An Anatomy of Paranoia

We all agree that it’s important to question conventional wisdom, and that ideas which are too bizarre for most people to accept may, nonetheless, turn out to be true. Some people, however, seem to reach a tipping point where scores of obsessive strange beliefs feed upon one another to such a degree that they impair the individual’s ability to maintain relationships or function in society. By searching mental health forums, one can find countless posts by concerned individuals who worry that they are losing a loved one to the world of conspiracy. Here is a typical example:

My husband and I have been married for over 3 years (been together 5 years).  For the last two years of our marriage, my husband has become obsessed with conspiracy theories.  Initially, I chalked it up as a new hobby/interest.  But lately (over the past year) his obsession has progressed and has me alarmed.  He spends countless hours on the internet researching conspiracy theories, mostly political (i.e. 9/11, new world order, Illuminati, reptilians, and I could go on and on).  We can’t have a conversation with him bringing up some sort of theory.  He brings them up if were out with other friends or at a party.  This concerns me because I feel like he’s not the same person I married.  He used to be driven, ambitious, and had career goals.  He’s an engineer and once had dreams of starting his own company.  But, he doesn’t speak of it anymore. I feel as if we have nothing in common.  He becomes defensive and argumentative when I disagree with his theories.  One day out of the blue, he went out and bought a huge safe, withdrew all of his savings and bought gold.  He wants to to start stockpiling food and supplies for some sort of catastrophic event that he believes is coming.  His health history is unremarkable.  He does use marijuana daily (which he did prior to our marriage).  His younger sister was diagnosed with schizophrenia in her early teens and lives in some sort of assisted living.  Should I be worried that he is also showing the beginning signs of schizophrenia, also?  

Posters commonly report feeling that they are unable to talk to their loved ones anymore; that an obsession with conspiracy is taking priority over work, family and relationships; and that the individual becomes bullying and argumentative when asked to consider contrary information. It looks and tastes like mental illness, and sometimes it is—the paranoid mentally ill seek out conspiracy, so it’s no surprise that we should encounter them—but it would be foolish to assume that every Dale Gribble in the world is a blossoming schizophrenic.

I fault the beliefs themselves. They’re like viruses, or parasites, and to understand how they can destroy an individual’s reason, we need to dissect them.

1. They’re toxic.

In order to accept an extraordinary belief, it is usually necessary to assimilate a degree of paranoia as well, for you have to answer the question “If this evidence is so compelling, why doesn’t everyone accept it?” To accept UFOs, you need the cover-up. To accept alt med, you need to believe that Big Pharma is holding it down. Each belief introduces a new malevolent cabal to your worldview, intent upon suppressing the truth.

2. They feed upon each other.

Once you’ve accepted that we live in a world where top officials in our government could plan and carry out the 9/11 attacks, it’s not hard to believe that the Kennedy assassination or the Sandy Hook shootings were inside jobs as well—and if they can cover that up, why not UFOs? And once you’ve decided that the scientific community is simply afraid to study UFOs, then perhaps the same is true of psi and cryptozoology.

Paranoia provides a rich substrate for myriads of bizarre beliefs to colonize; each one, another proof of how you’re being lied to—God dammit. The Internet, of course, exacerbates the process, as it becomes easy to get all your information from sources that parrot your opinions back to you, causing your beliefs to become ever more firmly entrenched.

34 Comments on "An Anatomy of Paranoia"

  1. Simon Valentine | Aug 28, 2014 at 1:44 pm |

    yes, because “go back to your daily vague conspiracy socials” is, you know, so healthy and lawful and acceptable

    miss lady should be concerned if responsibility is superstition and she’s on the wrong end as one of the weights causing “what she oh so certainly regards”. but apparently no one thinks to ask “who is truly responsible”.

    live with the comfort of a man who is “okay” with socially accepted criminal or questionable activity. right. urge to commit. the phrase has so many “meanings” it could be its own wedding.

