Conspiracy Theory And Fact

“I believe in facts about conspiracies. . . Any time people with power plan in secret, they are conducting a conspiracy. So there are conspiracies everywhere. There are also crazed conspiracy theories. It’s important not to confuse these two. Generally, when there’s enough facts about a conspiracy we simply call this news. . . I’m constantly annoyed that people are distracted by false conspiracies such as 9/11, when all around we provide evidence of real conspiracies, for war or mass financial fraud.”
~ Julian Assange

There is this idea about conspiracy theories. It’s that conspiracies aren’t possible or so rare as to be irrelevant. If conspiracies happened, so the argument goes, there would always be someone who would speak out and so we’d know about them.

It’s such a naive view. Despite this mainstream belief, conspiracies happen all the time. And people do speak out about them quite often, whether or not the MSM pays it much attention.

We have numerous official documents and other evidence about conspiracies that weren’t known while they were happening, often only becoming verified decades later. Even when evidence shows the official story doesn’t make sense, any alternative explanation is a conspiracy theory by default, until some damning evidence finally comes forth. But even deathbed confessions by insiders (spymasters, covert operation agents, etc) are regularly dismissed for the type of people who get involved in conspiracies are those with reputations of secrecy and deceit.

Probably most of what militaries, alphabet soup agencies, organized crime, corporations, etc does in secret never comes to light. Conspiracies, if successful, are designed to be hard to prove with few paper trails and a surfeit of plausible deniability.

I’m not sure why anyone should find this surprising. It’s not hard to keep a secret, when all involved have a vested interest to keep it secret or who, like soldiers, are trained to be subservient by maintaining silence. Conspirators, in particular, are legally complicit and so have little motive to admit anything. If all else fails, there are endless means to keep people silent, from blackmail to assassinating them (there is an amazingly improbable number of alleged conspirators, subpoenaed witnesses, and investigators who end up dying by mysterious accidents and unforeseen suicides).

Take something like the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin incident—if not a proven false flag operation, then at least a conspiracy to hide the truth. Far from being a minor incident, it justified the US entering into the Vietnam War. It just so happens that those in power had been in the process of looking for an excuse to officially declare war, although illegal covert military operations had been going on for a while. Anyway, it turns out that parts of the official account never happened or not the way it was officially stated, but evidence didn’t finally come out in mainstream reporting until after the war was already over an government documents were only declassified in 2005.

That was decades later! And that was a situation with multiple naval ships and naval crews from multiple countries, and so involved numerous potential eye witnesses. Declassified records show that even US Senators at the time knew the official story was false. Certainly, officials in the other involved governments also had information about what actually happened and didn’t happen. Few conspiracies have ever involved so many.

The Gulf of Tonkin is not much different than the WMDs that got us into the Iraq War. Even the CIA didn’t believe Iraq had WMDs. Besides, those in the Bush administration knew they were misleading the public in connecting Saddam Hussein to the 9/11 terrorists. It was a conspiracy and one that operated right out in the open. All it took was a servile mainstream media and a submissive public. Too many people don’t want to know the truth, even when the truth is obvious. That is what can make conspiracies so easy to commit. Most people want to believe whatever they’re told, especially when the person telling it to them is an authority figure. It’s the same reason the Vatican was able to hush up the sex abuse for decades.

Consider another example from the private sector. Recent investigative reporting from an alternative media organization (Inside Climate News) found that Exxon and other major oil/gas corporations knew about man-made climate change since the 1970s.

Numerous people in these corporations, from scientists to upper management, were aware of this knowledge. There were even internal documents showing this knowledge. This was and is a problem that not only has threatened the earth’s biosphere and global population but has also been a national threat to powerful countries like the US. Yet a successful campaign of lies, obfuscation, and disinformation (involving not just PR but also powerful political lobbyist organizations, think tanks, and front groups) lasted for decades apparently without any of the conspirators coming forward to speak out about the conspiracy or, if they did, it never received much MSM news coverage.

According to some, conspiracies like this are highly implausible. Yet these implausible conspiracies have been proven true. Conspiracy theorists jumped on the Tonkin story early on as they noticed the unexplained discrepancies. And for a long time many have written about the tactics of oil/gas corporations. But until documents are released or discovered conspiracy theories can be almost impossible to prove as conspiracy facts. The problem is that documents usually only come out after massive private investigation has already indicated conspiracy and long after any involved could be held accountable. Even so, most of what governments and corporations do in secret is never disclosed by those responsible, as the wealthy and powerful have little incentive do so.

Conspiracies sometimes are open secrets. Governments and corporations do all kinds of things that are proven, but it isn’t unusual for the corporate media to not report much on it. There is even a history of paid agents in US media promoting official propaganda/spin (e.g., Operation Mockingbird), and we have no rational reason to assume that such illegal operations don’t still happen (similarly, even though FBI COINTELPRO and CIA Operation CHAOS was declared illegal, the tactics used have been brought back with the War on Terror). In the alternative media, known conspiracies are more well reported. And in other countries, actions and manipulations by powerful foreign interests are often well understood.

Still, the average person in a country like the US remains uninformed and disinformed. Chomsky has explained how this is possible, through the propaganda model of news media—such as superficial, sound bite, spectacle-and-celebrity-obsessed ‘news’ reporting largely replacing long form journalism and investigative journalism. It isn’t hard for the average person to find info, if they really want to find it. Yet few know there is any info to be found and so never look for it, assuming they would want to know which is a big assumption.

Conspiracies proliferate, at times remaining hidden in plain sight, because of the public’s apathy and indifference—if one was feeling uncharitable, it could be described as willful ignorance; not knowing and not wanting to know. People fear acknowledging conspiracies exist more than they fear conspiracies themselves. I find that strange. But I sort of understand the fear. Most people would rather not think that such things go on in the world. To admit to any of this is to no longer be able to deny how bad it is. It’s the same reason it’s taken so long for so many to take climate change seriously. It’s depressing. Yet, by doing nothing, we allow it all to get worse.

Some conspiracies get publicly revealed and widely reported on sooner than others. To mention a few examples, there is Watergate and the Iran-Contra Scandal or, more recently and at a local level, the Michigan officials who altered data to hide the lead toxicity in the water supply. But obviously those in power do such things with the expectation of getting away with them and one might presume based on the experience of more often than not having gotten away with similar conspiracies in the past. From what little we’ve discovered about past actions, those in power have been able to get away with conspiracies that are illegal and immoral to an extreme degree and they do so on a regular basis, stolen elections being minor in comparison.

What I find interesting is how much energy those in the mainstream go to make straw man arguments or else superficial reporting, refusing to even acknowledge all the evidence and plausible explanations. Sure, there are crazy conspiracy theorists, even as there are many proven conspiracies. So, why does the mainstream media rarely bring up the proven conspiracies when talking about conspiracy theories, instead obsessing over silly alien stories and such? Isn’t it newsworthy that conspiracy theorists sometimes turn out to be right?

Also, isn’t it interesting that the government itself promotes conspiracy theories as a form of distraction from inconvenient truths? As Kathryn S. Olmsted explained in her scholarly study, “With cool calculation, (the government) has promoted conspiracy theories, sometimes demonstrably false ones, for their own purposes…it is the secret actions of the government that are the real enemies of democracy” (Real Enemies, p. 240).

We’d know a lot less about what goes on in the world without people willing to risk their reputations by investigating possible conspiracies. Along with whistleblowers, their lives can be destroyed by those in power. Seeking the truth used to be what respectable investigative journalists did before news media became a part of big biz entertainment media.

How can we hope to have a functioning democracy when we don’t have an informed public? We live a society that is corrupt to the core. Maybe more than an informed public, what we need at this point is a truth and reconciliation commission.

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Culture of Paranoia, Culture of Trust

Paranoia is easy to wave away and laugh about. The craziest of conspiracy theories are known about by almost any American. It is redundant, in respectable company, to even say a conspiracy theory is crazy. But this condescension toward the paranoid misses the fundamental relevance of paranoia.

