View Full Version : Kevin Ryan on the left-gatekeepers Naomi

Paul Rigby
12-01-2008, 08:34 PM
Sunday, November 30 2008 - Fear Factors

Conspiracies and Confabulation: Tales from two Naomis

November 29, 2008
by Kevin Ryan

Learning about self-deception is important for all people today. That's because many of our problems, both as individuals and as a society, are rooted in self-deception, and many of the ways in which others abuse us relate to our inherent tendency to self-deceive. We can overcome these problems, and have a decent chance at long-term survival as a species, only if we learn about such limitations, and strive to control them. One great way to rapidly learn about self-deception, and other forms of deception, is to learn about the events of September 11th.

It's easy to see widespread self-deception with regard to 9/11. For one thing, most people don't know the actual official story, given by the 9/11 Commission and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). This is despite the fact that everyone, at least in the US, has invested essentially their entire future in that story, whether they know it or not.

Some have gone beyond simple avoidance of the facts, in an attempt to prevent themselves and others from looking closely at 9/11. These folks have gone to the extent of changing the definitions of common words, engaging in wild speculation and exaggerations, and suggesting that long strings of unprecedented events, including violations of the laws of nature, were possible on just that one day. These painful self-deceptions help some people dodge the emotional stress that accompanies careful examination of the events of 9/11.

In order to understand the extreme self-deception surrounding 9/11, we should first look at how people deceive themselves. There are quite a few ways, in fact, and a good book that describes some of them is Brain Fiction: Self Deception and the Riddle of Confabulation, by William Hirstein.1 In this well-referenced book, Hirstein describes a continuum of human conditions that relate to self-deception, spanning from clinical confabulation to clinical obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). These conditions can be seen in terms of a gradual increase in "tension," or amount of knowledge that a person has about the fact that he or she is making false claims. People who have these conditions are described as follows.

Clinical confabulator
Self-deceived person without tension
Normal confabulator
Neutral normal person
Self-deceived person with tension
Lying person
Obsessive-compulsive person
Clinical OCD sufferer

Hirstein explains that normal thinking patterns involve the creation of multiple mental representations for any given situation, which can be either image-like or concept-like in nature. Those representations that are false, or that do not fit with our sense of reality, are culled out before being articulated, by a checking process. Sometimes these critical checking processes do not work, and the affected person can lie easily and with full belief that the false statements he or she is making are in fact true. In those cases, the person is said to be confabulating. But when the checking processes do work, and for whatever reasons false claims are still made, tension is created and the person is considered to be self-deceived.

Hirstein's book details the fascinating research that supports this representation/checking theory of self-deception and confabulation. Through split-brain experiments, "mind-reading" experiments, and "don't know" tests, we have learned that people deceive themselves, through physical damage to the brain, and also through other, more natural mechanisms.

At the extreme ends of the self-deception continuum are clinical confabulation, which involves essentially no tension, and clinical OCD, where tension is highest and the checking processes are out of control. Clinical confabulation is a condition in which people make completely false claims but have no idea that they are doing so because the checking processes that prevent such claims are not in place. This can happen through brain damage, to the orbitofrontal cortex specifically. It is in the orbitofrontal cortex that the checking process is thought to occur, although the right parietal cortex has also been implicated in the decision to initiate the checking process.

Sociopathy, and a similar condition called disinhibition, are also caused by damage to the orbitofrontal cortex, and also involve very little tension. In the national discussion on 9/11, we have seen a few people who act as if they are sociopaths, lying easily and with confidence but without regard for the harm caused to others, and apparently without regret. These are the people who aggressively promote and defend the US government's explanations of what happened that day, even as those explanations change radically, often to the point of contradicting the previous position completely. These adamant defenders of the official story of 9/11 have no regard for the truth or falsity of their claims, or for the fact that they are propping up the one and only source of power for those behind the disastrous 9/11 Wars. Such people might be sociopaths, or they might simply be professional liars.

In any case, when the normal checking processes do work, and the validity of potential claims is checked, false claims are weeded out before being articulated. This is what we see when people are functioning in what the above list calls the "neutral normal" condition. But even people who are considered "normal" tend to make false claims without being aware of it. Apparently this is due to the checking processes being diminished not by physical damage, but by the emotional stress caused by the mental imagery involved.

For example, anosognosia refers to the denial of illness or physical disability. People with anosognosia will confabulate about the loss of an arm or a leg, pretending that the limb is still intact despite being given overwhelming evidence that this is not true. It is simply too emotionally disturbing, at least initially, for such people to admit their disability.