  2. Julian the Apostate | Aug 28, 2014 at 1:50 pm |

    Insightful perspective. I think I largely agree. I teetered on the edge of that abyss for a few years, and in the end I just had to ask myself, “Is this the world I want to be in?” The answer was ultimately “No” – even though it’s still strangely compelling, and to this day I keep an eye on the sky and can’t help but take note of those white SUVs with tinted windows in my rear-view mirror…

  3. Mark Pugner | Aug 28, 2014 at 2:08 pm |

    The answer to Alex Emerick Jones is Robert Anton Wilson. And 420

  4. Gjallarbru | Aug 28, 2014 at 2:52 pm |

    You know, with all the NSA spying stuff, you would think conspiracy theories wouldn’t seem so strange. After all, that is one very real conspiracy. Other than that, I’ll go with Mark Pugner suggestion of going with Robert Anton Wilson. The man was onto something with those fnords or something or other…

    Time to get my slack.

  5. BuzzCoastin | Aug 28, 2014 at 4:26 pm |

    “good” or “bad”
    are unmitigated bullshit
    not worth the electro-chemical impulses they’re printed on

    theories are fun to play with
    but my personal experience serves as the only basis for my belifes
    everything else is a conspiracy theory

  6. Miles O'Keef | Aug 28, 2014 at 4:49 pm |

    when the narratives offered are so out of sync with the reality we see, conspiracy is inevitable

  7. Conspiracy is simply how the world functions.
    Also, unfortunately, our planet, at this time, is run by criminal psychopaths.
    Bob is your friend. Beware of Chapel Perilous.

  8. Information Addiction™ is a helluva drug

  9. kowalityjesus | Aug 28, 2014 at 10:29 pm |

    Disinfo has always been a useful place to become meta-cognizant of the conspiracy mindset. Excellent article with which I can agree and superimpose my own experiences.

    Judge not the consumers of internet disinformation, the web is saturated with its fully believable agents and its pernicious and confounding half-truth.

  10. LovelyLady666 | Aug 28, 2014 at 10:32 pm |

    Does the information do anything for you? No? Then drop it as useless. Would it matter if miley cyrus was a reptilian? What does that do to your daily routine? Does it improve it? …..question everything you put into your brain and refocus the patterns used to distract you. Does it matter if the world trade centers were an inside job or not? No, because even if they were or whatever, they still used it as leverage to take away your rights and THAT’S WHAT REALLY MATTERS.

    • kowalityjesus | Aug 28, 2014 at 11:59 pm |

      That is an inaccurate generalization, imo. I study music, and really it wouldn’t matter if I knew these amazing works of art or not, but obviously it is worth knowing them.

      • LovelyLady666 | Aug 29, 2014 at 12:07 am |

        I’m not saying knowing about music would be worthless, or knowing other people’s work of art as worthless. That’s really far from my point.. however knowing what your favorite musician eats everyday for breakfast…that’s worthless. My statement was question what you know….is it useful to your life….if it is then keep it, if it isn’t, drop it.

    • I would think that what really matters is that over 3,000 people’s lives were expendable to further a political agenda. Just as people’s lives are expendable to the drug companies, energy companies, et al. “Collateral damages” matter when it is your turn.

      • $20756863 | Sep 23, 2014 at 5:46 pm |

        Not sure whether you’re reiterating what I said or saying the government did it. Either way, I’m not about to point fingers caused for misdirection and conspiracy theories, we could go back and forth all day about those things and still never find the whole truth and a lot of possibilities. Which is a great tool for distraction from improving the whole. We’re all collateral damage at some point in our lives, that’s a given. The point is to see the directions aim and to avoid it if possible. If it’s not possible than you’re just arguing the color of the sky rather than what to do with the bight sunny day out.

        • ” The point is to see the directions aim and to avoid it if possible.”
          Yes, when you worry only about yourself.

  11. “In researching occult conspiracies, one eventually faces a crossroad of mythic proportions (called Chapel Perilous in the trade). You come out the other side either stone paranoid or an agnostic; there is no third way. I came out agnostic.

    “Chapel Perilous, like the mysterious entity called “I,” cannot be located in the space-time continuum; it is weightless, odorless, tastless and undetectable by ordinary instruments. Indeed, like the Ego, it is even possible to deny that it is there. And yet, even more like the Ego, once you are inside it, there doesn’t seem to be any way to ever get out again, until you suddenly discover that it has been brought into existence by thought and does not exist outside thought. Everything you fear is waiting with slavering jaws in Chapel Perilous, but if you are armed with the wand of intuition, the cup of sympathy, the sword of reason, and the pentacle of valor, you will find there (the legends say) the Medicine of Metals, the Elixir of Life, the Philosopher’s Stone, True Wisdom and Perfect Happiness.

