Tuesday, May 30, 2006

It's a Fine Time to be Paranoid

People sometimes make the mistake of asking me what I'm thinking. This is usually a mistake because I'll actually tell them. Very few people appreciate getting an insight into my mind - more often than not it scares them. I have been able to think of two aspects of my mind that cause this way of thinking that I have been repeatedly told is weird.

One is that my brain stores a huge amount of trivia and minutiae and I am quite good at reproducing this "knowledge" in quite some detail with very little encouragement. I have come to think of this as having velcro lining the inside of my skull. This mental velcro grabs stray bits of information and holds onto them for later. You never know when it will come in handy.

The second part is my thinking process tends to involve rapid word/image/concept association so when I think of one thing I make quick mental leaps from a to b to c to end up in outer Mongolia in a fashion that normal people find quite disturbing. So don't ask me what I'm thinking. I'll probably tell you.

What brought this to mind today was a magazine article being passed around at work. It had the heading "Spring clean your life". Many of the people I work with currently are into the whole "self improvement" thing; they don't stray too far into hippie territory (a good idea around me - read some of my back catalogue if you want to know why) but they're always open to ideas. While I approached this article with some trepidation, it was actually pretty good.

It essentially revolved around the teachings of the Greek philosopher Epicurus (I won't bore you with details, look him up on Google or Wikipedia if you're interested). The central idea was that if you simplify your life your mental health will improve and you'll be happier. Then I started thinking of mental health and how often then terms paranoia, schizophrenia, bipolar and split personality are used wrongly. Then I thought "don't we live in a perfect time to be paranoid" - as in suffering a mental disorder that makes you think you can hear voices and everybody is out to get you. Which is a complete misuse of the term paranoia.

I'm sure we've all heard the joke that the American Society of Psychiatrists have issued a press release saying that thinking the government is always watching you and listening to your phone calls is no longer a sign of paranoia. That gets truer every day. And who are the real beneficiaries of hands-free mobile phones? The crazy people who walk down the street having conversations and/or arguments with people nobody else can see or hear. They must feel better now that everybody is doing it.

Speaking of which, where have all the really crazy people gone? (Note how I'm avoiding saying they've all joined the Bush administration - except when I said it just then.) I've seen some fascinating ones in the past - guys walking down the street shaking their fist at the sky having full-on argument with God. Now all I see are people with no manners and no common sense using their mobiles to have conversations on really personal matters in really public places. Although it's still funny when they devolve into screaming at the person on the other end, apparently unaware of how many people are watching them.

And while I'm on the topic, don't listen to funny things on your iPod when out in public. You look like some sort of sick freak sitting there with a twisted smile or, worse, giggling insanely. And don't play racing games on your PSP while using public transport. Nobody can resist swinging their arms about when trying to make hard turns (even though it has no effect on the steering in the game) and you'll end up hitting someone. Plus, I don't like it when people are having more fun than me.

But to get back to my previous point, paranoia seems the perfect response to the world today. The US government has made it clear you have no rights and they are monitoring you. All the time. And they'll imprison you for no reason other than suspicion. And keep you locked away for years without charging you with anything let alone bringing you to trial (or, god forbid, actually convicting you of something). And if you live in a western democracy you can spend all your time being paranoid that some insane jihadist is going to strike out of the blue and kill you. If you live in an Islamic country you can be paranoid that the US is going to start bombing the shit out of you.

And if none of that worries you, there's always the next earthquake / tsunami / hurricane / volcano / act of god to be paranoid about. It truly is a fine time to be paranoid.

But I'm not paranoid, I'm angry. But Epicurus tells me I shouldn't be angry, I should be happy. But where would that leave my faithful readers? Stuck with hearing about how happy I am 365 days a year? How much would that suck? So I have to sacrifice my happiness for the sake of my readers. I'm willing to do that.

As it turns out, I can stay angry and still be fulfilled according to Epicurus. Seriously. Epicurus offers five fundamental routes to pleasure and I get all five from this blog:

1. Adventurous Pleasures: explore the unknown, try something new, meet new people. I feel like I'm getting all of these.

2. Mission-Oriented Pleasures: hone a skill, aim for a goal. Well, I'm honing my writing and aiming to post every day of the year.

3. Imaginary Pleasures: awaken the artist within. This blog is the best self-expression I've had in years.

4. Communicative Pleasures: write and create and share. I think this one speaks for itself.

5. Speculative Pleasures: ask yourself "what if?" I'm not sure where this blog is going yet but I sure am enjoying the journey.

So it's all good. I'm angry and fulfilled.


R2K said...

: )

allmylovins said...

I read the hippie posts and have never laughed so hard in my life. Keep being angry...your writing is helping my emotional state.

Mr Angry said...

Alex: succinct!

Allmylovins: that's exactly what it is for me - therapy. Glad it's working for you too!

moonflake said...

this reminds me of a skit by chris rock, where he talks about how high school killings these days get blamed on rock music, and tv, and video games, and just about anything else. "What every happened to crazy??" asks Chris. "In my day, kids just went crazy."

Di said...

I'm going to have to agree with you on the whole iPod thing. I mean, seriously, people in Europe take the damn things, listen to them, and they dance in public, looking like idiots.

pigeon weather said...

moonflake - we're experiencing an epidemic of hyper-diagnosis here. kids nowadays are "high-functioning autistic" or "borderline asperger's" whereas when i was a kid, those guys used to be just "weird".

same thing with "bums".

Mr Angry said...

moonflake: exactly - people overcomplicate things. Crazy is crazy.

Di: One solution, have a video camera with you, film them then show it to them. If that doesn't work, post the video of them looking like an idiot on youtube.

Tom: I posted a while back on an Australian acadaemic making a joke about "disease mongering" where he pathologised laziness to make it a desease. Trouble is I expect most people will eventually come to believe "Motivational Deficiency Disorder" is a real disease.