When you’re paranoid you’re never alone

“Just because you’re paranoid,” sang one of the bands I idolised as an adolescent, “don’t mean they’re not after you.” And it is hard to refute that logic. The argument against it goes that paranoia is a sign of mental illness. And certainly there are a lot of people in mental institutions who exhibited early signs of paranoia. But, then, people did end up talking about them and locking them up. Which seems to suggest they were right. As Yossarian, a World War II airforceman in the novel Catch 22, says to someone trying to convince him that no-one is trying to kill him: “then why are they shooting at me?” To the answer that they are shooting at everyone, Yossarian replies: “what difference does that make?”

That is no-doubt how many civilians in Lebanon (and yes, Israel too) feel right now. It is probably irrelevant to most people under fire that other people are being shot at too. And it probably makes no difference to them that, according to the New Statesman last week, the UK, the USA and Israel all knew that a major offensive against Hezbollah was going to take place before the kidnap of Israeli soldiers on 12 July. And it should probably not bug me either, but then I am mildly paranoid. As they have all already no-doubt told you.

At home last week, newspapers reported that the government at last exercised its new American-style terror alerts. We are all currently on red alert (or “severe threat”). That doesn’t really make me jumpy, to be honest, just puzzled. What should I do, aside from avoiding ticking packages marked “acme bomb co”? I feel about terror alerts like I do about road-signs warning of falling rocks: “Thanks. That’s, um, comforting…” I do get spooked, however, remembering the remarkable correlation a few years back between US terror alerts and the low approval ratings for George Bush that they so often eerily followed.

Speaking of spooks, news last week that Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller, head of MI5, simply refused to appear before a parliamentary committee on human rights that had summoned her, also gives me a case of what doctors call the heebie-geebies. That not even parliament has much sway over our spies troubles me. But worrying about an Orwellian or Huxleyan future where state control affects all of life is silly. Even when they want to start an extensive database of all children so that, among other things, negative behaviours can be predicted and steps can be taken to intervene and avoid them, as newspapers told us last week.

I am not against this out of some sentimental love of children. Actually, if I am honest, they scare me. So, fitting them with radio-collars that would administer an electric shock if they came too close would probably not raise many objections from me, but it does make me nervous. It’s not that I’m suggesting for a moment that we can’t trust officials with an ever-increasing amount of knowledge and power over ordinary citizens. Heaven forbid. If you can’t trust a government, who can you trust? But I have no idea who the public will elect to that position of power in 20 years time. With the decision we read about last week to get rid of concepts of right and wrong from British classrooms, however, I’m not sure I have a whole lot of faith in the electorate of the future, either. But hey, I’m paranoid. Don’t listen to me. And stop watching too.

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