Saturday, June 04, 2011

Conspiracy Theories Erupt Wherever Unfathomable News Collides With Unshakable Beliefs!!

It doesn't take much to ignite a conspiracy theory: sinister government agencies, corporations and other powerful institutions constantly are at work doing their evil. Even Apple Computers was revealed to be spying on their their unsuspecting customers:

[x Boulder (CO) Fishwrap]
By John Sherffius

Click on image to enlarge. Ω

[John Sherffius began drawing editorial cartoons for the Daily Bruin, the campus newspaper at UCLA. After two years of working as a freelance artist, after graduation, he was hired by the Ventura County Star in Southern California as a graphic artist and gradually worked his way into editorial cartooning for the paper. In 1998, he was hired by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch as the newspaper's editorial cartoonist, a job he held until 2003 when he quit the paper over editorial differences. Sherffius bridled at editorial insistence that he tone down cartoons attacking Republicans. Sherffius then went to work for the Boulder Daily Camera where his cartoons appear regularly and are syndicated nationally by the Copley News Service. Sherffius won the 2008 Herblock Prize for Editorial Cartooning.]

Copyright © 2011 John Sherffius/Boulder Daily Camera

So, your cute little iPhone, iPod, or iPad is actually spying on you and reporting who knows what back to Apple headquarters in Cupertino, CA. BTW, iTunes is is monitoring its customers, too. If this is (fair & balanced) gut-wrenching iFear, so be it.

[x NY Fishwrap Magazine]
A Theory Of Conspiracy Theories
By Bill Keller

Tag Cloud of the following article

created at

Dear Mr. Keller: Last night on the “PBS NewsHour,” they had a story about some Los Angeles Times reporters who uncovered corruption in a nearby, small city in California. The newspaper eventually received a Pulitzer Prize. That is what you can have if you will talk with me. Within one hour, I will convince you and your staff that Lee Oswald did not assassinate President Kennedy. Then, I will give you the evidence for the real killers, and how the cover up could be perpetrated. It is a great story, fully documented and supported with facts, many from the Warren Commission itself!!

That e-mail landed a few weeks ago. Even if you are a card-carrying member of the reality-based community, even if you regard the liberal use of exclamation points as a symptom of emotional instability, there is a little voice, a very, very little voice, that whispers, in the few seconds before you push “delete”: “What if he’s right? There’s always been something fishy about that assassination. What if the e-mail I am reflexively sending to the trash file is the story of a lifetime?”

Humans live along a continuum from doubt to faith. Wander far enough in the direction of faith and you reach the land of Nostradamus and of the Rapture (recently postponed). Wander too far in the other direction, past cynicism, through misanthropy, and you get to more or less the same zone of credulity: Osama bin Laden isn’t dead, President Obama isn’t American, global warming is a hoax.

Recently we have pivoted from one conspiracy theory (the plot to hide our president’s foreign birth) to another (the plot to frame Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the French banker and Socialist candidate-in-waiting known by his monogram and for his predatory eye for women). More than half of the French people surveyed in the immediate aftermath of D.S.K.’s arrest told pollsters that he was set up. This belief was held by men and women, by the most educated and the least. Among Socialists — whose ideology might suggest a little empathy for a working-class African immigrant charging assault by a rich, powerful capitalist — an astounding 70 percent believed their party darling was the real victim. People who would happily accept the label “intellectual” were quick to surmise that the scandal was somehow cooked up by President Nicolas Sarkozy (with the help of French-hating Americans) to bring down a rival on the left.

The birther controversy might be written off as a fever of racial bigotry and right-wing paranoia. But the D.S.K. case was a useful reminder that evidently rational people, educated and skeptical, liberal or conservative, can fall for beliefs that seem far-fetched at best. Think of Gore Vidal nursing the idea that 9/11 was part of a Bush administration plot to justify oil-field conquest. Or consider that Vidal’s nemesis on the right, the late William F. Buckley Jr., was once enticed by a theory that F.D.R. was complicit in Pearl Harbor. Oliver Stone, Michael Moore and Norman Mailer have all dabbled in dark intrigues, too.

