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4.0 out of 5 stars Everyone's paranoid, 25 Mar. 2014
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A refreshing take on the history of paranoid cultures- conspiracy theories and moral panics- in the United States. The various forms of paranoia are grouped into enemies above, below, outside and within society as well as beliefs in benevolent conspiracies. What is interesting is how flexible the belief systems are- a belief in an enemy below, for example slave conspiracies can easily morph to fit a foreign enemy who are controlling them. The panics re-emerge repeatedly in slightly different forms over the centuries with a few superficial modifications to keep them updated.

What makes this book different to typical works about paranoid subcultures is that it acknowledges two under-appreciated points:

- Not all paranoid beliefs are unfounded. The US government for example has genuinely conspired to sabotage peaceful protesters and civil rights campaigners.

- Paranoia isn't confined to the margins, sometimes the powerful and mainstream have indulged in paranoid nonsense- one example Walker cites is the belief of the federal government that the militia movement of the 1990s was formenting rebellion, which led to the Waco siege when the false beliefs that a minor religious cult was stockpiling weapons, running a meth lab and holding people hostage leaving dozens of people dead.

The second half of the book is devoted to paranoia in modern culture- looking at films, television and ironic conspiracism.

It's well worth reading for a different take on a well explored genre.
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