Our representation checking processes have been shown, through electroencephalograph (EEG) experiments, to involve an emotional evaluation first, followed later by a cognitive evaluation. That is, the limbic system is first actuated in response to a potential claim produced by our explanation-producing mechanisms. It is thought that the limbic system (emotional seat) can "distort or eliminate the conscious experience of an emotionally significant event".2 In such cases, cognitive evaluation of mental representations is avoided altogether.

In other words, we tend to filter out information that would bring us great emotional pain. In doing so, we leave ourselves with alternative scenarios and stories that do not involve the filtered facts, and that consequently can be quite absurd with respect to reality.

It seems we can all agree that there has been no public event in recent memory that was more "emotionally significant" than 9/11. And we should also be able to agree that our emotional responses to this event have been manipulated and exploited by one of the two primary suspects in the crimes, certain agencies within the US government. Finally, it is apparent that those who still deny the urgent need for the truth about 9/11 have simply avoided any serious cognition on the matter.

This is clear if one considers that, regarding 9/11, where alternative theories do exist the difference between the official story and the alternative accounts boils down to one small but important question. Were government representatives involved in committing these crimes? Those upholding the official account, as given by the 9/11 Commission, are convinced that no government agencies from any nation or locality could possibly have been involved. On the other hand, those promoting the less well-defined alternative theories suggest that some form of government representatives would have had to be involved for the crimes to have succeeded.

This brings us to the milder forms of self-deception in the continuum, and the most prevalent ways in which people self-deceive with regard to 9/11. How are "normal confabulation" and "self-deception with tension" reflected in the national discussion about 9/11? One widespread case of self-deception without tension, or normal confabulation, concerns the recent popular use of the word "conspiracy."

We all understand the definition of a conspiracy to be a secret plan, among two or more people, to commit a crime. Yet many of us pretend that the definition of the word has changed dramatically since 9/11. It is certain that, unless you believe these crimes were committed by one person acting alone, you believe in a conspiracy about 9/11. But people today have been trained to use the word conspiracy to mean only a small subset of conspiracies enacted by powerful people, like government officials.

For those who make this redefinition, al Queda is not capable of a conspiracy, and moreover, belief in conspiracies committed by powerful people is not rational. We are therefore left with the notion that conspiracies are irrational altogether, despite the fact that our news and our laws are chock-full of conspiracy charges. Additionally, to accept this redefinition, we must close our eyes to the many instances of conspiracy involving powerful US government agencies, like Operation Northwoods, Operation Gladio and the Gulf of Tonkin incident, all of which are now a matter of indisputable fact.

Another simple example of tension free self-deception regarding 9/11 concerns the "blowback" theory. This is the idea that certain people in the Middle East, who the US government has been bombing and blockading for many years, might gather up the means and organization to strike back with vengeful acts of otherwise irrational violence, by attacking symbols of western wealth and power. One reason this theory is so obviously confabulatory is that its proponents cling forcefully to it, but yet could never, under any circumstances, consider the "managed blowback" theory. That is, they would never allow the thought that powerful people might notice, and then manipulate, exploit and even promote, such vengeance.

One particularly interesting example of these two simple forms of confabulation, the redefinition of conspiracy and the "blowback but never managed blowback" theory, is found in the book: The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, by Naomi Klein.3 This book is well written, apparently well researched, and very frightening.

The most interesting aspect of The Shock Doctrine, however, is the way in which Klein handles the idea of a conspiracy surrounding 9/11. After going to great lengths to describe what can only be called a long-term conspiracy to economically exploit (and torture) a string of entire nations, she adds a small disclaimer section near the end of the book, saying, "No conspiracies required." It's a bit like reading the Bible and struggling through a new section at the end claiming "No deities required."

In this disclaimer section, which might have been added simply to ensure the book got published and promoted, Klein goes on to suggest that "The truth is at once less sinister and more dangerous [than the 9/11 conspiracy]." She struggles slightly in an effort to explain that --"wars waged for control over scarce resources ... create terrorist blowback." The ideas here are clearly meant to separate the book from any implication that certain powerful people, in the wars they have recently created to seize control of scarce resources, could ever have helped along (or managed) the events that were absolutely needed to initiate the whole process.

But again, to give Klein some credit, she does not resort to what I would call the larval stage of confabulation regarding 9/11. That is, she doesn't suggest that those people who have ruled and abused us so completely for the past eight years are simply too stupid to have been involved in 9/11. Believe it or not, a number of those who call themselves intellectuals in America have proposed this utterly ridiculous and embarrassing self-deception. Instead, Klein observes that those engaging in economic shock and disaster capitalism are quite shrewd. She mentions Donald Rumsfeld as part of this clever group.

