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Re: The Conspiracy Of Conspiracy Theorizing

From: Jerome Clark <jkclark.nul>
Date: Thu, 10 Oct 2013 07:15:14 -0500
Archived: Thu, 10 Oct 2013 11:24:55 -0400
Subject: Re: The Conspiracy Of Conspiracy Theorizing


>From: Gerald O'Connell <goc.nul>
>To: <post.nul>
>Date: Wed, 9 Oct 2013 14:36:35 +0100
>Subject: Re: The Conspiracy Of Conspiracy Theorizing

<snip>

>Of course conspiracies exist. History is replete with them! 9/11
>was a conspiracy - how else would it be possible to organise
>that number of people secretly with a common and complex
>purpose?


Hi, Gerald,

As I have stressed in virtually every posting on this subject -
to no avail, clearly - real conspiracies exist. No one disputes
that. Why would anybody? Not more than a decade ago, a
conspiracy at the top level of the U.S. government manipulated
a 9/11-traumatized American public into (at least a measure of)
support for a disastrously unnecessary war in the Middle East.

A conspiracy theory is a different animal, the sort of thing the
late Richard Hofstadter (whose influential essay nobody on
this thread has ever acknowledged, probably because none
has bothered to read it) and many political historians since,
have studied and written about. A conspiracy theory is different
from a real conspiracy in having too many moving parts (along
with too many other factual and logical problems) to be believable.

"Conspiracy theory" is a phrase used by political scientists
and historians to denote a belief formed out of a conjoining
of disparate social, economic, and political phenomena
that are not in fact, as alleged, the creation of a massive secret
plot engineered by hidden groups (often thought to be linked
by ethnicity and/or religious belief). There is a massive
literature on the subject. I'm not referring to the burblings
of conspiracy theorists but rather to those who have methodically
examined the phenomenon. I've read a fair amount of that
literature over the years, and I recommend it to those who
might otherwise find themselves tempted to enter the rabbit
hole.

Again:

This whole thread began when I - naively in retrospect -
complained about the misuse of the phrase to refer to those who
merely suspect continuing secrecy surrounding the Roswell
incident. Conspiracy theorists are so far gone, it appears, that
- in common, ironically, with their most hyperbolic critics -
they want to claim as conspiracy theorists persons who are
merely suspicious of official secrecy and sensitive to
officialdom's capacity for wrongdoing, whether relatively
trivial or out-and-out calamitous.

Here in America, we're awash in ludicrous conspiracy theories,
most at the moment from the right. (The golden age of their far-
left equivalent was in the late 1960s and early 1970s.) Many
begin with the certainty that President Obama is a foreign-born
Marxist/jihadist/socialist/terrorist and proceed from there into
the _really_ crazy stuff. The current crisis in Washington
results in part from the acceptance of deranged conspiracy
theories about the President. In an earlier posting, I cited a
poll documenting such extremism in the current Tea Party-
dominated Republican Party.

For an excellent examination of real conspiracies vs. conspiracy
theories, I recommend - again - Kathryn S. Olmsted's Real
Enemies: Conspiracy Theories and American Democracy, World War I
to 9/11 (Oxford University Press, 2009). Olmsted argues that
real political misdeeds actually create an audience for
conspiracy theories by affording them a credibility they could
not otherwise claim. I have some reservations about that
hypothesis, but it is an interesting and arguable one. Suffice
it to say that real history is scary and depressing enough. We
don't need paranoia about imagined conspiracies to accomplish
that.


>It's worth reiterating the phrase yet again: 'there are no
>substitutes for evidence and logical analysis' If you want a
>gold standard for what I'm talking about, check out 'The JFK
>Assassination Debates: Lone Gunman Versus Conspiracy=E2=80=99 by
>Michael L. Kurtz (University Press of Kansas). Kurtz is an
>academic historian and his book is rigorous and balanced,
>evidenced and analytical. Kurtz's approach to the topic is
>exemplary.

I've read it. A much better book is Vincent Bugliosi's
Reclaiming History: The Assassination of President John F.
Kennedy (2007), 1600+ pages examining every facet of an ever-
evolving modern mythology.


Jerry Clark



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