Saturday, July 19, 2014

The futility of paranoia

One of Bruce Springsteen’s more obscure and rarely heard songs is “Murder Incorporated,” concerning a man named “Bobby” who was consumed with paranoia. Everywhere he looked, everywhere he went outside his apartment, danger lurked. The only way for him to face the outside world was with a gun:

Now you check over your shoulder everywhere that you go
Walkin' down the street there's eyes in every shadow…

So you keep a little secret down deep inside your dresser drawer
For dealing with the heat you're feelin' out on the killin' floor
No matter where you step you feel you're never out of danger
So the comfort that you keep's a gold-plated snub-nose thirty-two…

You got a job downtown, man that leaves your head cold
Everywhere you look life ain't got no soul
That apartment you live in feels like it's just a place to hide
When you're walkin' down the street you won't meet no one eye to eye

What happens to “Bobby” is a self-fulfilling prophesy, although it is not clear how it happened; the police reported him as “just another homicide,” although the narrator suggests he may have just shot himself with his own gun, because he couldn’t deal with the world anymore. This is obviously a rather extreme example of social paranoia, but it is obviously not a subject to be dealt with a “light” touch to get the point across.

Paranoia is all around us, everywhere. It is most “obvious” in militant anti-government types, gun-rights fanatics and race-hate extremists, but the low-level varieties are everywhere if you choose to see it. Take for example one of the most annoying modern-day inventions (besides the “smart phone” which allows dumb people to annoy everyone anywhere) is the “beeper” which car owners use to “confirm” that they’ve either locked their vehicles or it will sound an “alarm” if someone tries to break into them. The existence of this device feeds into the paranoia in people; before the “beeper” you just took your “chances”; what sense was there in worrying about it 24/7? 

After all, 99 percent of the time when the car alarm is set off, it does so by mistake and only annoys those within earshot and embarrasses the owner—and besides, today’s carjackers probably have  their ways of getting around the “beeper” problem. One morning when I was working at a sports apparel warehouse, we came in to discover a car parked in the back of the building that had been put on blocks and stripped of useful parts; one employee—an immigrant from Poland—claimed it was the work of the local “Russian Mob,” although another person thought it was too “amateurish” a strip job for them (as an aside, it was a Russian-Ukrainian “professional” carjacker who murdered Bill Cosby’s son). The police were called to the scene, and the cop who arrived seemed nonplussed and uninterested. It was newer model vehicle, and I’m sure the owner of the car thought his or her vehicle was “protected” by the “beeper.” In the condition it was in, I’m not sure the owner was happy that it was “found”—not to mention that the “beeper” didn’t work as advertised. 

With the “beeper,” those who are so inclined are constantly worried that something will happen because they didn’t “beep” it. It’s like forgetful people who can’t remember if they locked their front door, and they worry about every “suspicious” person they see as a potential “thief.” The “beeper” obviously feeds into a more personal kind of paranoia, one that serves as an expression of their own prejudices; certain “groups,” for example, excite a “red flag,” and the “beeper” is used as a “warning” to the person is “presumed” to be a car thief—if only because “have-nots” are “presumed” to covet the material goods of the “haves—and this thinking can get out of hand, as it brings out the darkness in people. Sometimes I wish the “beepers” of such people would “punish” them for their bigotry by causing the car engine to blow-up, or the wheels to fall off, just to teach them a lesson in humanity.

The paranoia of many people is ludicrous upon reflection and speaks more about them than the people who are supposed to be receiving the message of warning. For example, if someone has a  unit in a public storage facility and they happen to see someone there who belongs to the group with “criminal tendencies” and thus also raising that “red flag” of paranoia within their consciousness (they are only there to steal from them), what happens when they are not there and this person shows up? Do they spend all their time worrying about that? If they don’t, then why do they have to expose the hating part in themselves in the first place?

We live in a world where 99 percent in any given community—especially in a large city—have no clue personally about 99 percent of the people they encounter on any given day. Yet many imagine the worst based on race, ethnicity or appearance. It makes little sense, since time, place and circumstance for something to “happen” rarely, if ever, coincide. We live in a society that calls anything bad an “epidemic” if it happens to a certain percentage of people just once in their lifetimes (I don’t need to tell you who these people are, do I?). 

When I used to live a block or two from Downtown Seattle, I occasionally became bored or couldn’t sleep, so I went out for a walk there after midnight. Most of the time it was mostly deserted, but I was never “scared” about it. One thing I always kept in mind was that you should never “look” like a “victim.” You should always look like you are going somewhere, not look lost, confused or “suspicious.” And it never “helped” to be “paranoid,” seeing danger in every dark corner or alley. If you saw someone “suspicious,” it was always best to keep your eyes straight ahead and keep walking. People who acted “afraid” always attract unwanted attention.

Paranoid people also tend to become “victims” in spite of themselves. Ignorance of other people and their feelings can bring attention to one’s bigotry and contempt for another’s humanity, and such people can find themselves the target of unwanted “attention,” since their fear that is interpreted by another as hate. Such people don’t like being “called out” on their own darker natures, but their responses they can identify themselves as either a person consumed with hatred, or merely acting on the stereotypical attitudes they have on groups they have neither contact with or have knowledge of on personal level.

In the end, it isn’t “living” to be paranoid. It only speaks to your own weakness. People who have lived long enough ought to know by now that events often occur out of their control, by chance or by luck (good or bad) due to the vagaries of human behavior. That is life.

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