Liberal pundits wonder whether the appeal of conspiracy theories is due to the fact that the “real” stuff is constantly evolving and complicated. “As with religion, belief can be a huge comfort in the face of fear and confusion.” Nevertheless, liberal pundits assure us that they will “defend the truth furiously”.
Instead, I would argue that Americans are absolutely correct to distrust elite, liberal “truth”. After all, just in the last 20 years there’s been an elite, liberal consensus that the invasion of Iraq was a dandy idea. The occupation of Afghanistan was going swimmingly. The Wall Street Crash was caused by profligate American homeowners and excessive Chinese savings, rather than bankster criminality. Quantitative Easing (QE) saved the US economy from imminent collapse. Austerity is just what the doctor ordered to reinvigorate the economy. Jeffrey Epstein committed suicide. Etc.
I think the popularity of conspiracy theories is a measure of the degree to which Americans no longer trust the conventional wisdom. That’s an explosive issue just now for good reason because the conventional wisdom of our time is fatally out of step with reality. Look across the whole range of acceptable views presented by elite policy makers and pundits, and by and large you’ll find that a coin toss will give you better guidance.
And not just their acceptable views but lies that these very same policy makers and pundits have actively promoted. There’s the lies leading up to the invasion of Iraq. There’s the lies about the Wall Street Crash. Hope and Change. There’s the lies about Ukraine and Syria and Libya and Yemen. There’s the lies about austerity, public/private/partnerships and neoliberalism. The way they continue to lie about Julian Assange, who’s now being extradited to the country that plotted to kill him. “Media freedom plays an indispensable role in informing the public, holding governments accountable, and telling stories that otherwise would not be told. The U.S. will continue to stand up for the brave and necessary work of journalists around the world,” claims Secretary of State, Tony Blinken, delivering a whopper at the Orwellian-named Summit of Democracy.
Like I always say–you can’t make this shit up.
Then there’s Russia-gate, which has fatally wounded elite credibility. The last five years have delivered Americans into a culture of unreason of the kind they have been prone to indulging periodically throughout their history. Salem witch hunts, anyone? It is made in equal parts of a native insecurity and anxiety, of paranoia and of irrationality. To understand this condition, we must recognize it as the work of a diabolic alliance comprised of the Democratic Party’s corrupt leadership, the F.B.I. and other law-enforcement agencies, the national security apparatus and its many appendages, and the media. It is no longer controversial to speak or write of a Deep State that controls this country.
The corporate media led by the New York Times and Washington Post were particularly culpable in promulgating Russia-gate. The Washington Post played the starring role in the cover-up. Congress’ hometown paper was the main venue through which U.S. officials illegally passed classified information to prosecute a campaign against a sitting president, validating a conspiracy theory that they helped to invent in part to cover their own flanks.
It turns out that the real story of Russia-gate was the role that elite, liberal media played in an intelligence operation to first spy on a presidential campaign and then discredit the results of a democratic election and undermine the legitimacy of a presidential administration. And now the vary same liberal media has the nerve to lecture the Americans who no longer believe a word they say on the danger of conspiracy theories.
What makes the astounding incompetence of today’s expert opinions and their condescending lectures so toxic is that nobody in the corporate media, and next to nobody in the political sphere, is willing to talk about it. No matter how disastrous the consequences turn out to be—no matter how often the economic policies that were supposed to yield prosperity result in poverty and misery, no matter how often programs meant to improve the schools make them worse, no matter how many drugs released on the market as safe and effective turn out to be neither, and so on at great length—one rule remains sacrosanct: no one outside the professional/managerial/class is supposed to question the validity of the next round of expert-approved policies, no matter how obviously doomed to fail they are.
Accountability for our feral elite? Don’t be silly.
On that note, perhaps the conspiracy theories bandied about by the American public is a form of national schizophrenia?
Gregory Bateson, in a fascinating series of articles collected in his book Steps to an Ecology of Mind, discussed the way that schizophrenia is created by this kind of suppression of the obvious in a family setting. Insist to a child from infancy onward that something is true that the child can see is obviously not true, punish the child savagely every time it tries to bring up the contradiction, and there’s a fair chance the child will grow up to be schizophrenic.
Conspiracy theories in society are the collective equivalent of schizophrenia in the individual, and they have the same cause: the systematic gaslighting of individuals who know that they are being lied to.