Report on the Threatened City

by

Doris Lessing

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Paranoia and Conspiracy Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
Perception and Belief Theme Icon
Indifference Theme Icon
Paranoia and Conspiracy Theme Icon
Altruism vs. Capitalism Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Report on the Threatened City, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Paranoia and Conspiracy Theme Icon

When the alien envoys in “Report on the Threatened City” come to San Francisco to warn of an impending earthquake, they find a world in the grip of Cold War-era paranoia and conspiracies. Almost everyone who sees their spacecraft identifies it as a weapon or spy craft of some sort, and the range of origin theories suggests the power of the “war-making functions” that control Earth: some think the craft is Russian, others Chinese, and still others American. The envoys note that humans frequently observe “a great many of the devices and machines used by the war departments […] under test,” yet their reports to officials are “repulsed” and “ridiculed.”

The story draws a fine line between the conspiracies that the government weaves to silence talk of extraterrestrial visitors—for example, cutting off access to a UFO landing site by claiming a radiation leak—and the conspiracy that the city’s population willingly engages in regarding the looming disaster. History clearly demonstrates that San Francisco is an unsafe place to live (the story references the city’s deadly 1906 earthquake), and the residents in the story are aware that another earthquake will happen eventually. Yet city planners, builders, geologists, and other citizens willingly—even cheerfully—live and congregate in the most dangerous zones. “Verbal games” (debates), ritual reenactments of “unpalatable ideas” (television shows), and education in “received opinion” all serve to communicate “the current standard of ideas” in society and, by extension, to disregard ideas outside these norms. The story thus suggests that people’s willingness to accept conspiracy theories and propaganda over facts is a potentially deadly impulse, and also that this tendency makes it easy for government and media to influence people.

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Paranoia and Conspiracy Quotes in Report on the Threatened City

Below you will find the important quotes in Report on the Threatened City related to the theme of Paranoia and Conspiracy.
Report on the Threatened City Quotes

Here we approach the nature of the block, or patterning of their minds—we state it now, through we did not begin to understand it until later. It is that they are able to hold in their minds at the same time several contradictory beliefs without noticing it.

Related Characters: The Envoys (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Earthquake
Page Number: 245
Explanation and Analysis:

Large numbers, everywhere on the planet, see craft like ours, or like other planets’ craft or war machines from their own or other geographical areas. But such is the atmosphere created by the war departments that dominate everything that these individuals are regarded as mentally inadequate or deluded. Until one of them has actually seen a machine or spacecraft, he tends to believe that anyone who claims he has is deranged.

Related Characters: The Envoys (speaker)
Page Number: 245
Explanation and Analysis:

The doctor was also saying that he had to treat large numbers of people, particularly the young ones, for ‘paranoia’. This was what our three hosts were judged to be suffering from. Apparently, it is a condition when people show fear of forthcoming danger and try to warn others about it, and then show anger when stopped by authority.

Related Characters: The Envoys (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Earthquake
Page Number: 250
Explanation and Analysis:

While at that stage we were still very confused about what we were finding, we had at least grasped this: that this species, on being told something, has no means of judging whether or not it is true. We on our planet assume […] that if a new fact is made evident by material progress, or by a new and hitherto unexpected juxtaposition of ideas, then it is accepted as a fact, a truth—at least until evolutionary development bypasses it.

Related Characters: The Envoys (speaker)
Page Number: 251
Explanation and Analysis:

For it is as if the mechanism fear has been misplaced from where it would be useful—preventing or softening calamity—to an area of their minds that makes them suspicious of anything but the familiar.

Related Characters: The Envoys (speaker), The Technicians
Related Symbols: The Earthquake
Page Number: 251
Explanation and Analysis:

We believe we have established one of their mechanisms for maintaining themselves in impotence and indecision. It is precisely this: that they do continuously discuss and analyse.

Related Characters: The Envoys (speaker), The Four Youths
Page Number: 253
Explanation and Analysis:

Essentially, a received idea is one that has become familiar, whether effective or not, and no longer arouses hostility or fear. The mark of an educated individual is this: that he has spent years absorbing received ideas and is able readily to repeat them. People who have absorbed opinions counter to the current standard of ideas are distrusted and may be called opinionated.

Related Characters: The Envoys (speaker)
Page Number: 255
Explanation and Analysis:

But, very shortly, a strong emotion was raised by phrases and words of which we list a few here: profit motive, conflicting commercial interests, vested interests, capitalism, socialism, democracy—there are many such emotive words. We were not able to determine, or not in a way that our economic experts would recongise as satisfactory, the significance of these phrases, since the emotions became too violent to allow the conference to continue.

Related Characters: The Envoys (speaker), The Technicians
Page Number: 255
Explanation and Analysis:

We have a tentative conclusion. It is this: that a society that is doomed to catastrophe, and that is unable to prepare for it, can expect that few people will survive except those already keyed to chaos and disaster. The civil, the ordered, the conforming, the well-tempered, can expect to fall victim at first exposure. But the vagabonds, criminals, mad, extremely poor, will have the means to survive. We conclude, therefore, that when, within the next five years, the eruption occurs, no one will be left but those types the present managers of society consider undesirable, for the present society is too inflexible to adapt—as we have already said, we have no idea why this should be so, what is wrong with them.

Related Characters: The Envoys (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Earthquake
Page Number: 259
Explanation and Analysis:

The two southern landings coincided with the disappearance of 11 people, five the first time, six the second. This makes 450 people gone without trace during the past two years. We suggest it is no longer possible to dismiss the fact that the landings of these craft always mean the disappearance of two to ten people with the word ‘coincidence’. We must face the possibility that all or some are manned, but by individuals so dissimilar in structure to ourselves that we cannot see them. We would point out that Sonoscope 4 is only just able to bring these types of craft within vision and that, therefore, the levels of density that might indicate the presence of ‘people’ might escape the machine. We further suggest the facetiousness of the phrase ‘little green men’ might mask an attitude of mind that is inimical to sober evaluation or assessment of this possibility.

Related Characters: The Envoys
Page Number: 260
Explanation and Analysis: