Overweening Generalist

Thursday, January 31, 2013

On (Some) "Educated" Liberals and Their Knee-Jerk Dogma Over "Conspiracy Theories"

I'd much rather be trying to entertain you with my grapplings to understand epigenetics, but this minor story got caught in my craw.

I'd rather take a few weeks and read a mess of stuff on a few topics, take illegible notes, gropingly trying to understand something way over my head and which seems as complicated as giving a good read to Finnegans Wake. I apologize for this entire blogpost-spewage, for it consists, to my mind, entirely of a digression from the endlessly truly interesting topics - interesting to me, at least - out there.

Salon Dot Com Shows Their Liberal Bona Fides
Robert Anton Wilson, still to my mind the greatest thinker about conspiracy theory I've ever read, once said in an interview with Philip H. Farber in 1997, "I am one hundred percent in favor of studying conspiracy theories because, next to quantum mechanics, they represent the best test of how well you can handle ambiguity and uncertainty."

                                    Salon editor Kerry Lauerman, who went to the U.of
                                    Indiana, where he - apparently - found out how to 
                                    know when the 
                                    interpretation of a public event qualifies as a "fringe" 
                                   "conspiracy theory" and 
                                    when good liberals should close their minds to any 
                                    further thinking about those events. 

I don't know if you caught this story or not, but I thought it both revelatory and confirmed for me the quality of university-educated in the Humanities-like hive mind that operates at Salon dot com.

Did you happen to catch Greg Olear's "Not All Truther Movements Are Created Equal" article in the online mag The Weeklings? If you haven't, please have a look now (it's short and well-written) and note that his four-paragraph preface was appended after what happened when Salon, which uses The Weeklings as one of their content-affiliates, picked up his story and then pulled it.

Joe Coscarelli of New York Magazine covers Salon's pulling of Olear's piece. Skip down to the italicized quotes from Salon editor Kerry Lauerman, who apologizes for the "unfortunate lapse," and that they at Salon have a long history of debunking fringe conspiracists, most recently the Sandy Hook ones. (And yet...by covering fairly exhaustively the Sandy Hook "Truthers," weren't they giving them more press than they deserved? This idea seems at least somewhat consistent with pulling Olear's piece. Just wondering.)

Jeremy Stahl of Slate covers this "lapse" by Salon and goes on to suggest they were right to do so, by linking all of his stellar debunking of the nano-thermite and Popular Mechanics experts on how much heat it takes to melt steel beams, etc.

The OG Goes On To Rant:
But to me, the real point was that indeed, Olear's suggestions did seem mild. The idea that all 9/11 conspiracy theories are equal to - in my current opinion, given my present state of ignorance and (mis)understandings - the execrable and baseless theories about Sandy Hook, seems classic "I'm such a well-educated liberal" dipshittery on the part of Salon and its pretentious editors

Stahl at Slate seems like a variant of this. He's far too certain of himself. But Lauerman is classic pretentious liberal asshole. Olear is merely saying there seems a lot of differences between 9/11 and Sandy Hook, and I think it was a valid point. Almost a trivial point. Olear also has doubts about the official story, AKA the 9/11 Commission Report. I think, after reading four and a half feet of books and articles on 9/11, that there seems valid room for doubt. (Olear's attempt to make distinctions between conspiracy theories, whatever your current position on Sandy Hook and 9/11 are, seemed sound to me, and did not deserve to be banished to the fringes in the Region of Thud. In my opinion.)

But Salon only seeks to apologize to their readers (which includes me; I read a lot of Salon's stuff) for fucking up and allowing a - again, I thought fairly benign - piece to sluice through. Their minds are closed about Sandy Hook (some really good reporting by Salon writers on the heinous a-holes fomenting conspiracies that a lot of it was faked so Obama could crack down/take away guns); Salon is also officially closed about 9/11, and I'd just guess also: the JFK/RFK/MLK hits, the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiments, the Reichstag fire, Gulf of Tonkin, that J. Edgar knew about Pearl Harbor before it occurred and FDR may have also, how the CIA tried to kill Castro, Watergate, Nayirah, Operation Northwoods, MK-ULTRA, Project Paperclip, and that the CIA was involved with the Contras and cocaine trafficking.

Such conspiracy theorists and their lowbrow ideation! My word and land o-goshen! Whatever has happened to our educational system! 'Tis a cryin' shame, just a shame!