This country is a paranoid society, I would argue. It goes beyond the radical conspiracists and affects us all. There could be many reasons for this state of affairs. The most obvious one is that we live in a large and diverse country. Few other countries come close to the distance found here between geographic regions and ethnic cultures. Furthermore, the distance between the powerful and powerless is at least as vast and growing vaster. In the space between these distances, there is much room for fantasizing and projection, for fear and mistrust.

I find myself more sympathetic and understanding of paranoia than many people, partly because I have my own paranoid leanings. I came of age reading Robert Anton Wilson and listening to Art Bell on Coast to Coast AM. I tend toward considering all perspectives, even when they seem improbable, if only for amusement and the exercise of my imagination. This isn’t to say I will waste my time trying to make sense of incoherent ramblings or unsupported speculations. Nor does it mean I won’t judge harshly and call bullshit. I’ll look at someone’s evidence and claims, but I will do so critically with utmost intellectual standards.

I take paranoia seriously because it feels like an all too reasonable response to the world we live in. Particular paranoid responses often aren’t plausible or relevant. Sometimes they can lead to harmful beliefs and dangerous behaviors. Still, paranoia taken on its own terms is a useful and maybe a necessary attitude. It simply tells us that there is something that isn’t known and that such is a less-than-optimal situation. So, even when paranoia leads to an invalid conspiracy theory and/or problematic levels of mistrust, the impulse itself shouldn’t be denied or ignored.

Truth often hides in odd places, if we dare to look. But we can’t know what truth that might be until we look for it. When we notice paranoia, we should take very seriously what is provoking it.

There are plenty of issues an American should be paranoid about. Trust needs to be earned, most especially in a supposed democratic society. Yet particular individuals and groups in our society have proven to be questionable in their trustworthiness. We have endless examples of trust being abused and betrayed, often in major ways.

One of the greatest of injustices in this country, of course, is that of racism… or call it racialization, racial bias, institutional racism, racecraft, the New Jim Crow, whatever. Everyone acknowledges the dark past beginning with slavery, but political correctness has made it near impossible to speak openly and honestly about the continuing reality and the enduring repercussions.

From Racial Paranoia: The Unintended Consequences of Political Correctness The New Reality of Race in America by John L. Jackson:

“Most commentators don’t emphasize, however, that the stakes of political correctness are located in a slightly different place than our conversations on the matter imply. The culture of political correctness actually generates one of the essential foundations of contemporary racial distrust. Since most Americans aren’t as transparent as Archie Bunker (even when he’s trying to hide his ethnocentrism), PC policies actually lose their ability to cultivate the kinds of good-faith dialogues they are meant to foster. Instead, blacks are stuck in the structural position (vis-à-vis white interlocutors) of their ancestors’ slave masters: they see smiles on white faces and hear kind words spilling from white mouths without the least bit of certainty about whether those gestures are representative of the speakers’ hearts. “The American Negro problem,” wrote Swedish economist Gunnar Myrdal in the 1940s, “is a problem in the heart of the American. It is there that the interracial tension has its focus. It is there that the decisive struggle goes on.” And it is there that the search for racial honesty and truth continues today. But not in the same ways that Myrdal emphasized.

“When individuals’ words and some of their actions can no longer be trusted, we look for other seemingly invisible and interior clues about people’s racial positions. We long to look past calculated performances and into the very hearts of men and women. Social analysts should take the features of this need, this search for de cardio racism, seriously—this racism attributed to the hearts of other-than-explicitly racist actors. De cardio racism is imagined to be a kind of hidden or cloaked racism, a racism of euphemism and innuendo, not heels-dug-in pronouncements of innate black inferiority.

“We’re living in a moment when what I’m calling de cardio racism has elbowed out room for itself at the head of America’s political table, right alongside still operative de jure and de facto forms (think of sentencing disparities for possession of crack versus powder cocaine as a contemporary version of the former and our seemingly effortless, self-perpetuating reproductions of residential and educational segregation along racial lines as a twenty-first-century instance of the latter).

“Given this newfangled reckoning of American racism’s potentially cloaked animosities, the white man’s newest burden is hardly lightened by political correctness—just as black people’s deepest racial suspicions are only bolstered by America’s current penchant for dressing up every ideological position (no matter how reactionary or elitist, partisan or self-interested) as simply another better version of egalitarianism.”
(pp. 77-80)

Without genuine public discourse, the silence belies something unspoken and unadmitted.

“As an anthropologist studying how black people talk about race, I’ve heard this silence described many times and in many ways, but one young security guard in Brook – lyn, New York, captured the thrust of the de cardio racism critique most succinctly: “They were sending dogs to maul black kids in the street forty years ago, and all of a sudden there are no racists in America at all.” De cardio racism asks, where did all of yesterday’s racial wolves go, and why do all these sheep seem to be standing around licking their chops?””
(pp. 88-89)

Racism hasn’t disappeared. It has simply mutated into some strange creature, a mind parasite that burrows deep (as the Toxoplasma lies hidden in the brain of rats telling them that they want to run fast in open spaces, that the smell of cat urine is actually a pleasant smell to be sought out). Hidden behind political correctness and post-racial colorblindness, the infestation of this soul-sickening mind-warping racial oppressiveness goes untreated.

“The point isn’t that race is less important now than it was before. It’s just more schizophrenic, more paradoxical. We continue to commit to its social significance on many levels, but we seem to disavow that commitment at one and the same time. Race is real, but it isn’t. It has value, but it doesn’t. It explains social difference, but it couldn’t possibly. This kind of racial doublethink drives us all crazy, makes us so suspicious of one another, and fans the flames of racial paranoia. Nothing is innocent, and one bumps into conspirators everywhere.”
(p. 11)

This isn’t to deny the progress that has been made, but it is to look deeper past the superficial narrative and into the even more intransigent problems.

“The demonization of public racism is clearly a social and moral victory, but it has come at a cost. Political correctness has proven tragically effective at hiding racism, not just healing it. In sacrificing noisy and potentially combative racial discussions for the politeness of political correctness, we face an even more pernicious racism, a racism that’s almost never explicitly declared, except among the closest of confidants. But as the “White Like Me” skit’s lampoon shows, people recognize the fact that racism might be even more effectual under the cover of color blindness and rhetorical silence.”
(p. 91)

The fact that political correctness has become the ultimate defense of racism is one of the saddest results of all. The words of political correctness are invoked like an invisibility spell. With this talismanic use of magical words, all the old racisms simply take new form and in some ways they are more powerful than before. Now they are presented, instead of as belief and bigotry, in the guise of neutral observation or even scientific reality.

We Americans live in a society, not just of vast geographic and cultural divides, but also of vast racial and class divides.

There is no other major developed country in the Western world with equivalent high of rates of economic inequality and no other country anywhere in the world with even close to our high rates of incarceration rates; other high rates of social problems could be added to these two egregious examples. The injustice of this American society is beyond comprehension. Those on the bottom or those threatened with ending up on the bottom have a lot to fear. If you are deemed useless or simply in the way in this society, you will be lucky to fall through the cracks rather than be ground beneath the wheel. And no one in the mainstream media will bother to report on your sad fate. You’ll just be another faceless number or maybe not even that.

It is hard to blame people, under these oppressive conditions, for lashing out at shadows.

“When you wire skepticism and paranoia directly to questions of racial discrimination and inequality (and in a context where economic inequality is rising just as social safety nets are deteriorating precipitously), you then have a perfect storm for severe responses to severe times.”
(p. 200)

The danger in our society isn’t in being paranoid but in not being paranoid enough, especially if you are part of the economic underclass or worse still the racial under-caste. But paranoia speaks of deeper undercurrents still. In a society of fear, the sickening taint of mistrust and doubt seeps into our very pores.

“De cardio racism can even be hidden from the very person who harbors it. They may not even admit racist feelings to themselves. If we were all self-aware and totally self-transparent, every psychotherapist in the country would be begging for bread.”
(p. 237)

Now there is paranoia for you. The monster lurks within the unsuspecting. Look in the mirror, if you dare, and see what may look back.

