Legal scholar Cass Sunstein is Obama's Administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. In 2008, he co-wrote an odd and disturbing paper on conspiracy theories, which you can read here
. Here's the gist:
The existence of both domestic and foreign conspiracy theories, we suggest, is no trivial matter, posing real risks to the government’s antiterrorism policies, whatever the latter may be.
"Government agents (and their allies) might enter chat rooms, online social networks, or even real-space groups and attempt to undermine percolating conspiracy theories by raising doubts about their factual premises, causal logic or implications for political action.
Of course, it never occurred to this nitwit that using conspiratorial methods to fight conspiracy theories is a lot like fighting a house fire by spraying it with gasoline.
Although I am sometimes classified as a conspiracy theorist, most long-term residents of the paranoid subculture despise me. I'm unpopular in those realms because I've spent a lot of times poking holes in their inane beliefs in controlled demolition and faked birth certificates and what-have-you.
(I swear, if I hear one more brain-dead CD-er say "Cannon refuses to recognize the laws of physics"
...! I will grant you the right to repeat that phrase, cliched as it has become, if you can do one favor for me: PROVE THAT YOU HAVE A FUCKING DEGREE IN PHYSICS. Hell, I'll take an undergrad student with a 3.6 GPA. Otherwise, SHUT THE FUCK UP.)
(And please don't mention Dr. Jones of Utah. He's just one guy. There's always one guy
like that, no matter what the controversy. Science is not a matter of one guy
. If science were a matter of one guy
, then I could prove that evolution is false, that there are hidden pictures in the eye of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and that the current year is actually 1713
because 297 "fake" years were added to our calendars.)
Okay. Where was I?
Oh yeah: Sunstein. I think I'll start calling him Sunny.
My point is this: Those of us who challenge weak conspiracy theories, those of us who try to use logic to detox the fear-junkies, already
face accusations of working for "the man." For example: UFO buffs routinely complain that scientists won't pay attention to what they are pleased to call evidence -- but when scientists do
pay attention, they are immediately damned as CIA spooks. Scientists are spook-baited if they say what buffdom doesn't want to hear -- and even if they do
How much worse will the situation be if everyone knows that there really are spooks crawling around these realms? Anyone with any knowledge of human psychology will immediately recognize that Sunny's proposal, if put into practice, would not raise the "logic level" of public discourse. Instead, the paranoia level would skyrocket.
My own paranoia level began to burble upward when I read a list of the "conspiracy theories" that Sunstein believes require opposition by infiltration:
Consider, for example, the view that the Central Intelligence Agency was responsible for the assassination of President John F. Kennedy; that doctors deliberately manufactured the AIDS virus; that the 1996 crash of TWA flight 800 was caused by a U.S. military missile; that the theory of global warming is a deliberate fraud; that the Trilateral Commission is responsible for important movements of the international economy; that Martin Luther King, Jr., was killed by federal agents; that the plane crash that killed Democrat Paul Wellstone was engineered by Republican politicians; that the moon landing was staged and never actually occurred.
The JFK conspiracy has been proven beyond rational debate. Conspiracy was the conclusion of the HSCA (compromised
as that investigation was), it is the conclusion now found in many college textbooks, it is demonstrated with nearly mathematical rigor in the updated version of John Newman's Oswald and the CIA
, it was the view held by Lyndon Johnson (for whom the Warren Commission was convened) and Richard Nixon, and it is an admission you'll hear from just about every old-school intelligence professional you'll ever meet if he or she is talking in private.
As for the others theories: I'm willing either to accept some of these ideas provisionally, or at least to consider them as hypotheses. The strongest case can be made for the MLK murder, especially if you pay close attention to the troubling matter of the aliases that James Earl Ray adopted.
On the other hand: Only fruitcakes buy into that nonsense about faked moon landings. I have a phobic reaction toward people who get paranoid about the Trilateral Commission. The global warming deniers exist in a region where paranoia segues into pure fucking evil.
