The Origin of the
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Words are a wonderful playground; the problem is that they eventually
end up meaning something, and can therefore have a powerful effect
on peoples' lives. I just finished perusing (late, as usual) on-line
magazine Salon's series on "paranoia". It put me in an odd mood--
nearly everything I read does.

Paranoia - in the non-clinical sense (I hasten to point this out, because
I am a doctor--as you already know--and medical terms are among the
most misused by the lay public...but that's another column)--refers to
unreasonable suspicion of people and institutions. The problem is the
word "unreasonable". Is it reasonable to suspect that the FBI is reading
this even as you are? They have that capability (thanks to their
CARNIVORE software and a compliant Congress); they might not want
to bother with the on-line habits of Joe Twelvepack. Therefore, by my
reasoning, the only thing that keeps THEM from monitoring YOU is their
own boredom. Is it reasonable to suspect that the CIA is implanting
messages directly into your brain? Microwave broadcast and narrowcast
technology may have advanced that far as early as the mid-1960s--
but there's no way to tell, as much of it remains classified. Therefore,
by my reasoning, THEY may be secretly influencing YOU, but there's
no way to prove or disprove it.

Unreasonable. Who defines that word? If you allow others to define it
for you, they set the parameters of your worldview, and anything outside
those boundaries qualifies as paranoia. If you define it for yourself, and
carefully reassess the definition as new information is obtained, you
might find yourself accepting ideas that scare the elastic right out of
your socks. If you refuse to daphnia it at all, you may find yourself
muttering dire imprecations to unseen entities near a bus station in
a Central Valley city. A word; a definition; not very much. Potentially
the difference between "sane" and "nuts"--also just words.

Of course, "definition" carries other meanings as well, and they are
suggestive. I was once exercising in a public place, and a bodybuilding
type told me that I had to do sit-ups. They would give my abdomen
"definition". The analogy is obvious: to attain control over the shape
of a thing- a belly, perceived reality--one must exert oneself. As if
we weren't working hard enough.

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