paranoia revisited?

Posted on Friday 30 June 2006

It’s a little hard for me to share much of the enthusiasm over the Supreme Court ruling yesterday. Not so long ago, it would have been 7-1 instead of 5-3. But given the nature of the case, it should be 8-0 or even that the case never came up because we had a President who knew how to act in a decent manner. I’ve been trying to decide if my reaction to the current Administration is sour grapes because my own more liberal agenda has been replaced by a conservative one, or if my outrage is for the reason I think it is – they’ve made an assault on the bedrock principles of our government. Certainly, the right wing pundits and Administration would say the former. They’d say "you liberals …"

In the dawn of my voting life, it was Goldwater versus Johnson. Back then, it really was an issue of a liberal versus conservative agenda. The Civil Rights Movement had a flaw in the Constitution on the table – the failure to abolish slavery when we were founded. The Civil War hadn’t resolved the issue and segregation remained in the southern states. I recall all the turmoil of the time as regional, not between parties. It seemed to me that it was a fight within the Democratic Party, rather than between parties. And I don’t recall questioning the basic structure of the Constitution.

This feels different to me. There is a major attack on the Constitution by the Republican Party. The Executive Branch has some concept called the "Unitary Executive." For the life of me, I cannot understand that in any way except as "we want more power to do what we want to do." There is a major assault on the courts. They don’t just want to "stack" the Supreme Court, they want to avoid Judicial Review of their decisions – the NSA, the Banks, the Military. Whenever Checks and Balances or Oversight comes up, they skirt it. They don’t want any input from the world, the Geneva Conventions, the United Nations. They don’t accept the Bill of Rights – "All men are created equal." The don’t agree with our basic tenet of Religious Freedom or the Separation of Church and State. And then there’s the Bush Doctrine in Foreign Policy: Preemptive Strikes; Unilateralism; Strength without Equal; and Evangelical Democracy.

These don’t seem like liberal issues to me. This doesn’t feel like a conservative agenda to me. While one might see it in terms of political theory as Fascism, in the strict sense of the term, I see it more in terms of Paranoia [we Psychiatrists are like that].  While we usually think of paranoia in its most malignant form, in illnesses like Schizophrenia, it comes in many other flavors. In fact, we’re all capable of it. It’s a consequence of the human’s capacity to think. In the uncivilized animal world, it’s normal. A rabbit in the woods who isn’t globally suspicious and wary that "they’re out to get me" is not slated for longevity.

The qualities of paranoid thought are suspiciousness, mistrust, and seeing the world as a dangerous place filled with conspiracies. Such things are sometimes plenty justified. At other times, a paranoid attitude is detrimental. These days, the neoconservative accusation is that liberals are naive and don’t see how dangerous the world is. I suppose that the liberal accusation is that the conservatives are paranoid, seeing conspiracy and danger everywhere. In clinical practice, diagnosing paranoia isn’t a matter of attitude, or naivity. It’s based on some relatively objective findings.

Paranoid people actively search out things to be paranoid about. When one thing turns out to be benign, rather that relief, they become uncomfortable and in no small amount of time find yet another evil to do battle with. For paranoid people, the existence of an enemy justifies their own behavior, behavior that would otherwise be forbidden. One has the sense that they’re looking for a reason to ‘misbehave.’ For a paranoid person, the only way to be safe is to have all of the power. Paranoid ideas transcend evidence, evidence being seen as a trick to lull the senses. But the most characteristic feature is when paranoid thinking occurs. Paranoid people cannot tolerate ambiguity. In the face of emotional ambiguity, they simplify things, divide the world into persecutors and victims, and they’re off and running.

Our administration doesn’t trust the Courts, the Legislature, the C.I.A., the U.N., our election process, etc. They could not tolerate the diffuseness [ambiguity] of the enemy, Al Qaeda, and went after the defined country – Iraq. In the lead up to the war, their evidence for a conspiracy in Iraq was flimsy, and as it melted in front of them, they clung to it. They still do. They obviously don’t trust our system of government, or us for that matter. Paranoia is a natural consequence of Narcissism, an overvaluation of one’s self, one’s rightness, one’s power. It’s right because I think it. I don’t need oversight, they’ll just try to talk me out of what I know is true. And the epicenter of that kind of self-righteous paranoia is Mr. Dick Cheney – plain and simple.

Liberals do tend to err on the side of naivity. Conservatives do tend to err on the other side. That’s why we need both. But that’s not our problem right now. Our problem right now is that we are being governed by a paranoid group. And the government by a paranoid group leads to Fascism. It always leads to Fascism – even if you call it something else. Stalin, the bane of the European Fascists, was a paranoid Fascist, not a Communist.

So, I’m glad there’s enough of a Supreme Court to do the right thing here, but we’re still under seige by our own paranoid government, and the world is too volitile for us to function without a level headed approach to our place in it. Frankly, I don’t care what side of the political spectrum our next Administration falls on any more. All I care about is their basic mental health. We’ve had way more than enough craziness.

So, what’s the Administration’s response to the Supreme Court decision? Take a look!

    July 1, 2006 | 9:22 AM

    I enjoyed your post very much — it’s a spot on diagnosis of the political leaders of the day.

    Have you, by chance read this article by Paul Levy — The Madness of George W. Bush: A Reflection of Our Collective Psychosis. I have a hunch you’d enjoy it. You may also enjoy this site… Here’s but one of my favorites… Thanks For the Memories

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