Wednesday, November 18, 2015


"Paranoia strikes deep.
into your life it will creep..."
~ Stephen Stills

Of all we could say about paranoia, one thing is pretty clear: it's a symptom of something gone wrong. When we're coping well with life, we aren't generally suspicious or mistrusting without reasonable cause. Even under stress, when we are compensating, as we say in "shrink lingo," we're able to distinguish between real and imagined threats. True, we may not be able to cover every single solitary possibility imaginable -- no one's perfect -- but we do our best. And most days, in most situations, that's good enough.

In extraordinary situations, however, things can change rapidly. With good coping skills and a healthy ego, we're okay, maybe even better than okay. With poor skills or a weak ego, it's not so good. It may even get scary once in a while. Especially to those of us who are on the outside looking in. 

I'm referring specifically to the rash of paranoid ideations that have found their way into video and print in response to the terrorist attack in Paris. Don't let those Syrian refugees into America, they say, you can't tell the good guys from the bad guys. Well, maybe not, but haven't bad guys been able to enter the United States for a long time? What self-respecting, evil, scheming bad guy is so stupid that he'd masquerade as a refugee and expose himself to serious scrutiny, when he could simply walk through customs with a legal passport on any other day?

That's the problem with paranoia, especially the socially-acceptable kind. It checks its brains at the door and starts shouting about the sky falling when the issue is actually much closer to the ground. It becomes irrational even when couching its rhetoric in rational terms. It is true, America has endured terrorist attack before and it only makes sense to be prepared. Once burned, twice cautious. To become obsessed with the possibility to the point we abandon our leadership role on the world stage isn't caution. It's more like crazy.

These are times for brave, sensible people. People like the Parisian father who explained to his young son that memorial flowers and candles were there to protect them from bad people with guns. He's too young to grasp the concept that flowers and candles represent the collective will of good, solid, brave people who refuse to give in to terror. Someday he will, though. When he does I hope he also understands that paranoia is a warning, not a watchman to be heeded.

Creative Commons image by Katlew via
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