Page Two: Oh, Come, All Ye Faithful
Just because you're paranoid, it doesn't mean they are out to get you, either
– Richard Hofstadter, "The Paranoid Style in American Politics," Harper's Magazine, November 1964
The great failure of modern American political thought is the abdication of belief in not only the ongoing power of compromise but in its dominant value in a democratic, constitutional republic as well. Its value should be obvious – not just if, but especially when, various groups of citizens are advocating wildly different and incompatible ideologies based on disparate perceptions and opposing values.
No matter how imperfect and often disappointing to all sides the consequences are, generations of Americans have accepted (if never exactly wildly embraced) legislative compromise as a necessary and effective tool of governing. There have been times when it was considered far more odious than at other times (witness the Civil War). Still, no matter how divergent the views of different groups within the society, there has always been a sense of some kind of shared, universal commitment to the public good.
In the past few decades, this has again changed – to the point that now almost all legislative compromise is taken to indicate that inherently corrupt, morally destructive, and ethically cancerous politics are at work. Seemingly of late, bipartisan governing has disappeared in the face of a growing insistence by all political communities that unwavering loyalty (sometimes to the point of extremism) is the only acceptable, moral, and pure exercise of one's responsibilities as a citizen.
These politics almost never consider that the problems facing this country have anything to do with differing ideas – ideologies, philosophies, and beliefs. Instead, differences are seen as being personality-based, caused by often large groups of other Americans who are intentionally evil and destructive. The ideas that there is a widely shared concern for the good of the country and the problems facing it and that differences are due to passionate and principled disagreement rather than malevolence no longer bear much currency. The strategy of action then has nothing to do with ideas but instead involves clearly identifying and demonizing the enemy, accompanied by increasing self-aggrandizement.
My interest in (or obsession with, if you insist) conspiracy-theory politics is that it is an arena that so clearly stakes out one end of this extremism. Claiming to be factually based and patriotically driven, it instead represents an unrealistic, blindly uncompromising, and profoundly anti-constitutional fanaticism. More than many other groups that at least pretend to a philosophy and ideology, conspiracy pundits absolutely delight in rejecting the "old left/right paradigm." Whatever they intend this to mean, what it does most clearly is reject the notion that we are divided not by differing ideological positions but rather by something much simpler – the notion of the good guys (the conspiracy gang) vs. the bad guys (the New World Order). Therefore there is little need for much discussion about policies or politics, since evidently once the good guys get rid of the bad guys, what needs to be done will be so obvious that good governing will result from an easy harmony of good feelings and commonsense agreements.
Whenever I write about conspiracy theories, I'm usually greeted by a near-unanimous chorus of derision. Those who believe in them know I'm just a dupe, willing or otherwise. Those who are political but don't believe know there are far more serious issues. The latter group usually brings no additional sophistication to the inherent and incredible problems of governing a democratic constitutional republic of 300 million citizens but rather simply identifies a different bad guy (the left, the right, multinational corporations, Marxist internationalists, etc.).
Now, whereas this crowd may rant, rave, and research, they are more than likely to do nothing unless through some spectacular bad luck there is a series of regrettable and unintended incidents that backs them into violence. Their "plan" seems to be to conduct ever-deeper research while maintaining a genuine amazement at their own courage, decency, humanity, and vision. Meanwhile, they easily damn as much of the population as being worthless stooges and unquestioning sheeple, as does any imagined New World Order fanatic.
Next to extensive research, damning those of us who don't agree with them seems to be a favored activity. Last week's column got the following response:
"Regarding the Chronicle editor's frequent marginalization of folks who mention 'New World Order,' keep in mind that the so-called conspiracy theorist crowd didn't pull the term out of a tin-foiled hat. H.W. Bush mentioned it in several speeches, most notably during Gulf War 1. One could argue that Bush 41 envisioned some benevolent-new global utopia, but this was coming from an old CIA man, whose father, Prescott Bush, was complicit ... in funding the German Nazi regime during the '30s ... and was forced to sit down in front of a congressional committee for violating the Trading With The Enemy Act. Adolph Hitler ... proclaimed at the start of WW2 that 'the year 1941 will be ... the historical year of a great European New Order.' Make of it what you want, but the term was around long before Alex Jones and others brought it to the public forum."
Now the existence of the term long before the current generation is certainly true. And oooh, Hitler and the Nazis – that's very, very scary stuff. But just a couple of things that I know won't carry much weight: 1) There have been discussions and speculations on One World Government since before the 18th century, with the idea being seriously entertained by the full range of the political spectrum. Wendell Wilkie, the longest of long-shot Republican candidates who ran for president against Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1940, wrote One World, which became a bestselling book, in 1943. In it, he strongly supported the idea of some form of "world government" after the war. 2) The collapse of the Soviet Union as a major world power clearly indicated that there was a New World Order. A New World Order can mean a substantial change in international politics. This has been the case since the beginning of recorded history, which documents regular shifts in dominant international, political, and/or cultural powers. Think Babylon, Greece, Troy, Rome, Egypt, and Carthage. Think colonization of the New World, the American Colonies' war for independence, the defeat of the Spanish Armada, Napoleon, and the Boer Wars. Think Chinese dynasties and the closing of Japan to the outside world. And on and on and on.
Given the hundreds of thousands of conspiracy theorists and the literally millions of hours invested in research and spreading the word, this column expresses only my opinion, but if they can concretely prove even a very few of their assertions, it will stem no tide but rather be overwhelmed. Without hesitation, I offer the following opinions. If they are wrong, not only will it be very easy to label them as such, but just think of the embarrassment I'll suffer. On the other hand, over the years, this isn't the first time I've offered up some of these opinions, which have suffered a lot of verbal dissent and criticism but have yet to be proven wrong. Unfortunately, though conspiracy hobbyists work long and hard in pursuit of a tailored "truth," they so prize their own views and intelligence over all others' that resolution of most of what they "investigate" seems unlikely.
I say these issues will never be "solved," indicating that these events will remain ever more heavily researched without a dominant provable theory ever emerging.
1) On Nov. 22, 1963, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. If, as all these "researchers" claim, Lee Harvey Oswald didn't act alone, out of almost half a century of dedicated research by hundreds of thousands, nothing has emerged but several libraries of books mostly detailing perplexing issues and circumstantial evidence.
2) The Oklahoma City federal building bombing took place on April 19, 1995. Among all the allegations of any number of these terrorist acts being "inside jobs" ("black flag operations," as they so love to call them), this one is uniquely offensive.
3) The 9/11 attacks will never be "solved." The investigations, though doomed to have millions and millions more hours devoted to them over the coming decades, will never result in anything concrete.
4) Charges by the "birthers," a stillborn joke of a political allegation (forgive the horrendous pun), will never lead anywhere.
Finally, one letter-writer clearly nailed me as being like a "hapless Nixon apologist in the early stages of Watergate"; as such, I now sign off.