On Paranoia and Its Political Applications


In the aftermath of their own failures, the champions of American liberalism have embarked on a mission to find the perfect alibi for their role in the latest electoral catastrophe. And, lo and behold, everywhere they turn, a multitude of phantom enemies spirng forth, extending their talons to grasp hold of our fragile democracy. Our defenders of liberty stand transfixed by the dance of twisted shadows across the halls of power, contorted, terrifying shapes that strike fear into their hearts. They take it upon themselves to enlighten their fellow Americans on the dangers of these shadow figures, these terrible monsters that hide in plain sight.

From racist hicks to Russian hackers to left purists, the list goes on. A procession of horrors that have come to wreck havoc on our much-revered institutions. Our liberal friends express virtulent outrage at these intruders, vowing to resist their advances at all costs. This fascade of righteous anger serves a very specific purpose, of course, redirecting any lines of questioning regarding the possible complicity of the liberal/moderate establishment in all of this. This acts to not only deflect criticism of a certain political faction, but of the system as a whole.

Trump is often accused of embracing a disintegration of the truth (“post-truth” is what all the cool kids are calling it now), but what he really does is present a destabilization of truth in the political realm. In the age of the Internet, information proliferates and accelerates at a growing rate, allowing for a greater multiplicity in narrative. However, it’s clear that this constant flow often congeals into huge blobs that overtake and swallow up everything else. This is the marvel of corporate news media, which has, despite facing new challenges, managed to integrate itself into this non-structure, maintaining a strong claim to the Truth™. These entitites produce a constant stream of experts and data, suffocating alternative perspectives  with phrases like “journalistic integrity”.

It is the nature of our informational systems that there remains a porousness to any formation, and there is always the danger of a rupture (or series of ruptures), opening up new paths and gateways that render the old hegemonic blobs obsolete. This necessitates a constant movement on the part of their defenders to patch up any new openings, safely subsuming any dangerously sharp objects into the greater whole, where they can be dissolved or reconstituted. It is no wonder then, that there has been so much hand wringing and dramatized hysteria over the threats of “fake news”, “alternative facts”, and “post-truth politics”.

That is not to defend anything placed within those categories, but simply to point out that those categories are generated in order to reconsolidate a pre-existing order in the face of a perceived threat to its dominance. This returns us to the related phenomenon of legitimized conspiracy theories. Such narratives are forged as weapons for a renewed epistomological crusade.

Vanity Fair recently published a hilarious self-parody titled “Why the Alt-Left is a Problem, Too”. In it, James Wolcott conducts a brave and principled defense of Meryl Streep by lumping Jacobin, Glenn Greenwald, Tulsi Gabbard, and Cornel West together under the neologism “alt-left”. It gets better, though; Wolcott goes on to insinuate that these “dude-bros” and “purity progressives” are in some ways akin to the alt-right. Now, while there’s a whole lot of solid criticism to be levied against these figures, to imply that their refusal to defer to the guidance of moderate Democrats makes them somehow fascistic is laughable. But wait, there’s more! Characteristic of this previously unknown section of the American left is a “disgust with identity politics and a climactic reckoning [read: revolution]”. The author’s aspirations to comedy writing aside, this article provides a clear view of authority’s current strategy. The marginalization of political alternatives becomes absolutely essential in such delicate times, and horseshoe theory seems to provide a useful tool for this. “You’re either with us or against us” becomes “you’re either with us or a Nazi”.

The word “alternative” itself has now become a subject of revulsion. To suggest any deviation from the homogenous plane of dialogues that monopolize the public sphere is to suggest a retreat from rationality, a movement towards delusion and madness. The only acceptible “critique” is a parroting of toothless platitudes, most of them involving the inevitable triumph of love and unity over hatred. Preferably, we’d all sit in front of our TVs and seethe at each new outrage, maybe occasionally retweeting our congressperson.

The concoction of various conspiracy theories is ridiculed, while others are embraced wholeheartedly. Liberals laugh at the idea of a deep state, some shadowy organization operating from within the government. Instead of this parasitic vision, they prefer one of obscene intercourse between two governments, the US and Russia. If you ever spot a panelist on CNN or MSNBC masturbating furiously on live television, it’d be safe to infer that they’re picturing an anthropomorphized Kremlin mounting the White House, laughing lustily as it deflowers our democracy. The Russian obsession has become so ingrained in the liberal defense that it’s been transformed into an erotic fascination. Indeed, a quick online search will provide a plethora of depictions of the two heads of state engaged in various lewd acts.

The fear of a foreign other ensnaring our political institutions has become an indispensible trope, with those elusive Russian hackers being thrown like a veil over each new debacle. On Real Time with Maher, Malcolm Nance called Wikileaks a “landromat for Russian intelligence”, refusing to actually discuss the content of the leaked DNC emails. To the puppets of the political machine, it doesn’t matter what comes to light about that machine, as long as the information can be somehow linked to a covert Russian propaganda campaign.

Putin may have meddled with the elections, but it is really the public, we are told, who are responsible for this. The foolish, ignorant masses who bought into all the Russian lies, remaining stubbornly in the safe confines of their demographic bubbles. If the stories are to be believed, much of the United States is filled with savage hordes of raging bigots, intent on resurrecting the Third Reich in North America. Why blame a growing disenchantment with the state of politics and the devastation inflicted by the economy, when there are rednecks to be scapegoated?

Politics have always involved the production of fear. Designing this fear to fit a certain version of the truth is a well-honed skill among politicians, to whom the construction and circulation of specific narratives has become of second nature. They play segments of the populace against each other, disseminating terrifying images that drive people to the ballots, hoping to ward off the nightmares they’ve been shown.

We already live in another sort of nightmare, one in which truth is an objectified monolith wielded as a means of domination. Reason is a political product, one that comes with clearly marked borders; cross them, and one becomes a pariah. There is no thinking outside the box, because the box is all there is, a self-contained reality that constrains both discussion and action. The insides of this box are constantly shifting their appearance, reflecting back mysterious apparitions that shriek and wail. Wherever one walks, some terrible monstrosity is waiting around the corner, or so it would seem.

Information is everywhere, but it’s no good unless it tells the right story. The guardians of the status quo push and nudge, guide and authenticate, reject and marginalize, factualize and qualify. Fake news, fake news, it’s all fake news. Don’t let the Russians fool you! Oh, you have a question, do you? What are you, a racist? A dude-bro? Move along, move along. Stick to the program. Nothing to see here, folks!