Dialogue des sourdes

First, thanks to all of you who’ve wandered by in search of new posts, only to be disappointed over the last few weeks. Turns out this blogging thing is harder than it seems; one must have something interesting to say — at least, that’s my standard for intruding into your busy life. Fortunately, a few things have come up that I thought you might like to hear about.

One of them is a fascinating book, “Among the Truthers” by Jonathan Kay. Kay is a Canadian journalist who spent a big chunk of time over several years talking to those among us who have become enamoured of the various conspiracy theories floating by — “birthers”, “truthers”, anti-fluoridationists, anti-vaccinationists, etc. I’m still in mid-read but I am finding it a pretty depressing intellectual exercise. Kay’s diagnosis is that conspiracism is an incurable disease and it’s spreading. (I have a friend who has fallen into one of the conspiracy vortices and it becomes more difficult to speak normally with her every day as the range of non-conspiracy topics narrows.)

He writes in his introduction: “It is not unusual for intellectuals and politicians to reject their opponents’ arguments. But it is the mark of an intellectually pathologized society that intellectuals and politicians will reject their opponents’ realities.”

And that’s where we are, in his view. A world in which, under some misguided notion of fairness, the nutbars–I beg their pardon, Kay warns specifically that this term drives them crazy (-ier?)–the conspiracists are accepted into the public discourse as just another viewpoint. Thus, the “birthers” who believe that Obama’s presidency of the US is illegitimate because he was not born on US territory, the “truthers” who believe that the murders on September 11, 2001 were organized by the US government to provide a casus belli to allow the seizure and control of Iraqi oilfields, and countless others who have their unique theories of causation and connections, are included in TV and radio panels, publish their books, and (of course!) flourish on the internet. And all this without a single voice that says flatly that their ideas are (I’m being frank here) insane.

The association of previously unassociated objects, actions, or ideas is an amazing human ability. It provides us with poetry, inventions, and plenty of other beauties and wonders. Think of the Greeks who looked at the hazy area of the night sky and saw milk; whence “galaxy” and our Milky Way; that’s a piece of poetry in everyday life.

But when this capacity for association metastasizes into a worldview where everything must be associated, where the only reason most of us don’t see the supposed associations is because “they” are hiding them from us, it becomes a sickness.

Yours for more reason and less lunacy,


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