Friday, December 15, 2006

9/11 denial: roots of totalitarianism

9/11 skeptics are sowing the seeds of mass paranoia, says Christopher Hayes of the Nation. Of course, he's not the first to irrationally link "conspiracy theorist" with the term "paranoia." It's quite easy to make this connection, since a manifestation of the mental condition of paranoi is belief in nonexistent conspiracies.

However, the generalized link is irrational in that the disease of paranoia does not preclude existence of real, dangerous conspiracies. That is, oft times "9/11 deniers" make the elementary logical error of saying that if A implies B then B implies A, which is often not so. The fact that paranoia implies belief in conspiracy does not mean that belief in conspiracy implies paranoia.

Any reasonable, educated person who does sufficient independent reading concerning the events of 9/11 will surely grow increasingly doubtful that the government is telling anything other than an audacious, bizarre fairy tale. How, such a reader may ask, can a government group imagine to get away with such a thing? And why are there so many poison pen specialists running interference for the government? he may wonder.

[I use the term "9/11 denial" as short-hand for those who, despite evidence and warnings to the contrary, heatedly reject the possibility of government conspiracy and heap scorn on doubters.]

After World War II, psychologists studied the roots of totalitarianism and identified what they called the authoritarian personality.

They found that totalistic regimes relied heavily on that element of the populace in need of psychic reassurance. Such people are characterized by excessive conformity, submissiveness to authority, intolerance, insecurity, superstition and rigid, stereotyped thought patterns.

One view was that an authoritarian personality had a fear of inner chaos, wherein repressed sexual impulses and other "forbidden" impulses were pressuring for a "way out." The fear of these impulses translates to a fear of chaos in the external world.
Dictators can help to prop up timid egos by providing a state-sponsored mind game, a vast charade that reassures this sort of mind that all is under control.

Also, as Hannah Arendt observed, modern totalistic regimes have devised a novel form of government: not only is the fear of terror used as a control rationale, but terror becomes a perverse system of governing, an end to itself.

So the use of terrorism as a rationale for power goes hand in glove with the appeal to the authoritarian personality. Hence, one can expect to find that persons with this sort of stunted development will lash out at those who disbelieve officialdom at a fundamental level. Political disbelief and skepticism is all right as long as it is "within bounds," that is, as long as it doesn't imply a fundamental lack trust.

After all, the authoritarian personality requires a strong father figure, or, short of that, at least a consoling belief that "higher authorities" are trustworthy. That is, if higher authorities aren't trustworthy, the secret, undefined, irrational dread is that chaos will set in, that sexual impulses will go wild, and so forth.

Of course, the authoritarian personality may manifest in a classic mode, such as the person who is easy fodder for anti-semitic propaganda. Yet, those who think of themselves as "advanced" politically may be suffering from the same disorder. For example, an ideological communist -- as opposed to an opportunist or careerist -- may well be striving for a uniform world as a reflection of a need to control his or her inner chaos.

Similarly, people who regard themselves as liberal are not immune from such a problem. That is, one may have been raised by parents who esteemed liberalism, so one may become culturally liberal, just as another might become a cultural Christian. They're used to it. They know the talk. They know the social rules of the game. BUT, is this liberalism superficial indoctrination, or does it reflect the values of a mature mind?

The reality is that the authoritarian personality is a widespread phenomenon and hence a political force that will be exploited by those who may have a similar dysfunction, the "control freaks" who are caught in the conflict of either being in powerful control of externalities, or fear of being an object of scorn at the bottom of the heap. Equality is not something such personality types can comprehend emotionally.

At any rate, the way forward through 9/11 denial is simply to recognize it for what it is and to resolve to stick with the truth as far as one can ascertain it.

Postcript to those who believe that I do not have the proper background to offer a psychological analysis: My reading in this area has been extensive and I once helped to write a psychology textbook. Those facts, however, do not qualify me as an expert. Yet, I have at least as much standing as those who so easily toss out the slander word "paranoia."


At 2:26 PM , Anonymous Charlie Musier said...



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