Tomorrow is the official release date of my book The United States of Paranoia, so I'm going into full self-promotion mode:
* Salon has reviewed the book under the headline "A Nation of Truthers." Here's an excerpt:
Walker's book is a riposte of sorts to the most famous treatment of America's suspicious fantasies, Richard Hofstadter's "The Paranoid Style in American Politics," an essay first published in 1964 and oft cited since. Walker calls Hofstadter's essay "flawed but fascinating," and gives Hofstadter credit for the canny observation that the people who battle conspiracies have a tendency to form organizations and initiatives that eerily resemble those of their alleged foes. (Joe McCarthy, meet Joseph Stalin; you two guys have a lot in common.) But where Walker feels Hofstadter went wrong is in his assertion that "political paranoia is 'the preferred style only of minority movements'" and that the style has "a greater affinity for bad causes than good."
Au contraire, says Walker. "Educated elites have conspiracy theories, too" and the nation's long history of "moral panics" illustrates the ways that "influential social institutions"—from the government to churches and political parties to the press—engage in paranoid thinking, sometimes with lethal results. "When I say virtually everyone is capable of paranoid thinking," Walker writes, "I really do mean everyone, including you, me and the founding fathers…It is even possible to be paranoid about paranoids." He then proceeds, in lively and often witty fashion, to prove it. Some of what Walker has to say will be familiar, but few readers are likely to get to the end of the book without having cherished notions challenged.
* The writer Robert Anton Wilson looms large in chapter nine of the book, and so RAW Illumination, a Wilson fan site, has interviewed me. (The interviewer, Tom Jackson, also writes for the Sandusky Register, and a shorter version of the exchange will appear there later.) Here's how the conversation starts:
Jackson: What do you hope people will learn after reading The United States of Paranoia?
Walker: I hope they'll learn that conspiracy theories are not some new invention: that they've always been with us and that they aren't going away. I hope they'll learn that there isn't a single all-purpose political or psychological explanation for why such stories take hold. I hope they'll learn that the American establishment is prone to conspiracy thinking, no less than its critics on the left and the right are. I hope they'll learn that these stories have something to teach us even when they're entirely false—that a conspiracy theory doesn't take hold with a lot of people unless it speaks to their anxieties or experiences.
And I hope that as they read about the things our ancestors believed, they'll feel a little shock of recognition. The fears and folklore of modern times can sound a lot like the fears and folklore of earlier generations. We're not as unique as we think.
Elsewhere in the interview, I reveal what really happened to John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963.
* And on Thursday, we'll be having a party to celebrate the book's release at Reason's D.C. office. If you're in the area, you're invited to stop by. Details—including how to RSVP—are here. Washington-based readers can also come see me speak at the bookstore Politics & Prose on Tuesday evening; info about that event is here.