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Pollyanna v paranoid

Except for the far-remote possibility that some birther might assassinate the President, I’m ready to label the birthers “mostly harmless.” I mean, birthers are just a bunch of people who believe something that will lead them not to vote for Barack Obama, a bunch of people who wouldn’t vote for him anyway. I’d say the same for those who believe in many of the crank conspiracy theories at which I shake my head in wonder.

However, there are times when conspiracy theories intersect public policy in meaningful ways. Joshua Holland, writing for Alternet.org, has a new article titled How Right-Wing Conspiracy Theories May Pose a Genuine Threat to Humanity. In the article Holland uses conspiracy theories about global warming (i.e., it’s not true) and how they motivate people at the local level. Holland wrote:

Earlier this month, Darryl Fears, reporting for the Washington Post, offered a glimpse into the madness that city planners have faced in recent months as a local Tea Party group, convinced that a nefarious plot by scientists and city officials is afoot, have disrupted their work trying to mitigate the potential impacts of rising sea levels.

Holland paints a bleak picture, but it is a picture that I don’t buy into 100%. We’ve always had our share of cranks and politics is by nature messy. It is unfortunate that we have right-wing nut jobs in our society, but consider the alternative: an authoritarian society where we didn’t tolerate them.

Certainly we cannot tolerate people shouting down other people at public meetings — thuggery like that is how the Nazis started. Order in public meetings can be enforced. I don’t think the conspiracy theorists are going to do us in, at least not the current crop.

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25 Responses to Pollyanna v paranoid

  1. avatar
    Majority Will January 2, 2012 at 5:10 pm #

    Slightly offtopic – another interesting Alternet.org article:

    How Obama Outmaneuvered the Birthers

    (excerpt) The racist has an unholy need to see himself, and those of his own race, as superior to members of the race he abhors. The particular form that much American racism takes is an assumption of the intellectual superiority of the white man* to the black. The presumed intellectual inferiority of the black man then justifies blocking his path to positions of authority.

    By slapping his long-form birth certificate on the table just as he takes to the campaign trail, Obama is flushing out the racists into the light. They just can’t seem to help themselves from taking the bait. Deprived of their birthplace conspiracy, their automatic default is to question the president’s intelligence, and to challenge his credentials as a learned man.

    * I am using male pronouns in this discussion, because the birther myth was hatched by white men — although several women have helped to promote it — and the president is a man. This particular situation is primarily about the racial dynamic between American men, which is not to say that women are not party to similar dynamics.

    By Adele M. Stan
    Posted at April 28, 2011, 7:36 pm

    (source: http://www.alternet.org/newsandviews/article/574764/how_obama_outmaneuvered_the_birthers/)

  2. avatar
    G January 2, 2012 at 8:34 pm #

    Does a black hole really have a “bottom”?

    Downward spirals only have one direction to go – further and further down.

    I don’t think true madness and insanity have a floor at all…

    Majority Will: Anecdotally of course, I’ve noticed the desperation among birthers increasing with more and more bizarre, paranoid fantasies and what if scenarios, b.s. and nonsense.
    Who knew the rabbit hole was so deep?

  3. avatar
    Majority Will January 2, 2012 at 8:40 pm #

    G:
    Does a black hole really have a “bottom”?

    Downward spirals only have one direction to go – further and further down.

    I don’t think true madness and insanity have a floor at all…

    “He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster. And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.”

    – Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, Aphorism 146

  4. avatar
    G January 2, 2012 at 9:00 pm #

    I for one appreciate the article you referenced and agree with the author’s points. However, even though he used some stark contrasts to illustrate his point, I did not lose sight of the more incremental problems at hand that he also illustrated.

    Where the author referenced stark consequences, I saw it more as a cautionary tale, using examples of the extreme in order to make a smaller point sink home. For example:

    In his excellent book, Collapse, scientist Jared Diamond looked at a number of societies that had seen their physical climates change. He tried to determine what made some cultures die out while others persevered. According to Diamond, it wasn’t the severity of the change, or its speed that was the determining factor. One important variable was the foresight of those societies’ leaders — their ability to properly diagnose the problem and adapt, to come up with proactive solutions to the problems they faced.

    The take away there is the lesson of the importance of being able to adapt to change and not at all that the scale or consequence has to be that dire in order for that maxim to hold true.

    To come away from his article and only see it in stark binary terms of societal collapse vs not a credible threat is to miss the whole point – conspiracy nonsense can impede progress and lead to a heads-in-the sand mentality that not only inhibits progress but also worsens existing problems and can lead to incidents of deterioration.

