20 October 2009

Thyraphobia, or Purity of Heart is to Fear One Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Not Do Again (Pt. 15)


This serial post has gotten way out of hand. This is the fifteenth post under this title. Other matters have been put aside or shelved. My blog socializing has diminished while I've been drafting it. More to the point, my thoughts have been meandering seemingly aimlessly into matters far afield of my own experience that afternoon last summer when I failed to talk myself into jumping out of an airplane. It's time now to wrap things up.

Thanks to all who've had the patience to read over or through this seemingly endless series. And, especially, thanks to someone I don't know personally (hell, I don't even know his name), but whom I consider a blog-friend, BlckDgRd, who has faithfully linked, if I'm not mistaken, to every single one of these posts. Go read his blog. Go on, do it now. Then come back. I'm not going anywhere. But, yeah, read his blog every day (except maybe those days when he rants about DC United. Heh!)

This, then, will be my last post on this topic, under this title.
Resolved: I will never be a soldier, much less a good one. I knew this back when they threatened to draft me to fight in the police action in Southeast Asia where I knew I would surely die. The fear is too great in me. But, so is its flipside: my love of life and self.

One's life is the most important thing one has. It is, really, all one has: everything. A great and marvelous gift. Once it is gone, self, identity, and consciousness of the world vanish. Life is not something to be given up lightly or surrendered—especially under false or illusory pretenses.

Once you get beyond the ritual and dogma and supernatural claims, there is a great and wise truth at the base of Christianity, and it stems from the story of the life and death of Jesus. One verse (and I don't want to be taken for a proof-texting, verse-quoting preacher here) captures this thought: There is no greater love than that a man should give up his own life for the sake of his friends. That point is stated outright in the Gospel of John 15:13. Theological scholars, i.e., the Jesus Seminar, do not necessarily believe this was an actual saying of Jesus primarily because it comes in a passage in which Jesus calls for loyalty to himself. It has Jesus predicting what will happen to him after he and his unruly friends trash the main temple in Jerusalem during Passover: he will step up and take the rap for his gang of rowdies so they can live to fight another day in their quest to bring about the end of time. It may, in substance, have been a true teaching of Jesus, but, in all likelihood, the saying itself was a later ascription to him by the community of believers. Already, here, they are using Jesus as a symbol around which to cement the bonds of aggrieved community, to manipulate the loyalty of a small, committed cadre. This, I've said, we are to be wary of.

Still, it does state a fundamental, yet all-too-forgotten (or -ignored) truth of Christianity: we ought to love one another. Sacrifice to make others' lives better, to make a better world here and now. The argument is, of course, who are these others—one's friends in the biblical language—and what constitutes a better world? That is for each person to decide.

The sentiment is this: love is a great and powerful emotion, greater than fear or hatred or shame or anger—the complex of emotions I've been examining in this series. It is the cement of human community [see here]. Factionalism and eternalism alike have been used to pervert that love, to demean it, and turn it into its opposites. Fellow-feeling (to borrow Scheler's term, see here) can be manipulated by playing on people's insecurities, by telling them who their friends are and what their vision of a better world should be.

Concretely: if I am invested with some sort of political or spiritual authority and have dreams of warfare (either offensive or defensive), to get you to do my warlike bidding and enlist you in my cause, I must first convince you of our natural affinity (family, community, nation, race, religion, etc.) and our mutual grievances against a common threat, stressing the goodness and rightness and love of our cause and the evilness and hate of our foe. To get you to be willing to sacrifice your own life in the service of this cause, I must break down your natural emotional defenses (to wit: fear and self-preservation) by demeaning you and your life. I accomplish this by appealing to your own existential situation of misery (it is caused by the devious threats of our enemy) and your natural emotion of shame (you are a fallen creature, weak, flawed, and unworthy). My cause, I assert, will ennoble your own life and, in the process, make things better for those about whom you care. Then I must cement your loyalty by promising you and convincing you that your faithfulness will surely result in some form of reward—physical (loot, booty, spoils, heroic acclaim, etc.) or spiritual (eternal life and favor in paradise).

That is the formula. They all use it; they always have, and they always will.