The more we deny something the more we fear being judged to be in denial. Still, it isn’t just that this judgment may come from others but that we too have suspicions about ours own potential guilt, a sense of past sins and ongoing complicities. Everyone understands that each of us harbors ugly thoughts, cruel grudges, repressed memories, and who knows what else. So much of civilized behavior is pretense, as much to convince ourselves as others. For certain, political correctness isn’t a recent invention. People have been speaking around uncomfortable truths and dangerous ideas for as long as humans could speak.

“The eighteenth-century French philosopher Voltaire once claimed that human beings really only speak to conceal what they truly feel, as much to miscommunicate as anything else. Humans are complicated and dissimulating creatures with the uncanny ability to misrepresent themselves and their deepest inner thoughts, to be purposefully economical with the truth. It could be as harmless as a “little white lie” about how good your child was in the school play or as catastrophic as a governmental cover-up of Watergate-like proportions. And there are few areas of public life where people put these gifts to work as often as they do in the context of discussions about race.”
(pp. 89-90)

It doesn’t even matter if we’d rather not admit to what underlies our own thoughts and motivations. The data points toward the inconvenient knowledge of our all too human tendencies. Research shows a million examples of hidden biases and prejudices, many of them racial.

“Although nobody went on CNN or Fox after the Hurricane Katrina disaster to proclaim that they would like to donate money to white victims instead of black ones, a Washington Post/Stanford University study found that white Americans were willing to provide more financial assistance to white victims than black ones, to the tune of about $1,000 extra a year. And the darker the victim, the less money she would have received, with lighter-skinned blacks benefiting from about $100 more per month than those who couldn’t pass the brown-paper-bag test (i.e., those not lighter than a brown shopping bag). Americans may hardly admit it in public, but they are clearly willing to put their money where their color biases are.”
(p. 88)

I have my doubts that we, as a society and as individuals, would know how to be non-racist, even if we tried. We are the products of our society and are no more capable of being colorblind than Pavlov’s dog could be mute to the sound of the bell.

“If psychologists have shown that people don’t even necessarily know what makes them happy, they may not be able to identify exactly what makes them potentially hateful or discriminatory either. If we can “stumble on happiness,” we might be able to stumble right into prejudice as well.

“The more blatantly racist a society has been in the past, the steeper its climb out of explicit racial discrimination and the harder it is for contemporary citizens to shake fears of de cardio racism. The farther we advance from overt racist doctrines and laws, the more material traces those past sins leave behind, which means all the more surfaces to which contemporary racially charged paranoia might stick.”
(p. 95)

Alleging that our dark nature is to be found in our genes or elsewhere instead of the unconscious hardly alleviates the paranoia. Ours is a society full of people claiming secret sins are hidden away within the hearts, minds and bodies of their neighbors, coworkers and fellow citizens. All white people have hidden racist beliefs and thoughts. All black people (along with other minorities) have hidden inferior genes and culture. And all of society has hidden structures of privilege and oppression, of class warfare and cabals of special interest groups. Endless seething nightmares of paranoia.

The real dark secret is the paranoia itself. We all go on acting normal as these dark visions play out in the background of our daily activities and interactions. It isn’t about proving one’s own preferred paranoia and disproving all others. The paranoia itself always speaks to our shared reality. The question is: What does it signify? What are we really afraid of?

“Rumors about race, racism, and racial distrust are not just fringe beliefs held by a few hard-line crackpots, not even the kinds just mentioned. They define the surreal core of all racial stereotypes and race-based social policy. Race, as a concept, is only useful as a way to ground conspiratorial claims—about research on inherent cognitive differences between social groups or about secret government surveillance technologies. Race is one of the shortcuts we use to convince ourselves that the social differences we see in the world merely reflect more latent and inflexible differences in genes or culture. And racial paranoia is the realization that we are all far too afraid and polite to deal with any of these assumptions head-on.”
(pp. 108-110)

Racial paranoia is just another expression of the return of the repressed. If we don’t deal with an issue at the conscious level, our unconsciousness will find a way to force the issue and command our attention. The central conflict of race itself demands resolution.

“In the early 1970s, psychologist Joseph White penned what is now one of the most classic formulations of black paranoia as a reasonable response to white racism. “Part of the objective condition of black people in this society is that of a paranoid condition,” he writes. “There is, and has been, unwarranted, systematic persecution and exploitation of black people as a group. A black person who is not suspicious of the white culture is pathologically denying certain objective and basic realities of the black experience.””
(p. 189)

There is more to racial paranoia than fear-fueled suspiciousness and dark visions. Very much real social conditions, historical and present, give plentiful evidence for mistrust. How could the average black person in this society not at the very least have some occasional misgivings? Heck, I’m a relatively privileged white male and even I have healthy skepticism about the good intentions of certain people who share this society with me. A bit of paranoia is a perfectly normal response when faced with such deeply entrenched power structures and power disparities.

“What detractors pooh-pooh as irrational racial paranoia might represent an appropriate, if incomplete, response to euphemized forms of racism today.”
(p. 214)

So, what kind of response is needed?

Simply trying to be more reasonable and rational won’t save us. We humans never lack for reasons, never lack for an ability to rationalize and explain away. The surface level of our thoughts and words is just so much distraction. If we seek justice and fairness, there is no way for us to keep an objective distance and keep ourselves clean from the inersubjective muck of it all. It is all too personal for all involved.

“As a society we should never pretend that we have successfully reasoned or legislated our way out of race’s suffocating grasp. Our historical investment in it is too dynamic and affective for that, too irrational and deep-seated. We are being naive if we think that we can sit down and intellectualize ourselves out of its sticky clutches, if we imagine that ending explicit commitments to blatant types of racial discrimination must mean that we are done with racism’s awful legacy for good. It is a trap that scholars fall into as well, assuming that all they have to do is objectively “deconstruct” race, prove it isn’t real in the biological ways that we once thought, and then imagine that by doing so they have somehow inoculated us all against its most hazardous features, dulled its sharpest talons. That isn’t nearly true.”

“We want to believe something very similar about racism and accusations of racism. If we can prove that a particular allegation of racism is unfounded or untrue, we can all breathe a collective sigh of relief and try to move on. That is part of racism’s power. It tricks us into thinking that we can wish it away with a string of logical premises and conclusions, with a singular decree of guilt or innocence. We fantasize about isolating this thing and determining its measurable impact once and for all, especially now that blatant forms of racism have been so thoroughly demonized in mainstream society.”
(pp. 84-85)

Yeah, I’ve lately read a number of books whose authors could be accused of falling into that intellectual trap. I’m not sure it is an entirely fair accusation, but I understand the point. Intellectual analysis of data is just a tool. It is one tool among many and no less useful when needed.

If I had an accusation against the author of this book (John L. Jackson), I might say that he didn’t ground his argument in enough intellectual analysis of data. His argument would have been so much stronger had he been as thorough as, for example, Michelle Alexander in The New Jim Crow. It was the data-driven strength of Alexander’s presentation that made her book so effective in its impact and hopefully its influence.

I love that Racial Paranoia presents fresh insight and an innovative perspective. So, I wouldn’t judge Jackson too harshly for I understand his purpose. He is making a very important point that maybe no one else is making, at least not in the way he is making it. The only comparable book I’ve come across is Racecraft by Fields and Fields. Both books try to get beyond the standard repeating of data and, in doing so, try to get past the cognitive traps of our own making.

Some have criticized Jackson for what the perceived failure to more fully include the problems of more overt racism, but I especially think that is unfair.

“I do want to argue that racial paranoia isn’t racism, but racism is also still alive and well (even in its more explicit guises). I don’t want to privilege individual psyches over larger structural forces. In fact, I want to argue that a structural transformation in the American racial order created current versions of race-based paranoia. All I suggest is that we not simply reduce accusations of racism to simplistic assessments of truth or falsehood. We shouldn’t just try to vet them for provable accuracy and then go on to something else once we think we’ve shown a particular allegation to be unfounded. Instead, I want to remind us that we now live in a political atmosphere that promotes racial dissimulation and insincerity. The self-conscious parsing of racial speech brings a certain kind of distrust and bad faith into the center of every interracial conversation, even if through the back door and against some people’s best intentions.”
(pp. 195-196)

His point is that taking seriously racial paranoia is a necessary and essential part of our dealing with the more concrete racial problems that confound us.