A second good example of what appears to be self-deception about 9/11, this time with tension, comes from another Naomi. In this case it is Naomi Wolf, who recently wrote an essay entitled "A Conspiracy So Immense," that found its way into an interesting collection of non-US publications.4 This short essay seems somewhat cathartic and sensational, and appears to be have been published only one day after an impromptu interview was posted on the internet, in which Wolf was asked to answer questions about 9/11 before she had time to pause and filter.5

In the essay, the tension is quite noticeable, as Wolf is much less confident and more defensive than she appears in other writings and presentations. She begins with an exaggeration, suggesting that any conspiracy regarding 9/11 would have had to be "immense," as in the "vast" conspiracy so often referred to by the corporate media. Of course, Wolf gives us no idea how immense such a conspiracy would need to be in her estimation. The added adjective seems to be only a reflection of the emotion she is feeling in the moment.

Paradoxically, Wolf's "immense" term does not apply to al Queda, a group that we're told is at once a small band of incompetent misfits, and when needed, so widespread around the globe that you can't swing a stick without hitting one at scene of the latest terrorist incident. The official line is that al Queda has supremely elusive franchises in every politically sensitive area, at least those related to the production of oil and natural gas. They even have a "media arm," it is said, that distributes so many politically timely videos it makes one think they must employ a DC lobbyist-run marketing outfit, as well. In any case, for a tense Naomi Wolf, al Queda is not immense but any other possible group of conspirators would definitely have to be.

Unfortunately, Wolf's essay also uses smear campaign tactics by suggesting that people calling for the truth about 9/11 must be anti-semitic. Of course, this unsubstantiated accusation is not only false, but is also at odds with the fact that a good number of Jewish people are involved in calling for the truth about 9/11.

Wolf's essay uses several other techniques used by those who seem to be experiencing tension over 9/11 truth. She degrades those questioning the official story by first putting them in quotes – "'The 9/11 Truth Movement'," thereby implying they are either not real, or are not legitimate. She then quickly adds that "conspiracy theories surface where people are poorly educated and a rigorous press is lacking." Wolf goes on to explain why such a large and growing number of people are interested in learning the truth about 9/11, suggesting that such "conspiracy theories" are "psychologically more comforting."

The truth, of course, is plainly the opposite. As a group, those questioning the official story of 9/11 are at least as well educated as those who accept the official story without question. But certainly it is not comforting to consider that elements of your own government might have been involved in the worst terrorist crime in the history of your country. What is even less comforting is the inevitable conclusion that the terrorists might actually be running your country as it is being destroyed in nearly every way, and that any future terrorist activity would therefore be unstoppable (and perhaps irrelevant).

What might be comforting, for some, is the idea that those poor people who just happen to live on the last remaining oil-rich land will always be the only terrorists. That would be convenient in any case. And it is also the kind of improbable story that the human mind is left with, when it cannot face the emotional pain of more truthful information it is receiving, and working to ignore.

It is clear that those who work to ignore or downplay the urgent need for the truth about 9/11 are the ones who are exhibiting psychological weakness, often making claims that are directly in opposition to known facts. That is, they confabulate and self-deceive in order to avoid emotional trauma. We have seen this happen with people from all kinds of backgrounds, including highly intelligent, and otherwise honest people.

Maintaining self-deception about 9/11 is not easy though. It requires people to ignore the fact that the ever-changing official story of 9/11 was created (and repeatedly re-created) by representatives of the Bush Administration, who we know have lied to us on many occasions. Additionally, continued self-deception about 9/11 involves ignoring a huge number of other startling facts. These include the fact that the US national air defenses shut down for nearly two hours only on that one morning, and insider trading occurred without any insiders, and three tall buildings fell through the path of most resistance, when no such things have ever occurred before or since.

The two Naomis are not alone, to be sure. We all confabulate and self-deceive and we do so regularly. In fact, more powerful people sometimes work to exploit that fact of human nature. Our best chance at avoiding such exploitation is to notice the self-deceptive tendencies in ourselves, and prioritize education in relation to them. With 9/11, we have an opportunity to do just that, by witnessing the most glaring and widespread examples of self-deception in our time. That's why 9/11 truth has such a powerful potential to effect real change in our society.

1 Hirstein 2005, Brain Fiction: Self-Deception and the Riddle of Confabulation, MIT Press.

2 Halgren & Marinkovic 1995, "Neurophysicological networks integrating human emotions," The Cognitive Neurosciences, ed. M.S. Gazzaniga, MIT Press.

3 Klein 2007, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, Metropolitan Books.

4 Wolf 2008, "A Conspiracy So Immense," first published in The Guatemala Times, http://www.guatemala-times.com/opinion/syndicated/the-next-wave/483-a-conspiracy-so-immense.html. Publication followed at a number of English news sites in Muslim countries, including the Daily News (Egypt), the Cyprus Mail, the Burma Digest, the Khaleej Times, and the New Nation (Bangladesh).

