Paranoia is a pretty distressing symptom in its common setting of schizophrenia. My in-laws once went for a house viewing, only to find the place full of scrap metal structures intended to prevent US satellites spying on the owner. But it can occasionally be potentially lethal as well.
One patient became convinced that shadowy enemies were trying to get him, and that, for some reason, people driving with lights on by day were in on the conspiracy. Seeing one such innocent offender coming in the other direction on the main road, he drove head-on into the car, killing the driver. And even I, on one occasion, had to stand with my foot holding a schizophrenic patient’s front door open, waiting for an unconcerned police-car to turn up to help me and an ambulance crew section the elderly sufferer, as he hacked away at me with a bread-knife, which was fortunately blunt. Such is general practice.
However, schizophrenia is nearly always a lot more dangerous to the sufferer than to others, because of the other abnormalities of the disease. But paranoid symptoms can occur largely in the absence of other symptoms like thought disorder, hallucinations, depression and so on. In fact, for one guy I knew paranoia was the only symptom.
His problems had started as a young man when he was involved in a political group slightly outside the mainstream, so that the idea that the authorities were spying on him was not altogether implausible. This was decades before Edward Snowden showed us that the authorities are spying on all of us: I’d be interested to know from medical colleagues whether that has changed the content of paranoid delusions in this decade.
Be that as it may, he ended up under the psychiatric services, and on some long-term medication, which neither he nor I were certain was still either necessary or effective some years later. But as things were stable, we left him on it at a low dose. His paranoia remained, but he actually had very good insight into it. He’d come to see me and say, “The paranoid thoughts have been a bit of a problem this week.” And he’d recall how there had been a suspicious number of policemen in his street, or how some odd person had seemed to be hanging around near his front door longer than necessary, or how the look someone gave him in the street made him think they might be an undercover policeman.
My response was usually simply to work through his fears, from suggesting the supernumerary policemen were more likely have had their eyes on a local drug dealer than him, to joking that he wasn’t dangerous enough for the intelligence services to bother about anyway. And by the time he left, he’d always convinced himself that all was well, at least for a while. He remained in that stable state for years. But to use the fashionable term, his “lived experience” was of being routinely under surveillance and under suspicion, and I had no actual evidence to refute it, given that the entirety of his illness was his lived experience. Maybe he was considered an extremist security risk: there are, after all, real cases of people being persecuted by our governments using the excuse of “extremism” for investigating the unjust use of official power. As Joseph Heller wrote, “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you.” It would have done my patient no good, though, for me to reinforce his fears by accepting their validity, despite my being versed in the theories of R. D. Laing, who became trendy in the 1960s for his “phenomenological” management of schizophrenia, which never caught on.
I remember hearing a while ago about a woman whose boyfriend had persuaded her that he was a Jason Bourne type of figure, on the run from assassins. I’ve no idea what his pathology was. They lived a fugitive life together for years, moving all round the country, and it may only have been his death from natural causes that forced her to seek help and, eventually, to be persuaded that there was no shadowy conspiracy, but just one persuasive paranoid individual. She had no mental illness at all, but was infected, for years, by the groundless fears of her lover.
It’s a cultural commonplace that courtiers will avenge themselves on rivals by arousing paranoia in their ruler. Once, through some well-placed rumour-mongering, the innocent minister of state is thought to be plotting secretly, then his every facial expression and action becomes interpreted as evidence of high treason. And that’s why enlightened rulers insist on hard evidence rather than fanciful interpretations of correspondence or confessions from torture. The US Congress seems to have been less punctilious in dealing with Ukrainegate or 9/11. Sane people can, to sum up, be induced to adopt groundless suspicions under the right conditions. This can even result in genocide.
And that leads me seamlessly to “unconscious bias.” This has its basis in sociological critical race theory, which from my own experience in Cambridge’s social sciences department, is firmly grounded in Neo-Marxist and Post-modern ideology rather than in rigorous empirical evidence. Since under this scheme the white (Christian) Patriarchy simply is the sole oppressor of minorities (just as the bourgeoisie was axiomatically the class enemy of the workers in an earlier version of Marxism) then the lack of concrete evidence of racism in a particular white individual necessarily implies that the racism is unconscious, rather than non-existent. But, as was the case under Soviet “Revolutionary Justice” there is no less culpability for all that: to be white, just as to be bourgeois, is to be guilty.
The task is to persuade people to admit their racist bias even though it remains forever unconscious (because usually non-existent in reality) – and it seems to have worked for governments, corporations, sports teams and others who can profit from it, whilst notoriously increasing tensions between the races in the workplace and nations at large. It undoes the work of Martin Luther King and his movement by perpetuating, rather than debunking, the largely mythical modern concept of biological races. The reason it has persuaded otherwise sane white people is, apart from the spurious authority of academia, the “lived experience” of the minorities in question. Together, of course, with the tendency of liberally-minded folk raised in the Christian tradition to accept other points of view – not a trait shared with critical theorists.
But herein lies the problem: that lived experience is not “naive,” in western countries, but follows in the wake of several decades of critical theory spreading from universities to schools, news-media, TV programs, advertising, and in fact the whole culture. There is a clear difference, for example, in the “lived experience” of racism in blacks in Britain brought up in the Afro-Caribbean community, and those whose parents migrated from Africa. The experience of the Ghanaian in feeling warmly welcomed and respected in Britain is also lived experience.
It’s one thing to be assaulted in the street and told to go back to the jungle, but it’s another to “know” that a glance from a stranger is a disrespectful micro-agression, rather than (in a predominantly white country town, say) merely curious, or even vacant. In fact, once the belief in all-pervasive malevolent “whiteness” is established through formal or informal education, then everything may become a racial assault, from a racing driver’s door-pull shaped like a noose, to a burglary reported as a “racially aggravated” hate-crime but actually done purely for gain. The prophecy is as self-fulfilling as the universality of Freud’s repressed oedipal complex, until someone dares simply to deny the validity of the entire theory. Such denials cross all racial divides, although of course like all such meta-theories critical race theory can handle black dissenters by branding thme “Unlce Toms.” Under Bolshevism proletarians went to the same Gulag as everybody else because they were secretly bourgeois.
Lived experience, like that of my patient or that of the Jason Bourne girlfriend, however honestly held, is simply insufficient grounds on its own for convicting others of guilt, and especially of unconscious guilt. Our society has forgotten this in key areas, to its own destruction.
This is not a question of riding roughshod over the inner convictions of others, whether they are ill or well. It helps nobody to tells a young schizophrenic, “Well, you didn’t hear God tell you you’re John the Baptist, and that’s that.” But it is about the proper boundaries of public belief: John the Baptist will need to give credible evidence that he is a real prophet to be heeded, rather than a schizophrenic. As indeed he did.
One is not a racist, even unconsciously, because a person of colour, or a white Robin di Angelo, says you are one. The theory itself needs proof first, and that is no more forthcoming than that for Freudian psychoanalytic theory. One does not have to accept someone’s anti-realist metaphysics and deny biological truths because others will feel threatened if you don’t. One certainly does not have to accept it because one is cancelled by believers in the religion, though such cancellation may be the sociological cost of following truth.
Or at least, I will only be persuaded to do so if those anti-racists and trans-activists will ensure the arrest and execution of all those persecuting CIA agents using car headlights during the day. Were that to happen, of course, the world would become truly dystopian, as I will describe in the next post.