It's funny. I got to thinking a few weeks back that I wanted to do a post on conspiracy theories. I've put it off for a variety of reasons, when I ran across a bunch of information at Rolling Stone magazine, due in large part to an investigative report published by Canadian journalist Jonathan Kay.
Then, I went back just to make sure I hadn't written about my love for conspiracy theories. Turns out I had, back in September, 2007. Part of the problem with having a long-running blog like this without any tags is I have to be thorough in checking to make sure what I have and have not said in the past. I'm glad I did in this case because my main interest, for the present post at least, is my fascination with the death by investigative journalist Danny Casolaro. He was found dead in a motel room in Martinsburg, WV in August, 1991. His death was ruled a suicide.
Casolaro was a part of a network of conspiracy investigators. Claiming to be hot on the trail of what he called "The Octopus", the reaction to his death among what one writer has called "conspiracy culture" - that his death was "obviously [a] faked" suicide - without any mainstream research in to his life and death begs for serious re-examination.
Journalist and author Dave Cullen spent ten years researching everything about the mass murder at Columbine High School, publishing a book that destroyed every long-held myth the public had not only about the events themselves, but the students who carried it out, as well as the victims. I think nothing less is called for in the case of Danny Casolaro.
Not because I believe his was a faked suicide, the alleged perpetrators stealing his many research notes and papers (none of the research Casolaro claimed to carry with him at all times was found either at the motel or at his home; an alternative conclusion to that promulgated in "conspiracy culture" is he had no research materials). On the contrary, I'm guessing that an investigation in to the death of Casolaro's life and death would go a long way toward undermining the glamour and mystery that surrounds so much conspiracy-mongering. Of course, folks who insist on the reality of multiple conspiracies would only insist this shows how insidious such conspiracies are; the lack of evidence for their existence is definitive evidence for their existence.
One point I made in that post from '07 is still valid, I think. The fact that there are a whole lot of people who believe all sorts of silly conspiracy theories does not mean that conspiracies do not exist. Indeed, as I wrote then, conspiracies are abundant, plentiful, and by-and-large easy to find and detail. Conspiracy-mongers, on the other hand, give folks who detail the collusion among various groups toward specific ends that might either be contrary to the public interest or violate the law a bad name. Noam Chomsky is a good example of this. Derided and dismissed, at least among much "respectable" opinion in the United States, as a conspiracy-monger, it would be difficult, despite the millions of words he's published over the decades, to find any mention of "conspiracy" in his work. He is not a conspiracy theorist in the way, say, folks believe the Freemasons are planning on taking over the world through their lackeys in the Rhodes Scholarship program, Skull & Bones at Yale, and Opus Dei in the Roman Catholic Church are conspiracy theorists. The latter such are marvelous creatures with great entertainment value. Chomsky, on the other hand, notes the reality that certain expressed interests of powerful industrial, financial, and other corporate actors seem to wind up being expressed as American foreign policy, too often contrary to the interests of people in other countries (as well as an alternative foreign policy, sometimes even the expressed policy of a given Administration). This is not "conspiracy" mongering; it is, rather, little more than the description of what should be, to even a casual observer of politics, the unsurprising alignment of interest, power, money, and action.
Polling ahead of today's Republican Presidential primaries in Mississippi and Alabama showed that a plurality of Republican voters in those states believe Pres. Obama is a Muslim. One man, interviewed by NPR after a candidate's forum expressed typical "birther" views. These should trouble anyone who cherishes this country and our history as well as hopes for our future.
Conspiracy theories are good fun; from aliens both at Area 51 and Wright-Patterson AFB (Hangar 18, remember . . .) to the Council on Foreign Relations plans for world domination, they make marvelous fodder both in real life and as the source for rousing good yarns and stories. When they become the subject of serious inquiry by a "conspiracy culture", however, we have many reasons to worry.