September 6, 2010

IT'S PRECISELY BECAUSE THEY AREN'T DANGEROUS THAT WE CAN ENJOY MAKING FUN OF THEM:

Paranoid About Paranoia (ROSS DOUTHAT, 9/06/10, NY Times)

As the libertarian writer Julian Sanchez has pointed out, it’s worth taking all these polling responses with a substantial grain of salt. For all but the hardest-core conspiracy theorizers, they may express what Sanchez calls “symbolic beliefs.” These are “propositions you profess publicly” but would never follow through on, because they’re adopted as a kind of political and cultural statement rather than out of deep conviction.

Consider the apparently widespread notion that George W. Bush knew about 9/11 in advance. If true, it would suggest that Bush was not merely a bad man or a bad president, but an evil genius on a shocking scale. But as Sanchez notes, “you did not really see a lot of behavior consistent with millions upon millions of people being seriously convinced that their president was a treasonous mass murderer.” Nobody planned an insurrection; few people fled to Canada. Instead, liberals organized for Democratic candidates, as though Bush were an ordinary opponent rather than a stone-cold killer.

The same is true of conservative conspiracy theorists today. Tuning in to Glenn Beck or joining your local Tea Party seems like a woefully insufficient response to the possibility that Barack Obama is a Manchurian candidate groomed from birth to undermine democracy and impose Shariah law. But if we understand those paranoias to be symbolic beliefs, rather than real convictions — an attention-grabbing way of saying, “I consider Obama phony, dishonest and un-American” — then conservative behavior makes a lot more sense. [...]

Some fretting is justified. (Just ask the Discovery Channel.) But over all, Americans still have more to fear from the folly of establishments than from the paranoia such follies summon up.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 6, 2010 7:37 AM
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