    The scale does not have to be global or even national for it to have a pointedly negative impact on society. Irrational obstinance on a local level can be devestating to not just that community’s growth, but yes, even threaten its longevity.

    I’ve seen this first hand all throughout 2011, as my City Council has been bogged down by unreasonable and unruly Tea Party types tying up the entire agenda with bizarre, unfounded and irrelevant rumours and keeping business from moving forward. I’ve seen them unreasonably yet zealously fight standard measures of necessary street repair or utility maintenance issues and do everything than can to fight school funding at the ballot level. All issues that the rest of my community (predominantly Republican, btw) have consistently and historically broadly supported.

    So I think the lesson with everything is to not over-react, but also not to be dismissive of the corrosive nature of such irrational behaviors and that they deserve to be soundly opposed and monitored and it doesn’t require taking an overly alarmist approach in order to do so. Simple pragmatism supports taking such threats seriously and addressing them at the appropriate scale to which they impede necessary progress.

    Holland paints a bleak picture, but it is a picture that I don’t buy into 100%. We’ve always had our share of cranks and politics is by nature messy. It is unfortunate that we have right-wing nut jobs in our society, but consider the alternative: an authoritarian society where we didn’t tolerate them.

    Certainly we cannot tolerate people shouting down other people at public meetings — thuggery like that is how the Nazis started. Order in public meetings can be enforced. I don’t think the conspiracy theorists are going to do us in, at least not the current crop.

  5. avatar
    Dr. Conspiracy January 2, 2012 at 10:25 pm #

    Please post comments that do not relate to the articles on the Open Thread, which can be located under the Open Mike link in the right sidebar. Persistent abuse of topics will result in your comments being moderated before appearing — something inconvenient for both of us.

    I’m going to move this off-topic chatter where it belongs.

    bernadineayers: doc is it possible that the nordykes were friends with stanley dunham ? have you heard anything like that ?

  6. avatar
    Dave January 2, 2012 at 10:41 pm #

    At the risk of stating the obvious — while it is unquestionably true that the opinions of global warming denialists should be tolerated, in the sense that the government should do nothing to inhibit their expression, it is also true that the rest of us should take every opportunity to point out that these idiots and their stupid ideas are endangering us all.

  7. avatar
    Lupin January 3, 2012 at 3:58 am #

    Thrifty, make sure you read this as I’m about to deliver another anti-American rant.

    Up to, I’m not sure exactly when but I’d say the 1990s or thereabout, the US was really seen by most people in the western world as a beacon to be admired and emulated, despite the Viet-Nam War, Iran-Contra, Kissinger, Chile, etc.

    Sterling examples like Daniel Ellsberg, the publication of the Pentagon papers, Woodward & Bernstein, were examples we could only dream of imitating.

    And there was the Peace Corps, Woodstock, rock music, going to the Moon… You can’t imagine how powerful all of this was… Especially by contrast with the old Soviet Union…

    Even under Reagan, who wasn’t as nearly criticized abroad as he was at home, I think, the US managed to retain most of its appeal and overwhelming positive influence in the world.

    I myself came to live and work in California because of my unbound admiration for your country, its culture, its institutions, and its people. And California in the 80s was absolutely radiant.

    Somehow, this has changed dramatically in the last 20 years. Now, every time one comes across some evil shenanigan in Europe, the odds are that some American entity is behind it.

    Who is trying to bribe and subvert our legislators to push their GM seeds and prevent the labeling of GM food that people clearly want? Monsanto.

    Who is trying to lobby against and sabotage our health care system (such as the NHS in the UK)? The Heritage Foundation.

    Who is exporting anti abortion bombing to Poland and Eastern Europe? American religious right organizations.

    Who is radicalizing Muslim populations in Europe? The illegal US invasion of Iraq.

    Who is exporting illegal neo-Nazi literature and video games? Stormfront and US neo-nazi groups.

    Who was an inspiration to the Norwegian lunatic who slaughtered all those kids? Atlas Pam Geller, the notorious US right wing blogger.

    Who leads the charge on anti global warming policies and has engaged in illegal actions to discredit climate scientists? US right wing organizations funded by US oil companies.

    Who promotes and funds anti-evolution / creationist rubbish distributed by the truckload here? US religious organizations.

    Whose financial industry is perceived (admittedly with the complicity of our own elites) to have destroyed the financial system and plundered our nations? Goldman Sachs, AIG and the likes.

    In my own region, who came here to engage in massive pinot fraud and destabilized our local wine growing industry? E & J Gallo and Constellation.

