Friday, April 29, 2011

The conspiracists

Barack Obama had to choose between two bad ideas: respond to critics who said he wasn't born in the U.S., therefore ineligible to be president, or ignore them and have the story grow and grow by conspiracists until it infected everything else he did in his presidency. So he chose to respond and sure enough, releasing his 1961 Hawaiian birth certificate didn't deter the pinheads who insisted he wasn't born in the U.S. It just added to their conspiracy theory, that now the circle of conspirators, in on the plot to make Barack Obama look like a citizen, has expanded.

Had Obama called me up and asked my opinion I would have said he would lose either way. I had experience with this when my mother went through her own conspiracy phase. Mom lived in a duplex from 1986 until 2004. At one point she was convinced her next door neighbor was doing evil to her. Every time Mom left her apartment she was sure the neighbor--or the neighbor's son--was getting into her apartment, rearranging things in her bathroom, or just generally causing mischief. They were even driving her car at night when Mom slept. My brother and I attempted to talk her out of these notions. After a time, as neighbors moved in and out, her conspiracy theory got bigger: all of these neighbors were part of the same family. This family, according to Mom, was out to make her life miserable. It didn't help that my brother had the locks changed on her doors; the neighbors were still getting in her house when she was gone. One time--horrors!--they moved her bottle of hair dye.

When I talked to a psychologist about Mom he told me that by trying to reason with her I became part of the conspiracy against her. In her mind she had it all worked out. Conspiracism is pathological thinking. To most of us, if someone presents an argument against something we believe, we may listen and then say, "that's another point of view," perhaps even accept it as superior to our own belief. But to a conspiracist the person arguing with us is part of the conspiracy. It's all worked out in their heads, and sounds like the old bumper sticker joke, "Don't bother me with the facts, my mind is made up."

When Mom went into the care center in 2004 she was given anti-psychotic medications to control her combativeness, and it also ended her conspiracy talk.

The most bellicose of the loudmouths spouting the Obama birther nonsense is arrogant billionaire Donald Trump, who has an out of control ego and bullies his way into the news with loud, obnoxious pronouncements, that he's "smarter" than anyone else because he's "made billions of dollars." Unlike Obama's genteel but firm admonition not to let "silliness" and "carnival barkers" disrupt the important work of government, Trump lambastes his critics with invective. When TV host Rosie O'Donnell asked what made Donald Trump a moral compass for anyone else, he responded to her by calling her a "fat pig." Trump may be years removed from the school playground, but once a bully, always a bully.

I've written before in this blog about various conspiracies, and have gotten a lot of hits on those blogs. I've also gotten some readers who thought I was supporting their conspiracy theories, and were shocked to find out I'm not. I'll say it again: conspiracies don't work. They sound great in fiction, but in real life if you have people involved in conspiracies then someone, sooner or later, tells the truth about the conspiracy. Prisons are full of criminals ratted out by fellow conspirators. So the bigger the conspiracy, whether by government or criminals (or government criminals), conspiracies that most true believers support just aren't possible to indefinitely maintain.

But I'm preaching to the choir about that, aren't I? You don't buy into conspiracy theories, and you're nodding your head in agreement. To people who believe in conspiracies like 9/11 a plot by the U.S. government, the birther stories, alien structures on the moon and Mars, I'm just part of the total conspiracy to suppress truth.

No matter how wild, no matter how unlikely, a good conspiracy story is hard to spike. Obama had to make a decision as to what to do, but he didn't convince his critics, and it just added to the conspiracy circus.


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