Conspiracies and Paranoia

In her autobiography Doris Lessing quotes an American expert on paranoia, Dr Jerrold Post which was written in the Tom Mangold’s book Cold Warrior. This was about James Jesus Angleton who ran the CIA for many years.

Jerrold Post defines paranoia as:

‘a fixed conclusion searching for confirmatory evidence and rejecting disconfirming evidence. Paranoia is an adoptive mechanism. It is socially induced and learned in a family environment from early childhood. It develops as a defence against insignificance and being ignored. Paranoids feel it is better to have people against them than to be ignored. They also feel it is better to have an organized view of the world than to have chaos. A clear, organized, conspiratorial view of the world is easier for them to have since it gives them a sense of psychological security.

‘Paranoia is not fixed in time, it is dynamic and changes over a lifetime. A paranoid’s mindset is that he is maintaining a lonely vigil and pursuing a lonely task. The weight is on the paranoid’s shoulders.

‘Paranoids are always the last persons to know that they are troubled. And if they have problems, they believe it is always someone else’s fault. Perhaps the most important audience for a paranoid’s thinking is in his own head…’

Lessing then goes on to muse: “With this definition it is easy to see half the human race as paranoid. (What, only half?)

The point is these processes have nothing to do with the rational mind. We are dealing in religious attitudes thousands of years old, burned deep into us, sometimes literally, by the fires of the inquisition.”

Of course, all this was written in 1995, long before the internet had been weaponised as a tool for spreading conspiracies at an exponential rate of knots, long before Donald Trump was anything more than a vague name connected with the hotel industry.