In dreams, Carl Jung asserts, doors represent opportunities for change and transformation. One should never refuse the opportunity to enter them, to grow, to deepen one's understanding of one's self and one's world—in dreams. In an airplane at 14,000 ft. listing to one side with an open door, something I've been calling thyraphobia prevented me from taking that chance. But that was in reality. It was not a dream.

Yet, by not going through that open door, I gained the opportunity to understand something about myself and my own limitations. I learned that I am not afraid of fear itself. I was ok with it at the time, even though it overtook me completely, even though it rocked my world. And, upon reflection (some may call it rationalization or justification), I'm still ok with it: fear is a defense, an emotion tied to self-preservation and love of life. It is nothing to be ashamed of, not a thing to hate in oneself. It is, in effect, the reason I am skeptical of power and deeply anti-authoritarian. It is the reason I am, by and large and for the most part, a pacifist.

I was not destroyed by my fear and shame. I did not seek to lash out at some foe, real or imagined. I owned my thyraphobia, claimed it as mine. As part of who I am.

It was a rational fear—though somewhat hypertrophied. It had a real-world stimulus. No one told me I had to fear this thing. No one broke down my resistances. If anything, this fear was resistance itself. And it arose out of a deeply rooted sense of self-preservation, if not self-love. Not, I emphasize, vanity. But a love of life, a love of the world, a love of the experience of its awe and majesty, its miracle and, yes, its ugliness and evil, its fear and shame. It was a direct expression of my will to survive, of my desire to experience as much of the world as I possibly can within the four score years the Fates have putatively allotted me. And yes, it was an expression of who I am—who any of us is at heart.

But it was also a holy fear. To live is to be afraid: everything we have and do, every accomplishment and affinity, every battle we fight, is an effort to stave off this fundamental truth. We erect barriers and buffers between us and this primordial shock of recognition at how small and insignificant we truly are in the face of an at-best neutral universe.

Not to fear life and reality is not to respect it. Fear and the complex of concomitant emotions that flow from it are not to be dealt with lightly. They are to be nurtured—for they are life itself.

That day, in that airplane some two miles above the surface of the earth, when it came my time to jump, I met the fear—pure and crystalline—at the heart of my very being, at the heart of all being, and I've made peace with it in all its power. And, as I said, I will never not jump again.

Standing waiting for a man to show
Wide eyed one eye fixed on the door...

You know it makes sense, don't even think about it
Life and death are just things you do when you're bored.
Say fear is a man's best friend;
You add it up it brings you down.

"Fear Is A Man's Best Friend," John Cale

19 October 2009

Thyraphobia, or Purity of Heart is to Fear One Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Not Do Again (Pt. 14)

(cont'd from previous posts)

How were the men who hijacked and commandeered four commercial jetliners on 9/11/2001 able to conquer what I can only assume was their innate, very human immediate fear of heights and death, disregarding whatever love of life they might have had and aim the planes they were flying into buildings on the ground and certain death?

One conventional, somewhat simplistic answer making the rounds after the attacks of 9/11/2001 was that "they hate America." That may have been the case. Hatred is a strong emotion. Hatred of the 'other' is a species of misanthropy which, as I noted earlier, is a symptom of a deeper malady: distrust, fear. The 'other' is out to get me. If you are not with me, you are against me. Me against my brother, my brother and me against my family, my family against the clan, my clan against my tribe, my tribe against my race, my race against my nation, my nation against the world. Or something to that effect. But, it is too facile to ascribe such a simplistic emotion to people who put together such an involved plot that included their own destruction. An entire plot was hatched, plotted in minute detail, funded, and executed. It was an act of war, futile in many respects, but war nonetheless. Embattlement seems insufficient.

Many have pointed to the alleged reward of the martyrs as the motivating factor behind the pilots and their accomplices: 72 full-breasted, black-eyed virgins and lots of wine and a place in paradise. The carrot to the stick. It supplies a spiritual motive, of sorts, to their actions. But this somewhat caricatured version ascribes base, sexual motives to the pilots' spirituality. There is some dispute as to the precise translation of the boons of the Islamic paradise of the martyrs. But it bears noting that imputing the motive of sexual and sensual pleasure to the terrorists' religiosity effectively serves to demean them in Puritanical, Protestant American eyes.

