Ever wonder why those curiosities known as “conspiracy theorists” believe the wacky things they do? Lucky for all of us, a conservative journalist from my native Canada has found all the answers.
Jonathan Kay, managing editor of Canada’s National Post, has released Among the Truthers: A Journey Through America’s Conspiracist Underground (Actually, the Canadian edition has an even more obnoxious title: Among the Truthers: A Journey into the Growing Conspiracist Underground of 9/11 Truthers, Birthers, Armageddonites, Vaccine Hysterics, Hollywood Know-Nothings and Internet Addicts.)
Apparently, people who don’t believe what Mr. Kay believes are relegated to a kind of curious but colourful collective “underground.” Kay seems to feel if you question the honesty of your government on any issue, you should be lumped together, psychologically analysed, and then dismissed without even a brief look at the facts. Certainly economical.
The key thing for people of Mr. Kay’s ilk is to avoid dealing with the substance of an argument you don’t like. Stick to generalizations and character attacks. You don’t need facts when you deal with “conspiracy theorists.” All you need to do is to ridicule their beliefs from the beginning so people don’t even get to hear the case they’re trying to make.
Chapters in Kay’s book like, “Why They Believe: A Psychological Field Guide to Conspiracists ” makes his subjects sound like something you study with binoculars. He treats “conspiracism” as a growing social problem (made much worse by the Internet) that has to be confronted.
The truth, of course, is that people who investigate or entertain the possibility of one conspiracy or another represent a cross section of the population. Some are educated, some are not. Some are sensible, and base their views on a thoughtful analysis of the facts; some make leaps that the data doesn’t support.
I was pleased to find that a former colleague of Mr. Kay’s at the National Post has written a review of Among the Truthers (http://911truthnews.com/the-protocols-of-jonathan-kay/) that calls him on his intellectual arrogance and deliberate superficiality. Here’s an excerpt:
“Kay’s tactic here is the same one used by Michael Shermer of the seriously misnamed Skeptics Society, which is, as the subtitle indicates, to mix up the 9/11 truth movement with The Protocols of Zion, holocaust denial, birtherism, moon hoaxism, etc., into one big wacky ball of racism and lunacy. And his method is as dishonest as Shermer’s as well. Thus, in his interviews, he emphasizes figures he can most easily characterize as charming but quaint, such as Ken Jenkins, a “Bay area flower child” who “embodies the sixties soul of the 9/11 truth movement’s older members.” Or, where he does speak with Truthers who are more immediately credible, he makes short work of their bona fides before reverting to the book’s default mode — a sort of bland superciliousness. Thus Barrie Zwicker, a journalist of longer standing and quite a bit more distinction than Kay, becomes “an amiable crank,” of interest mostly because he insisted on conducting his own counter-interview when they met, complete with “a chess clock to regulate our usage of time.” (Zwicker said in a TV debate with Kay that there was no chess clock, just a regular one – CM) And David Ray Griffin, who has spent not two but eight years studying his subject and published 11 books about it, is also, simply, a “crank.”
Kay never addresses the arguments of his interlocutors, because, he tells us late in the book, a New York City editor warned him that “Debunking books don’t sell.” Instead, he refers the reader to various of those books, and sites. This is defensible on editorial grounds; were he to get into his own reasons for rejecting 9/11 Truth theories, the book would be even weightier than it is. But it is also a convenience; it means Kay never has to address what he calls the “anomalies” in the official story of that day. We never learn why his interviewees are so head-shakingly wrong — they just are.”
Saying you don’t believe in conspiracies is like saying you don’t believe in weather. Or furniture. You can take that position, but whether you acknowledge that conspiracies exist or not, they’re still around and have been throughout history. After all, a conspiracy is nothing more than two or more people getting together to do something unlawful. Does that really seem so unlikely to happen? Why can’t we judge them on a case-by-case basis?
I have an idea for a book: How about a psychological study of people who accept what the elites tell them without question and without critical thought. What makes these strange people dismiss any possibility of deception? Why do they require virtually no evidence for what they’re told? Why do they ignore history? And why do they condescendingly mock those who question and who think critically?
On second thought, I’d rather stick to the facts.