Looking into the conspiracy world is like trying to find Waldo in an Escher print

I just read Among the Truthers a book by Canadian journalist Jonathan Kay.  While this books has a few factual problems it is a really interesting exploration of the way the Truther movement is like so many other conspiracy theory movements going back into history to include age-old anti-Semitic stories as well as anti-masonic, anti-royal, anti-Vatican etc. etc. etc.

One interesting thing he talks about is that for some, a conspiracy theorist often follows a pattern of a man having a midlife crisis.  A sudden change in opinion, attitude and view of reality.  Leaving behind their well-built life, they look to leave a special mark on the world they fear they will leave soon.   Kay profiles two men, one an architects who was a button down conservative.   After 9-11 he becomes an anti-neocon warrior challenging what he sees as a conservative constructed myth.  He blames the government establishment and speaks of bombs placed in the buildings and talks of a web of connections that must mean US government involvement.  Another was a Canadian poet, a far-left Chompskyite that after the towers fell became an anti-Islam activist, seeing all of Islam as the enemy of humanity taking him to the conclusion that Barack Obama was a Muslim plant.  He slipped into birtherism and now is a voice for the far right.

In both cases these men seemed to flip their world views effecting their jobs, families and financial security.  These are not uneducated men, these aren't lunatics hearing voices.  These are simply men, confronted with a situation that makes little sense that drove them to re-creating a more comfortable world in their minds.  A world where they have special knowledge that they can't seem to get the majority of people to follow.  It gets to the point that for some it an affront to their theory is an affront to them personally.  Like religious zealots, challenging some one's version of the facts in the conspiracy world makes you a heretic.  You are attacked personally, professionally and mercilessly.

A simple example is Noam Chompsky.  Chompsky, an old school liberal, has always been a hero of the left.  He has clicked off classic far-left credibility more than any scholar in the last 40 years.  Chompsky is a thinker, we don't always agree, I think he has some blinders.  But when it comes to left-wing truthers, he clearly thinks they are wrong and has done a great deal to take them down with logic. He know is attacked vigorously by the truthers, someone who shares a great deal of the same true disdain for the Neo-con movement, he sees the truthers as hurting the cause of liberalism.  That to me is an interesting position.  Chompsky has even stated that he thinks that friends of the neo-con movement are helping to support the truth movement (creating his own conspiracy) to divert from the aggressive wars of the US.  Looking into the conspiracy world is like trying to find Waldo in an Escher print.

But what gets me is the comfort that so many seem to slip into the dark world of conspiracy from a normal every day life.  Be it a terror attack, a natural disaster, an assassination or the election of someone that doesn't fit the common model, something can push a seemingly normal, intelligent human into a dark world of demons.  How can we stop it?  No idea.  But help your friends and keep pushing reality.  We can't allow sloppy thinking to drive policy but I fear in the last 10 years elections have been based on this kind of thinking for some.  That truly is the beginning of the end.  :)


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