This post was originally published in early January, 2005, after the post on The Defensive Denial of Terror. It remains relevant and timely. I think that significant portions of the Western world, in their terror and denial, have come to prefer the comfort of their paranoia tot he anxiety of a dangerous implacable foe who offers no quarter and has shown his willingness to commit any atrocity to further his cause. The current unwillingness of officials in Oklahoma to even acknowledged the possibility of last week's bombing being related to Islamic terror, and the disinterest of the LSM to investigate is more than troubling; it supports the notion that parts of our body politic have become so disturbed that they are no longer in close contact with reality.
Every day sees new attacks on our ability to defend ourselves, promulgated by opponents of the War in Iraq, aided and abetted by the MSM. Take a look at this post at The Mudville Gazette (and at this update) to see how the abuses at Abu Graib have been conflated with the infamous "torture" memo, with the unfortunate outcome of hindering our ability to use any coercive interrogation techniques under almost any circumstances; ultimately, that makes it harder for our soldiers in Iraq to get the information they need to defend themselves and leaves our homeland defenders shackled in trying to find that information at home. Along with these attacks on our defenses, there are ongoing attacks on the legitimacy of our institutions. The partisan show during the Gonzalez hearings are just one of many to come (just wait until there are Supreme Court nominees to confirm!) These attacks are also aided and abetted by a MSM that sees itself as the defenders of our fundamental rights and entitlements while they use the "end justifying the means" to debase our social contract and destroy civil discourse. As a lifelong member of the Democratic party, I find it tragic and shameful that the core of the party (take a look at DJ Drummond's post on what they have done to themselves and secondarily threaten to do our country) are willing to destroy our democratic system which has worked so well for so long for narrow partisan gain. Yet I wonder...
and I will attempt the thought experiment: What if they are right? What if George W. Bush is truly a mad fundamentalist, no better than bin Laden, ushering in the Apocalypse? Or, what if he is a cynical robber baron whose entire foreign and domestic policy is designed to funnel money to his evil friends? If I could only accept these characterizations, many smart people in our professoriate and our MSM are perfectly willing and able to supply me all the data I need to support their positions.
Allow me to elaborate:
Please note, in the following I am purposely avoiding using technical Psychiatric terms, but a few terms need to be defined.]
Delusions are defined as fixed, false beliefs. However, this is incomplete. We must include that the delusional beliefs must be idiosyncratic, that is, belonging only to the affected person, rather than a group. This is how we differentiate between members of a cult who have accepted the belief system of the cult and the psychotic member who has elaborated the beliefs to make them more personal to himself. Many people hope, pray, and even expect, the Messiah to come someday (or to return someday) but the people who believe they are the Messiah generally end up in Psychiatric hospitals. It is important that we not consider people who believe Bush is Hitler to be delusional and would hope they do not consider those of us who do not believe it to be delusional, as well.
Psychosis refers to that state of mind where an individual has lost the ability to distinguish external reality from the contents and activity of one's own mind. Of course, this state happens to most people almost every night during dreams, but even when one wakes up a bit fuzzy (in a hypnopompic state, perhaps), one can almost always tell they were in a dream, and not in reality, once fully awake.
Paranoid delusions, the hallmarks of Paranoid Psychosis, are delusions that others, often powerful people or groups of people (typically including the FBI, CIA, Mafia), are hostile to one in the absence of any evidence for the belief.
Paranoid psychosis often strikes young people in their late teens, early twenties. Many people do not realize that there is almost always a prodromal period (the period of weeks to months leading up to the overt psychotic break with reality) in which the world becomes more and more chaotic and makes less and less sense to the patient. If you see them during their first break (a person's first overt psychotic episode) they will often describe how frightening this time is; they are no longer sure of what they are seeing and hearing and experiencing and feeling. They worry they are losing their minds; they often despair and contemplate suicide. If they are in college, they have increasing difficulty getting their work done; lectures and readings become confusing and disorienting. They become more and more anxious until suddenly, they receive an insight and Everything Makes Sense! ; Rationality has returned, they are not losing their minds. These things are happening to them because they are special, singled out by God to do great things, to save the world; they might even be Jesus Christ himself returned to help mankind. It is important to recognize that once they have discovered this heretofore hidden secret about themselves, their anxiety diminishes and changes. They are no longer anxious that they are losing their minds, now they are anxious about being able to accomplish great things. In fact, this is where things often take a darker turn. There can be only one explanation for why they have flunked out of college, or are living on the streets, or are now in a psychiatric hospital: they can not accomplish great things (saving the world) because other powerful forces are opposed to them. What other explanation could possibly account for what is happening? This is when the paranoid is most dangerous (though most psychiatric patients are more likely to be victims and taken advantage of than to be perpetrators) because they have projected their unacceptable murderous rage onto their (invented) enemy, at which point a defensive attack may become necessary.
When dealing with a paranoid patient one must exercise considerable caution. You never directly question the delusion; if you do, you are all too easily incorporated into the delusional system (you want to "get them" too). There is no other option for the patient. The treating Psychiatrist recognizes that the risk of prematurely removing the defensive rationalizations (that is, the delusional system) risks overwhelming anxiety and dissolution of the person's personality (which has become reorganized around the structure of the delusion) or severe, often suicidal, depression; after all, to go from being the Messiah to being someone with a serious, probably lifelong psychiatric disorder is a terrible blow to one's self esteem.
While I do not want to draw the analogy too far, I believe there are significant similarities to what is going on in our body politic today to what happens in the mind of the young paranoid. This leads inexorably to questions about how one can tell which side of the argument is closer to reality and which side is manufacturing a belief system based on the irrational. Since the factors and processes which determine our assumptions and our understanding are primarily taking place out of our awareness (ie, while we are occasionally aware of when we are rationalizing, for example, most of the time it is occurring unconsciously) this is not an easy question.