The Paranoid Pivot in Political “Thought”

Doug Mataconis analyzes how paranoid Tea Party movement members are now battling efforts to build bike lanes and put smart meters on appliances. Why? Because such policies are part of an elaborate United Nations plot known by the ominous sounding name of “Agenda 21″.

Political paranoia is common in some segments of the U.S. population and is even more prevalent in other parties of the world (e.g., the Arab World). As a psychologist, I have long been fascinated by the mental gymnastics it requires to maintain a conspiracy theory about UN Agenda 21, black helicopters, the Masons etc.

Half the time, the believer rails at the fecklessness, immorality and incompetence of the enemy. Yet then comes the psychological pivot: The putatively blundering force (e.g., the “guvmint”) is somehow operating the most brilliant system of political control in the history of the world with hardly anyone being able to detect it.

The evident contradiction between the idiocy and genius of the enemy never troubles the political paranoid. And pointing it out typically evokes not a change of mind but sputtering rage. That’s why William F. Buckley’s approach to this type of political animal in the Birch Society’s heyday was the correct one: Instead of trying to persuade them to change, try to persuade them to leave.

[Cross-posted at The Reality-Based Community]

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Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is a professor of psychiatry at Stanford University. He served as a senior policy advisor at the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy from 2009 to 2010.