    As long as it was Hollywood blockbusters, rap music and McDonalds, we rather enjoyed your hegemony, but in the last 10, 20 years, the US has truly become like an evil empire (to reuse Ronald Reagan’s terminology) exporting its nefarious ideologies and business activities worldwide.

    And I’m not including the corruption of some other countries’ legal systems with extraordinary renditions and other black ops stuff.

    Now I know I’m painting with brush strokes, and you may quibble with this or that point, but like it or not, this is how many people see it.

    If France did 1/10th of the damage in the US that your country is doing (or trying to do) here, you’d be bombing Paris already.

    The best thing you’ve done, lately, is to put your OCCUPY WS folks on TV, because as was the case during the Viet-Nam War, it shows us that not all Americans are solidly behind your Oligarchy, and that they, too, are fighting the system. If nothing else, it has considerably upgraded your image abroad.

  8. avatar
    J. Potter January 3, 2012 at 11:05 am #

    Lupin: Thrifty, make sure you read this as I’m about to deliver another anti-American rant.

    Lupin, this is neither Pollyanna nor paranoid, it is interesting outside perspective. Is this the thread you meant to post on? Hadn’t heard about pinot problems; sadly, hear in the Redgressive Middlelands, you wouldn’t get much sympathy on that one.

    I do object to the identification of “this country” as it’s pop culture / corporate interests that sprouted here, but I can see your perspective. Overseas, you don’t see the America the place, or America the people; you can study up on America the founding documents and purported ideals, and they aren’t jiving with many actions and influences emanating from America. Perhaps similar with the general conception of China in here in America.

    You’ve listed mainly corporate sins, little the people here would support if put to a vote. Well, depending on the latest spin volume and efficiency … for instance, Iraq ’03 would have sailed through the polls at the time. Capitalist, multinational corporations look after their own interests by nature. They didn’t all hatch here, but we surely have an outsized share. And, unfortunately we have to wonder no whether the Corporatocracy has compromised government, but to what extent? And is it too late to roll back? And, as just noted re: Iraq ’03, Corporatocracy has the power to sway the people to an extent.

    Also, you noted this is new, but the perception is worsening. 2 causes come to mind: increasing political division and disconnect since 1980, and increasing availabilty of information and mass communication (re: interwebs!) … due to the former, the problem is worsening here, due to the latter, awareness is rising. Not just here, but around the globe.

    Worst of all, unsustainable business—either ecological, sociological, or financially unsustainable business—is bad business. Corps—and political interests in their pocket!—are running amok executing shortsighted pump-and-dump schemes.

    Yes, people are finally protesting. Again, tho, unfortunately the consumerist masses are highly dependent on the Corporatocracy. The well-insulated masses go through the motions here.

    Could expand your list to make it global, but the point it made. The question that comes to my mind is whether any countries are making strides in rebuffing Corporatocracy, rebalancing business and social interests … short of nationalizations or other extreme measures; if so, what did it take; and anything that would sell here. What societal changes can keep greed in check?

    CA was indeed a blast in the 80s, warts and all.

  9. avatar
    Lupin January 3, 2012 at 11:29 am #

    J. Potter: Hadn’t heard about pinot problems;

    Here is what happened, short version.

    Gallo came in and wanted to buy large quantities of pinot wine at a heavily discounted price.

    The local growers said that was more pinot that the entire region produced; and besides, they couldn’t meet that price.

    Gallo said, see what you can do, wink, wink, and besides, if you don’t take our deal, the Spaniards will.

    So the local wine growers repackaged a lesser blend (quite good, but not from pinot grapes) and sold it to Gallo and Constellation which resold it as pinot in the States.

    Three or four years later, the French authorities noticed that the growers were selling more pinot than physically possible; they uncovered the fraud, and eventually several growers and merchants got heavy fine and jail time, suspended.

    Gallo got away scott free as far as I know.

    I know that in the bigger scheme of things, it’s a small thing, but the corrupting influence of American businesses, think tanks, ideologues, etc. is felt in too many nooks of our lives.

    Don’t get me started on Monsanto. 🙂

  10. avatar
    sef January 3, 2012 at 11:43 am #

    Lupin: So the local wine growers repackaged a lesser blend (quite good, but not from pinot grapes) and sold it to Gallo and Constellation which resold it as pinot in the States.

    At least it had the terroir.

  11. avatar
    J. Potter January 3, 2012 at 11:50 am #

    Lupin: Gallo came in and wanted to buy large quantities of pinot wine at a heavily discounted price.

