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Thursday, May 23, 2013

Jesse Walker on conspiracy theories

Jesse Walker has an excellent post at Reason's Hit and Run blog poking holes in a New York Times piece on conspiracy theories (written by Maggie Koerth-Baker, Boing Boing's science correspondent.) A taste of Walker's piece:

Virtually everyone who has any political beliefs at all believes in at least one conspiracy theory. Imagining conspiracies is just part of how human beings tend to perceive the world: It's where our drive to find patterns meets our capacity for being suspicious, particularly when we're dealing with other nations, factions, subcultures, or layers of the social hierarchy. This habit manifests itself across the political spectrum, and it always has. And it is intensified by the fact that conspiracies, unlike many of the monsters that haunt us, do sometimes actually exist. 

Walker has a book about all this coming out soon that I can't wait to read.

Skimming through Koerth-Baker's piece, I got the name of a California history professor who writes about conspiracy theories, Kathryn S. Olmsted. When I Googled her, I found this book. a 2009 tome entitled Real Enemies: Conspiracy Theory and American Democracy, World War I to 9/11. Jesse says her book is quite good, and so is her Challenging the Secret Government. 

Bonus link: Jesse Walker reviews the new Dan Brown. Excerpt:

 Brown's been around long enough by now that we should know better than to enter his books expecting graceful language or a reliable guide to the world; we might as well move on to asking if there's anything his new effort gets right. And I have to say that there is. Beneath the Dante-for-dummies lectures and the formulaic plot there's a current of sheer strangeness here: elaborate deceptions; secret clues concealed in ancient objects; science-fiction elements that slowly move to center stage; a bizarre conspiracy that is almost Fantômas-like in its unnecessarily labyrinthine details; the fact that the author clearly sympathizes with the book's nominal villain, marching right up to the edge of endorsing his actions.

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