Translation issues aside, this view that suicide bombers and terrorists are motivated by dreams of some sort of paradise seems to have some grounding in fact. It is not unprecedented in the Western Christian tradition: consider the promises to the early Crusaders that death in the struggle to liberate the Holy Land from Saracens would bring remission of their sins and admittance to heaven.

Clearly, though, paradise is meant to be a better place. Better than what? we might ask. Better than this place. Better than this life.

They are led to disdain this world and the things of this world which, presumably, includes themselves. Ashamed of their lot in life, ashamed of themselves, blame must be laid. And America looms large as a convenient target for their hatred—and fear.

Overcoming this fallen world, overcoming the shameful self, is the first step to conquering the instinct of self-preservation. Why preserve what you have been convinced you should be ashamed of? Why fear the loss of this fallen, shame-laden life?

Death is a doorway to a better place, a more acceptable self. To stature. To pleasure. To love. To pride. Thyraphobia is a bad thing, a sign of weakness or cowardice in the warrior—spiritual and physical. The suicider need not fear this door. The terrorist is eternally welcome on the other side of this door. If he goes through this door, his abased life will not have been in vain.

Fear—the pure, raw, immediate feeling I felt as I stared down two miles to the drop zone—is thus thoroughly expunged by convincing the victim (yes let's call him a victim) that his life is shameful and miserable, and that he can escape that lowly misery by overcoming his fears of heights and dying. He is convinced that the source of all his misery is not only his enemy, but the enemy of his brother, his family, his clan, his tribe, his race, his nation, his civilization. He has a duty to screw his courage to the sticking place, overcome this paltry fear, and go through that doorway to the glories of martyrdom.

Anger, hatred, shame, and fear: every warlord—whether it is Osama bin Laden or Dick Cheney, Ho Chi Minh or LBJ, Adolf Hitler or Winston Churchill, Saladin or Richard the Lionhearted, Alexander the Great or Darius III, Xerxes the Great or Themistocles—must master the art of manipulating these emotions in the hearts of his warriors and his people. It is an ancient art and, thus, an effective one because these emotions are so profound, so deeply central to who we are as human beings.

(to be continued)

12 October 2009

Thyraphobia, or Purity of Heart is to Fear One Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Not Do Again (Pt. 13)

(cont'd from previous posts)

It's important to be wary of imputing motives to others' actions: I know I, for one, despise it when some angry person—say, a drunk in a bar or a belligerent neighbor or a frustrated boss or an aggressive lawyer who knows he's losing his case or a political opponent or just about anyone with a borderline personality disorder—starts telling me what I'm thinking and why I did something and what I meant by whatever words I might have said.

It is not my intention here to do that, to project my own insecurities onto others, or to score political points against the previous administration. I'm trying to forge some sort of understanding of myself and, in effect, all of us, trying to operate at human baseline.

If—and I stress the hypothetical here—it is safe to say that Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld (and especially Cheney) are heirs to what Richard Hostadter termed the "paranoid style" and that not only did they vicariously feel the terror (being, as predators, ever-sensitive to that weakness in others as well as under the civic duty of their offices) that we all felt on Sept. 11, 2001, but also, if they are at all human, that they experienced deep shame at their own failure to do what they loudly claimed their political enemies, the Democrats, were incapable of—to wit, keep us safe from terror—, that would seem to vindicate my own point that these negative emotions I've been examining demand careful handling—and especially so at the political level.

In response to these internal stimuli, compounded in effect by their access to true power (political and military), they instigated what I consider to be the greatest PR effort of recent memory: to wit that President Bush made us safe from terror. They sold us a war on fraudulent premises. But, more importantly for my purposes here, by pre-emptively "tak(-ing) Saddam out" they effectively managed to conceal their own shame and complicity (negligence).

