Skip to comments.Fusion paranoia--A new twist in conspiracy theories
Posted on 01/14/2004 4:59:36 AM PST by SJackson
Some people believe in the lost continent of Atlantis and in unidentified flying objects (UFOs). Others worry about an 18th-century secret society called the Bavarian Illuminati, or a mythical Zionist-Occupied Government (ZOG) secretly running the United States.
What if these disparate elements shared beliefs, joined forces, won a much larger audience, broke out of their intellectual and political ghetto and became capable of challenging the premises of public life in the US?
This is the frightening prospect, soberly presented by Michael Barkun in his important, just-published book A Culture of Conspiracy: Apocalyptic Visions in Contemporary America. To understand the novelty of this potential requires knowing something about the history of conspiracy theories.
Fears of a petty conspiracy a political rival or business competitor plotting to do you harm are as old as the human psyche. But fears of a grand conspiracy that the Illuminati or Jews plan to take over the world go back only 900 years and have been operational for just two centuries, since the French Revolution. Conspiracy theories grew in importance from then until World War II, when two arch-conspiracy theorists, Hitler and Stalin, faced off against each other, causing the greatest blood-letting in human history.
This hideous spectacle sobered Americans, who in subsequent decades relegated conspiracy theories to the fringe, where mainly two groups promoted such ideas.
The politically disaffected: Blacks (Louis Farrakhan, Cynthia McKinney), the hard Right (John Birch Society, Pat Buchanan), and other alienated elements (Ross Perot, Lyndon LaRouche). Their theories imply a political agenda, but lack much of a following.
The culturally suspicious: These include "Kennedy assassinologists," "ufologists," and those who believe a reptilian race runs the earth and alien installations exist under the earth's surface. Such themes enjoy enormous popularity (a year 2000 poll found 43 percent of Americans believing in UFOs), but carry no political agenda.
THE MAJOR new development, reports Barkun, professor of political science in the Maxwell School at Syracuse University, is not just an erosion in the divisions between these two groups, but their joining forces with occultists, persons bored by rationalism. Occultists are drawn to what Barkun calls the "cultural dumping ground of the heretical, the scandalous, the unfashionable, and the dangerous" such as spiritualism, Theosophy, alternative medicine, alchemy, and astrology.
Thus, the author who worries about the Secret Service taking orders from the Bavarian Illuminati is old school; the one who worries about a "joint Reptilian-Bavarian Illuminati" takeover is at the cutting edge of the new synthesis. These bizarre notions constitute what the late Michael Kelly termed "fusion paranoia," a promiscuous absorption of fears from any source whatsoever.
The connection of conspiracy theorists and occultists follows from their common, crooked premises. First, "any widely accepted belief must necessarily be false." Second, rejected knowledge what the establishment spurns must be true. The result is a large, self-referential network.
Flying saucer advocates promote anti-Jewish phobias. Anti-Semites channel in Peru. Some anti-Semites see extraterrestrials functioning as surrogate Jews; others believe the Protocols of the Elders of Zion are the joint product of "the Rothschilds and the reptile-Aryans."
By the late 1980s, Barkun finds, "virtually all of the radical Right's ideas about the New World Order had found their way into UFO literature."
Ufology's wide appeal transmits these political ideas to a large new audience of ideological omnivores, informing them that 9/11 was either an Illuminati operation or the Assassins (a medieval Muslim group) attacking Freemasons.
What does this craziness all amount to? Barkun, who reads widely in this backstairs literature, argues that in recent years "ideas once limited to fringe audiences became commonplace in mass media" and this has inaugurated a period of unrivaled millenarian activity in the US. He worries about the "devastating effects" this frenzy could wreak on American political life and by extension, around the world.
I am more optimistic, trusting the stability of a mature democracy and noting that Americans have survived previous conspiracist bouts without much damage. But nonsensical, ugly, and pernicious ideas do not fail of their own accord; they need to be fought against and rendered marginal. The task starts with recognizing that they exist, then arguing against them.
The writer, director of the Middle East Forum, is the author of two books on conspiracy theories, The Hidden Hand and Conspiracy.
"Such themes enjoy enormous popularity (a year 2000 poll found 43 percent of Americans believing in UFOs), but carry no political agenda."
UFO's = Unidentified flying objects.
Are there objects that are flying that haven't been identified? Of course. Might they have been identified if someone with the proper knowledge had seen the flying object? Of course. However are there such things as unidentified flying objects? Of course...
Hence 57% percent of the people who answered the question are either idiots (thinking that no object, ever flown, remained unidentified) or equates ufo's with little green men from the planet whatever. Hmmm.....that might make them idiots as well.
Just to set the record (and your apparent anti-Semitism) straight, a conspiracy is hidden collusion. A covenant is a public contract.
(And, no, before you ask, I'm not Jewish...)
Covenant: "an agreement wherein G_d promises a blessing and man asssumes an obligation."
"Judaism: a 4500-year-old
conspiracy covenant to serve the whims of a master that Jews call "G-d".".
Ah...sarcasm! Yours was, indeed, secret to me. (The inefectiveness of this medium in conveying such intentions is the reason folks invented the < SARCASM > tag.)
If sarcasm was your intent, then, publicly
I apologize for interpreting your remark as anti-Semitic!
However, I stand by my semantic corrections.
By the bye, I believe in UFOs: I have seen things flying which I had no idea what they were. Others might have been able to identify them but I couldn't.
"Flying saucers" stories helped hide American research from the Ruskies prying eyes.
Yeah, every election, when aliens and the dead magically appear to vote for 'Rats everywhere. It's a mystery, all right.
This is exactly what we are seeing in much of the Muslim world today. Before 1980, imams taught from their pulpits and in their madrassas that the Dajjal would appear some day in the unspecified future and be destroyed by the Mahdi.
Since 1980, more and more have been teaching that the "Signs of Qiyama (the End Times)" are all around us, and have reinterpretted the Dajjal to be not an evil individual, but the political / economic / cultural influences of Western Civilization.
And the Mahdi is being interpretted increasingly not as one great Muslim king, but as the collective violence by all terrorists against any Western person or institution.
A major effort of the War on Terrorism must be to directly counter this apocalyptic thinking and to marginalize these beliefs within the Muslim world.
(Go to my FR homepage for more information.)
A major difference that I see is that in the West, belief in an Illuminati-type conspiracy tends to encourage political apathy ("what's the use -- the elections are rigged, besides, it doesn't matter because the Rapture will happen any minute now") and / or defensive paranoia ("better stockpile guns and C-rations in the basement for the day THEY try to print a barcode on my forehead").
But in the Muslim world, the belief that the West is collectively the Dajjal inspires aggressive violence ("the imam says that it's the end of the world, there is no future, and I'll be judged as to whether I helped bring about the prophesied victory of Islam over the Dajjal, so I might as well strap on a dynamite belt and walk into that restaurant").
I agree! At least one factor ties many of them together: belief that the Jews are manipulating the world to everyone else's deteriment.
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