Incidentally, guess who has joined forces with the global warming deniers? None other than that (alleged) arch-rationalist, CSICOP's own James Randi
! Heeeeere's Jimmy
An unfortunate fact is that scientists are just as human as the rest of us, in that they are strongly influenced by the need to be accepted, to kowtow to peer opinion, and to "belong" in the scientific community. Why do I find this "unfortunate"? Because the media and the hoi polloi increasingly depend upon and accept ideas or principles that are proclaimed loudly enough by academics who are often more driven by "politically correct" survival principles...
Sounds like the opening conversational gambit of an "intelligent design" advocate, eh wot? Fortunately, I was never lazy enough to let my reality be defined by a guy who became famous doing magic tricks for Billy Barty.
If Sunny has his way -- and he is now in a position
to have his way -- the feds should soon be spooking up James Randi. Hey, this could get fun
Sunny sez: "Our focus throughout is on false conspiracy theories, not true ones."
And who makes that determination? Sunny thinks that this God-like task belongs to him
-- even though his footnotes reveal that he is rather ill-read. This fellow actually does not understand why the hoi polloi (to borrow Randi's phrase) may not feel comfortable ceding to the head of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs the right to determine which conspiracy theories are thinkable and which are not."The United States Government hereby grants you permission to mistrust the United States government in the following strictly-defined areas..."
In reality, the true/false determination must be made by each individual. This is a problematic situation, because -- let's admit it -- most individuals in this country are dolts.
For me, the guidelines are pretty simple: I'm willing to consider conspiracy theories which focus on the world's intelligence agencies. (Please note that I said "consider," not "accept rashly.") Conspiracy is what spooks do
On the other hand, I automatically toss aside grand, world-shattering theories that involve non-spook actors. In other words, I don't believe in any of that Alex Jones/David Icke mumbo jumbo about occult secret societies which secretly control the planet. I reject all wacko notions about the moon landing, global warming, the B.O. birth certificate, Roswell aliens and so forth.
That stuff ain't spy stuff, so it ain't my
Incidentally, Sunny counts the CIA's MKULTRA program as one of the "permitted" conspiracy theories, although he does not seem to have read much about it. Congress held hearings on MKULTRA in the late 1970s, and I guess those hearings are the reason why Sunny considers mind control a permissible topic of discussion. Yet if you know where to look, you'll see that the existence of that program began to leak out in 1967, and perhaps even earlier. A lot of the leaks appeared in the fringe literature of the period. Should that
material have been repressed...?
Finally: Sunny seems to be very concerned that belief in conspiracy theories might undermine our dear nation's "anti-terrorism" policies.
There we have it: The terror bugaboo
, the same bugaboo that sent us marching into Iraq, the same bugaboo that gave us the Patriot Act and all sorts of infringements on our privacy.
Okay, Sunny (he said, employing the rhetorical device of addressing someone who probably is not in actual attendance), I wanna run a scenario past you:
Not long ago, the Times of London published a document which allegedly proved that Iran was working on nuclear weapons. That document turned out to be a fake
. Who did the faking, and who made sure that it got onto the front page of a major newspaper?
The answers are unclear (he said, casting a suspicious eye toward Michael Ledeen), but I'll tell you one thing: More than one person was involved. That means we have a conspiracy.
You may call it whatever you like. You can call it a flowerpot if doing so pleases you. But if you want to use the proper terminology, you'll use the dreaded C-word.
So why should I grant the head of a government agency the right to determine if this is a "permitted" conspiracy? Why should my tax dollars pay for cyber-spooks to undermine all internet discussion of this troubling incident?
More than that. Wasn't this particular conspiracy -- a conspiracy to gin up a war by means of a fake document -- a form of terrorism in and of itself
And isn't it possible (he said, casting a really
sharp glance toward Michael Ledeen) that this conspiracy was masterminded by someone who has helped to formulate
those "anti-terrorism" policies?