eNewsChannels COLUMN: Some of them believe in reptile overlords and all of them are seeking non-existent data about secret cabals in government. Members of the so-called Truther movement would be a hoot if they weren’t so dangerous. Jonathan Kay strides quietly through their midst and exposes the reality of their delusions.
When I explained to a friend that my next book review would be Among the Truthers: A Journey Through America’s Growing Conspiracist Underground, her reaction made me laugh. “That sounds like a new twist on the zombie literary craze,” she wrote, “with the book’s subjects stumbling around searching for braaaaaains.” In actuality, they’re searching for attention while desperately hoping they can construct some sort of meaning out of the disconnected synapses of their minds.
And if there is a literary allusion to be made, instead of zombies, my vote might go to the gorgeous, gothic prose of Richard Condon in his The Manchurian Candidate (that title will come up later). Hearing and reading the output from these folks exposes you to quite a lot of twisted and tortured lines of communication, multiple (often conflicting) crazy plots, and only a flirting acquaintance with the real world.
Right from the title, this book shows some of the recent tweaking of the English language. It wasn’t that long ago that “Truther” and “conspiracist” were not words. So, congrats to the dingbats on birthing two new words. Oh, and “birther” makes three. It is interesting that we have to come up with new words for kook.
Kay identifies the eight main types of kooks fairly succinctly in a series of short profiles dealing with “The Midlife Crisis Case, The Failed Historian, The Damaged Survivor, The Cosmic Voyager, The Clinical Conspiracist, The Crank, The Evangelical Doomsayer, The Firebrand.”
In telling the stories of a shipload of NJs (nut jobs), Kay deftly takes you through conservative ideology from Edmund Burke through the Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion, from Joseph McCarthy to the birthers, and from the Tea Party to what he calls “a rageaholic blogosphere.”
In reality (a concept abhorred by Truthers and the Right in general), a lot of the problem might be laid on the altar of the World Wide Web. As Kay points out, “At the Web’s birth in the mid-1990s, it was imagined that these new information technologies would usher in an Enlightenment dreamworld of mutual understanding and rationalism. Instead, the opposite happened,” creating an “intellectual balkanization” with groups slipping into “their own paranoid echo chambers.”
The author, a managing editor at Canada’s National Post newspaper, tries to quell our fears about the growing gaggle of babble believers, noting that “Only a small minority of the Truthers I encountered seemed out-and-out insane.” Most are seeking a grand explanation, which they feel they need because “when skyscrapers crumble, when great powers are laid low, we demand a grander narrative than mere chaos, and grander villains than mere criminals and lunatics.”
It is unfortunate that the leaders of the vast variety of the cults cannot put their time and energy into worthwhile pursuits. Instead, they sink ever deeper into the self-rationalized irrationalities of their sects and factions. On top of everything else, the personal stories of these befuddled folk evoke a dank sadness that descends over their words like a shroud being tugged over a plague victim.
Kay contrasts their twisted and tortured theories with the advancements of the rest of humankind:
Western societies gradually, fitfully have come to embrace rationalism and skepticism. We have separated church and state, enshrined science, questioned God, elevated materialism over piety, swept aside the divine right of kings, and otherwise followed the skeptics’ claim that our world is shaped by human agency, in all its cruel imperfection, not some grand blueprint imposed from on high.
Even so, Kay notes, “the intellectual edifice we’ve built on these foundations occasionally teeters, shaken by the tectonic social forces set in motion by depression, war, and terrorism.” While that may serve as an excuse for the Truthers’ untruths, it is also an accurate assessment of the state of things. And unfortunately, Kay notes, we are in a time when “the ordinary rules of rational intellectual inquiry are now treated as optional.”
Consider Truther David Icke, who believes in an enormous conspiracy involving Jews, the Illuminati, the CIA, the Mossad, the London School of Economics, and “an alien race of lizard-people who control the world by projecting their extradimensional identities onto handpicked world leaders such as Queen Elizabeth II and George W. Bush.” Of all the twits in the book, that’s the guy who should be writing the next big sci-fi movie.
Right-Wing Nut Jobs abound in the U.S. and it often appears that a majority of RWNJs are in the Truther tribes. Kay makes several observations about the Tea Party and other nattering nabobs of neo-con nonsense, although he also points out that “On a personal level, conspiracism is not so much a psychological ailment in and of itself as it is a symptom of a mind in flight from reality. That flight can be induced by any number of causes — including radical nationalism, tribalistic hatred, midlife ennui, narcissism, profound psychic trauma, spiritual longing, or even experimental drug use.” No more perfect explanation for the American right-wing is to be found in literature today.
Chapter titles are punchy throughout Among the Truthers:
Populism and Paranoia: How Politics Shaped American Conspiracism
A Dark Fairy Tale
Conspiracism’s Hateful Sidekick
The quality of writing not only lives up to these subtitles, each section is able to stand on its own, should you wish to dip into the book on a topic-by-topic basis rather than taking in the whole work from start to finish. Got a hankerin’ to read about some of the “leading” Truthers? Sure thing. Want to tour the neighborhood where conspiricism and anti-Semitism meet at the crossroads? No problem.