Meanwhile, I still wonder about odd aspects of the whole 9/11 official narrative. For example, this piece ran in the San Francisco Chronicle just after. All I'm saying is I wonder.

Any one of us who think we should actually entertain ambiguity or uncertainty about real-world events must have gone to a bad community college; ambiguity is best left for reading Licherchoor...

I'd like Lauerman to tell me when a "fringe" "conspiracy theory" becomes that thing, and when does it become...Something Else. And how and when do you justify the changes?

Interestingly, one of the best books I read in 2012 was by David Talbot, Salon's founder. (I am trying to inject Irony here, folks. Please give me a modicum of credit.)

Talbot wrote the text of Devil Dog: The Amazing True Story of the Man Who Saved America, which resembles a graphic novel for kids (immaculately illustrated by Spain Rodriguez), but oh my: this is more for those adults out there who never heard about the most decorated Marine of his time, General Smedley Darlington Butler. And how he exfiltrated (is that even a word?) a fascist group headed by millionaires and Big Biz assholes like Alfred P. Sloan and Pierre Dupont, who sought to overthrow FDR. It's all true! (No foolin': if you want to read some US history that's hard to set down: read Devil Dog. Your head will swim. Why it hasn't been made into a movie by someone like Oliver Stone, I don't know.)

 Even if Butler wasn't approached by fascists who wanted him to lead a military coup near the end of his public career, his story is still almost too much to believe. But his story is well-documented en extremis. Still, it's hard for me to comprehend the things Smedley Butler experienced in his life; 'tis the epitome of marvelous. The attempted fascist coup AKA "The Business Plot"? That's the sort of thing Hollywood comes up with, but it's true!

Or, as Kerry Lauerman might say, "a fringe conspiracy theory." (Because of the conspiracy to brainwash him into thinking that anything not common in his social circle is suspect? I'm just guessing here. What a pretentious dipshit.)

Final: A Head Test
Q: Does all this ranting by this Overweening Generalist dude indicate that he's a 9/11 "Truther"? Explain your answer.


Cleveland Okie (Tom Jackson) said...


I guess I'm of two minds about this.

Your comment that Jeremy Stahl at Slate is "far too
certain of himself" would also seem to apply to Greg
Olear -- not only to his statement that fire from jet fuel cannot melt steel, but his claim that the single bullet theory "asks us to pretend that the laws of physics do not exist." After looking at the Wikipedia article on the controversy (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Single_bullet_theory) I don't know what to believe, and I don't know why Olear is so sure of what he believes, either.

That said, it does sound like Salon is dismissing all conspiracy theories. Some theories turn out to be right -- i.e., doubters of what happened in the Gulf of Tonkin incident apparently were on the mark.

PQ said...

Thank you, Michael, for addressing a particularly strong pet peeve of mine---that being the "educated" writers at popular sites like Salon (and, for that matter, Slate) who perpetuate the derogatory term "Truther" for anyone who questions official versions of major catastrophic events. (The word has a perfectly Orwellian tint to it---as in, how long will it be until we get to where anyone who seeks Truth of any kind through layers of bullshit is easily denigrated by the mainstream?)

Injecting a bit of humor into something that tends to infuriate me, I like to think of a quote from Seinfeld's Newman character. The same guy who once partook in a hilarious parody of the JFK single-bullet examination once said (with his patented dramatic intensity), "When you control the mail, you control INFORMATION." When a few major corporations control the media, they control INFORMATION.

Your average educated "liberal" tends to ignore this, accepting things as the tell-lie-vision portrays them and laughing derisively at any "Truther" who might call attention to the ambiguities inherent in the official stories behind these events.

It's textbook ad hominem stuff and really drags the overall intellectual culture (which should always be QUESTIONING EVERYTHING) downward.

Cleveland Okie (Tom Jackson) said...

I agree with 80 percent of what PDQ says, but I think
the statement " When a few major corporations control the media, they control INFORMATION" is exaggerated.

Thanks to the Internet, everyone can be part of "the media." Overweening Generalist and A Building Roam are both part of the media. Granted that major media can tend to follow a particular "line," the system is much more open than it was 20 years ago.

PQ said...

Very true, Tom. I guess I should've specified TV or mainstream media.

On another note, wherefrom the "D" in PDQ? My full initials are PAQ though it's funny because some people call me Petey Q.

