Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Look Ma! Both Sides Do It

The NYT reviews the current research on paranoid conspiracy theories in the US and discovers they start in the Amygdala, have something something something to do with democracy although the author doesn't know what, and that both sides do it.
Alex Jones, a syndicated radio host, can build fame as a conspiracy peddler; politicians can hint at conspiracies for votes and leverage; but if conspiracy theories are a tool the average person uses to reclaim his sense of agency and access to democracy, it’s an ineffective tool. It can even have dangerous health implications. For example, research has shown that African-Americans who believe AIDS is a weapon loosed on them by the government (remembering the abuses of the Tuskegee experiment) are less likely to practice protected sex. And if you believe that governments or corporations are hiding evidence that vaccines harm children, you’re less likely to have your children vaccinated. The result: pockets of measles and whooping-cough infections and a few deaths in places with low child-vaccination rates.
Psychologists aren’t sure whether powerlessness causes conspiracy theories or vice versa. Either way, the current scientific thinking suggests these beliefs are nothing more than an extreme form of cynicism, a turning away from politics and traditional media — which only perpetuates the problem.
The author completely fails to explain why one man's "conspiracy theory" is simply another man's history--the Tuskegee experiment is an actual historical fact.  Low access to health care and health insurance, to good sex ed and to money are also facts.  Despair is a social reality for many people and some populations.  The interesting question and why this ought to rise to the level of political reporting is why individuals and groups who are by no means powerless start to feel powerless and react by lashing out at others and determining that they themselves are the focus of the bad actions that their own group perpetrated on others.  I'd put the "IRS" scandal down right there, in the sweet spot, as well as nearly every trumped up conspiracy theory that Obama has been attacked with. Almost all of them are simply inversions and projections of real things that happened under Reagan, Bush I, or Bush II or some other President aimed at some group who were not white, middle class, and powerful.  Why the white middle class, in the form of the John Birchers and the new GOP, leaped so far so fast on the paranoid bandwagon still needs to be investigated.  Another way of putting it is that powerlessness and ignorance, cynicism and rejection of community are subjective states.  People aren't powerless, they just think they are when some of their privilege has been taken away.

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