5 We are Change LA, Naomi Wolf delivers a message for the Truth and Accountability Movement to WeAreChangeLA, 10/29/08 http://www.911blogger.com/node/18324

Source URL: AmericanBuddhist.net (with minor changes by the author)

Jan Klimkowski
12-01-2008, 09:49 PM
Paul - I find the concept of "left-gatekeepers" very interesting. I'm sure there are some.

However, with the likes of Noam Chomsky and Naomi Klein, I have a different interpretation. I may be wrong, but here's my tuppence worth.

As a thinker, imo Chomsky is more interested in "structural" analyses than the vagaries of human emotions such as greed and cowardice. Thus, for all its strengths, his book Manufacturing Consent is an argument about mass media from its structure, rather than considering its actors - be they megalomaniac newspaper tycoons or blackmailable hacks.

I believe Chomsky is less interested in JFK as a man than the power structures he came from - hence his rejection of Camelot. Imo he dismisses "conspiracies" because they aren't part of his particular, highly intellectual and idiosyncratic view of the world.

In other words, I don't believe Chomsky is a left gatekeeper, nor that They own him. Rather, Chomsky has a unique perspective on the world, and his analysis permits certain types of worldly events, and does not permit others.

As for Naomi Klein, I still find her The Shock Doctrine very compelling. It's not faultless. But it is a very powerful, very wide-ranging, deconstruction of both the horrific human consequences of Chicago School economics, and the identities of those powerful elites who have used such economic "theories" in the furtherance of their own selfish ends.

Klein is occasionally allowed on MSM political discussion shows - both in the States and the UK. She often manages to say things that are routinely excluded from MSM discourse. As such, she is a small force for good.

If Klein endorsed a MIHOP or LIHOP analysis, every time she appeared on MSM she would be introduced as "Naomi Klein, 9/11 conspiracy theorist". Faux News could tick their "fair and balanced" boxes by inviting her on, and then getting one of their neocon loons to shout at her for 10 minutes for her "insane, unpatriotic, conspiratorial views of 9/11".

I have no idea what Klein genuinely thinks about 9/11. However, I'm always quite pleased when she turns up on MSM TV taking on the likes of Irwin Stelzer (aka "Rupert Murdoch's representative on Earth"). I'd much rather Naomi Klein than, say, Will Hutton.

Indeed, come to think of it, Hutton is an archetypal left gatekeeper... :D

Paul Rigby
12-06-2008, 07:46 PM
Paul - I find the concept of "left-gatekeepers" very interesting. I'm sure there are some.

However, with the likes of Noam Chomsky and Naomi Klein, I have a different interpretation. I may be wrong, but here's my tuppence worth.


Naomi or Noam am I

By Peter Zaza

Victoria 911 Truth

October 12, 2007

Not sure if that's a clue for a cryptic crossword, or I'm about to tell you a story.

I went to see Naomi Klein a few nights ago here in Victoria BC Canada. She was finishing up a book tour for her recently released "The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism" before heading abroad for the next stage of her promotional tour. In this excellent book Klein exposes how catastrophic events become extremely profitable for corporations while enabling governments to further an agenda of "disaster capitalism". As a speaker she brings together an aspect that at once encompasses her excellent research abilities while showing a personal warmth that enhances the impact of her arguments. I found her to be both very informative and engaging with the audience. She took a few questions afterwards and it was then I found myself questioning some of her views. The second speaker up to the microphone was a gentleman here in Victoria whom I happen to know named Hal Sisson.

Let me tell you something about Hal Sisson. This man is a noted author with 10 books published, he is a life-long social activist, spent 40 years as a lawyer, he's been a stand-up comic, and a few other vestments and layers I've yet to delve into. He's also 86 years old and a rare sort of individual who retains a sharp mental faculty despite their age. Most times I'm with him I forget that this icon is almost twice as old as myself. I'm heartened to think that it is possible for some of us to keep it so together despite the ravages of time, but usually it's about then I lose my thought and start looking for my keys only to find them in my own pocket. Hal is also a prominent member of the Victoria 9/11 Truth organization - amongst my friends in this group we share a quiet reverence for this man, as well as an appreciation for being able to benefit from his wisdom and experience.