    “That’s what the legends always say, and the language of myth is poetically precise. For instance, if you go into that realm without the sword of reason, you will lose your mind, but at the same time, if you take only the sword of reason without the cup of sympathy, you will lose your heart. Even more remarkably, if you approach without the wand of intuition, you can stand at the door for decades never realizing you have arrived. You might think you are just waiting for a bus, or wandering from room to room looking for your cigarettes, watching a TV show, or reading a cryptic and ambiguous book. Chapel Perilous is tricky that way.”

    — Robert Anton Wilson

  12. gustave courbet | Aug 28, 2014 at 11:20 pm |

    When I first began studying the various fringe subjects lumped under the “CT” label, I was struck by: the amount of convoluted gibberish that people ensnare their world-views in, the number of thoughtful and intelligent people doing excellent research on subjects that are generally dismissed as paranoid hallucinations.

  13. misinformation | Aug 29, 2014 at 2:04 am |

    So, what is the anatomy of conflating 9/11 and Kennedy assassination research with reptilians?

  14. I spent time as a Jonsie and the one question that snapped me out of the trance was “If it’s true, what the fuck are you going to do about any of it?” For sure the people are being held down by TPTB, I just don’t think doing that is as difficult and convoluted to achieve as hardcore theorists make it. It’s just the way history has always been. The vanished “freedom” these people rant about is an illusion that never did exist. No amount of survival supply bullshit will help you survive a collapse more than a few weeks, and if a bunker life is one you find worthwhile, then why not do the rest of us a favor and move in now or STFU. The revolution must be personal and internal – it can never be anything else.

    • Echar Lailoken | Aug 29, 2014 at 3:39 am |

      Your words have me thinking of the movie, The Road. Have you seen it? There’s a book too, but I’ve not read it.

      • You wanna know what’s weird here? I saw that movie a few years back but I literally just finished the book 2 days ago. I read it because I wanted to see if it had more of a point to it than the movie did. Alas, I was disappointed. What is the message? That the good guys are always out there somewhere carrying the fire?

        • I kind of viewed it as a bleak metaphor for the human condition. The moment you’re brought into the world, the clock is ticking on your extinction. Your parents help you along for a while, but soon they die, and then you’re on your own. The apocalypse = personal mortality.

          I was depressed for days after watching that movie.

          I didn’t read the book, but I’ve read some of his other works. He’s easily the darkest author I’ve come across, but he’s great at what he does.

          • That makes sense, and I’ll admit I’m sometimes dense with that type of symbolism. Dystopian literature is something of a hobby for me, but I couldn’t glean any real lesson or message from that book or movie. FYI: the movie actually nails the book pretty well. The main differences being that the film starts a little ways into the book and the book has a few more shocking cannibalism scenes. What book do you recommend if I want to give McCarthy one more chance?

          • I got the sense that The Road was mostly just presenting you with a nihilistic worldview, forcing you to look at the human condition in its raw form, and that the message of the book is just how bleak that really is. That’s just my personal interpretation, though.

            I liked Blood Meridian a lot. It’s a dark western with a very cool, diabolical character (“The Judge”). Like The Road, though, it contains a lot of allegory about the human condition and doesn’t wrap up in a way that gives you a clear lesson.

          • Thanks for the recommendation. If and when I read Blood Meridian (my book list grows faster than I can keep up), I’ll approach it with that mindset.

          • “I was depressed for days after watching that movie.”

            Me, too. There were times when I had to force myself to continue watching. As it was, I watched it in sections. I’ve always known that we have an under-reported history of cannibalism but to actually see it portrayed was alarming.

        • Echar Lailoken | Aug 29, 2014 at 7:32 pm |

          It seems that McCarhty likes to write about depravity and degradation. The reason I brought it up is because of your comment about survival supply bullshit, and bunkers. I am sure you recall the bunker in The Road. I don;t want to give away any spoilers.

        • The message that I got was that we all make the choice on a daily basis to be “true human beings” or resort to our animal roots.

  15. Herman Shorts | Aug 29, 2014 at 8:59 am |

    This article is ironic in that its worldview is exactly that which it criticizes; the dominant cultural narrative obviously embodies each of the characteristics listed. Number 4, in particular can be said to apply more significantly to a “normal” worldview than to conspiracies…you are heavily “rewarded for your participation in groupthink.

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