[Aside: There is an argument to be made that their warring ways were strategically motivated. And I am not immune to that argument. That is to say, preserving U.S. might and world domination as the sole-surviving super power requires us occasionally to throw our weight around. To smack down some petty tyrant—i.e., Saddam Hussein—who threatens to disrupt our supply lines of a crucial resource—i.e., oil. To put the pincers on a troublesome thorn in our imperial paw since at least the time of President Carter's administration—i.e., Iran—by occupying countries on both its flanks and asserting controls over its access to key sea lanes. But that's another exercise, another theme blog series.]

But there's a flip side of that coin. I started off by acknowledging the healthiness of a certain kind and amount of fear: it demands you exercise caution out of a sense of self-preservation. Once this sort of fear is conquered, however—by, say, asserting that there is something more important and valuable than the individual self—then a different set of problems comes into play.

Individualism is an important Western Protestant Christian value. It is a cornerstone of the American way of life. Its concomitant, selfishness, is at the heart of many, if not most, of our economic and political policies. Understanding this is key to understanding America. We, as a rule, do not give up our allegiance to ourselves without a struggle. And we look suspiciously on those who do.

[There are exceptions, of course. These have to do, often, with our military and sports teams—though, even in those endeavors we reserve great affection for the heroes and stars who rise above their role in the unit or team and lead them to victory. Stanley Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket, particularly the first half, is instructive w/r/t the debasement and thus conquering of the self in the name of the greater unit good. Shame, because it so volatile, can be used as a profound motivator/manipulator.]

On 9/11/2001, there were four airplane 'pilots' (along with their co-conspirators), who, unlike me, willingly somehow and at some point overcame their own fears of falling from the sky and flew their planes (three of them did, anyway) into solid objects on the ground, obliterating themselves in the process. In this, I concede, they were far braver than I who couldn't bear to jump from a slow-flying plane with a professional skydiver and a parachute strapped to my back. What could motivate a person to take such a radical step? It's baffling to me.

I am comfortable enough with my own fears to know that I could never do such a thing. My own fear of heights is deeply rooted in my love of life, my sense of self-preservation. Did those pilots (I'll restrict my question to the pilots, because it's not at all clear that their accomplices knew precisely what was going to happen once they took over the planes) have no fear? Of course, they had fear; they're human beings. We all do.

But what allowed them to overcome it and so willingly sacrifice their own lives and futures? Were they somehow coerced or extorted or blackmailed? Was it ideological, as Bush/Cheney asserted? Did they hate us and our life-style (or at least some caricature version of it) so much they were willing to give up their own lives to inflict damage on certain symbols of our civilization? Did they believe they were at war with us? We with them? Did they believe that everything we did was specifically directed against them and what they prized (what Hostadter called the "paranoid style")? Did they not love their own lives? Were they insane? Did they do it out of a sense of religious or spiritual calling? Did they feel shame at their own lives and existence and somehow believe that America was a potent symbol of the root causes of that shame?

I am not sure there are certain answers to these questions, but I believe these are the right sorts of questions. And we have some clues that can, at least, give us some insight into what may have motivated these 'terrorists'.

(to be continued)

06 October 2009

Thyraphobia, or Purity of Heart is to Fear One Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Not Do Again (Pt. 12)


Thanks for indulging my little digression re: paranoia. Now, where was I?  Oh yes, I had alighted on something actually resembling a thesis: "terror, shame, hate, and anger together produce a complex, potentially toxic stew that must be handled with care and, perhaps, some degree of wisdom."

No one wants to feel these feelings. They make you feel bad, out of control. And it's only natural to fight the terror and try to conceal your shame in order to regain some semblance of control.

It's instructive in this regard that the previous American president decided to name the great adventure of his presidency the "Global War on Terror." He did not call it a war against terrorists (the specific evildoers and their ilk) or terrorism (which, at best, is a tactic of belligerents, often guerillas), or even a war against evil (as in "Axis of") or Islam or Arabs or oilfield competitors. It was, nominally, a war on an emotion—an extreme one, but an emotion nevertheless. Fight the fear.

Collectively, America, or I should say Americans, felt terror on Sept. 11, 2001: when the Twin Towers fell we did not know what had hit us; we were scared; we felt vulnerable. Terror struck. And our President decided to go to war against it.
"On September 20, 2001, during a televised address to a joint session of congress, President George W. Bush launched his war on terror when he said, 'Our war on terror begins with al Qaeda, but it does not end there. It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated.'"
Unspoken was the claim: 'Only then will we feel safe again. That will salve our emotional scar. We will never be scared again.'