Hal Sisson's question was, "In view of your remarks relating to events which create economic emergencies and subsequent capitalistic opportunities and predations - disaster capitalism - do you have any comment or opinion in regard to the fact that many of them may well be covert false-flag operations by rogue elements of western government or intelligence agencies - events such as 9/11, the Gulf of Tonkin or the Madrid and British bombings?" This was exactly what I kept thinking about all evening while she described events like Katrina, the tsunami that devastated the coasts of Southeast Asia, or the fires in Greece. In many instances governments will clearly manipulate people's misfortune to push through repressive laws and gross examples of economic opportunism after such events, but I was also interested in her thoughts on how some of these events are purposely created within the Hegelian dialectic. Although she is clearly willing to unveil post 9/11 misdeeds such as the out-sourcing of war operations to Halliburton and Blackwater, it is the event itself and the forces behind it to which Hal Sisson's interrogative bespeaks. Her answer started out all right - she said, "First of all, I'm not so sure I would put anything past these people. It's just that with these conspiracy theories I feel that we're taking away all this energy that could be going toward other issues that are so important right now". Alarm bells started ringing in my head, I immediately thought to myself "female Chomsky". I've actually seen and read interviews where Noam Chomsky comes right out and says, "It's not important who is behind 9/11, there are so many other things these people are guilty of...other things are more important." or "it's just an Internet thing". Sorry Noam - I believe it is THE most important thing. My blood boils every day when I read a news piece about the War of Terror or anything to do with the Department of Homeland Criminals, or especially the frequent reports about another one or two hundred Iraqis dead or wounded.

You have the unmitigated gall to insinuate that it is not important when our own soldiers are giving their lives away based on this horrible lie? I'm sickened to think that some people can be so callously indifferent or morally bankrupt not to connect the obvious dots in this situation. Moreover, why should it be such a mental stretch for anyone to even imagine that the US government was complicit in 9/11 when we have so much declassified material showing their guilt in perpetrating such acts. That's why Hal Sisson's question is so relevant - because we know as a matter of historical fact that the Gulf of Tonkin and many others were false-flag operations, self-inflicted wounds - we know they are more than capable of it and it is a technique used by military powers since ancient times. This is not some ludicrous idea, and to pull out the old utility-knife catch phrase "conspiracy theory" and smear anybody who questions the official doctrine is not only offensive - it represents the shoddiest form of logic I can imagine.

Condemnation without investigation is the height of ignorance" - Einstein

You should have heard the crowd at that precise moment. As soon as she said "conspiracy theories" there was a murmur of disapproval toward the questioner, it was like a bunch of trained monkeys who stand up all at once when the buzzer goes off - and when she wrapped all of us independently thinking individuals into a neat ball and drop-kicked us in the gonads with the following summation, "It's just that with these conspiracy theories I feel that we're taking away all this energy that could be going toward other issues that are so important right now" - the audience burst into applause. The mood was something like, "There, that should put to rest you 9/11 truth idiots, way to go Naomi - we are cognitively dissonant en masse". I was crestfallen at that moment when I saw first hand the results of some studies that show greater than 80% of the public are too apathetic and will just as soon swallow up the government's propaganda as think for themselves. Sure, we've got our Naomi Kleins and Noam Chomskys to stand just a little on one side of the gate while many followers believe they lead the vanguard against the controllers - but no way will they go that extra step and take a peek over that wall. I'm not saying she is employed by them or even necessarily conscious of it - perhaps within her own paradigm she resembles many who just can't imagine our leaders murdering some of us on purpose to further their agenda, and yet that's what war is all about. That's the part that is puzzling - she has no trouble expounding on the methodologies of torture and crisis manipulation by these people, but her natural curiosity and professional assiduousness stop short at the root causes of 9/11. Maybe she feels that if she touches that truth her days flying about doing book tours are over.

Naomi's worried about how much energy I've got. Little does she know I'm a seething mass of thermo-nuclear potential. I've got enough in me to listen to her build her arguments, present her thorough research, and draw together elements for her theories. And whoa - look at that, I've still got plenty left over to examine the various aspects of 9/11 - who da thunk? As well, since when is it up to you to decide what subject is deserving of my energy? How would you feel if someone just wrote off your entire theory by smearing it with a brush and saying, "it's just not important"?

Sorry Naomi, I'm disappointed - I still think you are great author with important, well presented information that everyone should be made aware of, but your inability to step over that line and deal with 9/11 is problematic to myself and others - this is precisely the difficulty we face when it comes to the wider population's suspension of disbelief regarding this issue. The reaction of that audience demonstrates so poignantly the struggle we face in bringing forth the truth about 9/11. Thanks for not tasing Hal.

Peter Lemkin
12-07-2008, 01:15 PM

Paul, I have no major 'beef' with you...but have on this matter to side with Jan. I think while there are definitely left-gatekeepers, can I put either named person on 'my' list. Chomsky has ego problems and perhaps is blind to some things - but I don't sense is on the 'other side'; even less so for Klein. Look, we are all poeple, with our own histories, pasts, exposures to information and disinfo; we all make some tactical decisions on what and when to say and not say certain things and let's not fault a person for not being as aware as you or I on x or y......I can remember times in the past when I was not up to speed on m or n...and no doubt am not still up to speed on p and q.....

