They’re Coming To Take Me Away

Are you space-crazy? We've got to do something!

Rate each of the following questions from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree):

  1. For the most part, government serves the interests of a few organized groups, such as business, and isn’t very concerned about the needs of people like myself.
  2. I have trouble doing what I want to do in the world today.
  3. It is difficult for people such as myself to have much influence in public affairs.
  4. We seem to live in a pretty irrational and disordered world.
  5. I don’t trust that my closest friends would not lie to me.

According to this Psychology Today article (CHT LRC), your answers determine your degree of susceptibility to paranoid delusions about nonexistent conspiracies. Scores of 5-11 indicate weak susceptibility, 12-18 moderate, and 19-25 strong.

Apart from (5), I doubt that most people could honesty give a low score to these questions unless they just haven’t been paying attention – though (2) seems hopelessly vague. (What do I want to do in the world today? Have lunch? Fly to Venus?) (4) strikes me as a bit odd, since I thought paranoia was supposed to involve seeing more order in the world than is actually there. (It would be a more cheerful thought if a comma were inserted after “pretty.”)

If I were prone to paranoid delusions, which according to this test I am, I might think its chief purpose was to plant in people’s minds the idea that anyone who thinks that “for the most part, government serves the interests of a few organized groups, such as business, and isn’t very concerned about the needs of people like myself” is delusional.

14 Responses to They’re Coming To Take Me Away

  1. BMB September 4, 2009 at 2:27 pm #

    Why no love for the double negative in #5?

  2. Perry E. Metzger September 4, 2009 at 2:27 pm #

    Even 5 seems iffy. I mean, most people lie some of the time — my closest friends are also humans. I can’t believe they’d be honest with me 100% of the time. Maybe almost all the time, but not 100%, which means that, taken literally, 5 is clearly not reasonable here either.

    4 is actually the one I find unusual — I don’t see the world as irrational or disordered. Most things, even very unpleasant things, make sense. Even the actions of venal politicians are reasonably predictable if you operate under the assumption that they’re self interested.

    • Roderick September 4, 2009 at 3:00 pm #

      Yeah, a lot turns on what exactly one means by “irrational.” Politicians’ behaviour is often instrumentally rational even if it’s not substantively rational. (Though for Hegelians, the Real is the Rational.)

      When I showed one of my colleagues the test, he said most of the world is neither rational nor irrational, but rather arational. (But then he’s not a Hegelian.)

      • MBH September 4, 2009 at 8:13 pm #

        I like this arational stuff. Reminds me of Cora Diamond’s description of the Tractatus: (to paraphrase) talking about/classifying logic is senseless [even though logic itself is sensible].

        Does the concept senseless capture the reference of the arational?

  3. Alex J. September 4, 2009 at 3:01 pm #

    I’d say that our goverment serves both concentrated interests in the details and the median voter’s irrational whims in the broad strokes. I’d also say that the concentrated interests lie primarily, but by no means exclusively, with government employees.

  4. John Markley September 4, 2009 at 4:25 pm #

    I’m sure there’s a correlation between agreeing with statements 1 and 3 and believing in the more outlandish conspiracy theories, but that doesn’t have the import the author of the article clearly meant to imply. If I think the country is run by some evil cabal, than pretty much by definition I believe that people like myself have little influence over affairs and that the government primarily serves a few powerful beneficiaries rather than the average person. Only someone who distrusts the government is capable of distrusting the government to an excessive degree, but this tells us nothing about whether distrust is reasonable, or how much is reasonable. It’s possible to die from drinking too much water, but that hardly means I’ll be healthier if I abstain from it or that I’m in grave danger of keeling over from hyperhydration whenever I turn the tap on.

