Friday, February 25, 2005

Paranoia Strikes Deep

Paranoia strikes deep
Into your life it will creep
It starts when you're always afraid
Step outta line, the men come, and take you away
-Buffalo Springfield

I know. I know. I keep writing about Paranoia and Projection (see here , here and here). But the world of Politics attracts Paranoia like flypaper attracts flies. And it is deeply disturbing to observe.

The recent multiple sitings of paranoia exhibited by the Left would be amusing, if it weren't so alarming. Between the Gannon affair (which Glenn Reynolds wraps up here rather nicely) and Mo Hinchey's ravings; between the deeply disturbed fantasies at the Democratic Underground (I won't link to them); between the gay-baiting; the paternalistic and condescending attitude towards successful Blacks and Hisanics; the Left has plummeted into a hell of their own making.

There is a reason that human beings experience suspicion, distrust and hypervigilance. That reason is because there is REAL danger in the world. Our ancestors in the caves knew this to be true. They lived with continual danger just to survive every minute of every day. Those who did not have the psychological capacity to perceive the danger in the environment surely died out long ago.

But this important psychological trait which senses danger and strives to protect the ego; and which is accentuated in children and early in life, is appropriately balanced out by the development of the rational faculty--the intellect.

The tools of the Paranoid are denial, distortion, and projection. These psychological tools are almost always pathological when used to cope with the real world. For the user these three primitive psychological defenses permit a rearrangement of external reality (so that actual reality may be avoided); for the beholder, the users of these mechanisms frequently appear crazy or insane. These are known as the "psychotic" defenses, common in overt psychosis, in dreams, and throughout childhood.

Denial is a refusal to accept external reality because it is too threatening. There are examples of denial being adaptive (for example, it might be adaptive for a person who has a terminal illness to use some degree of denial). But for the most part, denial is only useful as a short-term strategy, to permit a person to come to terms with reality. As a long-term strategy to protect self-identity, it is potentially lethal--since the person or group that uses it extensively is blinded to the real danger that might be out there.

Distortion is a gross reshaping of external reality to meet internal needs. Hinchey's bizarre accusations against the evil genius Rove are a perfect example. It is more acceptable to believe that some evil person has tricked you, than it is to believe that you behaved stupidly.

Delusional Projection occurs when an individual or group have delusions about external reality, usually of a persecutory nature.

It is easy to see how all these psychological manipulations work together to keep a person or a group insulated from reality. In truth, we witness such behavior all around us.

How does reason balance suspicion? You say to yourself: is this feeling paranoid? Do I have facts to back up my suspicions, or do I only feel that it is so? Are these facts? Or, are they distortions, because I really really want to believe this is true?

How do you tell a fact from a distortion? 9/11 was a FACT. It was planned and funded by Al-Qaeda and carried out by Islamic terrorists. These are FACTS. The widespread belief among Muslims that the Jews are behind 9/11 and that they did it so that the blame would fall on Muslims is a DISTORTION, which comes from DENIAL of the facts; and represents a PSYCHOLOGICAL PROJECTION. It is a PSYCHOLOGICAL PROJECTION because many Muslims want desperately to believe that Islam is a peaceful religion and prohibits such acts, despite what is said in the Qu'ran, and what is practiced in the real world.

Here is another example. The CBS documents that Dan Rather used in his 60 Minutes story were forged. Therefore they CANNOT BE REAL DOCUMENTS. The BELIEF that what the forged documents contained is true (e.g., the "fake but true" argument) is only a BELIEF, not a fact. The statement that Karl Rove is responsible for leaking the documents in order to embarass Dan Rather/CBS/the Democrats when it was discovered that they were forged--is a BELIEF, based on PROJECTION.

Many people were overjoyed to have something that suggested their beliefs about President Bush were accurate and are angry that their belief was debunked. They felt angry, embarassed and humiliated for believing a hoax. Rather than admit they were foolish/unprofessional/acting on their emotions, they prefer to believe that someone very powerful must have set them up. This new belief makes them feel better about themselves; and simultaneously does exactly what they hoped the forged memo would do--embarass the Bush Adminsitration. Then like a true, arrogant paranoid individual, they pat themselves on the back at their heroic, courageous, and "principled" stand that their BELIEF trumps any facts. Note that their BELIEF in the truth of this will not be responsive to any facts to the contrary.

Emotions are an important part of life, but if you base all your behavior on what you FEEL, then you are vulnerable to all sorts of psyshopathology. Paranoia is an extreme of what otherwise would be helpful and normal reactions to the perception of danger. Paranoia distorts reality in the service of protecting the self from having to deal with unacceptable thoughts or feelings. It is useful to protect the integrity of the sense of self--sometimes even at the expense of one's life.

Paranoia helps individuals and groups defend against their own hostility and their perceived insignificance. Often the emotions displayed by the paranoid are covering up the exact opposite emotion within. The Paranoid cannot afford to face facts or reality because to do so would do two things:

(1) display to the world the deep, irrational hatred which he is defending himself against by making himself the "victim" of someone else's deep, irrational hatred; and

(2) admit his own insignificance, because if he is NOT the center of a plot and the focus of his "enemies" then he must be shamefully unimportant - a nobody.

You would think that a Paranoid person would be reassured to discover that people or groups are NOT out to get him. That there is no conspiracy against the group. You would be wrong. This is the last thing that the Paranoid individual or group really want, because--if they are not being persecuted, or betrayed, or lied to, or oppressed--then the Paranoid must face the devastating reality of his own insignificance. This he cannot do and it is why the alternate reality was constructed in the first place.

The Paranoid solution to unacceptable thoughts or feelings is to say, "If I am having these bad thoughts or feeling or behaviors, then someone else must be to blame and is making me do it." The Paranoid person does not take responsibility for his own thoughts or feelings or behaviors.

The healthy individual's solution is to take responsibility for his or her thoughts,feelings, and behaviors. Even if it is painful to acknowledge. But by owning his or her feelings, the healthy individual is able to exert control over inappropriate behavior that might spring from those feelings.

Another way of saying this is that you cannot choose the feelings that you experience- emotions are not generally under conscious control; but you can choose how to act on those feelings, because behavior is under conscious control.

Paranoia strikes deep. It will creep into your heart when you are afraid of your own feelings and try to disown them by blaming the "Jews", the "Blacks", or "Gays" or even President Bush. History has been littered with millions of dead bodies resulting from the denial, distortion and projection of paranoid leaders like Hitler,Stalin, Hussein, and Bin Laden. But those people had followers who believed just as they did, and did most of their dirty work.

You have to stop, look and see what's going down in your own heart if you want to understand how such evil can exist.

UPDATE: Go here for a discussion of some of the comments on this post.

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