And then there is Naomi Wolf, the author and feminist, who detected ominous “geopolitics by blackmail” in the coincidence that three antagonists of the establishment — Eliot Spitzer, Julian Assange and Strauss-Kahn — were sidelined by sex charges.

“This does not mean that Strauss-Kahn is innocent or that he is guilty,” she blogged the other day. “It means that policy outcomes can be advanced nowadays, in a surveillance society, by exploiting or manipulating sex-crime charges, whether real or inflated.” Hmm.

Richard Hofstadter, whose writings long dominated the field of conspiracy studies, hypothesized that conspiratorial thinking — what he called “the paranoid style” — festered on the political margins and often contained an anti-intellectual streak. More recent scholarship by academics like Mark Fenster, Peter Knight and Robert Goldberg suggests that conspiracy theories do not come from a particular personality type, I.Q. stratum or dispossessed fringe; they erupt wherever unfathomable news collides with unshakable beliefs.

That is what happened in France, argues Bernard-Henri Lévy, the philosopher-pundit who has been a fierce defender of Strauss-Kahn. Lévy says he does not believe his friend is the victim of a plot — just an American rush to judgment — but he thinks he understands why so many of his countrymen smell a conspiracy. “People begin to believe in a plot, to model conspiracy theories, when they are staggered, literally staggered, clobbered by astonishment,” he told me.

Maybe, then, there is a little birther in all of us. Fenster, a law professor and author of Conspiracy Theories: Secrecy and Power in American Culture, says a sense of conspiracy is “almost an instinctive response to strange events.”

“I admit I was a little drawn to the D.S.K. plot at first,” Fenster told me. “Then I heard Nina Totenberg explain the case on NPR, and I was ashamed of myself.”

Our receptiveness to the outlandish is primed by the fact that we know of actual conspiracies. Watergate happened. Iran-contra happened. One reason so many in France are quick to suspect American perfidy is that the C.I.A. did, in fact, meddle in European affairs during the Cold War.

Suspicion hardens into full-blown conviction when people lose faith in authorities, says Knight, who edited Conspiracy Nation: The Politics of Paranoia in Postwar America. The present day, he told me, when Internet access has sparked a proliferation of competing, self-appointed authorities, is a particularly fertile time for conspiracy theorists, who might ask: “ ‘Why would you believe The New York Times? Why do they have a monopoly on truth? Surely Twitter and WikiLeaks are just as trustworthy.’ ”

Knight added, “As soon as you lose faith that the mainstream media are telling the truth, anything is believable.”

My own antidote to conspiratorial thinking is an abiding mistrust in the competence of big institutions. In American pop-culture thrillers, there is a lethal efficiency to whatever sinister organization is behind the evil doings. In my experience, governments, corporations and other powerful institutions are not usually that good at making things happen according to plan, let alone at keeping secrets.

The main lesson for those of us who are supposed to traffic in facts — journalists, academics, policy makers — is not to be too dismissive of those who hold beliefs that seem preposterous. There is, of course, a hard core for whom the very fact that The New York Times (or the 9/11 Commission or the Centers for Disease Control) is challenging their version of reality just confirms it. But evidence, laid out dispassionately, engaging without mocking, is still our best recourse.

And sometimes it works. You may have missed it, but after President Obama released his birth certificate, polls showed that belief in the birther myth fell by half. As the Strauss-Kahn case makes its way through discovery and trial, the French suspicion of a setup will surely wane.

Then again, Knight speculates that doubters may find their cynicism stoked by news that President Sarkozy’s wife is pregnant with their first child, just in time for the presidential campaign.

“Carla Bruni pregnant?” Knight mused. “Now that is just too convenient.” Ω

[Bill Keller will step down as executive editor of The New York Times in September 2011 when he will be succeeded by one of his deputies, Jill Abramson. Keller returns to his first love as a a full-time writer for the paper. The California-born Keller received a BA from Pomona College 1970.]

Copyright © 2011 The New York Times Company

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Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves by Neil Sapper is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Based on a work at Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available here.

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