One could, I suppose, make the argument that Bush misspoke in calling it a war on "terror"—after all he was famous for mangling the English language—and the name stuck among his toadies and courtiers in the press and the government. That does not diminish the fact that the invasion of Afghanistan and pre-emptive invasion of Iraq continued to be grouped under this name until March of 2009.  

One could, likewise, take issue with calling this adventure a 'war', as no such thing has been declared by Congress, which, under the U.S. Constitution, Art. 1, Sec. 8, is the only branch of government with the official capacity to do so, thus depriving Bush of his cherished "war president" moniker. But that would be splitting hairs.

The fact is, in response to an act of terrorism on U.S. soil, Bush lashed out at the entire world. He demanded every other nation take a side; they were either with us or against us. If they weren't helping us, we would treat them as hostile, in which case anything goes. His administration also used this GWOT meme as an excuse, i.e., cover, to consolidate executive power, to shred the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, to reward cronies and private contractors, and to create a private armed force. Inter alia. (Maybe that little paranoia digression wasn't a wasted effort after all.)

Terror was also the nominal excuse for declaring that, contrary to international law and U.S. policy, the U.S. had the right to preemptively invade any country it deemed to even look like a threat. I now believe that was not the case.

It's clear to me now why my country declared a global war on terror, and went after Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda in Afghanistan soon thereafter. Nobody here wants to feel the way we felt that day again—except maybe Glenn Beck whose so-called "9-12 Project is designed to bring us all back to the place we were on September 12, 2001." (URL supplied only upon request) Fight the fear. And how best to protect ourselves from such a bad feeling than to root it out at the source?

But this was not Bush's only response. On September 17, 2002, one year after the attacks on the Twin Towers, he announced what has now been known as the Bush Doctrine:
"The security environment confronting the United States today is radically different from what we have faced before. Yet the first duty of the United States Government remains what it always has been: to protect the American people and American interests. It is an enduring American principle that this duty obligates the government to anticipate and counter threats, using all elements of national power, before the threats can do grave damage. The greater the threat, the greater is the risk of inaction – and the more compelling the case for taking anticipatory action to defend ourselves, even if uncertainty remains as to the time and place of the enemy’s attack. There are few greater threats than a terrorist attack with WMD.
To forestall or prevent such hostile acts by our adversaries, the United States will, if necessary, act preemptively in exercising our inherent right of self-defense. The United States will not resort to force in all cases to preempt emerging threats. Our preference is that nonmilitary actions succeed. And no country should ever use preemption as a pretext for aggression."
The U.S. declared it had the right to preemptively invade and attack any country it perceived as somehow threatening—anytime, anywhere. Breath-taking.

I now believe it was more than merely the feeling of terror that motivated this unprecedented belligerence. In my own experience of failing to jump out of the airplane, the feeling of terror was profound. I hated it and fought it with all my might. But worse than that, as I said, was the inner-directed feeling of shame. I submit that this over-reaction by the Bush administration might have had something to do with that.

Indeed, having determined that al Qaeda was responsible for the attacks of Sept. 11, it made rational sense that we would go after that avowed terrorist organization wherever they were holed up and protected—international law be damned. But to extend that to a doctrine seemingly perpetrated for the sole purpose of justifying a preemptive invasion of Iraq seemed irrational at the time, an almost hysterical overreaching.

I submit that it was an attempt to compensate for the shame President Bush and Vice President Cheney felt at failing to prevent the  attacks of Sept. 11 on their watch.

  • the incoming Bush administration was briefed by outgoing members of the Clinton administration, including Richard Clarke and George Tenet, regarding the threats posed by al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden, but they dismissed these concerns;
  • multiple intelligence sources warned the Bush administration of the possibility of such attacks, including the infamous August 6, 2001, CIA Presidential Daily Briefing which declared in the very title that Bin Laden and al Qaeda were determined to attack on U.S. soil using hijacked airplanes; and
  • "On May 8, 2001, President Bush announced that Vice President Cheney would "oversee the development of a coordinated national effort so that we may do the very best possible job of protecting our people from catastrophic harm." (Statement by the President) The task force was to focus specifically, in Vice President Cheney's words, on the threat of "domestic terrorism...a terrorist organization overseas or even another state using weapons of mass destruction against the U.S., a hand-carried nuclear weapon or biological or chemical agents." (CNN, 5/8/01) Moreover, President Bush announced that he would "periodically chair a meeting of the National Security Council to review these efforts." (Statement by the President, 5/8/01) The Washington Post reports that, in the four months between the President's announcement and the September 11 attacks, "neither Cheney's review nor Bush's took place." (1/20/02). According to the 9-11 Commission, the Cheney Task Force "was just getting underway when the 9/11 attack occurred." (9-11 Commission, Staff Statement Number 8, "National Policy Coordination," p. 9)."  
They dropped the ball. They got caught flat-footed. Cheney's task force on terrorist threats to the U.S. never met. America was attacked on their watch. They made the country even less safe than under the despised Clinton administration. As did we all, they experienced terror. And, if they are at all human, shame.

In other times and other countries and with other players, such a shameful lapse would require, at a minimum, Cheney's resignation or, conceivably, his seppuku. He had neither the integrity or honor to do either.

They—Bush, SecDef Donald Rumsfeld, and particularly Cheney—wanted to do everything they could to cover their shame, if not their culpability. If that meant carrying the GWOT to a country that was not involved in the 9/11 attacks to deflect blame, so be it. If that meant restricting domestic rights, so be it. What better way than to hide your shame and self-loathing than attacking someone you hate, however innocent he might be in the instant, and chiding others for being less than 100% patriotic.

Fight the terror, conceal the shame. These were precisely my own responses to my failure to jump, my admitted cowardice, my shame. I'm not unusual; I'm merely human. So is Bush. So is Cheney. Their failure to prevent those attacks—whether from mere negligence, arrogance, different priorities (high-ticket, big boy nuclear stuff), or whatever—was shameful. They, however, are constitutionally incapable of admitting shame. And their shamelessness led us into the foolish Iraqi quagmire from which we are only just now beginning to extricate ourselves. And this diversion of attention, resources, and focus from going after the real bad guys in their lair in Afghanistan has caused us to lose ground in that true front in the GWOT, a failure we are now beginning to reap the benefits of as that conflict escalates.

Certainly, there are Machiavellian reasons for a potentate to conceal his shame. But we are still paying the costs of Bush/Cheney's failure in American blood and treasure. Their ruinous, off-the-books adventure in Iraq is bankrupting this country. And their failure to finish the arguably justified assault on al Qaeda in Afghanistan has allowed the real terrorists to entrench and expand their capabilities.

They failed at combatting terror because of their preoccupation with their own shame. The threat of terror is as real today as it was when they took office in 2001. Cheney and Bush and Rumsfeld still bristle at any suggestion they were negligently naive to the threat of terror. To conceal their shame, they engineered a grandiose war on terror, arrogating, in the process, enormous extraordinary powers to themselves. Nothing they have done, however, has atoned for their shame.

As I said,"terror, shame, hate, and anger together produce a complex, potentially toxic stew that must be handled with care and, perhaps, some degree of wisdom." Something the previous administration failed utterly to do.

(to be cont'd)

02 October 2009

Thyraphobia, or Purity of Heart is to Fear One Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Not Do Again (Pt. 11)


On further reflection, I'd like to add one further option to the above list for dealing with the welter of negative emotions I experienced when I failed to skydive, an option so obvious I'm kicking myself for having left it off the list:

  • I can allow the fear and self-loathing to continue to fester and metastasize within me and, eventually, succumb to paranoia (vide, e.g., H.S. Thompson & T. Pynchon & D.F. Wallace, inter alia et infra).

This option should, by rights, be grouped with the misanthropic, though, to my mind, it is more fundamental—misanthropy being more of an attitude and paranoia more of a root cause, if not a fundamental condition. In short, the two are by no means mutually exclusive, and the former is quite often a symptom, or indicator, of the presence of the latter.

