The signal always gets distorted, degraded…and more popular every time. Dumb is accessible, people like dumb. They like aliens, they like Satanist bad guys, and they like to buy products that signify their secret knowledge. It’s hard to exaggerate how hollowed out the Conspiratainment Complex has become in 2010. Conspiracy Theory is literally being taught to Americans on a chalkboard now. Remote Viewing has gone from a classified project to a mini-industry of competing DVD training packages. Even Tila Tequila is tracking the Illuminati’s every move these days. This is an emerging demographic and it’s going to be extremely important in the next decade. [...]
Today, these competing meta-narratives are blending into a Conspiratainment mainstream, where the largest possible audience meets the lowest common denominator. Roswell is an article of faith, JFK is holy scripture, and 9/11 is the wedge issue and the litmus test. The Apollo 11 mission exists in a Schroedinger-style quantum state where it simultaneously did and did not land on the moon, although the priesthood agrees there was a cover-up, either way.
A few years ago, I wrote an article about contemporary subcultures and made the case that the 9/11 Truth movement was a legitimate subculture. Although it was already being productized in the form of DVDs, books and merchandise, I didn’t think it was something that would be appropriated by the mainstream. And though 9/11 still hasn’t been appropriated by the mainstream, thanks to the likes of Glenn Beck and the Tea Party, conspiracy theory is more mainstream than ever.
This reminds me of a quote Justin posted on Facebook a while back. I can’t find the specific entry, but I think it was from a 9/11 Truther. It went something like this “Conspiracy theory has never hurt anyone, but the Obama administration has.”
Don’t think for a second I’m letting Obama and company off the hook for their targeted assassinations, Afghan war escalation, etc. But I’m calling bullshit on the “conspiracy theory never hurt anyone” line.
It would be disingenuous to say The Protocols of the Elders of Zion caused the Holocaust, but it did contribute to the antisemitism and paranoia during the first half of the 20th century that enabled WWI and the holocaust. That’s a pretty serious amount of blood on the hands of a conspiracy theory.
And to take a more recent example that didn’t lead to deaths, take a look at the Satanic Panic that resulted in the incarceration of many innocent people – including The West Memphis Three, who remain in prison to this day.
It’s these very issues that lead me to begin distancing myself from conspiracy theory after the second EsoZone. Once I’d hoped that conspiracy theory could enlightening, a way to break down rigid thinking and foster skepticism and critical thinking (as Robert Anton Wilsons’s writings on conspiracy theory had done for me). These days I’m cynical about that prospect (see here and here) of conspiracy theory opening people’s minds. Instead of breaking down “consensus reality,” conspiracy theory has been entrenching many people deeper into their own “reality tunnels.” Before I thought, at the very least, conspiracy theory could be entertaining. It just doesn’t seem funny to me any more.
Meanwhile, as Justin writes:
Conspiracy theory tends towards monolithic explanations, attributing far too much power to far too few people. Political Science assumes the existence of hundreds of co-existing and conflicting conspiracies in any group of over thousand people.
Most real, successful conspiracies are mundane and barely covert: consider the Council for National Policy, an invitation-only Evangelical Conservative influence network with a membership list so powerful it defies belief. What happens when you get Pat Robertson and John Ashcroft into the same room? Throw in Oliver North, Grover Norquist, Ralph Reed, Jesse “33°” Helms, James Dobson, and big money sponsors like Richard DeVos, Holland Coors, Richard Mellon Scaife and Nelson Baker Hunt.
Another interesting example is the Family, a Christian theocratic conspiracy, which I’ve covered quite a bit here. The Family tries to keep a low profile, but not exactly a secret. Yet, I could find only one reference to the Family on Alex Jones’s InfoWars – naturally, an article about the possibility that the Family may have helped finance 9/11. Here is a real and well-documented modern conspiracy. Where’s the outrage from conspiracy circles? (To his credit, Jones did have Jeff Sharlet on his show.) I could find no references to the Council for National Policy on InfoWars.
That, I’m afraid, is the sad state of conspiracy theory. Real conspiracies play out before our very eyes, while too many very smart people clutch at straws.