    Sounds sadly typical, the Wal-Martization of the World …. from the details provided, Gallo may not have any criminal liability … they maneuvered those growers to compromise themselves, turn themselves into fraudsters. Pretty brilliant slime…and more classic pump-and-dump. Short-term profits to Gallo, longer-term damage to the growers.

    There are several depressing documentaries about the effects of corporatized agriculture on farmers here … if interested in more fuel for your Monsanto bonfire, I’ll look them up.

    Speaking of food standards–isn’t it sad that gov’ regulation is required to give some assurance that food is honestly represented? That parmesan is parmesan, pinot is pinot, water is actually water? There was a humorous overreach here over the past couple of years …. mega-candymakers were trying to get the FDA to (further) water down the definition of chocolate, to avoid the use of “costly” cocoa butter. Ay! can we please have something resembling chocolate in our chocolate? Hershey’s has already reached the level of brown wax. There was backlash, and to my knowledge, the regulation stands.

    The consumerist/low-price feedback loop compromises everything, all the while sucking more $$$ into corporatocracy. Support small, local business, buy less, buy the best. only defense we have.

  12. avatar
    Lupin January 3, 2012 at 11:54 am #

    sef: At least it had the terroir.

    Quite true! The defendants (wine growers/merchants) argued in their defense that there hadn’t been any single complaints from US consumers. (I think the wine was sold under the “red bicyclette” label or something like that.) But the State Prosecutor argued the Law, ie: you can’t sell as “pinot” a product which clearly is not pinot, and prevailed. The Appellate Court later agreed with the prosecution and confirmed the sentences/fines passed by the Lower Court.

  13. avatar
    Lupin January 3, 2012 at 12:01 pm #

    J. Potter: Support small, local business, buy less, buy the best. only defense we have.

    And buy produce in season. I couldn’t agree more.

    Neither French justice nor the local media had any kind words towards the local growers who compromised their ethics, but there’s no doubt that Gallo was morally (if not strictly speaking legally) guilty of fraud.

    To return to the thread’s topic, the point of this is that American corporations, which seem far more ruthless and out of control than they used to be, and American right-wing ideology, which used to be mostly confined within your own borders (except for Jehovah’s Witnesses) have spread abroad like a malevolent virus.

    None of you good people are to blame for this, of course. But sadly, it all comes with the US flag attached.

  14. avatar
    J. Potter January 3, 2012 at 12:14 pm #

    Jehovah’s Witnesses! Nice one! but why not include Mormons?

    Yes, I agree that corporations are certainly growing in influence, they got bigger and outgrew our borders …. well, in the gilded age when they were born. Stories of shenanigans abroad abound. But they become more pervasive over time. And the wingers continue to regress, while much of the world progresses. The contrast glares increasingly. Progress brings backlash. Progress does not always win. I hope it does this time.

    Here’s a depressing thought; I indulged in some sci-fi recently, read The Eternity Artifact by LE Modesitt. Okay book. Notable here because in its far future setting, with humanity split into multiple star empires … several factions were anti-progress theocracies. Aaaaaargh! Will they never go away? The thought of them dozens of light years away was nice, but with the power to destroy offending planets was not. Blowing up various types of public transit is bad enough.

    Another cheerful thought: perhaps corporatocracy will not be peeled back, but continue to supplant gov’t, burn the planet, and increase general dependence. Hello, Cyberpunk 2020.

  15. avatar
    J. Potter January 3, 2012 at 12:31 pm #

    Just a PS to my corpo-gripes …. in my experience, common people all over the world, at least when interacting as individuals, are generous, tolerant, kind, helpful, beautiful. It’s when people identify with a group that they (can) become ugly.

    Sorry, Mitt, but corporations are not people. 😉

  16. avatar
    ASK Esq January 3, 2012 at 1:12 pm #

    Doc, if I may, I don’t believe the only options are allowing free rein and the apparent equal weight to all opinions versus not allowing dissent. Nobody says that people shouldn’t be allowed to spout nonsense simply because it is nonsense. But it is incumbent upon those in authority to not play along. As long as the Republican leadership goes along with the climate change deniers, their nonsense threatens us all.

    I’ve recently read Idiot America, which is on your reading list, and Voodoo Histories, which I don’t believe is. Together, they show what can happen when truth and facts are officially ignored. We all need to do what we can to hold our leaders to a standard where they don’t play politics with reality.

  17. avatar
    G January 3, 2012 at 2:34 pm #

    And therein lies the true root of the problem…and the sheer embeddedness of it all. How exactly do we fix a problem of out of control Corporatocracy, when so much of our political system and society have been made utterly dependent upon it as well…?