Strictly for definitional purposes (again), I turn to the DSM-IV which characterizes what it terms 'paranoid personality disorder' as a pervasive distrust and suspicion of others such that their motives are interpreted as malevolent. (N.B.: The ascription of motive to others is key here. Questions of motivation are often, if not usually, irreducibly complex, and involve a high quotient of self-interest. To project and then reduce the motives of another person to a simplistic assault on the self is a supremely narcissistic gesture. But I digress (within this digression)). PPD is indicated by the presence of at least four of the following:

  • Suspects, without sufficient basis, that others are exploiting, harming, or deceiving him or her
  • Is preoccupied with unjustified doubts about the loyalty or trustworthiness of friends or associates
  • Is reluctant to confide in others because of unwarranted fear that the information will be used maliciously against him or her
  • Reads benign remarks or events as threatening or demeaning.
  • Persistently bears grudges, i.e., is unforgiving of insults, injuries, or slights
  • Perceives attacks on his or her character or reputation that are not apparent to others and is quick to react angrily or to counterattack
  • Has recurrent suspicions, without justification, regarding fidelity of spouse or sexual partner.

This, too, is a time-honored option. It is in the realm of paranoia (again, a soul-consuming transmogrification of basic fear; a mean basal fearfulness which, paradoxically, serves to mask a deep-seated, threatening sense of existential insignificance)—its projection of conspiratorial plots to confirm the paranoid in his feelings of oppression—that the transformation from the personal to the political occurs. There is a famous essay, "The Paranoid Style in American Politics," by Richard Hostadter from the November, 1964 Harper's Magazine. I quote liberally [editorial comments bracketed]:
"the modern right wing, as Daniel Bell has put it, feels dispossessed: America has been largely taken away from them and their kind, though they are determined to try to repossess it and to prevent the final destructive act of subversion. The old American virtues have already been eaten away by cosmopolitans and intellectuals; the old competitive capitalism has been gradually undermined by socialistic and communistic schemers; the old national security and independence have been destroyed by treasonous plots, having as their most powerful agents not merely outsiders and foreigners as of old but major statesmen who are at the very centers of American power. Their predecessors had discovered conspiracies; the modern radical right finds conspiracy to be betrayal from on high." [Tea Parties and Town Hall protestors?]
"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 constantly lives at a turning point. Like religious millenialists he expresses the anxiety of those who are living through the last days and he is sometimes disposed to set a date for the apocalypse." [Sean Hannity?]
"As a member of the avant-garde who is capable of perceiving the conspiracy before it is fully obvious to an as yet unaroused public, the paranoid is a militant leader. " [Glenn Beck?]
"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. 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 (the Catholic confessional)." [Who's the anti-Christ?]
"It is hard to resist the conclusion that this enemy is on many counts the projection of the self; both the ideal and the unacceptable aspects of the self are attributed to him. The enemy may be the cosmopolitan intellectual, but the paranoid will outdo him in the apparatus of scholarship, even of pedantry. Secret organizations set up to combat secret organizations give the same flattery. The Ku Klux Klan imitated Catholicism to the point of donning priestly vestments, developing an elaborate ritual and an equally elaborate hierarchy. The John Birch Society emulates Communist cells and quasi-secret operation through “front” groups, and preaches a ruthless prosecution of the ideological war along lines very similar to those it finds in the Communist enemy.* Spokesmen of the various fundamentalist anti-Communist “crusades” openly express their admiration for the dedication and discipline the Communist cause calls forth."  [FoxNews vs. the so-called 'liberal media'?]
"On the other hand, the sexual freedom often attributed to the enemy, his lack of moral inhibition, his possession of especially effective techniques for fulfilling his desires, give exponents of the paranoid style an opportunity to project and express unacknowledgeable aspects of their own psychological concerns. Catholics and Mormons—later, Negroes and Jews—have lent themselves to a preoccupation with illicit sex. Very often the fantasies of true believers reveal strong sadomasochistic outlets, vividly expressed, for example, in the delight of anti-Masons with the cruelty of Masonic punishments." [Rush Limbaugh?]
"...the paranoid mind is far more coherent than the real world." [Dick Cheney & the neo-cons?]
"We are all sufferers from history, but the paranoid is a double sufferer, since he is afflicted not only by the real world, with the rest of us, but by his fantasies as well." [Sarah Palin?]
Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

When you are entrenched in your own self-affirming fortress of fear and terror, indeed the world and everyone and everything in it feels like it is out to get you.

