September 04, 2009

Paranoia strikes deep

Senator Rockefeller speaking at a health care town meeting in Charleston. This one was fairly calm.

The theme at Goat Rope this week has been political paranoia, with a special focus on historian Richard Hofstadter's classic essay "The Paranoid Style in American Politics." The series was inspired in part by today's Whackadoodle political climate and this summer's wild and wooly health care controversy. If this is your first visit, the series started Monday.

As was discussed earlier, there's nothing necessarily new about political paranoia. Today, the trigger may be health care reform. In the past other targets included Freemasonry, the Roman Catholic Church, communist conspiracies, the United Nations, etc.

Taking the long view of history, Hofstadter believed that the tendency to paranoid worldviews is a constant among some people, usually a small minority. But in periods of social strain or major change, these can sometimes erupt into mass movements and political parties.

(Looks like we lucked out...)

He argued that the adherents of such views seem to suffer whether they win or lose. No victory for them is ever complete. Any loss or setback only seems to confirm their darkest imaginings.

Hofstadter concluded by saying that

“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.”

Here’s hoping the latest flare-up of political paranoia won’t cause too much harm.

WILL IT FINALLY HAPPEN? Here's a Gazette editorial on the history of health care reform efforts.

THE CULT OF THE MARKET GOD that dominated much of the field of economics is given a critical review here by Paul Krugman.

TOOL USING ANIMALS? Chimpanzees use more than one.


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