“We promote racial paranoia when we combine discussions about color blindness with silent acceptance of continued structural differences in racial realities.”
(p. 206)

As such, racial paranoia is a sign of our collective failure. It is proof of how far away we still are from coming to terms with the real issues at hand.

There is a further issue that brings me to my own thoughts on American society. Jackson touches upon this in the following:

“Some critics downplay the significance of Americans’ publicly concealing their racial biases in mixed company, even as some of these same naysayers admit that most blacks and whites don’t have many substantial relationships with one another. In fact, political scientist Robert Putnam argues that Americans who live in diverse communities are more likely to disengage from civic life than those who live in homogenous racial and ethnic enclaves. This just further highlights fellow political scientist Diana Mutz’s persuasive contention that “participatory democracy” (civic engagement, people rolling up their sleeves and taking part in political life) and “deliberative democracy” (substantive discussions about political life) operate at cross-purposes to one another.13 If the lack of racial intimacy breeds distrust, the increase of interracial contact only makes good-faith social dialogue and interaction a casualty of that social mistrust. Social distance can make the heart grow frightened, but it takes more than just passing a diverse array of strangers on the street to allay those fears.”
(pp. 202-203)

I’ve so far spoken only of our culture of paranoia. That is the challenge before us. But what is the antidote? I would suggest that the only force equal to the task would be a culture of trust. The fact that this country has such a culture of paranoia could be interpreted as demonstrating how weak is our culture of trust, but I don’t know if that is actually the case. Conditions supporting each might not be oppositional.

The reason I say this is because the United States, in the studies I’ve seen, measures relatively high as a culture of trust. Not as high, of course, as Germany or Japan. Still, we’re not doing too bad, better than most countries. Besides, one might point out that, if not for a significant culture of paranoia in Germany, the Nazis wouldn’t likely have come to power by scapegoating so many people.

A culture of trust is about social capital. And a culture of paranoia is one possible result of insufficient social capital. But a finer point must be added that there are many kinds of social capital that serve different ends.

That is what Jackson explains in the quote directly above when he says, ““participatory democracy” (civic engagement, people rolling up their sleeves and taking part in political life) and “deliberative democracy” (substantive discussions about political life) operate at cross-purposes to one another.” Maybe so. If so, that is quite a dilemma. I doubt it is a forced option of one or the other, but it could imply a necessary third that bridges the two, a factor of social capital that is of a higher order.

This is shown by yet another study. Children who grow up in multicultural communities tend to become more socially liberal as adults. For a social democracy, the ultimate form of social capital is social liberalism. Without it, social democracy can’t function. Multiculturalism teaches kids how to tolerate and accept, how to cooperate and compromise with those who are different.

As this all shows, it isn’t simply a matter of social capital or its lack. Rather, what is required is a balance of social capital that achieves a particular end. A different blend of social capital would be required in a traditional society than in a modern society. In speaking of cultures of trust, we must consider what kinds of trust toward whom and for what purpose.

A kinship-based society would measure low in these kinds of studies for people in those societies only trust kin, but their trust of kin is very strong. In America, there is less trust (or loyalty) to large extended families. Few Americans could honestly speak of having a traditional clan or a tribe to which they belong. Also, as we aren’t an ethnic nation-state, we don’t have the same kind of patriotism and communitarianism found in the countries that do measure highest as cultures of trust. The Japanese when dealing with other Japanese know that they can make business deals on a handshake for someone’s word is their honor and, when the Japanese fail by their own sense of honor, that means social death and if severe enough a responsibility to commit suicide. We Americans aren’t so honor-bound.

Even so, we Americans have our own variety of trust. Unlike societies of kinship and ethno-nationalism, we are more likely to offer trust to strangers more quickly and with fewer reservations. We are more likely to assume someone is trustworthy until proven otherwise, especially in terms of face-to-face personal interactions.

My dad gave an example of this. His career led him to visit many factories. He remembered visiting a closed-down Japanese factory, but Japanese management were wary about him seeing their operation since he was an outsider, not just an outsider to Japan for he was also an outsider to the company. In visiting American factories, it was more common for management to let him freely wander around factories that were actively being used.

This might relate to a behavioral trait I’ve heard many foreigners observe in Americans. Americans on average are more openly gregarious, quick to help others, go out of our way to make people feel welcome. But to many foreigners this feels superficial. I can only imagine that it is something like how my Midwestern mother felt when interacting with our Southern Belle neighbor in South Carolina, a cordial friendliness that was just a formality. This observation of foreigners seems to show that there are two levels of trust. In everyday interactions, Americans act trustingly. But otherwise, Americans go by the policy that deeper trust needs to be earned. We don’t give someone that deeper trust simply because they share our kinship or our ethnicity.

Racial paranoia seems to operate on that deeper level.

It goes back to slavery, as Jackson explains. Many slave masters weren’t so wealthy that they could sit around sipping iced tea on the veranda. They had to be out there working in the fields with their slaves. Even for wealthier slave masters, their entire lives were intimately entwined with their slaves and, in the more isolated Virginia plantations, this went as far as slaves being part of an extended sense of family. It was the simultaneous closeness and distance between people in a slave society that necessitated trust even as it provoked paranoia. Segregation offers a false portrayal of geographic separation, but the reality is that people lived separate lives while often living next door to one another. Even after slavery, whether as sharecroppers or servants, blacks in the Deep South tended live near the whites they worked for. My Southern Belle neighbor, for example, had a black woman who was her personal servant for years and only lived a few blocks away.

A similar dynamic has happened also between other diverse demographics: ethnic groups, regional populations, etc. This is an immigrant nation and so that has meant diverse people have had to learn to work together, even when there was potential for animosities and inequalities. This has been magnified by the American tendency to move around a lot from region to region. American-style cooperative trust goes hand-in-hand with wary mistrust.

It could be that the paranoid imagination is how societies process divisions and conflicts. As people imagine dark possibilities, they imagine brighter possibilities as well.

Along with being an immigrant nation, the corollary is that this is a dynamic society. There is a constant influx of immigrants and, about every few generations, a new large wave of immigration comes along. This has meant that, unlike traditional societies with established ethnic populations, Americans in general has never been able or particularly interested in trying to remain unchanging.

Like all of modernity, this dynamic instability is taxing on human nature. There is an endless need for negotiating and renegotiating relationships. No seeming certainties go forever unchallenged.

This reminds me of my eternal fascination with boundaries and boundary types. I’ll let this angle bring me into my concluding thoughts.

The reason race is most prone to paranoia is because it isn’t an objective category. It can be almost anything to anyone. This is clearly shown with issues of definition. Even relatively dark-skinned North Africans are technically Caucasians. A large number of American blacks have as many or more European genetics than African genetics. There is a long history of light-skinned blacks passing as whites and also some examples of whites passing as blacks (e.g., John Howard Griffin). Then there are all those ethnic groups that have struggled to fit into American categories: Italians, Irish/Scots-Irish, Eastern Europeans, Jews, etc.

America is one of those places where differences come to die, although some take longer than others, race being one of the more stubborn. There are few ethnic immigrants whose American-born descendants aren’t assimilated within a few generations, often along with marrying across ethnic divides.

As boundaries shift, everything else shifts along with them: social identities, religious practices, communities, etc. And so we as a society shift from what is known to what is unknown, to what has been to what might be. This past century has been a time of the greatest shifts in American history. It shouldn’t be surprising that, when so much is up in the air, paranoia would become rampant. Of the uncertainties of our age, racial identities and categories are among the most challenged. A large part of the population today has few if any ancestors who were in America during slavery or even Jim Crow. The very history behind racial dogma is becoming ever more irrelevant, and so its ideological nature is becoming more obvious.