    For at least as long as I’ve followed politics, one thing that seems very common among those of respectable opinion is an irrational- one might even say “paranoid”- fear of people in general, or at least people outside their clique. Indeed, it often seems to be precisely the responsible, reasonable people carrying on about the menace of conspiracy theorists and the “paranoid style of politics” who are the most wracked with terror, consumed by the fear that anyone (or everyone) around them might be a dangerous lunatic about to wreak havoc. Anyone who expresses antigovernment sentiments is scary and dangerous (as the media has been busy reminding us the last few weeks), outspoken hostility to the president is a sign that the country is menaced by some brown-shirted horde, if people were allowed to carry guns the guy sitting next to you on the bus would just flip out and start shooting innocent bystanders at random intervals, what have you. Frankly, people who think that the president is a Muslim/Mason/ZOG sleeper agent/reptilian space alien don’t strike me as any more consumed by irrational fears of imaginary bogeymen than your average Good Government centrist.

  5. dennis September 4, 2009 at 7:45 pm #

    Yeah, when your typical believer in the state calls out quacks like Birchers, birthers, or truthers, it always brings to mind Christians questioning the tenets of Scientology.

  6. MBH September 4, 2009 at 7:58 pm #

    So the fellows of C Street/The Family (the “Christian Mafia”), who would more than likely score between 5-11, are not susceptible to paranoid delusions?

  7. David Gordon September 4, 2009 at 9:09 pm #

    An odd feature of (1) is that someone subject to paranoid delusions would be more likely to believe that the government was conspiring against him than that he lacked sufficient importance for the ruling powers to be interested in him.

  8. Kevin Carson September 4, 2009 at 9:52 pm #

    Well, based on the love fest I just witnessed between Thomas Frank and Ana-Marie Cox (she was subbing for Maddow), Hofstadter’s “paranoid style in American politics” is being rapidly defined downward.

    Frank cited, among many other “Bircher” themes, the belief that education was indoctrination and a hatred for professional elites and the managerial classes. I think he even threw in a reference to James Burnham.

    Oddly enough, I was corrupted by similar ideas through the agency of raving right-wing paranoids like Ivan Illich and Paul Goodman.

    Yet more evidence that for the Olbermann/Maddow axis, there’s only two choices: middle-of-the-road managerial liberalism, and wingnuttery. The whole decentralist left-wing tradition, the traditiion of Kropotkin et al (as one of the editors of Radical Technology put it, the recessive tendency of the Left that only emerges when the dominant strain of Lenin and Harold Wilson are temporarily preoccupied) just doesn’t exist for them.

    Come to think of it, the populists of Kansas back in the Good Old Days, back when (as Frank pointed out) it was a hotbed of Wobbly and Socialist Party radicalism, probably didn’t have much use for professionalized elites either.

    These people like to point out what a bunch of ignoramuses the Birthers and Teabaggers are–and sho ’nuff, a lot of them surely are. But they’re pretty goddamned ignorant themselves when it comes to any knowledge of American History outside the center-left “official narrative” they picked up in high school.

    • MBH September 5, 2009 at 9:56 am #

      I feel the same when I listen to Olbermann speak with Markos Moulitsas (of DailyKos). They talk about health care as if a government-run alternative is the only genuine left-wing solution. It’s nuts!

      The sad part is both those guys know that a government-run alternative is not the only route to universally affordable health insurance. But I guess the ratings follow the classic “liberal vs. conservative” framing.

      And Olbermann is so un-self-aware that he speaks of self-defeating strategies later in the same show! As if allowing Maxine Watters to represent the mainstream leftist perspective on insurance reform is not self-defeating.

  9. Mariana Evica September 5, 2009 at 9:59 am #

    Wait…is this measuring paranoia or powers of observation?!

  10. b-psycho September 5, 2009 at 5:00 pm #

    I’d answer them 5,4,5,3,2. Yet I’m not a believer in grand conspiracies at all. What a lame test.

    IMO anyone who would answer the 1st question with a 1 is nuts…

  11. b-psycho September 5, 2009 at 5:10 pm #

    As for the 4th one, too many people read rationality as being what they think they would do in the same situation. Most people are rational, they just have different goals in mind and different ways of pursuing them. The types that are pointed at as leaders of conspiracies are just pursuing their self-interest within the realization that punishment for abusing their power is highly unlikely. Expecting politicians and connected businessmen not to scratch each others backs is like leaving a wad of money on the floor of a bar & expecting no one to pick it up.

    The world is only disordered to the extent that the orders we attempt to impose on it fail. Things generally shake out the way they will, that doesn’t mean they end up good…

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