By way of fun and further penance for neglecting such an obvious option, I'll end this little [who am I kidding] digression with some literary quotes on the topic (this being, of course, the reason I feel so stupid for leaving it off the list from the previous post):

Thomas Pynchon's "Proverbs for Paranoids" (references are from Gravity's Rainbow)

  1. "You may never get to touch the Master, but you can tickle his creatures." 237
  2. "The innocence of the creatures is in inverse proportion to the immorality of the Master." 241
  3. "If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don't have to worry about answers." 251
  4. "You hide, they seek." 262
  5. "Paranoids are not paranoids (Proverb 5) because they're paranoid, but because they keep putting themselves, fucking idiots, deliberately into paranoid situations." 292

"We are turning into a nation of whimpering slaves to Fear—fear of war, fear of poverty, fear of random terrorism, fear of getting down-sized or fired because of the plunging economy, fear of getting evicted for bad debts or suddenly getting locked up in a military detention camp on vague charges of being a Terrorist sympathizer."—Hunter S.Thompson, "Extreme Behavior in Aspen," February 3, 2003
"There are times, however, and this is one of them, when even being right feels wrong. What do you say, for instance, about a generation that has been taught that rain is poison and sex is death? If making love might be fatal and if a cool spring breeze on any summer afternoon can turn a crystal blue lake into a puddle of black poison right in front of your eyes, there is not much left except TV and relentless masturbation. It's a strange world. Some people get rich and others eat shit and die."—H.S. T., Gonzo Papers, Vol. 2: Generation of Swine: Tales of Shame and Degradation in the '80s, 1988 [did he leave the commas out of that last sentence?]
"People who claim to know jackrabbits will tell you they are primarily motivated by Fear, Stupidity, and Craziness. But I have spent enough time in jackrabbit country to know that most of them lead pretty dull lives; they are bored with their daily routines: eat, fuck, sleep, hop around a bush now and then... No wonder some of them drift over the line into cheap thrills once in a while; there has to be a powerful adrenalin rush in crouching by the side of a road, waiting for the next set of headlights to come along, then streaking out of the bushes with split-second timing and making it across to the other side just inches in front of the speeding front tires." -- H.S.T., Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72
"It would be easy to say that we owe it all to the Bush family from Texas, but that would be too simplistic. They are only errand boys for the vengeful, bloodthirsty cartel of raving Jesus-freaks and super-rich money mongers who have ruled for at least the last 20 years, and arguably the last 200 years. They take orders well, and they don't ask too many questions. The real power in America is held by a fast-emerging new Oligarchy of pimps and preachers who see no need for Democracy or fairness or even trees, except maybe the ones in their own yards, and they don't mind admitting it. They worship money and power and death. Their ideal solution to all the nation's problems would be another 100 Year War. Coming of age in a fascist police state will not be a barrel of fun for anybody, much less for people like me, who are not inclined to suffer Nazis gladly and feel only contempt for the cowardly flag-suckers who would gladly give up their outdated freedom to live for the mess of pottage they have been conned into believing will be freedom from fear. Ho ho ho. Let's not get carried away here. Freedom was yesterday in this country. Its value has been discontinued. The only freedom we truely crave today is freedom from Dumbness. Nothing else matters." HST "Memo from the Sports Desk" intro to Kingdom of Fear.
"Never turn your back on Fear. It should always be in front of you, like a thing that might have to be killed." HST, Kingdom of Fear, "There Is No Such Thing As Paranoia."
And last, but not least:
"Nothing brings you together like a common enemy" David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest 113;
"the people to be most frightened of are the people who are most frightened" DFW, IJ 204
"Yes, I'm paranoid--but am I paranoid enough?" DFW, IJ fn.211/1035?

(to be continued)