At the same time, the historical racial divides have been growing as the class divides grow. The racial order that benefits the few is increasingly becoming harmful to the many as those in power become increasingly oppressive in maintaining all aspects of the social order. It is in the interest of those least worthy of trust to discourage the development of a culture of trust.

The only thing that can move all of this forward against such resistance is public dialogue. Even paranoia expressed is more constructive than silence.

Paranoid Denialism, a Strange Brew

I was interacting with some people who don’t believe in anthropogenic global warming (AGW). They are typical specimens. I know I’m wasting my time with them, but I can’t help being fascinated by such strange thinking patterns. When I confront the strange, my response is to analyze.

There are numerous problems with the anti-scientific denialist worldview:

1) In the end, it is an empty rationalization.

The structure of the rationalization is not unique to any particular argument and so could be used to defend any belief system equally as well or rather equally as badly. There either is no substance or what little substance included is inconsequential.

2) It presents no falsifiable hypotheses and won’t accept anyone treating their hypothesis as falsifiable.

Their argument can’t be disproven; then again neither can it be proven. The scientific process with peer review is dismissed out of hand and so no objective standard remains. The argument denies the very evidence that disproves it, but it doesn’t disprove the evidence on a case by case analysis. All peer reviewed research is treated as suspect, unless it fits into the preconceived conclusions.

It is standard confirmation bias, sometimes combined with the smart idiot effect as some of these denialists can spout off a lot of carefully selected factoids. It takes a certain kind of intelligence to defend such a difficult position, especially those who dedicate their lives to it. This is similar to how some apologists can be immensely well educated, sometimes even being academics in biblical studies.

3) The denialist’s worldview forms a self-enclosed and self-reinforcing reality tunnel.

The denialist becomes isolated from any new information being able to challenge what he thinks he already knows. It forms a groupthink where denialists help support eachother’s delusions, giving the appearance of credence by closing the ranks. The denialist groupthink is further assisted by particular well funded organizations and think tanks that hire the ‘experts’ to produce the ‘data’ and arguments to create a semblance of coherence.

4) The essence of the argument is a conspiracy theory.

It’s a paranoid worldview where no one can be trusted, unless they affirm the exact same beliefs. This paranoia plays into their entrapment in a reality tunnel of their own construction. The conspiracy theory, however, only makes sense within the belief system itself. If the person was able to see outside their paranoia, they probably wouldn’t be so paranoid and so the conspiracy theory would no longer be compelling.

The conspiracy theory necessitates a conspiracy larger than anything before in history. The conspiracy would have to include every government in the world and every government agency, every scientific institution both publicly and privately funded, nearly all the scientists in the world, and most of the mainstream media. This would be a conspiracy with millions of participants all colluding together in a massive cooperative effort and doing so almost completely hidden from the view of the public. Considering the vast majority of climatologists and other scientists support AGW, this would include at least hundreds of thousands of scientists alone, many of whom work in the private sector.

Interestingly, research has shown that paranoia is an aspect of a Dark Triad which includes three personality traits: narcissism, Machiavellianism and psychopathy. In the research, perceiving Machiavellianism in others (paranoia and conspiracy theorizing) positively and strongly correlates with admitting to a willingness to act with Machiavellian intentions if given the opportunity. To put it simply, such a person is paranoid because they believe other people are just like them, that other people are equally as untrustworthy and immoral/amoral.

By the way, paranoia shows no correlation with low IQ and so it isn’t an issue of intelligence. Some conspiracy theories are so intricate and complex as to be creations of a genius mind. Conspiracy theorizing is pattern-seeking on steroids.

5) Denialists are holding a double standard.

First, they have a double standard for the assessment and acceptance of evidence. The evidence they accept supports their beliefs and they only accept evidence according to their beliefs. But they wouldn’t accept this being used by others who hold views opposing their own. For example, one of the denialists I was interacting with told me to present a peer reviewed paper proving some particular issue, but simultaneously he was denying the validity of the entire peer review process.

Second, they have a double standard of the rationalization behind what evidence is accepted or excluded. One of the criticisms that denialists often make is that they believe AGW supporters are rationalizing according to a self-enclosed reality tunnel and according to a conspiracy theory about big energy. So, they refuse to allow what they perceive in others what they do themselves. This is, of course, projection for on some level most denialists probably realize their position is weak.

The double standard can be demonstrated by returning to the facet of their rationalization not being unique. The denialist’s arguments could be just as easily turned against them.

Once freed from the constraints of objective evidence and standards, almost any argument could be put forth that couldn’t be disproven (or proven). Also, once we enter the convoluted territory of conspiracy theory, Occam’s Razor can be dismissed as well and we can go to any length to seek a coherent worldview. Many have pointed out that the conspiracy theorist can end up with a worldview that is more coherent than any scientific theory for the conspiracy theorist feels no desire to include conflicting data and interpretations.

I hold out some hope that denialists can be reached, that some of them aren’t beyond all redemption.

That does seem to be the case. Not all denialists are overtly anti-scientific. A few simply are being overly cautious in vetting the consensus of the scientific community, but this doesn’t mean they dismiss it out of hand. In recent years, I’ve heard of several cases of scientists who held strong skepticism toward AGW and were publicly vocal in their skepticism, and yet over time the evidence finally convinced them.

I don’t criticize to make myself feel better. It certainly doesn’t make me feel better to think about the weaknesses and failures of the human mind. I like to think that there is value in trying to understand what makes people tick.

Democracy, Legitimacy, & Consent of the Governed

Here I continue my personal exploration of American conservatism. The topic of this post, the 2012 election, is what all of my recent posts have been building up to. The impetus to my thinking was experiencing the campaign season in stereo with the news media in one ear and my parents in the other. Frustration is the result.

As others have already explained: If America could survive 8 years of Bush without becoming a corporatist plutocracy and outright fascist police state, then America can survive 8 years of Obama without becoming communist. Besides, considering the GOP used to be far to the left of Obama: If as Bircher-inspired Tea Partiers claim Obama is a secret commie and as the Birchers claimed Eisenhower was a secret commie, why did the US government including both parties spend so many decades fighting the commies until the greatest communist nation finally collapsed?

Conservatives think they’ve somehow lost America. I don’t know that they ever had it, but certainly the it they thought they had was never what they thought it was. There is a disconnect that is perplexing. And when perplexed by some issue of conservatism, I consider how such things play out in the thinking and lives of my parents. I do indeed observe this disconnect in them and, although I’m sure it existed in the past, I don’t remember it always being so blatant. What happened?

My family moved to South Carolina and my parents ended up spending a couple of decades there. While there, many things changed, besides just their being surrounded by a more right-wing version of conservatives than is typically found in the Midwest where our family lived prior to that.

The right-wing backlash was going mainstream and becoming empowered during the 1990’s. Like most conservatives, my parents were swept up in the changing atmosphere. But one thing kept my parents going too far right while I was still living down there and in the years immediately following my departure.

For my entire childhood and well into my adulthood, my parents consistently attended very liberal churches, mostly the Unity Church. They, however, began to feel a growing chasm between their own beliefs and the worldview of Unity Church, a growing chasm that wasn’t caused by any changes within the Unity Church. The inner right-winger was awakening within my parents. So, they left the Unity Church and began looking for more conservative churches, finally settling on one that they remained with for their last decade in South Carolina.

This was also the time when my brothers and I were back in the Midwest. And this was the time when Fox News was launched (1996). This left my parents to have no source of liberalism to balance out an increasing influence of right-wing rhetoric. No liberal children, no liberal church, no liberal Midwestern community, no liberal local media.

On top of that, my parents were increasingly associating with a more upper class set of friends, having left behind their poor years when my dad had gone back to school. Furthermore, along with my dad’s business management friends, their new church didn’t seem to have the socioeconomic diversity found in the Unity Church. To clarify why this matters, I should explain that in the Deep South upper class tends to mean very conservative.

This gets at a point that few Americans and fewer conservatives understand. The South isn’t as conservative or as Republican as it seems. The South was a part of the Populist alliance that pushed for many liberal reforms. More importantly, most of the eligible voters in the South lean Democratic. Republicans have maintained power in the South by disenfranchising minorities and the poor, one method being voting laws such as how some Southern states disallow early voting, restrict who can use an absentee ballot, and close polling stations early. Such voter disenfranchisement in certain states causes the majority of eligible voters to not even vote.

