Will the Real Paranoids Please Raise Their Hands?

Email Print

one dares to dig beneath the surface of governmental programs to
reveal undisclosed purposes, he or she is usually met with charges
of being a "paranoid" defender of "conspiracy theories."
More often than not, such an accusation silences the questioner,
as it is designed to do. I long ago came to the conclusion that
those who chastise others for spouting "conspiracy theories"
tend to do so because they don't want the implications of their
own schemes revealed to the public. "Pay no attention
to that man behind the curtain!," intoned the Wizard of Oz,
an admonition designed to intimidate the inquisitive into silence.

I, for one, gladly admit to the embracing of any conspiracy theory
for which there is credible evidence. But those who condemn me for
my views never seem interested in examining the evidence, their
purposes being more to prevent the raising of discomforting questions.
Having read a good deal of history over the years, I ask my critics
to account for the countless foreign intrigues, plots, assassinations,
alliances, and other cabals that have been at the heart of so much
of the history of the world. Do Shakespeare's tragedies — almost
all of which are grounded in conspiracies of one kind or another
— have nothing to teach us about the machinations of human behavior?

A Jewish acquaintance once criticized me for my views, adding "there
are no conspiracies." "May I quote you on that?,"
I asked. He could not understand my purpose in wanting to do so,
so I told him: "because it's not often one hears Jewish people
denying the Nazi holocaust the way you just did." After advising
him that the "Nazi holocaust" requires a conspiracy
of German government officials, he was prepared to modify his statement
to allow for the kinds of conspiracies that he believed in.

One of my colleagues, who teaches antitrust law, attacked me for
defending even the idea of "conspiracies," until I asked
him if he intended to reduce his course from three units to one.
"Since so much of antitrust law consists of u2018conspiracies'
to restrain trade, or fix prices, or divide up markets, or monopolize
an industry, or engage in such more subtle u2018conspiracies' as u2018conscious
parallelism,' I assume that, since you do not believe in
conspiracies, you will take the lead in condemning such specious

Conspiracy theories abound in our society, and are widely accepted,
. . . provided you are identifying the "politically correct"
conspiracy. World War II was conducted, in part, on the premise
that the so-called "axis powers" were conspiring to take
over the world. But if one tries to offer evidence that FDR secretly
manipulated the Japanese into an attack on Pearl Harbor in order
to serve his political agenda, the "anti-conspiracy league"
quickly appears to attack not the evidence, but the state
of mind of the accuser. When World War II ended, the "international
communist conspiracy" was hurriedly rushed onstage to justify
the commitment of trillions of dollars of wealth and hundreds of
thousands of lives to fight a "Cold War." When the "Cold
War" critics began to speak and write about how this campaign
was designed to serve American corporate-state interests at the
expense of the American people, the "anti-conspiracy league"
was again called into action.

For those who are paying attention, the incongruity of the critics
of conspiracy theories should be apparent. "We are busy conducting
wars against sinister foreign conspiracies," they might argue,
"and anyone who suggests that we might be engaged in
conspiracies of our own, are u2018paranoids.'" "They"
conspire, in other words, but "we" do not. A childishly
simple explanation for consumption by childishly simple minds.

consists not in a fear of others, but in a baseless
fear. Would one regard a Jew, in Nazi Germany, as "paranoid,"
because he thought the government was out to do him harm? If so,
how would we characterize the state of mind of another Jew, similarly
located, who did not see any threat from his government?
When one further considers how preoccupied government officials
are with protecting themselves from those they imagine themselves
to represent — to the point of routinely having bomb-sniffing
dogs, armed security guards, and military helicopters and soldiers
accompany their public appearances — it should be asked: just who
is being "paranoid?"

It is interesting to observe the psychological projection that takes
place in such dynamics. The defenders of statism attack their critics
as "paranoids" while, at the same time, fostering an endless
supply of "enemies" against whom they promise us protection!
Politics thrives on the mobilization of the fear of others. President
Bush's unilateral declaration of a permanent war against the rest
of the world can only be premised upon the most paranoid assumption
that everyone else is involved in a conspiracy against American

It has always been comforting to most people to imagine, albeit
unconsciously, that the "dark side" of their personality
— i.e., the capacity for violence, dishonesty, bigotry, etc. — can
be severed from themselves and projected onto others, against whom
punitive action can then be taken. All that occurs in such behavior,
of course, is the punishment of the others who stand in as scapegoats
for the feared shortcomings of those engaged in projecting. This
kind of thinking has produced the current Bush-induced mindset that
when America bombs other countries — killing innocent men, women,
and children in the process — it is a force for "good"
defending "freedom." When these other countries retaliate
for such attacks — killing innocent men, women, and children in
so doing — they represent the forces of "evil" engaged
in "terrorism." That grown men and women can internalize
this kind of playground logic, particularly when the consequences
are so deadly, is indeed frightening.

This war – whose name is ever-changing — has moved far beyond
simply retaliation against those responsible for attacking the World
Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11th. It has
become more of a self-righteous "holy crusade" against
nations that are unprepared to acknowledge America as the rightful
ruler of the entire world. Neo-conservative zealots have exploited
the September 11th tragedy to pursue a much broader agenda
of American hegemony. It is no longer sufficient to track down the
perpetrators of that attack, the war must be expanded to include
nations whose identities seem to have been selected from someone's
Rolodex file of place-names! "Who shall we attack next?"
has been the operative question around Washington. After months
of bombing Afghanistan, President Bush was quick to declare an "Axis
of Evil" as the broader enemy, suggesting that North Korea,
Iraq, and Iran were engaged in some conspiracy, apparently of satanic
dimensions, against America. Soon, new candidates were offered up
for public consumption: the Philippines, Indonesia, Somalia, the
Sudan, Colombia, and perhaps other Middle Eastern or African nations.
The candidates for inclusion on this list may include anyone
unprepared to genuflect before American interests. (The list will
presumably not include China, which would likely offer deadly

Let us suppose that some criminal has engaged in a violent attack
upon your Uncle Willie's home. Let us suppose, further, that Willie
has undertaken a campaign to discover — and bring to account — the
perpetrators of this offense. This would be a perfectly rational
response on his part, for which the rest of us would likely lend
our support. But suppose that Willie goes further than this and,
not being able to discover the criminal, begins going through his
neighborhood shooting anyone about whom he has become suspicious,
or against whom he has long harbored a grudge. Would your response
be to jump on his bandwagon and assist his undertaking, or would
you want him confined to some facility that could provide him with
a whole lot of couch time?

It is time for sane men and women to put down their flags and begin
to recognize the current war-mania not simply as a misguided
adventure, but as the collective psychopathic disorder that it has
become. When those in power tell us that they are engaged in an
endless war against endless enemies, it is time to say "enough!"
We have a responsibility to maintain the conditions upon which life
may flourish on this planet, not to follow the madness of those
who have no greater vision than to commit all of mankind to a state
of universal and eternal warfare in furtherance of their delusions.
It is time for intelligence and human decency to transcend the frenzied
jingoism now prevailing upon the land, and for intellectual honesty
to expose the schemes of those who conspire against life itself.

11, 2002

Shaffer [send
him e-mail
] teaches at the Southwestern University School
of Law.

needs your support. Please donate.

Email Print