Also, I really love this quote from RAW that was used which seems to sum up the whole thing: "I am one hundred percent in favor of studying conspiracy theories because, next to quantum mechanics, they represent the best test of how well you can handle ambiguity and uncertainty."

It's as though those quick to separate things into the black-and-white polarities of "What the News Says" and "Conspiracy Theory" are stuck in the worldview of Newtonian physics.

Cleveland Okie (Tom Jackson) said...

Just a dumb typo, PQ. I wish there was a way to go back and edit these. There's a section of our local paper called PDQ.

It's probably best to talk about these things in terms of probabilities, i.e. it seems probable based on the evidence Oswald did not
act alone, or it seems probable Al Qaeda carried out the Sept. 11 attacks.

Historians debating questions of history, e.g. why did Rome fall, did the Roman Empire's army decline in effectiveness late in the empire, etc., usually advance their own theory, offer their evidence, but acknowledge the arguments of people who disagree with them. Opposing viewpoints are typically not dismissed as beyond the pale, particularly if the rival can offer his or her own evidence.

michael said...

@ Tom: RAW once remarked, in an interview early on when the Net was getting going, that Marx's old line about a "free press" was only true for those who owned one was always a little too true, and he thought Internet would change all that. I think he was basically right, but then I combine that with the Chomsky/Herman model of media: the mainstream corporate media has consolidated, and will buy up anything autochthonous that seems to be getting enough attention. The mental processes of marginalization in the Chomsky/Herman model is pretty complex. Basically, it takes into account previous totalitarian regimes that sought to control the cultural sphere: they were mostly failures, because everyone knew the official lines - the only lines they could read - were State controlled, and they did not match their real-life experience.

What has happened here is that it has been realized that if you allow guys like RAW to publish books and articles, guys like Chomsky to freely appear anywhere they want to give talks...they State still gets to say "its a Free Society," and yet most people will hear RAW and Chomsky and think they're "from Mars," a common riff from Chomsky. That's because the corporate media's reality tunnels are in control. Chomsky says that's a far more effective way for the State to control minds than having only State-controlled newspapers/radio stations/TV, etc.

Now, the Internet is the historical wild card here. If people can break out of the Official Stories, where will they migrate, mentally?

Tom: have you done the requisite year or so of investigating the JFK/RFK/MLK hits for yourself? Every person I've met who has done this cannot believe Oswald acted alone. The RFK hit seems so overwhelmingly a conspiracy that it's even more interesting to me, sociologically, than the JFK hit. The MLK hit still seems more difficult for me. I presently think 65% yes it was a conspiracy.

michael said...

(continued rantage):

The good news seems to be that you're right: the system is more open than it was 20 years ago. What that really cashes out to seems a more interesting Q to me.

Greg Olear does seem fairly certain, as a Little Guy, about the JFK hit. He seems to plea for an open mind about 9/11 and that "truther" can semantically tar 9/11 doubters with Sandy Hook doubters, and he thought, in his article, that that might be an unfair equivalence. To whatever extend he has a point, Salon pulling his piece because they thought is was a pro-9/11 "Truther" piece just looks asinine to me. Olear himself thought the piece "mild" and so do I.

BTW: every conspiracy I named in my blog are ones I think proved to be basically "true" although some are still so controversial (that FDR knew Pearl Harbor was coming, esp) that I'd like to refer to RAW's piece, "The Godfather, Part IV," but is that available anywhere but in that Gemstone File book? Is it up at rawilsonfans.com? It really should be. RAW links Vico and the fear of Big Daddy Thunder God to the historical fear of thinking our Leaders could be Mass Killer-Daddies.

PQ said...

I'd love to see that RAW Godfather piece.

Also, Michael I think a post about the RFK/MLK hits would be a great idea. Would love to read it...

Cleveland Okie (Tom Jackson) said...


As I suggested in my earlier post, I lean toward the theory that Oswald did not act alone. I have no opinion on RFK and MLK.

Some of the conspiracy examples you mentioned do not seem really controversial, e.g. Gulf of Tonkin and Tuskegee. Pearl Harbor and FDR seems like a classic case of the stifling of open discussion.

michael said...


At one point every one of those not "really controversial" CTs were ideas that "some conspiracy nuts" had been writing about in broadsides or the underground press.

My main model of 9/11 is that al-Qaeda attacked us; the lines of inquiry that presently interest me have more to do with US intelligence knowing these guys were here, and it happened anyway. It seems quite plausible that people just fucked up because there were too many things to pay attention to. But then I read about PNAC, the Neo-Cons and what they wanted, the character of someone like Dick Cheney, etc, etc, etc...and I wonder.

