As you read the complete title ‘Paranoid: Exploring Suspicion From The Dubious To The Delusional’, it’s just to ensure that you don’t think this book is about a Black Sabbath track if I left off the sub-title. As author and clinical psychologist David J. Laporte points out, there are very few books about paranoia and even he took some persuading to write this one. It would be easy to say that books of this nature might elevate the fear in others but it’s really about the condition itself. However, from the start, Laporte points out that most people will exhibit feelings of paranoia over their lives, just that it doesn’t get to the state where it becomes an obsessive disorder. He even includes a couple tests for you to see if you have ever felt that way.
I did try Laporte’s tests and didn’t have any ‘yes’ answers. Now I’m more worried that I’m not normal when most people score at least two ‘yes’ answers. Maybe I’m super-adjusted or my unsocial habit just means I don’t get into such situations, although I’m far more likely to look for solutions to problems than let it twist me up inside. Not that I’m naive or don’t fully trust people, although I might give the benefit of the doubt, but I do treat everyone on a one-by-one basis. It’s either that or my background in General Semantics has left me fairly well adjusted.
The basic key to any paranoia is distrust. When you consider that activity on the Internet is based on trust and most of us tend to fret every time we hear of people who break this trust, I suspect we also think the greater number of us outnumber the abusers. If we didn’t, we’d have every right to be paranoid in the normal way. What I did find interesting is that Laporte does think that being a little paranoid is actually healthy so you don’t become completely trusting of everyone.
Throughout the book, there’s a lot of examples of that actually which might make you a little fearful, more so as his target audience lives in the USA. One of these, back in the 1940s, Richard Shaver was an SF writer with similar theories to those of Scientologists and demonstrates how, for some, how imagination can get out of hand.
If you’re going to include paranoid characters in your stories, the list of extraordinary delusional ones are actually in our genre territory. Very subtly, Laporte makes a particular point about a delusion many people still believe in and I’m not talking the Easter bunny. I suspect if you look at any belief with a thought to the truths you take for granted I suspect belief alone won’t be enough.
I’m less sure about Laporte’s conclusions about most people having a fear of snakes or spiders from an evolutionary bias because there’s a lot of people who aren’t afraid of them as well, not to mention those who develop the fear influenced by their parents and family.
Another SF luminary, Philip K. Dick, gets a big mention and his dependence on amphetamines is well known as well as some of the paranoia associated with it. Laporte’s argument against drug use should be considered in the same way as smoking. Not everyone is going to get the side-effects from taking them but if you are susceptible it isn’t that good for a long life. Don’t trust the idea that you’re safe, though, as many of these drugs give heavy doses of paranoia.
In the penultimate chapter, Laporte makes a pertinent point about how much surveillance is being carried out today. Although I agree with him that most of it is ignored, I’m surprised that it hasn’t fuelled paranoia further than it exists, although many people probably ignore the cameras.
One thing I wish he had covered is are the people at the top who initiated these protocols themselves paranoid? I mean, using the criteria of persecution, being able to watch everything would be one way to quell their own fears. If ever there was a fear that paranoia breeds paranoia, this could make some of you worried depending on the country you live in. Saying that, there is so much footage that I doubt if very little gets examined in detail that it feels more like a safety blanket to be looked at in detail when something disastrous happens.
Laporte makes a very strong point about the US paranoids with guns that have gone on shooting sprees with many livid examples included in this book. Unlike the UK, no steps have been taken to stem it. Maybe there should be more books exploring paranoia and how to bring it down to acceptable levels. Certainly, more people need to know how to spot and be wary of the extremely paranoid and who to warn about them.
One odd question I’d love to know is if most people have some level of paranoia, how must it feel if someone like me has no feeling of paranoia but also not naive? Am I feeling insecure now?
This book will certainly make you think. Paranoia is a way of life for many people but it only dangerous if you let it get out of hand. Understanding what makes it work, let alone escalate it, makes this book a read for knowledge. Whether the truly paranoid would think this book would help them remains in their hands. If you’re storywriting and need some insight into the condition then this book is a notable asset.
(pub: Prometheus Books. 300 page enlarged paperback. Price: $18.00 (US), $19.00 (CAN). ISBN: 978-1-63388-068-9)
check out website: www.prometheusbooks.com