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The Range of Conspiracy Theories

May 9th, 2011 · 8 Comments

Our politics has gotten so crazy lately that we seem to have developed a standard form for designating conspiracy theories, just as we mechanically append -Gate to the scandal du jour: the “-er” suffix. You know, “Truther,” “Birther,” and now (for those who suspect Osama bin Laden may still be alive) “Deather.” I wonder whether this doesn’t create a deceptive equivalence.

Just to be crystal clear in advance: I assume that bin Laden was indeed shot and killed in the course of the Abbotabad raid as we’ve been told. That said, I don’t think someone who harbors doubts on this front is on par with people who spin wild fantasies about Obama’s Kenyan birth or George Bush’s role in the 9/11 attacks. Suppose Osama bin Laden had been captured alive and was being interrogated. It would be pretty much impossible to conceal the fact that the raid had occurred—at least from other high-ranking Al Qaeda operatives. But it might be desirable to conceal for as long as possible the fact that he had become a potential source of intelligence. The easiest way to do this would be to announce that he’d been killed in the raid—assuming that when the truth was ultimately revealed, most Americans would forgive a necessary deception. Again, I don’t think this is what happened. But in contrast with the Birther and Truther conspiracies, this hypothesis doesn’t require one to cling to a fantastic speculation, in the face of mountains of evidence and everything we know about human motivation.

I say all this only because it’s worth bearing in mind that there are sectors of the government whose legitimate function is to engage in, for lack of a better word, conspiracies. Probably this one is as false as the others, but it is worth resisting the suggestion that all doubts about official government narratives are equally nutty. There’s plenty of stuff in the Church Committee reports that sounds like the paranoid delusions of a tinfoil-hat wearer, except for the fact that it happened.

Tags: Journalism & the Media · Sociology


       

 

8 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Doug // May 9, 2011 at 2:53 pm

    Right. We have seen plenty of evidence that planes flew into the world trade center and that Barak Obama was born in Hawai’i. We have not seen much evidence that Osama Bin Ladin was killed last week in Abbottabad, but he most likely was.

  • 2 Prete // May 9, 2011 at 6:46 pm

    I guess we’ll have to take them at their word. But not in a snarky way like the birthers would say.

  • 3 Dr Duck // May 9, 2011 at 7:20 pm

    It could be worse than “-er”. We could be reading about DeathGate.

  • 4 Freddie // May 9, 2011 at 7:30 pm

    People believe in conspiracy theories because human beings conspire. It’s simple induction. That’s no excuse for ignoring evidence, but it should shape how we tend to treat anything labeled a conspiracy theory.

  • 5 Eric Biesel // May 10, 2011 at 11:36 pm

    @Dr. Duck, Have you ever read the Death Gate Cycle? That seemed like a conspiracy to create truly shitty fantasy.

  • 6 Brian Moore // May 16, 2011 at 10:19 am

    The problem is that this conspiracy theory is way too believable. No one will ever buy it. If we try to convince people that bin Laden was abducted by aliens masquerading as Navy SEALs, then we’ll have something.

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