FEAR OF PARANOIA

"There is still another psychological process that I have run across in my explorations of failure to actualize the self. This evasion of growth can also be set in motion by a fear of paranoia."

Although I was not to read those particular words in The Farther Reaches of Human Nature by Abraham Maslow until many years later, I was versed enough in the modern literature of psychology to realize that traditional Freudian notions of paranoid schizophrenia and classical paranoia were under attack by more than just wild-eyed radicals.

One of my textbooks in school contained a sociological study of a man who was committed for symptoms of paranoia; it demonstrated that, due to his rather unpleasant personality, he was actually being secretly harassed by his co-workers who, upon being interviewed, admitted to as much.

At that point I took a long second look at the origins of my own fears of paranoia.

What popularized that brand of psychosis for my generation was the film, The Caine Mutiny, with Humphrey Bogart clicking his steel marbles compulsively, saying "I kid you not," and making a fool of himself over a few stolen scoops of ice cream.

Another French Quarter writer who worked in a record store next to the Bourbon House, where I ate and drank and socialized when I lived in New Orleans, possessed a book about color psychology that said brown was the favorite color of most paranoids. He added that most novelists tended toward paranoia, something about which we both laughed a little nervously.

Another Quarterite, a painter named Loy Ann Camp who was among my closest friends, had a textbook from her days in nursing school that said paranoia was related to fear of latent homosexuality. Since my reason for joining the Marines earlier had been to prove to myself that I was a man in every sense' I didn't find that information comforting either.

From additional sources I gathered that paranoids were quite undesirable cranks who took to sitting in corners stroking their chins and observing those around them with sidelong glances. Senator Joseph McCarthy was said to have been a paranoid, as was Robert Welch, founder of the John Birch Society.

In fact, all the really famous paranoids seemed to be anti-Communist -- a consideration that did not sit well with my own rational capitalist philosophy of those days. Paranoids, in addition to all the other problems they were causing, were giving my politics a bad name with outlandish notions like Welch's charge that grandfatherly old Ike was "a conscious agent of the Communist conspiracy" and his grandiose ambition to impeach Earl Warren from the Supreme Court.

Intellectual respectability required mental health, and it was becoming evident to me by then that mental health consisted of trusting everyone about everything as much as possible -- and, for good measure, poking fun at anyone who didn't. Especially to be trusted were the mass media, whose owners and personnel were not to be regarded as minions of the Establishment because, as they themselves used to attest with confidence, there was no Establishment in the United States of America. Only foreigners and paranoids believed that there was.

Intellectualizing and joking about paranoia was a favorite pastime of post-Beatnik, pre-Hippie Bohemian America -- for reasons that were undoubtedly the result of coincidence, at least among individuals who did not want their sanity called into question.

An habitué of the Bourbon House, Chris Lanham, once entertained us with the diabolical theory that the psychological classification of paranoia had been developed by conspirators for the purpose of discrediting anyone bent on exposing them.

When his friend, Jack Burnside, suggested sharing this hilariously evil notion with a wandering conspiracy buff we called Crazy David -- because he thought people like the Rockefellers and DuPont controlled the government -- we told Jack the joke had gone far enough. Crazy David might actually believe him. And, as everybody knew, paranoids who received reinforcement for their delusions could become very dangerous.

In retrospect, I realized that Crazy David's views about who rules America did not seem especially insane. By 1972, my own analysis resembled it in many essential respects.

Then came Watergate.

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CONFESSION TO CONSPIRACY TO ASSASSINATE JFK

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