There is a stronger class divide in the Deep South which, of course, goes hand in hand with a race divide. Private schools and gated communities (also, majority white conservative suburbs) separate the haves from the have nots. Plus, even churches are divided along the same class and race lines. If like my parents one is an upper class white conservative in the Deep South, it is easy to become disconnected from not only most people in the country but also most people in one’s own community. A similar dynamic plays out in the majority white conservative regions in the rural South.

This is how so many conservatives became so deluded about this being their country. They’ve been surrounded by people who are like them such that they didn’t realize how isolated they had become. The last two presidential elections were a slap to the face for conservatives. They could no longer be oblivious to the larger social changes that were happening all around them. It wasn’t just a change in minorities. The youth, increasingly multicultural and multiracial, were changing as well. Even in some Southern states (including South Carolina), Obama won the youth white vote which is the future adult white vote.

As a leftist, I don’t have the privilege to suffer the type of delusions conservatives indulge in. Even though I know from history that US politics has always been liberal in a general sense (as in having no tradition of traditional conservatism), I also know that the US never has been dominated by left-wingers. I’ve never even lived in a state that would be the radically left-wing equivalent of Deep South states. I don’t romanticize the past and so I don’t have the sense of doom as is more common among those on the right.

My parents think that democracy has become corrupt simply because minorities are growing in numbers, thus diluting the superior white culture that made American great… or something like that. Conservatives used to blame it on the dilution of Christian values; they can’t do that anymore since minorities are more religious than whites. Maybe I’m not being fair in pointing their racialist-tinged worldview, but that is how it looks to an outside observer.

Once again, as a leftist, I know there never has been a golden age of democracy in the US. I’ve been saying for more than a decade that US democracy is problematic at best, often saying this to my parents. But my dad always dismissed my criticisms and argued it was perfectly fine. This was easy for him to say when Republicans had power with gaining Congress in the 1990s and regaining the presidency in the 2000s, less easy now. Only when minorities, women and the youth voted Obama into the presidency twice did my dad all of a sudden think democracy was corrupt.

I find this response disingenuous, certainly considering how morally righteous my parents have expressed themselves.

In 2000, the Republican government in Florida targeted minorities with a voter purge and then when a recount was attempted the Republican majority Supreme Court stopped it. The entire democratic system was thrown to the side by Republicans as if it meant nothing. This is the type of anti-democratic event we’re used to hearing about from third world countries with recent histories of political oppression. And if this had happened in a third world country, there would have been intervention by international organizations.

But this didn’t bother my parents at all. My dad still to this day denies that a full Florida recount was never attempted and that the Supreme Court stopped even the partial recount, even though these are rationally indisputable facts. In typical conservative fashion, he simply denies inconvenient information.

If the entirety of democracy being unconstitutionally undermined doesn’t bother my parents, then what finally convinced them that democracy had failed? It wasn’t just that demographics with traditionally low voting rates now voted in high numbers. They certainly don’t blame themselves for the GOP trying to suppress the vote, thus unintentionally causing greater voter engagement and turnout. No, they blame the Democratic Party.

I should explain my parents’ experience. Since they are retired, they decided to work as poll workers for this past presidential election. That was probably a mistake, considering that they are now living in this city that is dominated by uber-liberal Democrats. That just made Obama’s victory feel even more traumatic.

Two specific things about that poll work experience really hit a nerve.

First, my mom was bothered by how special needs people were not only allowed to vote but brought in by their helpers to vote. They were in a precinct that apparently included the place that houses special needs people with various issues: autism, low IQ, etc. It’s not that ton of these people came in, but the fact that they would be brought in at all made my mom outraged, maybe more upset than I’ve ever seen her in my entire life. I got the feeling that my mom thought this was a covert evil plan to get all the mentally challenged people to help steal the election for Obama.

Second, my dad was bothered by the official representatives of the Democratic Party. There were the typical poll watchers of both parties who are volunteers, but the Obama campaign also had two sharply dressed and knowledgeable professionals who stood there the entire time. They kept track of the names of who had voted and continually checked those names against the list of potential Democratic voters in that precinct. They would then call volunteers who would try to persuade these people to vote. My dad thought this was the “Chicago Machine” in action.

I sort of understand my parents’ general criticisms, but when they get to specifics they sound like conspiracy theorists. They feel that we need election reform. I agree as probably do most Americans, left and right. But too many eligible voters voting isn’t the problem that is undermining democracy and that needs reforming.

There is a big difference between voter reform and voter suppression, a difference that my parents don’t understand. They believe that if people can’t get themselves to the polling station without any help or encouragement, without any absentee ballots or early voting, then they shouldn’t vote (or be allowed to vote?). As the rhetoric goes, voting is a privilege, not a right… well, the constitution happens to disagree with conservatives on this issue.

Besides, conservatives are ignoring the history of voter suppression with roots in racism and classism which in turn has deeper roots in slavery and plutocracy. Ignoring this past isn’t just being historically clueless. It verges on being morally depraved. This is a very dark history, and a history that specifically has privileged people like my parents… how convenient.

So many conservatives don’t seem to understand democracy (or are they playing dumb?). Consent of the governed necessitates that the public (or at least a very large majority) is convinced of the legitimacy of the government. When people are disenfranchised from the political system, it brings into doubt this legitimacy. The act of voting, based on the right and ability to vote, is the most basic expression of the consent of the governed. When the majority doesn’t even vote, epecially because of voter suppression, the cornerstone of democracy is shown to be crumbling. The fight for voter rights and against voter suppression was a fight for democracy, and this fight was hard won.

After the country was founded, only a few percentage of Americans were both eligible to vote and eligible for election to public office. It took almost two centuries for nearly all Americans to get the right to vote. In fact, my parents were already adults when the Voting Rights Act was passed. The history of previous voter suppression is not just within living memory but specifically within the living memory of my parents’ generation. Even so, growing up, my parents were probably oblivious of it.

When I told my mom that she experienced privileges that others didn’t have, she denied this by literally screaming over and over, “I worked hard!” So fucking what!?! Most people work hard, including the poor and minorities, including liberals and civil rights activists, including all the Americans throughout history who’ve experienced voter suppression and other forms of political oppression.

I take democracy very seriously. It’s not that my parents simply dismiss democracy out of hand. Part of it is that, sadly like many other Americans, they lack a fundamental grasp of what democracy is about. Another part is even more basic. They don’t understand democracy because they don’t prioritize it as a value. If my parents were to be honest, they’d have to admit that they put their ideology, their belief system before democracy. What this means is that religion (social conservatism) and capitalism/’meritocracy’ (fiscal conservatism) will always come first, even if that means underming or sacrificing elements of democracy in the process.

My parents are closer to some of the founding fathers. Most of the founding fathers didn’t want democracy, maybe because they didn’t even know what it was. But the problem that the founding fathers faced was that most early Americans did want democracy. Right-wing conservatives now face a similar problem as they find themselves in the minority.

There is very interesting data about American democracy in terms of voting.

This past election inspired high rates of voter turnout which is a heartening thing to see for us lovers of democracy. Actually, voter turnout has been rising for about a decade now, although it hasn’t risen back up to the 1960s level when more than 60% voted.

After the 1960s, the voter turnout continuously dropped until hitting a low point in the 1990s. It was in 1994 that Republicans gained majority in Congress which hadn’t been seen in 4 decades, even with the popular influence they had earlier with Reagan. A sad thing happened in 1996, two years into this Republican majority in Congress, interestingly the same year that Fox News was launched. It was the precise moment when the voter turnout dropped below 50%, voter turnout having barely hovered above 50% during the 1980s. The right-wing had become so loud as to dominate the media narrative. Instead of being energized, voters apparently became demoralized.