I think it is important to identify those who are purposely spouting disinfo....but, personally, find neiher named as such. Chomsky, I have many problems with...but think about how people ARE....we are complex, and many persons, with the best of intentions, have blind spots.....

Paul Rigby
12-17-2008, 07:20 PM
Sunday, November 30 2008 - Fear Factors

Conspiracies and Confabulation: Tales from two Naomis

November 29, 2008
by Kevin Ryan

A very long New Yorker puff piece on Noami (K) the Gatekeeper, whose contempt for activists seems, well, positively aristocratic...


Profiles: Outside Agitator

Naomi Klein and the new new left.

by Larissa MacFarquhar

December 8, 2008

Why I am reminded of that great old Who song, We Don't Get Fooled Again?

David Guyatt
12-18-2008, 10:35 AM
On Klein's sentence: "It's just that with these conspiracy theories I feel that we're taking away all this energy that could be going toward other issues that are so important right now", the following might be of interest (and apologies for going slightly off-topic - please rap me on the fingers gently):



by Floyd Rudmin
April, 2003

Floyd Rudmin is a member of the Psychology Department, University of Tromsø, Tromsø, Norway.

"Conspiracy theory" is usually used as a pejorative label, meaning paranoid, nutty, marginal, and certainly untrue. The power of this pejorative is that it discounts a theory by attacking the motivations and mental competence of those who advocate the theory. By labeling an explanation of events "conspiracy theory," evidence and argument are dismissed because they come from a mentally or morally deficient personality, not because they have been shown to be incorrect. Calling an explanation of events "conspiracy theory" means, in effect, "We don't like you, and no one should listen to your explanation."

In earlier eras other pejorative labels, such as "heresy," "witchery," and "communism" also worked like this. The charge of "conspiracy theory" is not so severe as these other labels, but in its way is many times worse. Heresy, witchcraft, and communism at least retain some sense of potency. They designate ideas to be feared. "Conspiracy theory" implies that the ideas and their advocates are simple-minded or insane.

All such labels implicitly define a community of orthodox believers and try to banish or shun people who challenge orthodox beliefs. Members of the community who are sympathetic to new thoughts might shy away from the new thoughts and join in the shunning due to fear of being tainted by the pejorative label.

There is currently a boom in books on conspiracy theory, most of them derogatory, as is evident in some recent titles: Architects of Fear: Conspiracy Theories and Paranoia in American Politics; Conspiracy Culture: From the Kennedy Assassination to the X-Files; Conspiracy: How the Paranoid Style Flourishes and Where It Comes From.

Within popular US culture, there is also now a boom in movies, novels, and web sites that feature conspiracy theories. The apparent popularity of conspiracy theories is often cited as a cause of concern, that our society is breaking down. For example, Canadian journalist Robert Sibley has said that conspiracy theory is "a nihilistic vortex of delusion and superstition that negates reality itself."

I think that just the reverse is true. There is nothing insane or sinister about conspiracy theory research. It is rather matter of fact. A wide range of ordinary people from many walks of life take an interest in the political and economic events of our era. They think things through on their own, use the library, seek for evidence, articulate a theory, communicate with other people with similar interests. It is heartening that some citizens invest time and effort to unearth and expose some of the conspiracies that damage our society, our economy and our government.

But it certainly does seem that some historians and journalists are quite frightened of conspiracy theory and its wide popularity. Those are the two professions whose job it is to interpret our world for us. When ordinary people take on the task of doing this themselves, it must mean that they don't believe what the authorities say we should. Maybe the professionals feel threatened when amateurs think about political events for themselves.

Perhaps we are in the middle of a new Reformation. The high priests are again losing their monopoly, and they see us sliding into cults and chaos. Something similar happened in 1517, when Martin Luther challenged the Church and translated the Bible into German so that ordinary people could think about theology for themselves. When put on trial, Luther said, "I cannot submit my faith either to the Pope or to the Councils, because it is clear as day they have frequently erred and contradicted each other." That is exactly what a JFK conspiracy theorist would say about the Warren Commission.

People take on the task of explaining things for themselves when the orthodox experts insist on saying nonsense—for example, that Lee Harvey Oswald acting alone killed JFK. A Reformation is a rebellion against arrogance. If historians and journalists want to understand why they are being displaced by conspiracy theory, it would be most reasonable to examine their own failings first.

The correct big-word label for conspiracy theory would be "naive deconstructive history." It is "history" because it explains events, but only after they have happened. Past-tense. Conspiracy theory, as a political act, is an after-the-fact complaint. To see conspiracies while they are happening would require the resources and powers of police forces and espionage agencies.

