In most schools of psychology, paranoia is a disorder where one holds a belief that one is being persecuted, the victim of a conspiracy or in some kind of danger when, in fact, they are not.
Excessive anxiety or fear are thought to be two contributing factors to paranoia but there could be additional spiritual and transpersonal factors which mainstream psychiatry almost entirely overlooks.¹
Within pop culture and the media, the term might not always be used correctly because some hold naïve views about or blatantly conceal shady personal and political agendas.²
Some pundits have been saying that we live in a “culture of fear,” especially during the Reagan and Bush eras. Apparently a wealthy and powerful few manipulate the media to try to generate just enough social paranoia to justify political acts (like war) or to boost sales for products that alleviate fear-related issues.
These critics maintain that the rich and powerful do not want to create too much fear. If they did, society might become paralyzed or chaotic, which definitely would not advance political agendas and corporate profits.
Reality, however, is often far more complex and open-ended than tidy conspiracy theories, making this view seem simplistic (but not unworthy of consideration).
Turn to 2017 and the persistent reality of global violence. The “culture of fear” theme is quickly losing ground to more recent tropes like Fake News, Climate Deniers, and Russian Spying. These are the latest media bad guys. And in a few years, there will undoubtedly be a new trendy list of public villains for popular news outlets to explore and discuss ad nauseam.
Sometimes actual cases of paranoia develop in highly intelligent, prominent personalities.
For instance, the Austria–Hungary (now Czech Republic) born mathematician, logician and philosopher Kurt Gödel (1906-1978) starved himself to death in later years. Fearing that his food would be poisoned, Gödel wouldn’t eat anything that his wife didn’t prepare for him. After his wife was hospitalized for six months, he refused to eat and simply wasted away to die.
In 1978 the New Wave band Devo released a popular song “Too Much Paranoia.” And in the realm of the paranormal, some believers in extraterrestrial mind control wear tin foil hats to apparently block evil aliens from controlling people through ESP.
To outside observers, wearing tin foil hats seems a pretty clear case of irrational behavior arising from paranoia.³
³ Not to say that ETs necessarily do not exist. Probably nobody knows for sure. But to think that tin foil would protect a person against meddling ETs with advanced technologies seems absurd.