In 2000, however, voter turnout became an irrelevant issue since votes literally didn’t count or rather weren’t counted. For a democracy based on consent of the governed, the rise of the right-wing between 1994 and 2000 was a precarious time. Like Obama or not, there is some reassurance in having a president that won the popular vote twice (a rare event) during a time of increasing voter turnout.

For those on the right, this provokes paranoid conspiracy theories. For me as a leftist, this gives me a glimmer of hope.

Far Right’s Self-Fulfilling Prophecy: Secessionism & Militias, Paranoia & Violence

I find it hard to comprehend the mindset of some rightwingers. I don’t disagree in principle with many of their values and ideas, but I always sense some hidden motive behind the rhetoric. It’s partly just that rightwingers are more prone to paranoid conspiracy theorizing than those on the left. I’m actually sympathetic to the paranoid state of mind. As they say, just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get you.

However, sometimes it seems that the far right has a self-enclosed, self-reinforcing, self-fulfilling way of seeing the world. For example, some rightwingers get all worked up over a talk show host telling them the Feds are going to take their guns away. So, they stock up on guns and start acting suspicious which attracts the attention of the police or FBI. It never ends well for the paranoid rightwinger.

This kind of rightwinger might even be correct about some of their fears, but there is something demented about their being prone towards aggressive self-defense which not unusually leads to self-destructive behaviors. This style of thinking isolates them and makes everyone who is different than them into a potential enemy.

Fear is fine, but fear-mongering just isn’t helpful for the fear-mongerer himself or for anyone else. I mean what benefit does someone like Glenn Beck gain from fear-mongering? To be cynical, many say it’s all just a show and so it comes down to profits. And profitable it is. Beck wasn’t rich before fear-mongering, but since beginning his extremist style of punditry he has become massively wealthy. If he actually believed the nation would collapse or the socialists were going to take over, then what would be the point of his amassing all that wealth?

One element behind my thoughts are the recent talk of secessionism. Even some Republican politicians have openly and directly encouraged secessionist attitudes. Do these politicians actually want a new Civil War? Unlike the first one, a second Civil War would probably be over in days or weeks. And if for some reason the army itself became split in it’s allegiances, we would experience a war that might be more destructive than any war fought in modern history. Could you imagine the country splitting in half with the respective military forces lobbing nukes at each other. It would make the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan look like Disneyland in comparison.

The specific issue that started this line of thought is that some rightwingers are seeking the establishment of state militias. I’m fine with the proposition in the abstract, but the motives seem a bit suspect. When I hear the proponents speak about it, there is a lot of talking around in circles and much that is implied.

It’s all very strange. At the bottom of it all, I sense that some rightwingers feel their being left in the dust of the 21st century and so their itching for a fight. I suppose that, going by the demographics, many of these rightwingers are out of step with where society is heading. It’s just a fact that America is becoming less dominated by whites, by fundamentalists, by the culture wars. A shift is happening in demographics right now that is unlike anything that has happened before in American history.

Ultimately, I wonder how many of these rightwingers take themselves seriously. Are they just posturing? Maybe most of them are just posturing, but definitely some rightwiners are working themselves up and some are seeking ways to organize. What will happen if and when they organize is another issue. But I have no doubts that the authorities (be they police, FBI or maybe even National Guard) will come down hard on some of these groups. Be prepared for the same violent confrontations and bombings we saw from the rightwing militia types in the ’90s. It will be interesting to watch it all play out.

It’s not that I necessarily trust the government more than the average conservative. I just trust the far right fear-mongering machine even less. It’s like these rightwingers have a narrative stuck in their head and their determined to play that narrative out to its inevitable conclusion. Of course, the authorities are more than willing to play their part as well. Personally, I’d prefer a different story to be played out on the national level.




Rightwing Madness

I read many comments online. I always wonder why many rightwingers have a tendency to make extreme statements

Whenever they disagree with someone or something, they say things such as:

  • Obama is the Anti-Christ, a Muslim, a terrorist, a Nazi, Hitler, Stalin, etc.
  • Obama isn’t American. Show me his birth certificate.
  • I hope Obama gets assassinated.
  • Jim Wallis is Satan.
  • Liberals are Communists.
  • Dr. Tiller got what he deserved and Roeder is a hero.
  • Overthrow the government!
  • He is an FBI operative.
  • FEMA will put us in concentration camps.
  • Violent militia groups are just defending their rights.
  • America is a Christian nation and the Founding Fathers meant the govt to be a fundamentalist theocracy.

They’re particularly obsessed with their xenophobia. They constantly live in fear of fags, blacks, and immigrants. They’re blind to their own bigotry and love to allege reverse racism. They conflate beliefs and facts, rhetoric and logic. They think the opinions of anyone else is equal to or greater than the opinion of the consensus of experts. They think they have the right to their own ‘facts’. They just know they’re right and you’re wrong. They often see conspiracies all around them:

  • New World Order
  • Liberal Elites
  • Hidden Communist conspiracy
  • Jewish Cabal
  • Immigrant invasion
  • Black helicopters

It’s not that all conservatives think and act this way, but there is a surprising number who do. More importantly, mainstream conservatives apparently are afraid of their own fringe. Conservative politicians and media personalities rarely criticize the fringe and often instead fan the flames instead. When a Tea Party leader asked about the fringe, he agreed they existed in the party but he thought they had a rightful place in the movement. They welcome the fringe and help give the extremists a voice. It’s not surprising that this filters into the mindset of the average conservative and so that is why you see all these crazy rightwing comments all over the web.

I’m trying not to over-generalize here. I know there are intelligent and rational conservatives. There are some who will criticize the fringe sometimes. I give credit for Bill O’Reilly in that he will on occasion make attempts to distance himself from the crazies and he’ll even sometimes directly criticize them. I just wonder why the ‘normal’ conservatives tend to be so silent. Is it the same reason why average Muslims too rarely speak out against the violence and oppression of Muslim extremists? Is it fear to speak out or is there an element of complicit agreement?

There is always a way to rationalize away or ignore evidence to the contrary. The federal report about rightwing militias is a smear campaign, but when righwing militias start conspiring violence against the government it’s automatically assumed these groups have been innocently framed. ACORN and Climategate are liberal conspiracies and they must be destroyed. The conservative media goes batshit over it and gets the rest of the media to jump on the bandwagon. After organizations and reputations are destroyed, investigations conclude that all involved were innocent. The conservatives use lies and deceit to destroy their enemies, but they don’t care about the truth. Will ACORN and the CRU scientists get vindicated in the media? No, probably not. Scandals get attention, but innocent victims of rightwing hatred don’t make for entertaining news. So, the media waits to get carried away by the next ‘scandal’.

Why is it so rare than anyone gets held responsible for any of this kind of immoral behavior? Yes, Roder gets life in prison and the guy who slandered ACORN ended up in prison as well. But Dr. Tiller can’t be brought back to life and who knows how many women will die or suffer serious health conditions because there is now one less doctor to help them. ACORN is permanently villified in the public eye and the organization is no more. What about all the people that Dr. Tiller and ACORN helped? Why doesn’t the media obsess over the real victims?

I know that, in response, rightwingers will argue that leftwingers are just as bad. They’ll point out a couple examples they once saw in the news. That is fair in that there are extremists of all ideological varieties, but there is a difference that makes a difference. First, I doubt people toting guns and screaming racial slurs wouldn’t feel very welcomed at most liberal protest and I could imagine the politically correct police asking them to leave. Second, the loony left doesn’t get a platform from the “liberal media” in the way that loony right gets a platform from conservative media such as Fox News. All news have agendas, but Fox News takes it to a new level of outright political spin and propaganda. I’m not sure why a media corporation would want to fan the flames of rightwing fear and hatred. I suppose it must be serving some purpose of theirs or of the GOP.

There seems to be a different attitude between the left and the right. On the left, different opinions are embraced as long as they’re respectful. On the right, different opinions aren’t embraced, but as long as your remain within the in-group ideology it doesn’t matter if you voice your opinions respecfully. In fact, rightwingers seem to pride themselves on being disrespectful. Anger, hatred and bigotry are seen as strengthening and consolidating the group. It’s the us vs them attitude. As long as the disrespectful message is directed outside of the group at the enemy, it doesn’t matter what a rightwinger says or how they say it.

