Miles Kington: The myth of the rabid somnambulist

'Among the symptoms of paranoia are going to me for treatment and placing large sums in my account'
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The Independent Online

I have received many letters about the current campaign against Osama bin Laden, and I think some of them are well worth publishing today.

From Dr Jack Wallwright

Sir, I cannot believe that Jack Straw could have referred to Osama bin Laden as a "paranoid" and a "psychotic" without realising what pain and suffering he is going to cause to all those many people who are genuinely paranoid and psychotic, very few of whom have ever planned bombing raids on America or even sent anthrax through the post.

Paranoia is a genuine mental condition that is very far from the vulgar view of it: in other words, as a state in which the victim thinks that he is being pursued by imaginary enemies. Among the other symptoms of genuine paranoia are: being unable to adapt to a useful role in a social unit, being sent to me for treatment and being responsible for large sums of money being placed in my bank account.

Bin Laden may well be suffering from some abnormal mental condition. On the other hand, as nobody has yet proved a link between 11 September and him, it may be the American people who are suffering from some mental condition. Sleep-walking, perhaps. Let's hope they don't walk over a cliff.

yours etc

From Professor Ralph Jackson

Sir, I am surprised and disappointed by the tone of the last letter, and I am somewhat shocked that Dr Wallwright, whom I know well, should have referred slightingly to sleep-walking as if it were a risible complaint. Somnambulism is a very distressing condition, as you will know if you have ever woken up dressed only in your dressing gown in the middle of the night, freezing cold, miles from home. The old myth that somnambulists walk over cliffs and out of open windows is, as Dr Wallwright should know, just that – a myth, and not worth considering.

yours etc

From Mrs Rosemary Walpurgis

Sir, Why are myths always referred to as if they were untruths? The whole point about myths (as I demonstrate in my book Myths: How A Nation Talks To Itself) is that we can describe a deeper and bigger truth inside what seems merely to be a fantastic story. The word that Professor Jackson was looking for was "fallacy", not "myth". There are modern myths around if he cares to look for them. At the rate we are going, I dare say that Osama bin Laden will turn into a mythical figure, and cease to be the pariah outcast he is at the moment.

yours etc

From Mr Des Whitlow

Sir, Why, oh why, is the word "pariah" always used to designate someone loathsome and beyond the pale? The "pariah dog" – or more correctly "pye-dog" – is an unwanted and uncared for animal in many Asian villages, and some of us are doing what we can to lighten the lot of this neglected creature. They are not naturally unpleasant; it is humans who have made them that way. It does not make it any easier for us to have to put up with rabid attacks on the poor beasts.

yours etc

From Dr Joyce Savage

Sir, I suppose the day will come when people will remember that "rabid" does have the quite useful meaning of "suffering from rabies", and not just the inaccurate and trite usage in the previous letter. If you saw anyone suffering from rabies, you would never use the word lightly again. Here at Eurostar House in Dover, where we have a permanent unit waiting to treat people who stagger out of the Chunnel frothing at the mouth, we have made it a golden rule to use "rabid" only in its correct sense.

yours etc

From Pascal Telfer

Sir, The way we are compulsively bombing innocent Afghans makes me think that perhaps we should rechristen Western troops the Rabid Response Force! Am I the only one who feels appalled by the sight of Mr Blair trotting around behind President Bush like a lapdog, parroting his words and rabbiting on to any other leader who will listen?

yours etc

I will hold over the letters from the Lapdog Kennel Club, the Parrot Society and the Rabbit Defence League...