    Truly the great challenge facing all of us in the 21st century…

    J. Potter: Worst of all, unsustainable business—either ecological, sociological, or financially unsustainable business—is bad business. Corps—and political interests in their pocket!—are running amok executing shortsighted pump-and-dump schemes.
    Yes, people are finally protesting. Again, tho, unfortunately the consumerist masses are highly dependent on the Corporatocracy. The well-insulated masses go through the motions here.
    Could expand your list to make it global, but the point it made. The question that comes to my mind is whether any countries are making strides in rebuffing Corporatocracy, rebalancing business and social interests … short of nationalizations or other extreme measures; if so, what did it take; and anything that would sell here. What societal changes can keep greed in check?

  18. avatar
    G January 3, 2012 at 2:48 pm #

    Ugh! What a horrible outcome that would be. Then again, just about every dystopian future sci-fi from the 70’s onward pretty much portrayed a decayed society where the true power structure was really corporations running the show…

    From Blade Runner to Robo Cop to Escape from New York… plus throw in just about any of the period pieces that Arnold Schwarzenegger was in….and the list goes on and on and on…

    The point here is that the underlying mechanisms to allow this to happen and trending had to already be in place and palpably noticeable quite a few years even before then for this to be so broadly picked up on as a theme by all these futurist writers. They clearly saw the march in this direction picking up steam at some point early in the post WWII era…

    So the saddest takeaway here is that we’ve had at least 30 years of cautionary tales and forewarning about what was happening all around us and still, no steps have been made to prevent it. Heck, most of the legistature since then has only served to encourage and strenghthen its hold and weaken any protections that were in place that could have served as a check and balance…

    J. Potter: Another cheerful thought: perhaps corporatocracy will not be peeled back, but continue to supplant gov’t, burn the planet, and increase general dependence. Hello, Cyberpunk 2020.

  19. avatar
    G January 3, 2012 at 2:49 pm #

    BRAVO!!! Well said… EVERY single word!!!

    J. Potter:
    Just a PS to my corpo-gripes …. in my experience, common people all over the world, at least when interacting as individuals, are generous, tolerant, kind, helpful, beautiful. It’s when people identify with a group that they (can) become ugly.

    Sorry, Mitt, but corporations are not people.

  20. avatar
    Sally HIll January 4, 2012 at 11:02 pm #

    I agree, It is unfortunate that we have left-wing nut jobs in our society. More unfortunate is that the left-wingers are barely tolerant of those with opposing viewpoints.I really do think you are smart enough to make cohesive arguments for your opinion, rather than resort to attacks.

    Why must you attack people who happen to have a different opinion than yourself? It makes you seem unsure of yourself and your own viewpoint. I respect those that have differing opinions than myself, while respecting themselves enough not to attack or belittle me based upon that premise. I do not however, respect those that attack me simply because they don’t see eye to eye. You may ‘think’ you are correct and I am wrong, but I’m just as likely to ‘think; the same of you. You may ‘think’ you are oh so much smarter than me, but I just as likely ‘think’ the same. Why does that make me any more dumb and ignorant than you?

    I’m not at all sure why you cannot see the forest for the trees and that attacking and belittling someone for holding a different opinion makes you no better or different than those you attack.

  21. avatar
    Majority Will January 4, 2012 at 11:09 pm #

    Sally HIll: I agree, It is unfortunate that we have left-wing nut jobs in our society. More unfortunate is that the left-wingers are barely tolerant of those with opposing viewpoints.I really do think you are smart enough to make cohesive arguments for your opinion, rather than resort to attacks

    No irony meter could get within 1000 yards of that post without instantly bursting into flames and collapsing into a pile of ironic ash.

  22. avatar
    JPotter January 4, 2012 at 11:34 pm #

    Who / what is Sally Hill referring to?

  23. avatar
    Majority Will January 4, 2012 at 11:41 pm #

    JPotter:
    Who / what is Sally Hill referring to?

    I thought the expression was “what in the Sam Hill is that”? 😀

  24. avatar
    JPotter January 5, 2012 at 12:11 am #

    Majority Will: I thought the expression was “what in the Sam Hill is that”?

    Touché, monsieur!

  25. avatar
    G January 5, 2012 at 2:57 am #

    I agree. Pathetic concern troll Sally Hill is back trying to pull her usual clear Concern Troll tactics.

    Seems like she’s gotten so desperate to push her fake straw man arguments that now she’s resorted to creating made up conversations out of nowhere with herself, in the desparate hope of starting an argument…

    FAIL TROLL FAILS AGAIN!

    Majority Will: No irony meter could get within 1000 yards of that post without instantly bursting into flames and collapsing into a pile of ironic ash.