I love your point above about historians citing lines of logical thought that compete with their own readings, and I consider that CCD, and wish more writers and thinkers in Deep Politics would adhere closer to something like that model.

Confession: I meditated on whether I should press "publish" on this piece, because I'm uncomfortable with the bilious tone toward the editors at Salon, esp Kerry Lauerman. But like PQ, this story WAS bugging me; the mainstream liberal attitude towards CTs has long bugged me, and pulling that piece just seemed so - I will use the word yet again, because it's how I perceive them - pretentious.

PQ and others are making quite valid points about the semantics of "Truther" and "Truther Movement" as a way of squashing any non-official thinking. I liked how Olear says the JFK dissenters from the Warren Report were the first Truthers...

Anonymous said...

Once more into the breach. The last time I had a few interesting links.
This time none.

The real problem with conspiracy theory is everybody assumes belief is
the necessary component to asking a
question about any consensus based boundary formed by a culture. This is quite hazardous to those who like to ask embarrassing questions about events. T McKenna made this point on numerous occasions. The idea that there must be some definitive narrative which brings closure evades the truth that there is no closure. We've been hardwired to impose narrative on what is a turbulent ball of loose ends and conflicting reports. No history can be "reality" all we can hope for is "close enough".

FDR for example cut off the oil supply to the Japanese empire while they were in a war, if he did not expect them to retaliate he was too dumb to be a president (we know he wasn't that dumb).

Smedley wasn't the type of character who made up stories to idle away his retirement, the way he was responded to gives you a clear picture of how the elites play CYA above the common herd.

I highly recommend Pareto in 4 vols if only to read the footnotes. There was someone who had a real start on building a science of sociology and bringing a lot more clarity to history.

BS in RAWs terms is quite a danger to most peoples mental health.

michael said...

I still have to get to Pareto and his footnotes. I have a lot of Anons who comment here, but your style jumps out.

Aye: belief can be the death of intelligence. Keep thy lasagna moving constantly through the air, never landing!

Contra me: It would be both cosmically hilarious and horrifying if some damning evidence came out that the White House somehow staged the killing of the kids at Sandy Hook. Not "hilarious" in any near-commonsensical-sense; but in a "what the hell can we ever really know about 'the truth' in this damned mediated simulacra?"

But I'm betting heavily on the story that the kid was damaged. His ma was well-armed; he killed ma, then offed the teachers and babies. It's freakin' sick jit. But I'm guessing the official story is 98.3% true...'cuz that's who we are. Japan has no guns an 10 gun deaths a year; we are gun-crazy and have over 10,000 gun deaths a year. I'll go way out on a limb here and admit it: we have a problem.

BTW: the FDR story seems the most taboo CT I've ever read about; if he knew - and I think he did - it reveals a very understandable reluctance to believe something so heinous. So let's say FDR knew ahead of time. How did he deal with his cognitive dissonance beforehand?

"Well, we have to get into this. The public won't go for it unless something extraordinary happens. It's to save the free world and capitalism. Besides, maybe not many of our boys will perish..."?

See, this is the scary-assed thing about it: if I ponder this (and how we got into the 1898 war, Gulf of Tonkin, that JFK was going to pull out of Vietnam, Operation Northwoods, and the NeoCon's PNAC assertion that they wouldn't be able to do what they wanted unless another Pearl Harbor happened, etc), I'm..."through the looking glass." And as PKD said, "The Empire never ended." It's EASY to see why this stuff must be ridiculed; I understand that.

Thanks for your informed and interesting contributions.

Anonymous said...

I share the dilemma, and maybe the real solution is that few people are consciously active evildoers, but most can rationalize their behaviors inside the Reality tunnel they have constructed. If they could feel what they do, they wouldn't do it.

In the interim, the over educated are left with the problem of sorting the conflicting rationalizations to find "good enough reality". Most don't face the problem, they'd rather have a limited input and a narrower focus.

The worst danger in that is to fall into eliteism, deciding your set of answers must be used to steer the masses into some master overall scheme.

That was the NeoCon trap, but they are not the only victims. RAW has talked about "correct answer machines" at length.

Curiosity is the road to a full rich life, intellectually, and in
the realms of personal experience.

Keep on keeping on.