Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Conspiracy Theories: History for Losers

Great article by David Aaronovitch:

These cyber-driven days, each new U.S. president has attracted theories of his own, assiduously spread mostly by partisans of the other side. So the saturnine Bill Clinton murdered Vince Foster and a whole lot of men in Arkansas (we won't discuss what he did with the women of Arkansas), the infernal George W. Bush brought down the twin towers, and the foreign Barack Obama isn't an American at all, and has plotted to cover it up. Interestingly out-of-power Democrats are far more likely to believe the theories about in-power Republicans, and powerless Republicans far more likely to believe them about powerful Democrats. One aspect of conspiracy theories is that they are history for losers.

Note particularly this paragraph on the features of conspiracy theories:

These include an appeal to precedent, self-heroization, contempt for the benighted masses, a claim to be only asking "disturbing questions," invariably exaggerating the status and expertise of supporters, the use of apparently scholarly ways of laying out arguments (or "death by footnote"), the appropriation of imagined Secret Service jargon, circularity in logic, hydra-headedness in growing new arguments as soon as old ones are chopped off, and, finally, the exciting suggestion of persecution. These characteristics help them to convince intelligent people of deeply unintelligent things.

Appeal to precedent? Loose Change II and AAC each started out with mentions of supposed precedents in Operation Northwoods and the Reichstag Fire. Self-heroization? Yep, the "Truthers" are the real heroes of 9-11. Contempt for the benighted masses? Sheeple. JAQing off? Yep. Exaggerating the status and expertise of supporters? Donald Meserlian, the forensic engineer who turned out to be a swimming pool engineer? Or Karl "nanotubes" Schwarz? Scholarly BS? JONES, anyone? Imagined jargon? Pull it. Etc.

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