Here are a few thoughts on the paranoid style in American politics. This is a rich field that bears some exploration. Why should we associate conspiracy theories with paranoia? Paranoia suggests that conspiracy theorists are mistaken in their beliefs.

We can take a common conspiracy theory to make fun of it. If Bilderberg group and Illuminati actually do control world affairs, they are laughably incompetent. Witness the global financial meltdown. Don’t try to argue that we staved off a global financial meltdown. A panic is a panic, and you get to define a meltdown as you like. The people who looted the public treasury will say they succeeded – we prevented a meltdown. The people who had their money stolen from them, people who lost their jobs and their homes while bankers and government officials took their money – I don’t think they would say the thieves prevented a meltdown.

I went running today, a long run and slow. All of a sudden, about halfway through, you start to have these interesting thoughts. It can’t be oxygen deprivation or pain, and running the wet pavement in winter with cold feet doesn’t feel that meditative. Yet the thoughts seem to come out of nowhere. The only explanation is that you have less to crowd them out when you’re out on the road.

To return to the meditation in the first paragraph: I don’t see conspiracy theorists as paranoid. One can feel somewhat uneasy writing things that others could interpret as treasonous. You find yourself thinking about what you’ll do if FBI agents come to your door and ask if they can talk to you. Don’t step outside the door, and don’t let them in. For the most part, the FBI does not come to people’s doors at 3:00 a.m. to make troublemakers disappear. I’ll say this: our government has begun to act as if that is something it will do in the future. It already holds people indefinitely without trial, which is a form of disappearance.