Sunday, April 06, 2008

The Dangers of Blurring Facts with Fantasies

When the published copies of a new Dummies book hits the doorstep at HodapphaĆ¼s, it's always a little surprise. As you could probably guess, both Alice and I write long. The standard Dummies book works out to be 348 manuscript pages long, inclusive of artwork, cartoons, and all of the usual Dummies sidebars, lists, help icons and other ephemera. After it leaves our hands during the author review period, we never see it again until the book is printed, bound, and 4,000 copies shipped out.

Our first submission for Conspiracy Theories And Secret Societies For Dummies worked out to be 120 pages too long. Almost 25% of it had to go.

One of the casualties of the edit was in the introduction, and was a partial explanation of why we wrote the book, and why we think the proliferation of conspiracy theories is such a dangerous development in American and worldwide culture:


Each year, San Francisco’s Bohemian Club holds what amounts to a summer camp for the rich, powerful and well-connected captains of industry, diplomacy, and politics from around the world. It’s held in July at their massive wooded compound in the California countryside, called the Bohemian Grove. The Grove’s annual gathering is a major float in the parade of conspiracy theories, so of course we’ll be hitting on it again throughout the book. They have been accused of many evil activities by a wide array of jittery authors, radio hosts, Christian evangelists and anti-conspiracy crusaders over the years.

Alex Jones is a prime example of a professional conspiracist, a term, and a breed, that is discussed a lot further in Chapter 2. Jones is a man whose entire livelihood depends on there really being a plot for a New World Order. On his radio show he regularly froths that the government is never to be trusted, that government agencies are made up of nothing but criminals engaging in “raiding and looting,” and that there is a vast, unidentified, controlling elite composed of the “most vicious, black, stinking, massive evil” that can be imagined. Daily, he shrieks that the New World Order needs to be (to use his various suggestions) punched, kicked, pole-axed, torn apart, and have its collective neck broken like a Sunday pot chicken. His best advice is to keep all of your guns loaded and ready for the final showdown when the black helicopters land on your lawn to haul you off to an underground prison camp. We’re all for capitalism, but Jones is engaged in an eternal struggle to sell his true believers endless books, tapes, DVDs, gold coins, water filters and survival gear. Like his radio show, his personal appearances are screeching diatribes designed more to pump up an audience’s adrenaline than to actually inform. And if the New World Order turns out to not really exist, but merely to be a figment of his demented imagination (or calculated guile), Jones is out of a lucrative job.

In January of 2002, Alex Jones fan and self-proclaimed “Phantom Patriot,” Richard McCaslin, snuck onto the property of the Bohemian Grove, armed with a knife, a sword, a crossbow, a .45 caliber handgun, a modified MK-1 semi-automatic rifle/shotgun hybrid loaded with 70mm shotgun shells, 30 rounds of .223-caliber bullets, a homemade rocket launcher, and a Bible covered in camouflage. McCaslin admitted to authorities that he was there to “kill child molesters” and Bohemians, whom he believed were practicing human sacrifices. He’d read all about it on the Internet, and he’d heard conspiracy peddlers like Alex Jones talk about it on the radio. It just had to be true. Jones told his audience to fight the evil forces of the New World Order with violence. So, the Phantom Patriot was going to do just that.

McCaslin was not some unintelligent, inarticulate, drug-addled boob, acting out a fantasy as some Earth-saving commando. His actions were carefully planned, and he truly believed that what he was doing would ultimately make him a hero. Shooting some Bohemian Grovers might put a dent in their plans for world domination, and save those children from a pagan sacrifice. Thankfully, the Grovers meet in the summer, or he might very well have killed a whole lot of people.

This problem is a lot broader right now than the tale of the Phantom Patriot. A growing group of so-called “9/11 Truthers,” who are convinced that the terrorist attacks of 9/11 were an “inside job,” committed by our own government gets louder and more militant every day. Guys like Alex Jones routinely refer to the people in our government as “murderers.” All over the country, increasingly indignant Truthers are out there “confronting” politicians during their speeches and popping up in talk show audiences, screaming out their accusations. But with increasingly bizarre and inflammatory rhetoric, how long will it be before “confront” becomes “shoot”?

That’s why we felt compelled to write this book. Fantasies are fun. Selling fantasies can be lucrative, as either the Walt Disney Corporation or any prostitute could attest. But when conspiracists don’t just post their theories on the Internet anymore, and instead actually start acting upon their fears and plugging their perceived boogeymen with .45 dumdum rounds, it crosses a very big line. When they arm themselves to go shoot “unseen enemies,” or take poison in mass suicides to join up with some non-existent UFO, that’s when the rest of us need to get nervous. We also need to stay aware.

We live in what may be the most cynical period of time in all history, and the world is rampant with plenty of perennially panicky pundits. College kids who blithely tell you they believe in nothing and no one, suddenly start spouting the “real truth” they’ve discovered, that God is an alien from the planet Zyra, their parents are tools of the KGB, and that the Illuminati are secretly running everything. Some polls show 20% of college students think the Moon landings were a hoax. In 2006, a Scripps-Howard poll showed that 36% of the American public – around 100 million people – believed that the U.S. government had something to do with the 9/11 World Trade Center/Pentagon attacks, either ignoring intelligence intentionally to start a Middle East war, or actually carrying out the attacks themselves.

100 million people.

That’s not just some isolated lunatic fringe. That’s one out of every three of your neighbors. Or maybe you.

5 comments:

Squire Bentley said...

WOW! I 100% agree. And what is dismaying is that anti Semitism is on the rise again. Rev Wright of Trinity Church and Louis Farrakhan are in that club. Mel Gibson's father is a holocaust denier as is the ruler of Iran When people can't get definitive answers sometimes they gravitate to those who say they have one. We need to ba a little more descriminating and less gullible. Thanks Chris for keeping us all sane and from trying to bring fantasy into reality.

cehawkes1 said...

An interesting blog post that is in line with what you say here. I found it while looking for clods aimed at our heads:

http://globalizati.wordpress.com/2008/03/30/the-power-of-conspiracy-theories/

Cory said...

What other "Theories or conspiracies" were left out of the book?

It would be interesting to know what didn't make it in there.

Cory

Tom Accuosti said...

What other "Theories or conspiracies" were left out of the book?

You mean, "I wonder what conspiracies they didn't want us to know about?"

somogyvari said...

One thing I found is that those attacking "conspiracy theories" has far more to prove those who advocate them. The former is an angry little daddy's club, scared of any notion of alternative realities. The latter (the "conspiracy people") usually settles for less, as long as goodness and fairness is reasonably respected.
It is the conspiracist hope that everything he or she says is false. Daddy's boy hopes everything he says is true, cause he didn't check himself.