Another Stupid Corporate Media Article About “Conspiracy Theories” (The Economist 26/5/11)
Among the Truthers: A Journey Through America’s Growing Conspiracist Underground. By Jonathan Kay. Harper; 368 pages; $27.99. Buy from Amazon.com
Correction to this article
AMERICA is a country of 310m people for whom free speech is a founding principle. So it should be no surprise that it is inhabited by a large number of individuals with some pretty strange views. Thanks to local radio and the internet, they are able to disseminate them to many others rather than just muttering away to themselves. Jonathan Kay, an editor and columnist at Canada’s National Post, has chosen to shine a spotlight on one particular group of them; the “truthers”, who believe that when America was attacked on September 11th 2001 the American government was in the know, or even staged the whole thing in order (take your pick) to impose draconian social controls in the name of national security or to occupy the oilfields of the Gulf.
Correction: Among the Truthers
Jun 9th 2011
Americans, of course, have no monopoly on eccentric views. One of the looniest is David Icke, an Englishman who believes that the world is secretly run by a group of shape-shifting intergalactic lizards. Nor is there any sign that the truthers are gaining much ground: in fact, they are puny in number compared with those who follow another nutty conspiracy theory, namely the “birthers”, who believe that Barack Obama was born outside the United States and is therefore, they hold, ineligible to be president. A significant minority of Republicans, according to opinion polls, hold this view. Birthers, however, get much less attention in Mr Kay’s book.
A conspiracy theorist, no doubt, would say that the National Post is a paper of the political right, and therefore less likely to worry about the birthers than the truthers, who tend to be on the left. A more plausible reason is that the birther conspiracy is rather a small one, not involving many people beyond Mr Obama’s deceased mother and one or two corrupt (or treacherous?) Hawaii officials.
The truther conspiracy, by contrast, involves a cast of thousands: from George W. Bush and Dick Cheney down through much of the CIA and the demolition teams that planted the explosives that brought the twin towers down and the teams of actors who faked the voices of passengers on board the doomed flights, since the hijackings actually never happened.
And this is what makes Mr Kay’s book enjoyable. He does a fine job of locating the truther movement in the perennial discontent with authority that pervades American (and wider Western) history, showing the psychological links between truthers and those who in earlier days were preoccupied by secret conspiracies of such diverse foes as masons, illuminati, communists and Jews.
The idea that some shadowy group or other is running things for their own benefit, not that of the ordinary working man, is, after all, the constant solace of the unsuccessful. And a national disaster such as Pearl Harbour, the assassination of President Kennedy or the September 11th attacks, he plausibly notes, is likely to call forth particularly wild conspiracy theories, since the alternative explanations, of incompetence or inherent vulnerability, are simply too painful to bear.
Correction: An earlier version of this review wrongly said that “birthers” are not mentioned in Mr Kay’s book. We blame a conspiracy of computer hackers, mind-engineers and reptilians for the mistake. And we are very sorry. This was corrected on June 3rd 2011.
from the print edition | Books and Arts
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