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“Among the Truthers”–Jonathan Kay

To be interested in Conspiracy as a flight of fancy is one thing, but to truly believe in a conspiracy theory is more akin to really believing in the various stories surrounding religion. While this may be deemed offensive to some (on either side of that comparison) the parallels are pretty numerous. First and foremost is the belief that world events are not random, they are controlled or at least guided in much the same way that believers in God will explain the path of a tornado that rips through a town and kills very few people. This belief though is opposite in tone than the religious, whereas the faithful will ascribe events that spare human life as the result of God’s hand, Conspirators believe that events which claim human lives are the result of a master plan. There is also the notion of belief in something despite the lack of evidence, i.e. that of faith.

Jonathan Kay’s book, “Among the Truthers” is an examination not of conspiracy beliefs but of the people that believe in conspiracies. Focusing on the most prevalent of modern conspiracies, that of the theory that the September 11th attacks on NYC and the Pentagon were an inside job (most theories either ignore the Pennsylvania plane or have a different theory to cover it: that it was shot down by US Planes is the most common). This choice of focus is obvious as it allows the author to immerse himself in a world that is still living and still growing. Despite the fact that most people believe that the single shooter of JFK is a dubious idea, the theory is pretty stagnant relegated to once a year repeated specials on the History Channel.

It should be noted that the author does not believe in the theory, accepting the events according to the 9/11 commission’s report, and the numerous scientific studies that have proven the collapse happened the way it did from the cause of the plane’s collision. Kay, also ignores the temptation to include a chapter or two on why the alternative theories presented are wrong. He claims that this was advised by his editor who said that there would be no market for such a book. Believers in the theory would claim that he was a puppet while people accepting the official explanation would have no need to read it. There are numerous web pages on the internet devoted to both.

Which is one explanation that he offers for the spread of this theory. The development of the internet not only allowed people formerly regarded as crackpots to disseminate their beliefs but it did something else, something much more important than just giving them an outlet: it gave them encouragement. Where once they might have wrote about their theory and then forgotten about it. The internet could now give them instant feedback and compel them to continue. The theories became compartmentalized much like modern political discourse into an echo chamber where theorists only hear support for their beliefs and are thus more and more convinced of the “truth” of it. Is not this the exact opposite of the dream of Web in the mid-1990s? What once was supposed to be access to the world of divergent opinions and information instead has became a collection of cliques that only speak to each other.

The causes of conspiracism are varied. It’s propagation is not only based on the web but also in the atmosphere as well. The book goes to great strains to explain that while people on the right or left would like to blame the other side for these ideas, the genera of conspiracy is actually the fault of both. While the right wing has had more prevalence lately in the dissemination of conspiracy theories, the left wing has had its time before. Whenever one group is in power it is the other group that will have among itself a fringe element that sees conspiracy. The difference we see now is that conspiracy theory was given public air by Glenn Beck, whom Kay categorizes in the book as a conspiracy theorist for which I have to agree (his threading of Soros as a liberal puppet master should suffice as evidence). On the left though there have been Noam Chomsky and Jacques Derrida. What has to be decided is which is worse: a political pundit on the number one cable news channel or two well respected PhDs? These enablers lend legitimacy to the odd theories and give them main stream acceptance.

The point is made though, that we cannot ascribe to one side of the political debate responsibility for conspiracy, only specific theories that often have origins in some surprising source. For instance, it was the KGB that first implanted the idea that AIDS was genetically engineered. Or, although not mentioned in the book, “Birtherism” first appeared not in the GOP or its followers but in supporters of Hillary Clinton’s nomination bid.

The most damning indictment though, and deservedly, goes toward left-wing academics. The era of political correctness has basically necessitated that America is the evil empire in the world and academics adhering to a false model of Marxism have portrayed the United States as hegemonic in its goals. Belief that “the great engine of evil in the world is American hegemony–and so every epic tragedy the world suffers must somehow be laid at Washington’s doorstep.” This era of PC has also given the general population the reluctance to criticize people for holding certain opinions. Forcing relativism on people who would otherwise know better. Medical conspiracies including the vaccination conspiracies rest on theories that just “feel right” to people like Jenny McCarthy despite the united opposition of Pediatricians in both the US and for most of the world.

Another important facet that Kay concentrates on is to make a differentiation between people who are conspirators and the genuine insane. Most conspirators are not insane, he mentions, but some are. Despite the fact that someone with mental problems might be a conspiracy believer is the exception. The line is whether or not the person believes themselves to be involved in the conspiracy, usually this involvement is in hiding from the guiding hand of the world events. Most “truthers” don’t think someone is out to silence them.

The religious analogy also applies to the various sects of conspiracism. Within each there are hierarchies, schisms, and outcasts. Getting the “story” straight is often difficult for them, and people who do not ascribe to the “official” story proposed by the conspiracists are often shunned or labelled crackpots. The irony of this is that they themselves deride the mainstream press and government officials for doing just the same.

Ultimately though the conspiracist movement is full of ironies and contradictions. Professional Academic journals have thus far not accepted the movement’s ideas as having any truth (although there are Academics who are truthers) and thus are called “ignorant” or “puppets” by members of the movement. Yet, those very same people seem to crave such acceptance to the point where they have set up their own academic sounding journal “Journal of 9/11 Truth.” The same with the media, while You Tube videos abound with truther confrontations these amount to no more than pranks. The media is “in on it” but then upon meeting journalists those that don’t specifically dismiss them often seek to get their ideas mentioned in it. This lends itself to the idea that substratum for a good deal of conspiracism activists is stardom in one fashion or the other. They deride the mainstream academics and media as being worthless then brag about how their theories and intelligence make them outliers but in the next breath they are seeking the approval of the mainstream.

Ultimately the contradiction inherent in the 9/11 truth is that the truth for them is unfulfillable. If we assume them to be correct, and that a group of people (or aliens) were able to manipulate the entire world into believing what happened on 9/11 was the real thing, then what kind of independent investigation could escape their grasp? The invisible hand is suddenly unable to direct a second investigation? It would seem that what the most vocal people espousing these theories really want is to lead the investigation.

Kay’s book is gripping, especially for people who may not be familiar with this world. His only fault is in his writing style, which is journalistic in origin. That’s not a problem so much as his constant need to cite earlier and later passages in the book, as if we were reading a series of articles in a newspaper. It gets quite distracting to the point where i was noticing that he couldn’t go three pages without making a reference to the past or the future. Much like the flow chart of a conspiracy theorist explaining how the Bildergergers were really the puppet of the Tri-Lateral commission or something.

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