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Over Easy: Tinfoil and My Chapped Hide

Nothing chaps my hide like being called a Conspiracy Theorist. It’s not that the accusation is untrue so much as that “Conspiracy Theorist” is such a dismissive, ad hominem way of invalidating an argument without addressing the substance of the argument itself.

We all know that a Conspiracy Theorist a paranoid nutjob projecting his desire to regain control over his own sad life by blaming a secret, omnipotent group wielding power somewhere out of reach. Right? Problem is, applying “Conspiracy Theory” to otherwise reasonable ideas shuts down discussion before there is time to consider facts.

Lance deHaven-Smith, author of Conspiracy Theory in America:

The Conspiracy Theory term is a blanket label. It doesn’t make any distinction between the crazy idea and the very realistic idea. It just paints one broad brush.

Exhibit A is this gem of an article from describing some of the theories about what happened to Flight MH370. Right before theories of alien abduction, meteor strike, and hijack by elves, the article includes the theory that the MH370 landed intact. Further down, another theory of air piracy is included along with a blurb about how the US Government is actually following up on that theory. If air piracy is so outlandish and crazy a conspiracy theory, why would the government follow that thread of inquiry?

The popular use of the term “Conspiracy Theory” began back in the days of the Warren Commission. The Commission’s report officially theorized that a single gunman was responsible for the assassination of JFK. In response to a chorus of voices disputing the official finding, the CIA began a campaign to discredit theories that departed from the official narrative by labeling those ideas Conspiracy Theories. (To this day, many Americans believe that more than one gunman was responsible for the assassination.)

In other words, the pejorative “Conspiracy Theory” is used to manipulate debate in a way that ideas outside the institutional analysis are excluded from serious consideration. Only ideas conforming to the official narrative are socially acceptable regardless of whether ideas have merit.

Obviously, this is a problem. Not only are we told what we should know in the form of official narrative, we are also increasingly told not to attempt independent analysis of the information we are given. We discouraged from “speculating” about alternative versions of events that include facts omitted from official accounts. We are discouraged from hypothesizing about motives and possible outcomes, often — as in the case of MH370 — out of respect for the feelings of victims or their families.

Again Lance DeHaven-Smith:

… what we’ve got to do instead is talk specifically about what the suspicion is. Let’s just call it a suspicion and say ‘here’s the evidence for it’ and we have to be willing to discuss these things on the merit and quit trying to shut down the discussion. It’s really undermining our public discourse and really making it very difficult to be reasonable in politics.

Also, it’s becoming nearly impossible to get the to the truth when entire lines of rational thought are dismissed as tinfoil whackadoo.

Off topic is welcome. Lurkers are encouraged to join in. See you in the comments.

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