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)

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