Conspiracy theory is "deconstructive history" because it is in rebellion against official explanations and against orthodox journalism and orthodox history. Conspiracy theory is radically empirical: tangible facts are the focus, especially facts that the standard stories try to overlook. There is a ruthless reduction down to what is without doubt real, namely, persons. Conspiracy theory presumes that human events are caused by people acting as people do, including cooperating, planning, cheating, deceiving, and pursuing power. Thus, conspiracy theories do not focus on impersonal forces like geo-politics, market economics, globalization, social evolution and other such abstract explanations of human events.

To call conspiracy theory "naive" does not mean that it is uncritical or stupidly innocent. In fact, that is what conspiracy theorists might say about orthodox explanations of events promoted by government sources, by mainstream journalism, or by schoolbook history. For example, it is naive to believe that the September 11, 1973, coup d'etat against Allende was not orchestrated by the United States. Rather, to here call deconstructive history "naive" means that conspiracy theorists are unaware that they are doing deconstructive history, and they are amateurs, untrained in deconstructive history.

Conspiracy theories arise when dramatic events happen, and the orthodox explanations try to diminish the events and gloss them over. In other words, conspiracy theories begin when someone notices that the explanations do not fit the facts.

Take the case of explaining the past two decades of US "free-trade" schemes among countries in the Americas: FTA, NAFTA, and soon FTAA. These schemes began with two nations, then three, and soon four and more. The first was the 1989 Canada-US Free Trade Agreement (FTA) which set the subservient conditions of member nations to US economic dominance. The essence of the FTA is that US corporations get unrestricted commercial rights and resource ownership in Canada, and in exchange, Canada gets to obey US trade laws.

Why would Canadians have agreed to this? Well, we didn't, but historians would explain it by saying something like, "Globalization made Canadians choose free-trade." Conspiracy theorists would say, "Don't be naive. Look at the facts." In a decade of political opinion polls, and in three consecutive national elections (1984, 1988, 1993), a majority of Canadians had consistently said that they do not want American "free-trade" schemes. How has it happened that such a clear, strong democratic decision by so many millions of Canadians could be overthrown?

In the 1984 and 1993 federal elections in Canada, the successful parties had explicitly campaigned against free-trade, but when elected they reversed themselves. The 1988 vote was also not straight: of the two anti-free-trade parties, the minor one in mid-campaign began to attack the leader of the major one. It is reasonable to see such facts and to surmise that orthodox explanations are not the real explanations.

Let's look in the library to see what can be found. From 1976 to 1979, more than a decade before the FTA, US Ambassador Thomas Enders was crisscrossing Canada promoting free-trade. Who was Thomas Enders? He was hired by the US government in 1958 as an "intelligence research specialist." In 1969 he was in Yugoslavia, in 1971 Cambodia. His jobs there were to rig Lon Nol's election and to use a local intelligence network to pick villages to be bombed by B52s in President Nixon's secret war. From 1976 to 1979, he was in Canada weaving a web of political and business connections to promote the American version of "free-trade." In 1981 Enders became President Reagan's Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs, working on the invasion of Grenada and the illegal proxy wars against Nicaragua and El Salvador. One of his jobs was to coordinate operations with Oliver North and Duane Claridge, head of the CIA's covert operations in Latin America.

Considering these facts, which is more likely—that Enders was in Canada promoting free-trade as some kind of personal hobby, or that he was under orders, promoting free-trade as one more operation in a career of covert operations? At the time, Quebec's populist premier, Réne Lévesque, said of Enders, "He's the bum who launched the bombs in Vietnam. He's a damned spy. He must be working for the CIA" (quoted in Lisée, 1990, p. 207).

The idea of NAFTA first appeared in public in 1979, to everyone's surprise, as Ronald Reagan's core policy when he announced his candidacy for President. But, curiously, it was then never again mentioned in his campaign. In 1979, Reagan's campaign was run by Michael Deaver and Paul Hannaford, who reportedly also ran a public relations firm that represented the right-wing Guatemalan group Amigos del Pais and its leader Roberto Alejos, who had provided the ranch used for CIA training of Cuban Bay of Pigs invasion forces in 1961. In early 1980 William Casey became Reagan's campaign director. Casey began his career directing OSS espionage operations in Germany and China in the 1940s, and he ended his career as director of the CIA. It is not common for US presidential candidates to be so managed by those so linked to covert operations.

The information in the proceeding two paragraphs comes from library sources. "Free-trade" comes from the dark lower bowels of Washington sometime in the early 1970s. It seems to have been conceived and promoted, in part, by conspiracy rather than by forthright democratic processes.

This exemplifies how conspiracy theory arises: 1) significant political or economic events change power relationships in our society; 2) contradictions are noticed by ordinary citizens in the explanations of these events; 3) concern and curiosity are aroused; 4) further information is sought under the presumption that power is being abused and deception is being deployed. Most of the evidence discovered is circumstantial, as it must be when investigating conspiracies.

