I need to get back into the groove of daily writing, I have gotten away from the habit and was working more in spurts, which did produce some good work, but not enough. Writing every day helps mollify the obsession in ways that bursts of creativity cannot, though I should not avoid such bursts, of course, and must ride them wherever they lead. Daily writing also helps me sort my mind differently, since I do not approach the page with a pre-existing idea, project to work on, or even formal structure in mind. It is a bit like doing tai chi or yoga, in that it helps my mind be more supple, and stronger, though I don’t think “mind” is actually the right word here. Suite of ideas? Cognitive flow? Mind will have to do for now.
The problem now is that I have too many things to say, they all want to come spilling out at once. So, I will choose one: I have been meaning to go back and read Hofstader’s “The Paranoid Style in American Politics” for a while, first when Donald Trump used said style to win the Republican nomination for President, and then even more so when Bernie Sanders also started ratcheting up the conspiratorial rhetoric in his campaign for the Democratic side. In terms of policy, it seems Clinton and Sanders are not that far apart, certainly much closer in their proposals to each other than to Trump, and Sanders had been unable to get much traction emphasizing the distinctions between, say, free college for everyone versus free community college, lower loan rates, and a progressive tuition structure. It was when his campaign started encouraging the paranoid style—the process is rigged for Clinton, we are being denied our rights—that he actually started to do better in primaries. So, to keep going, he has to fan the flames of paranoia. Anyone who buys this message will not believe, no matter what evidence is offered, that Clinton and the DNC are not somehow stealing the election, because said evidence must, of course, being manufactured as part of the conspiracy. It’s a neat little self-justifying loop, much like the way insular Christian groups can blame everything on the devil. Unfortunately, it makes those who do not buy the message, who have not bought into the cult of personality at the heart of it, uncomfortable, and ultimately pushes them away, as it has me.
Perhaps I am paranoid too, of the worship of media constructs. When I hear people praise any candidate for office, or in fact any public figure, from Mickey Mouse to Noam Chomsky to Beyoncé, in terms they use for people they actually know (I love them, they are so honest, or trustworthy, or smart), I am instantly on my guard. I do not love or admire Clinton or Sanders or Muhammed Ali or Adrienne Rich, though I do admire things they have said or done or written. To say that I love them would be like looking at a cloud and saying, “I love that cloud for the inner life that it’s shape tells me must exist.” They are real people, but we do not have access to that reality; what we do have access to is constructed by the person, in concert with mass media. What this public image does indicate, especially in politicians, is that they are good at manipulating people, using that public image.
I certainly understand the allure of the paranoid style. It is somehow more comforting to assume the existence of a conspiracy than to reach the conclusion that most of us have no idea what we are doing, that daily life is ruled by chaos and incompetence, at the least, and violent expressions of individual power, at the worst. As Hofstader put it, “the paranoid mind is far more coherent than the real world.” Which is not to say that conspiracies do not exist, that power is not also institutional, only that the habit of mind that allows us to see conspiracy everywhere is much easier to bring into being than an actual conspiracy is. People are sloppy. Conspiratorial thinking makes them seem more orderly. As does, not coincidentally, the way we learn to think of media constructs as people—Sanders’ carefully disordered hair is a deliberate signal sent to his supporters just as much as Clinton playing dominos with old folks in Harlem or Trump’s poll-tested “gaffes.” Then again, most of us do not learn to judge policy or political acumen, we judge performance, which makes this election just another version of American Idol, whereby we judge a performance and think the performers people we actually know and trust. I wonder, after reading Hofstader again, if we are now, as a people, more or less susceptible to the paranoid style. I hope not, since “we are all sufferers from history, but the paranoid is a double sufferer, since he is afflicted not only by the real world, with the rest of us, but by his fantasies as well.”
Perhaps this is why I like conspiracy theory fiction–Pynchon, Dick, Shea/Anton Wilson–and movies, and even games like Illuminati! It lessens my suffering for a few hours by cranking up my paranoia to a ridiculous, though manageable, and thereby cathartic, degree, allowing me to then re-renter the messy, puzzling world refreshed, my need to see order where there is none exhausted.