Part of why I bring all this up is because I’ve noticed how it’s changed me. I feel unable to let it just roll of me. I’ve never called George W. Bush the Anti-Christ or Glenn Beck the devil, but it has become more common for me to call someone an asshole when someone is being offensive or aggressive, when someone is acting righteous or bigoted. I’ve learned to respond this way because some people don’t seem to understand how mean-spirited their comments are until you confront them in a forceful manner. Why should I respect the opinion of someone who claims Roeder is a hero for committing murder and terrorism? If they want to say they’re against abortion fine, but there is no excuse for what Roeder did. What Roeder did goes against everything our country stands for. Why should liberals try to be understanding towards such hatred and violence? Why shouldn’t stand up for the rights of everyone? For that matter, why shouldn’t it be expected that conservatives should stand up for the rights of everyone?

This isn’t just about my being a liberal. What rightwing extremists are doing and what mainstream conservatives are (implicitly or explicitly) supporting is stupid just from the perspective of strategy. They’re turning a whole generation of youth against the conservative movement. All the shootings and militias are just going to deservedly bring down hard the hammer of the law. In their fear of the government, they’re forcing the hand of the govenment. It’s as if they want a war. The culture war has failed. So, what they couldn’t accomplish through politics they’ll now try to accomplish through violence. I don’t what strategy would work for conservatives trying to get their message out, but what they’re doing right now is not working. Yes, it feels empowering to rant and rave, to fear-monger and use hate speech, to brandish guns at political gatherings. But this sense of empowering is just reactionary, just a shortterm gain. Conservatives were successful in the past because they took the longterm view, but they seem to have forgotten the lesson of their past success.

If you’re a Christian and you don’t like another Christian’s views, don’t call them the Anti-Christ or the Devil. If you’re a libertaraian and you don’t like Democrats being in power, don’t call Obama Hitler or a Commie. If you’re worried about our employment or your economic security, don’t attack immigrants and blame the poor. If you want to make a difference, reach out to others and not just to the small group of people who are just like you.

I realize I’m offering you liberal advice. But guess what? The world has become a liberal place. We no longer live at a time when white Christians monopolize all power. We no longer live at a time when minorities, immigrants and the poor knew their place. It’s just a fact of life. Accept it or not, but the world isn’t going to return to simpler times. Anyways, your idealizing of the past is just a fantasy. It’s time to stop fighting the inevitable. Change happens and there is nothing you can do to stop it. You either join in and work together or else you become obsolete. It’s your choice.

When Obama voices bipartisan values, I don’t know if he actually means it or not. However, people voted him into office because they believed in the message. The young generation that voted Obama into office doesn’t want partisan bickering, doesn’t want angry ranting and fear-mongering. The young generation looks for what we all share in common and they don’t care about parties, they don’t even care about the Tea Party. Many liberals and many conservatives as well were inspired by Obama’s message of hope and change. This is what people want. Obama was voted in by a majority of Americans. He may not be living up to his speeches, but the point is that people want to believe in the vision he spoke of.

Integral… ?

Integral… ?

Posted on Jul 17th, 2008 by Marmalade : Gaia Explorer Marmalade
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Climatology and Conspiracy Theorists

If you’re a person who prefers intelligent analysis over conspiracy theorizing, then check out this blog post about quote mining code

Let me be straight about the facts. 

The e-mails were supposedly stolen by hackers, but all of the e-mails haven’t yet been confirmed as authentic.  There is an investigation in determining their authenticity.  Assuming they’re authentic, the investigation will also determine precisely what was written in what context and what was the intended meaning of the comments (see above linked post for some preliminary analysis).  As such, the scientists in question are innocent until proven guilty.  Libelous attacks by climate change contrarians (what some call ‘denialists’) should be ignored.

Furthermore, I’ve so far seen no evidence that anything stated in the e-mailes contradicts or undermines the entire field of climatology.  The allegations are directed at a small number of scientists and all of the e-mails came from just one organization.  Assuming the allegations are true, it would be conspiracy theorizing to assume that these few scientists have enough control of the entire climatology field to alter all of the data in the world or that there is a secret cabal of climatologists controlling all research and publications. 

It is only fair and rational to ignore the conspiracy theories, but let us consider the implications of the more reasonable allegations against the specific scientists in question.  Even if we dismiss the data from these few scientists, there still is plenty of data from other sources that confirms the exact same conclusions of these scientists.  The consensus of climatologists includes scientists from all over the world including many highly respected scientists.  If anyone plans on trying to attack every climatologist in the world and dismiss all climatology research ever done, I’d love to see them try.

I think it’s time that people look at the facts instead of trying to run away from them.  Just my humble opinion.

9/11: Government, Media, and Truth

The attack on 9/11 is an interesting example of where America is at.

First, several polls show that a majority of Americans doubt, mistrust or otherwise question the official government story about 9/11.  It isn’t that the majority of Americans are conspiracy theorists.  Americans are simply doing what they should always do: keep a critical eye on their own government.  But what is the government’s response?  Deny and dismiss.  And what is the mainstream media’s response?  Ignore or ridicule.  What do those in positions of authority refuse to do?  Look at the evidence and the expert opinions, and respond to the concerns of the public.

It’s strange.  If you only casually pay attention to this subject, you’d assume that the 9/11 truth movement is just a bunch of conspiracy theories from the lunatic fringe.  Even Glenn Beck dismisses the 9/11 truth movement… for political reasons as it’s ammo for him to dismiss the Obama administration by attacking Van Jones.  I find it rather ironic that Glenn Beck is a self-identified “populist” and yet on so many issues he is out of touch with popular opinion.

Anyways, my point is that the 9/11 truth movement is filled with many normal people along with many respectable people: firefighters, police officers, pilots, architects, scientists, professors, former CIA employees, politicians, foreign government officials, and of course various famous people willing to put their name on the line.  The 9/11 truth movement is mainstream, but you wouldn’t know that by what the mainstream media tells the public.

Part of it is that the American government has lost a lot of it’s respectability.  This was mainly caused by Bush jr’s administration and the propagandistic cooperation of the media.  People genuinely rallied around the flag after 9/11, but all they got for it was years of deception and manipulation.  By the time Bush jr left office, America had lost it’s moral standing in the world and the economy was collapsing.

Most Americans are still ignorant about the long and dark history of America covert operations, but they just feel something is wrong with the government.  Americans feel used and abused, feel that no one is on their side.  But they don’t know where to turn to or who to trust.  Some grasp onto the paranoid doomsaying of Glenn Beck or the righteous rantings of Bill O’Reilly who have only become major voices of dissent fairly recently.  Others turn to the charismatic libertarianism of Alex Jones or the intellectual libertarianism of Noam Chomsky who have been voices of dissent for many years and decades even.  And then there are those who watch Comedy Central and try to find some humor in dark times.  But where ever Americans turn, they’re looking for someone to explain to them what is wrong, to tell them they’re not fools for being worried.

Unfortunately, the ignorance of many Americans ends up making them fools… but can you blame them?  How can the American public be anything other than ignorant when they’re being lied to all of the time and can’t figure out what is true vs what is spin.  One person says one thing and another says something completely different.  How does the common person evaluate the vast amounts of contradictory data?  This is particularly a problem as the school system doesn’t offer much in the way of educating the public about how to think critically, how to determine the validity of info, and how to analyze complex issues from multiple perspecties.  I suspect the average person doesn’t even know how to effectively use a search engine.

So, I may call many Americans ignorant and I may laugh at Glenn Beck, but I don’t dismiss the genuine concerns… the fears and doubts.  I encourage everyone to question.  However, without critical thinking skills and trustworthy sources of info, questioning is useless or even dangerous when it leads to fear-mongering.  I feel Americans are going through a collective shift right now where they’re being forced to learn how to think for themselves.  It’s a whole new ballgame with the internet and cable’s 24 hours news/commentary.  Long gone are the days when people listened to Walter Cronkite and felt reassured when he said “That’s the way it is.”