My own (unvoiced) view - of what may have fueled extremist, daydream-like or somnambulistic, conspiratorial behavior - was paranoia itself, anticipatory group paranoia in various high-level circles both in and outside of government, both here and in Europe, and more widely yet.
I think a largely autocatalytic vision of exponentially and uncontrollably evolving scientific and technological abilities, and almost incomprehensible future dangers and risks to governments and society, or to the established and known world order, especially in connection with biological weapons, but also certain nuclear and chemical ones, may have - as it is certainly doing today, or post-9/11 - pushed certain powerful or influential figures and groups in our and other governments, and in business, finance, and academe, into wild and nutty, but unfortunately real-world, play-acting, and led to extreme and formerly (and quite properly) unthinkable acts.
In short, I think it is not the idea of conspiracies here that is paranoid, but the conspiracies and conspirators themselves!
Group and mass insanity are, alas, a common feature of long-term human history, and they have often induced some extraordinarily unrealistic, bizarre, and previously unthinkable conduct and acts, out of a whole rainbow of different, and often conflicting, motives.
To paranoia, incidentally, I would join megalomania, to produce a grandiose and particularly obnoxious form of behavior, especially when accompanied, as above all in the present hypothetical case, by ALL the accouterments of power and all the weird flowers of ideological fervor, self-importance, pathological patriotism, fear, hatred, bewilderment, and varied strictly private and personal interests of individuals.
Do not tell me that this cannot have happened, and made out of 9/11 and its antecedents a great, reality-raping, unstoppable farce, indeed one that, if I am correct in my speculation here, now leads a life of its own - straight out of the old superhero and science-fantasy comic books.
This is what I see the face of everywhere when I talk to people about 9/11, "homeland security", the Iraq War, and related matters. And I see it in the groups of academics who specialize in "the new terrorism" and "national emergency", or "skyrocketing threat to civilization", that I have casually met in their offices on the Princeton University campus - who, comically enough, are the most staid of crackpots. The womb of conspiracies is indeed intellectual madness, a far subtler and more dangerous form of paranoia than one finds wandering in the corridors of mental hospitals talking to themselves and bizarrely gesturing and fighting off all manner of invisible demons.
I suspect such a dangerously overimaginative and overreactive, worlds-within-worlds (in one's paltry, overheated head), atmosphere was rife in nuclear-war circles in the early 'sixties, and responsible for placing all of us in the gravest of dangers.
Current events, as I see them in my acidly critical picture here, would simply be a more durable reprisal of this hallucinatory paranoia in high places, but unfortunately translated into a devil's basket of actual deeds of indeterminate nature and extremity, literally living a life of their own, at the expense of the public and as a truly novel threat to the health and sanity
of the Earth.
The only way to thwart this insanity is to recognize it for what is and laugh it into shamed oblivion or a tamed impotence.
- Pat Gunkel
Princeton, New Jersey