Monday, September 14, 2009

Message on class meeting for 9/15/09

This is in response to some questions I have had about tomorrow's class, on Tuesday, Sept. 15.

Let me explain again in writing what I want to you to be ready to do in class: Make some notes for yourself, and be ready, verbally, to take a position for or against one of the interpretations of conspiracy theory you have encountered in the readings, using an example from the Rough Guide to Conspiracy Theories as your evidence. The point is to start working with these various interpretations yourselves, rather just have me explain them to you.

It is best to think of the individual readings so far, besides Fenster’s survey (meaning Hofstadter and most of the individual chapters in Conspiracy Nation), as spinning out their own theories of why conspiracy theory appeals to people and how we should evaluate the phenomenon (especially, how dangerous we should think it is). Among the options would be “agency panic” from Timothy Melley, the “poor person’s cognitive mapping” explained by Fran Mason (based on the work of Frederic Jameson), and Jodi Dean’s defense of alien abduction mythology as (in effect), a perfectly valid and functional alternative belief system. Then there is Hofstadter, whose ideas we have not fully talked out yet. His interpretation applies the psychiatric concept of “paranoia,” to begin with, and then links conspiracy theory to the basically anti-democratic politics of the extreme Right (think Nazism or Fascism) and the fears of the old white, native-born middle classes, who feel their status as the dominant group in American society to be threatened by the changes of the modern world. (For an application of this idea to recent politics, see this post:  ). There are other interpretations in the reading, but these are probably the most eligible options to which you can apply your thinking right now. 

As a way of getting some critical distance from these interpretations, consider some other ideas that have been floated concerning the conspiracy theories being floated about President Obama's health-care plan. Some articles linked earlier have seen them as examples of a persistent insanity in American politics, and/or as an example of popular political ignorance. The following article and video presents a kind of conspiracy theory of these conspiracy theories, that they are a political tool being used by conservative ideologues and the health insurance to distract a lot of middle- and working-class people from their own economic interests: . This one may well have some merit, considering that the public phase corporate lobbying campaigns are really all about selling hidden agendas.

See you tomorrow,
Jeff Pasley

P.S. I will be around my office most of the day Tuesday between 11AM and our class, so come and see me if you have questions.