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Finding order where there is none

jfk-assassinationVia Andrew Sullivan, Benjamin Wallace-Wells’ examination of American conspiracism in New York magazine:

The seduction of conspiracy is the way it orders chaos.

Hmmm, that sounds like another phenomenon I could mention, which makes this entertainingly ironic :

In the summer of 1964, the English philosopher and logician Bertrand Russell—past 90 years old then and possibly the most famously rational person on the planet—read the early accounts of the Warren Commission Report with mounting alarm. None of the important questions, he thought, were being answered. There was the matter of the parade route being changed without explanation at the last minute, so that the motorcade passed Lee Harvey Oswald’s workplace; the geometrically confounding arrangement of entry and exit wounds; the curious fact that an alibi witness who helped get an alternate suspect released from custody turned out to be a stripper at Jack Ruby’s club. The logician went to work. Meticulously, Russell documented the discrepancies between each first-person account and the divergences between each report in the media. He gave his document a modest, scientific-sounding title (“16 Questions on the Assassination”) and a just-the-facts tone….

Bertrand, Bertrand, Bertrand.

Just another reminder that the impulses that played such a part in the creation of religious belief will always be with us.




What Americans ‘Believe’

NH, Nov 1999 (AS)Here’s the Guardian in full “wacky Americans” mode:

About one in four Americans suspect that President Barack Obama might be the antichrist, more than a third believe that global warming is a hoax and more than half suspect that a secretive global elite is trying to set up a New World Order, according to a poll released on Tuesday.

The survey, which was conducted by Public Policy Polling, asked a sample of American voters about a number of conspiracy theories, phrasing the questions in eye-catching language that will have the country’s educators banging their heads on their desks. The study revealed that 13% of respondents thought Obama was “the antichrist”, while another 13% were “not sure” – and so were at least appeared to be open to the possibility that he might be. Some 73% of people were able to say outright that they did not think Obama was “the antichrist”.

The survey also showed that 37% of Americans thought that global warming was a hoax, while 12% were not sure and a slim majority – 51% – agreed with the overwhelming majority view of the scientific establishment and thought that it was not. The survey also revealed that 28% of people believed in a sinister global New World Order conspiracy, aimed at ruling the whole world through authoritarian government. Another 25% were “not sure” and only a minority of American voters – 46% – thought such a conspiracy theory was not true…

The Guardian being the Guardian, the questions the paper highlights are those that make the (presumed) right look nuts. It goes unmentioned that 14 percent of Americans apparently believe that believe the CIA was instrumental in distributing crack cocaine into America’s inner cities in the 1980s – and that another 30 percent are “not sure” about this dastardly plot.

More broadly, however, I always wonder whether people truly believe what they say they do in response to questions in surveys such as this. If as many as a quarter of all Americans really think that Obama is (or could be) the antichrist, wouldn’t they make a little more noise about it?

As for global warming, it’s impossible not to note the way that the writer goes to such pains to assert his own orthodoxy with additional commentary (“the overwhelming majority view of the scientific establishment”) that has no equivalent elsewhere in the piece, suggesting just a little defensiveness, something that might not be entirely inappropriate at a time when even the AGW true believers at the Economist can write this:

It is not clear why climate change has “plateaued” (see article). It could be because of greater natural variability in the climate, because clouds dampen warming or because of some other little-understood mechanism in the almost infinitely complex climate system.

Now, as I have written before, I am, to use that loaded term, no ‘denier’ (as conventionally understood, at least: I just believe that some of the AGW faithful need to ponder the implications of those words “infinitely complex” with a little more care). I certainly don’t think that AGW is a “hoax”, as that word is conventionally understood. That said, my guess would be that many of those who used that term were merely using it as a way to express their all too understandable suspicion that “global warming” has, for some, become something of a racket, based on a “consensus” that is not quite so soundly based as the public is usually told.

And then we come to the ”sinister” global conspiracy. The Guardian’s writer spiced up the actual question (adding that adjective, and removing the qualifier that the plan was to take over the planet “eventually”) which was as follows:

Do you believe that a secretive power elite with a globalist agenda is conspiring to eventually rule the world through an authoritarian world government, or New World Order, or not?

That’s something of a stretch, to put it mildly, but read another way, there is plenty of truth to the idea that a supra-nationalist class is moving away from the idea of sovereign national democracy, and replacing it with regimes and treaties that are, if not authoritarian, certainly post-democratic. The EU is the most notorious example, but some of what the UN has been aiming at, whether it be with regard to climate change, the control of narcotics and, recently, firearms could be seen that way too. It’s melodramatic to describe this as a conspiracy (and much of it is being done in plain sight), but it is a reality, and it’s not too hard to imagine those who disapprove of it, wishing to register their discontent by labeling it with language more normally used for dark intrigue and shadowy cabal.

Then again, some people are just nuts. Take a look at the full survey. It’s a good read…




Obama the Muslim (2)

Over in the Corner, I take a look at some smart commentary on the Obama-is-a-Muslim poll findings.




Obama the Muslim

The new survey from the Pew Research Center appearing to show that nearly one in-in-five Americans believe that Obama is a Muslim is as depressing as it is (regrettably) unsurprising.

Missing however was any data on how many now think that the president is the antichrist – or is that steady at 666 percent?




The Right plays the race card

Right-wing criticism of Obama is not racial, but Obama’s kick in the pants to New York Governor David Paterson apparently is.  Republican National Committee chair Michael Steele told CBS on Sunday:

I found that to be stunning, that the White House would send word to one of only two black governors in the country not to run for re-election.

Republicans denounce identity politics, except when they engage in it themselves.  Steele is claiming either that Obama is going after Paterson because he is black or that Obama should not go after Paterson because he is black.  The first proposition is ludicrous, the second, poisonous.  Steele strikes me as intermittently unhinged, but his exploitation of identity discourse here is hardly sui generis.  Sarah Palin parroted Hillary Clinton’s feminist blather in announcing her vice presidency: “It turns out that the women of America aren’t finished yet, and we can shatter that glass ceiling once and for all.” Her supporters regularly accused her critics of being anti-woman.  I wouldn’t have been surprised, therefore, to have seen Limbaugh or some other Republican luminary, instead of Steele, play the race card against Obama for his anti-Paterson campaign. 

Is it too much to hope that Republican criticism of Obama stay within a zone of rationality and dignity?  Yes, the Democrats demonized Bush, but that doesn’t mean that Republicans have to respond in kind.  Why not be icily factual and coldly respectful, rather than hysterical and hot-headed?  Both parties seem to have forgotten the Clinton and the Bush eras.   Democrats, in portraying right-wing hyperventilation over Obama as a manifestation of covert  hostility to blacks, forget the insane Clinton conspiracy theories that grew like kudzu even in the highest reaches of Republican opinionizing.  Only this year has the right-wing obsession with the Clintons appeared to have finally and thankfully petered out.  But Republican pundits, in portraying Obama as an unprecedented danger to the country—on Wednesday, Mark Levin announced: “We’ve never been in this situation before at least in modern times . . . They intend to use the system against you”–forget their own dire warnings about the Clintons as the end of civilization. (more…)

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