One of the questions my two-visit psychiatrist asked me was if I had paranoia. Can I start off by saying what a stupid question that is to ask? If I do have rampant paranoia, I’m not going to answer ‘yes’ to that question, because I think my fears are completely justified.
I told her that that’s a very difficult question to answer from the inside. Do I think that there is a certain person or group that is specifically targeting me, watching my every move, waiting to pounce? No. Did I read 1984, Brave New World, Fahrenheit 451, and It Can’t Happen Here* a little too frequently during my formative years? Maybe. But did those books cause my, let’s call it “heightened awareness,” or was I drawn to them because they tapped into something that already existed within me? I’m leaning towards the latter hypothesis.
I know I am definitely more suspicious and mistrustful of the government and people at large than the average person. But I am also much better informed about what has gone on and is going on than that same average person. I’m not a conspiracy theorist, but I have learned enough about what has been proven as fact in the past to realize that not only does all sorts of scary shit go on behind closed doors and in people’s minds, it’s also getting worse, not better.
Then, of course, we can’t leave out the fact that I question everything and everyone around me and “what if” the world in which I live ad infinitum. This started as a child. My parents may have been driven insane by my relentless queries, but they always encouraged me to make them. Then, as I got older, I gravitated towards the great philosophers. Russell, Sartre, Nietzsche, Mill, Rousseau, Kant, Hume, Aristotle, and by way of Plato, Socrates.
You’re all familiar with Socrates’ M.O., right? He went about his days in Athens, asking all of the ‘wisest’ and most ‘expert’ of men questions. Simple questions about wrong and right and why they did the things they did. He did this for most of his life, until he eventually made fools of and pissed enough people off that they decided to make him drink hemlock just to shut him up. Eternally.
I’m certainly no Socrates, but I have lived and learned enough to understand the value of questioning everything. I’ve also seen the doings and deeds of enough governmental officials exposed to assume that in pretty much every case there are things going on that are kept secret for a reason (no one has yet shouted about Guantanamo Bay from the Rose Garden), and known enough people – both casually and intimately – to realize that what they say they want from you and what they actually want from you sometimes don’t jibe.
I’m not saying that everyone is horrible and double-dealing and out to screw/and or kill me.
But let me add an illustration. After the September 11th attacks, every single time I flew, my checked luggage was searched. I’d get a nice little form note from the TSA, along with a feeling of violation and a barrage of thoughts about whose hands had made contact with my panties. I didn’t fly too often, but this probably happened the first six or seven times in the years immediately following the aforementioned attack, without exception. To me, that is statistically too often to be considered coincidence. I discussed it with a good friend once, and even she acknowledged that it was a little odd. Her husband, while born and raised in America, is Lebanese. His parents were both raised in Lebanon. We talked about how you would think he would be more likely to be subject to “random” searches than whiter-than white, solid German last name me (unless we were living back during WW II, which we aren’t). My friend and her husband had done more travelling than I, and she said he had never had his bags searched. Score one for the TSA not being racist?
I couldn’t figure out why this was always happening, and then one day the thought occurred to me. A very long time ago, I was involved with a non-profit that some would consider. . . radical, I suppose. It had been a number of years since I’d even donated money to them, and they certainly never had known terrorist affiliations (at least not that I was aware of), but even so. . . I hypothesized that my name was flagged on a list somewhere in the ‘potential threat’ category. Was I crazy and paranoid? Have you ever had your luggage searched on seven consecutive flights in the span of two or three years?
As for individuals, I don’t carry quite such a level of distrust automatically. If I meet someone in a book store – well I’m not going to go get into their car and drive off with them, but I also am not consciously anticipating a desperate fight for my life. Bars, dark, deserted gas stations in the middle of nowhere, even late-night/early morning grocery store runs, I always have my guard fully up, my surroundings scanned for people who could be helpful (or even just aware), my escape routes surveyed, and my screaming, eye-gouging, nail scratching, kicking, and fighting-for-my-life alter-ego at the ready.
And I have actually had a couple of very mild internet “stalking” experiences. Some people thought that I was overreacting, but when my gut tells me that something about the situation is wrong, it always is. And in those cases it was.
Moral of the story: I may be paranoid, but they haven’t gotten me yet.
*in order, George Orwell, Aldous Huxley, Ray Bradbury, and Sinclair Lewis
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