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Re: <nettime> The Paranoid Style in American Politics
Carl Guderian on Tue, 28 Oct 2003 15:38:07 +0100 (CET)

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Re: <nettime> The Paranoid Style in American Politics

Appropriately for Halloween, this trumps my current reading: Harlan
Ellison's "The Glass Teat" and LeFanu's "Carmilla."

There's much more here to be spooked about. 

[MCM] "One of the purposes of my next book, Mad Scientists, will be to
suggest that all the best-known and most edifying works on propaganda
are slightly flawed by their assumption that the propagandist is a
wholly rational, detached, and calculating player. Most critics-not just
Chomsky, but Jacques Ellul and Hannah Arendt, among others-tend to
project their own rationality onto the propagandist. But you can't study
the Nazis or the Bolsheviks or the Republicans without noticing the
crucial strain of mad sincerity that runs throughout their work, even at
its most cynical."

and, earlier in the interview:

[MCM] "The question now is whether paranoia can remain confined to that
thirty-or-so percent of the electorate who are permanently crazy. That's
what Nixon himself said, by the way-that "one third of the American
electorate is nuts." About a third of the German people voted for the
Nazis. I think there's something to that. It's sort of a magic number."

"STAY FREE: Come to think of it, public opinion polls repeatedly show
that 70% of the public are skeptical of advertising claims. I guess that
means about 30% believe anything."

And barely 30% of us vote.

This is the part that really worries me. Waves of public craziness break
out all the time, as books like Norman Cohn's "Pursuit of the
Millennium" or Charles MacKay's 1845 classic "Extraordinary Popular
Delusions and the Madness of Crowds" show. In the modern US, substitute
the Internet Bubble, pop idolatry and the desire for revenge after 11
September. The PNAC, crazed with ideology and hubris, had been promoting
an Iraq war for 5 years with no success. Then they found a compatible
host (administration and friendly media) to infect and, for very little
effort, rapidly infected the American electorate with war fever.

The next question is, now that the electorate is showing resistance,
will events next year, especially in October, cause a relapse and/or a
new viral infection? Will we finally go crazy at the worst possible

Miller's view of propaganda as infectious madness reminds me of "Need To
Know," an episode of the 1980s US TV series The New Twilighte Zone. A
doctor investigates an apparent outbreak of screaming insanity in a
small town. He finds there is a vector, a guy carrying a message so
awful it to hear it is to go crazy. The vector himself is a carrier; he
stays sane, except that he must pass the message along. He heads for the
local radio station.

And speaking of paranoid style in American politics, Thomas Pynchon's
"Mason & Dixon," set in 1765, neatly encapsulates colonial America's
paranoia toward Catholics, especially Jesuits, inherited mostly from
Mother England, fresh from numerous wars with France and attempted coups
instigated by same. 


Francis Hwang wrote:
> More recently, Carrie McLaren interviewed Mark Crispin Miller in her
> excellent zine Stay Free! about conspiracy theories. (
> http://www.stayfreemagazine.org/archives/19/mcm.html ) This passage in
> particular scared the bejeezus out of me:
> "... those most convinced that there is an evil world conspiracy tend
> to be the most evil world conspirators. 

> "This paranoid dynamic did not vanish when the Cold War ended. The U.S.
> is now dominated, once again, by rightists who believe themselves
> besieged. And the same conviction motivates Osama bin Laden and his
> followers. They see themselves as the victims of an expansionist
> Judeo-Christianity."

Games are very educational. Scrabble teaches us vocabulary, Monopoly 
teaches us cash-flow management, and D&D teaches us to loot the bodies. 
-- Steve Jackson

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