illuminati panic that brought about anti-Mason movements. At the time of the essay’s writing the fears of the Cold War were front and center. I would add to Hofstadter’s list the late nineteenth century, anti-technology Luddites in Great Britain, and the panicked reaction to the 1929 stock market crash which led to an irrational distrust of the laissez-faire freeplenomics that had produced the Roaring Twenties. In The Paranoid Quiz we discovered that fear subsequently created the creeplenomics of the Dirty Thirties which produced an economic malaise that lasted into the late 1940s. Hofstadter wrote in his essay:

~I call it the paranoid style simply because no other word adequately evokes the sense of heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy that I have in mind. […] In using the expression “paranoid style” I am not speaking in a clinical sense, but borrowing a clinical term for other purposes. I have neither the competence nor the desire to classify any figures of the past or present as certifiable lunatics. In fact, the idea of the paranoid style as a force in politics would have little contemporary relevance or historical value if it were applied only to men with profoundly disturbed minds. It is the use of paranoid modes of expression by more or less normal people that makes the phenomenon significant.~

However, I would suggest that Hofstadter, though insightful, was much too narrow in his focus in identifying groups displaying the Paranoid Style (he himself was a creeple with Marxist sympathies). As we have already seen, significant portions of the population (sheeple and creeple) have a paranoid attitude towards just about everything. Hofstadter had inadvertently identified societally conditioned sheeple and creeple who see evil monsters lurking in every corner of society, whether in the spheres of politics, business, the environment, race, gender, the media, the rich, education, healthcare, retirement, taxes or Wall Street. Hofstadter continued by describing the enemies that sheeple and creeple see:

~The enemy is clearly delineated: he is a perfect model of malice, a kind of amoral superman—sinister, ubiquitous, powerful, cruel, sensual, luxury-loving. Unlike the rest of us, the enemy is not caught in the toils of the vast mechanism of history, himself a victim of his past, his desires, his limitations. He wills, indeed he manufactures, the mechanism of history, or tries to deflect the normal course of history in an evil way. He makes crises, starts runs on banks, causes depressions, manufactures disasters, and then enjoys and profits from the misery he has produced.~

Is this not how the the Bush administration is portrayed by creeple as having caused the 2008 financial crisis, supposedly producing a close equivalent to what Hofstadter described as a run on the banks and a near depression? And who benefited in a creeple’s eyes? Why those evil Wall Street fat cat bankers and industry CEOs who are supposedly synonymous with freepleism in a creeple’s mind. Freeple supposedly produced the misery and enjoyed the profits of it. Or think about global warming. Evil freeple have caused global warming with their evil free markets recklessly producing carbon dioxide, profiting off the destruction of the world while the poor of the world suffer at their hands. And even worse, evil freeple are the “deniers” preventing noble creeple from fixing this calamity. How about the Iraq War? Why did President Bush and freeple want to invade Iraq? Well obviously, to get Iraq’s oil for Bush’s buddies and of course, Halliburton, and to enrich the military manufacturing complex. “Bush lied – thousands died!” simply meant that the Iraq invasion was the result of freeple evil motivations. More from the essay:

~The paranoid spokesman sees the fate of conspiracy in apocalyptic terms — he traffics in the birth and death of whole worlds, whole political orders, whole systems of human values. He is always manning the barricades of civilization… he does not see social conflict as something to be mediated and compromised, in the manner of the working politician.~

Think of the “war on women”, the “war on the poor”, global warming and over a dozen other apocalyptic scenarios that are examined in Creeple Apocalypses Since The 1960s. In a creeple’s mind freeple are trying to destroy everything and everyone. Creeple portray freeple as conspiring to remove Social Security and destroy Medicare in order to throw seniors out on the street. Ditto when some natural disaster like Katrina hits, creeple jump to the conclusion that freeple only see it as an opportunity to kill sheeple. Or oil exploration. Freeple don’t care about the environment – they just desire to plunder the land and the sea for greedy profit. Abortion isn’t about children – freeple just want to punish women for their carelessness. Then there are taxes. Freeple don’t want to lower taxes because they honestly believe it is beneficial for the country – that is just their excuse. Freeple really just want to further impoverish the poor and enrich their wealthy benefactors. And freeple don’t want smaller government because of some imagined benefits – they just see government as an impedance to furthering their own greed. Of course there is also racism – freeple are just plain racist, because they are. (All of the above issues are or will be dealt with in due time within The Paranoid Quiz website.) Here’s the crux of Hofstadter’s observations: The Paranoid Style is just another way of describing a societal conditioning of paranoia.

Richard Hofstadter saw the Paranoid Style as a fight against evil:

~Since what is at stake is always a conflict between absolute good and absolute evil, what is necessary is not compromise but the will to fight things out to a finish. Since the enemy is thought of as being totally evil and totally unappeasable, he must be totally eliminated — if not from the world, at least from the theatre of operations to which the paranoid directs his attention.~

To American creeple, politics is not a battle of ideas – it is a terrifying war of good versus a very powerful evil:

~The paranoid’s interpretation of history is distinctly personal: decisive events are not taken as part of the stream of history, but as the consequences of someone’s will. Very often the enemy is held to possess some especially effective source of power: he controls the press; he has unlimited funds; he has a new secret for influencing the mind (brainwashing); he has a special technique for seduction…~

Is this not what creeple now think of freeple? Freeple are brainwashed and controlled by Fox News and Rush Limbaugh. They’re financed by Wall Street and the Koch brothers. Katrina wasn’t only a natural disaster – someone blew up the levies! 9/11 wasn’t Islamic terrorism – it was a freeple conspiracy. Jared Loughner wasn’t just crazy – he was controlled and directed to kill. The tea party isn’t a grass roots movement – it is a corporate creation to seduce the ignorant and terrorize the nation. Opposition to anthropogenic global warming theory is not based on genuine doubts – skeptics have evil, conspiratorial motives directed by big oil. Look at our list of  perceived creeple evil monsters listed in The Paranoid Quiz website – there are hundreds of them! In the Creepleism Symptoms section of this website creeple paranoia can easily be witnessed everyday in news headlines. Creeple are paranoid that just about everything is evil, and they see this universal evil as embodied in freepleism – a belief in freedom.

~A distinguished historian has said that one of the most valuable things about history is that it teaches us how things do not happen. It is precisely this kind of awareness that the paranoid fails to develop. He has a special resistance of his own, of course, to developing such awareness, but circumstances often deprive him of exposure to events that might enlighten him—and in any case he resists enlightenment.~

Societal conditioning and its resultant paranoia, creeple propaganda and playing stupid keep sheeple and creeple in line. Of course, we also saw in The Closed Minds of Creeple that sheeple and creeple listen to only their side of the story – they see the other side as only a caricature of evil motives and fearful results. The scoff reflex explains Hofstadter’s assertion that “in any case he resists enlightenment”.

~This glimpse across a long span of time emboldens me to make the conjecture—it is no more than that—that a mentality disposed to see the world in this way may be a persistent psychic phenomenon, more or less constantly affecting a modest minority of the population.~

Not just a “modest minority”. We have already discovered earlier in The Paranoid Quiz that the Solomon Asch study found that a full two thirds of the populous is susceptible to the groupthink of societally conditioned paranoia.


[This page is from The Paranoid Quiz website. To understand the context take the quiz.]
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