News+and+politics religion philosophy the cynic librarian: Crop Circles, Conspiracies, Political Delusion, and Loving Your Neighbor

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Crop Circles, Conspiracies, Political Delusion, and Loving Your Neighbor

According to Glenn Greenwald, who always support his arguments with adequate documentation, those on the Right end of the blogosphere are circulating various theories to contest the prevalent interpretation of the bombing of the Lebanese village of Qana.

These theories verge on the conspiratorial side and there is some difference among them, but the over-arching theme of these theories seems to push responsibility for the attack squarely onto the shoulders of Hisbullah and not Israeli pilots or Israeli military officials. ...

These theories come in the face of what seems to be an effort by Israel to backtrack on its previous assertions that their jets attacked the Qana apartment complex because Hisbullah had just fired rockets into Israel from nearby that complex.

Ha'aretz reports today that Israeli intelligence shows that no missiles were fired from that complex or any other place on the day of the attack. Ha'aretz reports:

As the Israel Air Force continues to investigate the air strike, questions have been raised over military accounts of the incident.

It now appears that the military had no information on rockets launched from the site of the building, or the presence of Hezbollah men at the time.

The Israel Defense Forces had said after the deadly air-strike that many rockets had been launched from Qana. However, it changed its version on Monday.

The site was included in an IAF plan to strike at several buildings in proximity to a previous launching site. Similar strikes were carried out in the past. However, there were no rocket launches from Qana on the day of the strike.
This argument about those who want to believe strange theories in defiance of the facts reminds me of the time my son and I watched a National Geographic program on crop circles. My son believes these are made by aliens, pointing to the fact that the complexity of the designs could not have been made by any technology currently available.

As the program progressed and several crop circle hoaxers came forward and showed how the circles are made with rope, a computer blueprint, and some other simple tools, my son became increasingly upset. At one point he blurted out something like, "That's not right," (meaning, I later confirmed, that the hoaxers had no right to say they were doing it) and "That's a lie."

Even after the program he continued to deny that it had explained these phenomena. Then we watched it again and he slowly seemed to come around. I think he still believes--or should I say wants to believe aliens create them--but the fact that the hoaxers explained their method so clearly has deflated his undying devotion to the notion.

Belief is based on fact--show enough facts and many, if not most, will eventually come around. At the least you can create a shadow of a doubt. At the most, a more reasonable understanding of the facts will prevail.

Often, the presence of such beliefs, especially so-called "conspiracy theories," signify the presence of other, more deeply social or psychological issues. jodi dean, who's written a book about conspiracy theorists, says the following:
So, I never say that conspiracy theorists are nut cases, but that their efforts are versions of much more widespread patterns of skepticism and the search for answers, a search that often prefers to find an answer that installs something like a big Other to accepting a harsher, less meaningful possibility. I also emphasize that conspiracy thinking is basic to the democratic public sphere (of which I am critical, but that's another topic)--it relies on questions, not answers.
I am not talking about psychoses or pathologies here. I am talking about issues that threaten a person's well-being but which they decline to acknowledge. In lieu of acknowledging the deeper psycho-social issues, people develop these theories which often propose grand solutions and explanations for everything.

I look upon my son's will to believe in aliens and crop circles with loving attention and affection for his youthful search for meaning in the universe. I find it admirable in a way. His passion in wanting to believe this remind me of the times when I thought odd and eccentric things--even those things that I think and believe right now that he or others might find strange and eccentric.

Of course, I am willing to forgive my son his eccentricities because he is my son and I love him. No, he feels the same most of the time. Thinking of this, however, I then consider those who hold similar beliefs--those, for example, who disagree with the theory of evolution--and how absurd I find their views and how much their holding on to those views grates against my nerves and angers me.

No doubt, it is this anger and these emotions that suggest some source for the increasing polarization in the politics of the US. The fact that the farther I go from my immediate circle of family and friends, the more people's idiosyncracies become less and less standable, much less comprehensible.

In democratic societies, of course, we give a large berth to people with views and beliefs different from our own. We can stand pretty much any view just as long as the person advocating that view doesn’t try to force his or her views on me or impose them in some way that affects my life. In the past, perhaps, this attitude was much easier to maintain since the ability to move to new frontiers or areas was something that allowed me to get away from those who really wanted to make my life miserable with their intolerable babble.

This rootlessness or ability to pull up stakes and move is not necessarily the virtue it might at first glance seem to be. In numerous theories, at least, it is imperative for developing a moral consciousness, as well as effective communal and social bonds, to grow up in a stable environment. This environment provides the reinforcing educational and social practices that teach what and what not to do, as well as effective tools to deal with crises when they arise.

We live in a world of immense nomadization. People change domiciles like they do their underwear. In the process, these nomads become strangers to others--neither spending enough time to truly get to know others nor to form a spiritual connection to the natural world that nurtures and sustains an individual.

Not only do we live in a world of expanding nomadization, we also find ourselves immersed in a growing artificial world created by media and cultural dissemination apparatuses whose ultimate goal is not to sustain a personality but to promote a world wherein crisis upon crisis forms the backdrop of individual self-understanding.

I happen to believe that crisis is required for any personal growth as well as the development of a moral consciousness that can see the world and others in a properly spiritual way. What the ersatz crises of the media do, however, is to fragment any potential for that true crisis situation to arise.

Conspiracy theories no doubt reflect the attempts by individuals to piece together a coherent world-view from the artificially manufactured reality disseminated by numerous and seemingly pervasive media outlets. The fact that many conspiracy theories originate in some form of world-shaking crisis might add the probability of my view.

The growing political polarization related to the Islamic world is fuel for many conspiracy theories. Given the threat–legitimate or not–that many feel from an alien world like the Moslems the potential is great. for every imaginable death-dealing conspiracy theory. With little available information about these cultures, a person who wants to deal with that crisis is left to their own devices.

Without a grounding or rootedness in a culture that understands itself and is stable in its own sense of identity, many individuals must use all tools at their disposal. For many, the power of the worldwide web provides that encyclopedia that they believe they can use to garner the truth. Yet, as I have maintained without a proper grounding in stable personality traits there’s much for them to find on the web that feeds into fantastic and unreal scenarios whose relationship to truth is minimal.

Of course, as Greenwald is right to point out, in such circumstances and historical contexts, politicians will exploit the individual crises for a larger purpose. Either from a desire to promote an agenda to consolidate power or to undermine their opponents’ positions, it seems that those who rule in the US are not above disseminating their own conspiracy theories. Whether they believe them is a moot point.

Belief at that level is not the important issue; gaining and keeping hold on power is.

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