"Free-trade" was definitely not the democratic choice of Canadians, and maybe not of Americans or Mexicans either. There is a history waiting to be written about these "free-trade" schemes. Orthodox, school-book historians will probably not write that history, and mainstream journalists will not dig it out. Conspiracy theorists might. (Did anyone notice that the NAFTA treaty was not legally passed by Congress as a treaty?)

Conspiracy theory has a special focus on contradictions, discrepancies, and missing facts. The natural sciences similarly seek to find faulty explanations by focusing on facts that don't fit the orthodox explanations. If we want more truthful explanations of events, whether of scientific events or of political and historical events, then we must compare competing explanations.

One explanation usually fits the available observations better than the other. By the principle of fit, the explanation that encompasses more of the observations should be preferred. This principle can favor conspiracy theories. For example, one gunman cannot shoot a bolt-action rifle as fast as the shots were fired at JFK. The vast majority of eye-witnesses heard shots coming from different directions.

We can discover mis-explanations and find better ones by focusing on the facts that don't fit. For example, Galileo concluded that moons around Jupiter are discrepancies to the then-orthodox geocentric theory. Galileo was called a heretic for writing that. Mark Lane's book, Rush to Judgment, includes hundreds of facts that did not fit the Warren Commission's conclusion that a lone gunman killed Kennedy. Lane was called a conspiracy theorist for writing that.

The pejorative force of the "conspiracy theory" label comes from its ad hominem attack on the author's personality. It is true that conspiracy theory authors doubt the orthodox explanations and suspect that there are other explanations for events. Such doubt and suspicion, which is the same kind of doubt and suspicion as motivates many scientific discoveries, gets labeled paranoia.

Think for a moment. Most of the US population believes that a conspiracy, not a lone gunman, killed JFK. A society could not function if that many people were "paranoid." That word is pure pejorative. Real paranoia includes: 1) fear, 2) of a prominent person, 3) whom you think threatens you personally, 4) using invisible means, like the evil-eye, x-rays, or laser beams. Conspiracy theory entails doubt and suspicion, but that is far from clinical paranoia. For example, I believe the Iran-Contra conspiracy theory, but I have no emotion of fear, certainly no fear that Oliver North is out to get me, using invisible rays of some kind.

However, we should remember that conspiracy theorists are ordinary people and will show ordinary failings of rationality, for example, what is referred to as "confirmation bias." This means that we are all biased to look for evidence that our ideas are right rather than for evidence that our ideas are wrong. This bias has been demonstrated and replicated in many different contexts and countries. Confirmation bias is a common mistake made by conspiracy theorists, as well as by historians, journalists, and everyone else. David Fischer has catalogued and exemplified over 100 different kinds of faulty reasoning in the research of competent, published historians. These would all apply to conspiracy theorists as well.

Conspiracy theory is more thoughtful than fearful. The motivations behind conspiracy theory research are cognitive and social. It is very much like doing family genealogy. You begin with a few facts. Then you puzzle out the story, make inferences and hypotheses, and seek further facts. With help from other people, with good luck, you discover information that is sometimes difficult to find. A story emerges, suggesting new facts that should be sought. The satisfaction comes from finding the facts, constructing the story, and sharing the process and discoveries with other people.

Conspiracy theorists think they are serving the public good. Often their motivations are patriotic, and with good reason. Democracy is built on distrust of the king and all the king's men. Democratic safeguards like habeas corpus, jury trial, independent courts, and secret ballots all presume that we should not trust people in positions of power. Because of distrust, opposition parties and an independent press are expected to question and criticize the government, and the government is expected to answer. The free press is called the Fourth Estate, in opposition to the First Estate (the Church), the Second Estate (the aristocracy), and the Third Estate (those who live off capital). Since orthodox journalism has become an instrument of power, investigative journalism is now sometimes called the Fifth Estate. Conspiracy theory is part of the Fifth Estate in this balance of powers. The independent, oppositional thinking that underlies conspiracy theory is not paranoia; it is the very foundation of freedom and democracy.

There probably appear to be more "conspiracy theories" about for three reasons: 1) More people have the skills and resources to look for conspiracies and to make their thinking public; 2) Probably there are more conspiracies to find as political and economic power become ever more concentrated and our democracy declines; 3) Mainstream journalism and schoolbook history now serve the state and corporate interests more than in the past, so now we hear more nonsense.

Conspiracy theory will certainly be a growth industry for the foreseeable future. Conspiracy theory will decrease when conspiracies decrease and when journalists and historians increase their efforts to explain events rather than explain them away.


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