Or perhaps you just want to see how alarmingly hateful some of these louts can be; if so, you can peruse some calm prose about many odious folks, including the WorldNewDaily duo Aaron Klein and Brenda Elliott, scribblers of The Manchurian President: Barack Obama’s Ties to Communists, Socialists and Other Anti-American Extremists. You can find equally eyebrow-raising material (some disgusting, some hilarious) just by flipping open the book to almost any page. The word “growing” in the title of Kay’s book is not there because the publisher thought it was scarier that way; the situation is actually quite frightening.
Truther theories may be nonsense, but the disturbing habits of mind underlying them — a nihilistic distrust in government, total alienation from conventional politics, a need to reduce the world’s complexity to good-versus-evil fables, the melding of secular politics with apocalyptic End-Is-Nigh religiosity, and a rejection of the basic tools of logic and rational discourse — have become threats all across our intellectual landscape.
Jonathan Kay is a writer who is sneaky-good, by which I mean his excellence does not often call attention to itself. While covering a lot of ground involving dozens and dozens of characters and a plethora of wild and contradictory theories, Kay retains a firm grip on history and rationality while often subtly displaying a sly and wicked sense of humor. His prose is perfectly lovely other than his love of the word “Manichean” (I counted four uses in the book).
But you ask yourself why oh why did Kay keep working on this dispiriting task, week after week, month after month, weird cult confab after weird cult confab? Here’s one reason:
The threat currently posed by modern conspiracists is not physical, but cultural. Like other groups that have effectively opted out of American’s ideological mainstream, they threaten to turn the country into a sort of intellectual Yugoslavia — a patchwork of agitated cults screaming at one another in mutually unintelligible tongues. It’s a trend that every thinking person has a duty to fight.
Back of the Book
This is an excellent work although I do have four complaints. At one point, Kay refers to something non-existent: the “liberal media”; no such thing since all of the major media distribution channels in North America are huge corporations, which by their very nature are non-progressive. At another point, he states that the Kennedy assassination “was recorded by precisely one individual,” yet I’ve seen footage taken from other angles at Dealey Plaza.
Next, the index is spotty; I made notes, additions, and corrections as I read the book. Believe me, my goal wasn’t to annotate the index, but look: when a name or a concept strikes you as important, some of us are moved to find out where else those people or ideas are mentioned in the volume; so you naturally flip to the back of the book for a quick peek at the index. If you find missing or erroneous data, you make a note of it.
Finally, numerous books, magazines, reports, papers, websites, and films were mentioned in the text but there is no bibliography. I understand the decision to omit the litany: with all sources appearing together, it might imply they all had some worth. But on the other hand, it seems important to have all the sources for the research that went into creating the book. So I’ve typed out the list (albeit without looking up publisher names and dates). Yes, this means that something important, like Conrad Black’s Franklin Delano Roosevelt: Champion of Freedom, is appearing alongside dangerous and deceptive Truther drivel. But hey, sources are sources. It is true that I have to do a double-take (perhaps even a spit-take) when I see something meaningful like Denying History: Who Says the Holocaust Never Happened and Why Do They Say It? in a list with something heinous like Glenn Beck bile, but anyone can publish a book and it is up to an enlightened readership to discern the pearls among the swine.
Sick vs. Sublime
In this book you will find people so vile, groups so hateful, and publications so despicable that even brief exposure to them will make you sick to your stomach and queasy in your soul. Reading just a little of such filth as Barack Obama: Devil and the Protocols, or even the stupidity of something like Green Hell, is enough to cause sweat-soaked sleepless nights and days of silent screaming. But Kay waded through all the muck so you don’t have to, and the result is a book that is valuable, important, and shining bright like a beacon of reason and veracity.
Note on the paperback edition: Don’t be put off by the quote on the cover; despite the blurb being from National Review Online, this is not a RWNJ book.
Sources for Among the Truthers
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Blom, Philipp. Wicked Company.
Bloom, Allan. The Closing of the American Mind.
Brown, Dan. Angels and Demons.
——. Da Vinci Code.
Brzezinski, Zbigniew. The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy and Its Geostrategic Imperatives.
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Chomsky, Noam. Manufacturing Consent.
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——. Caesar’s Column.
——. The Great Cryptogram.
——. Ragnarok: Age of Fire and Gravel.
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——, Sixteen Reasons to Question the Official Story About 9-11.
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Klein, Naomi. The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism.
Knight, Peter. Conspiracy Nation: The Politics of Paranoia in Postwar America.
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——. Why is Your Country at War?
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——. “Notes on Nationalism.”
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Wray, T.J., and Mobley, Gregory. The Birth of Satan: Tracing the Devil’s Biblical Roots.
Wright, Lawrence. The Looming Tower.
Zamyatin, Yevgeny. We.
Zarembka, Paul. The Hidden History of 9/11.
Zwicker, Barrie. Towers of Deception: The Media Cover-Up of 9/11.
Videos, Websites, Blogs
Camp FEMA: American Lockdown
Confessions of an ex-Truther
Dr. Strangelove, or: How I Stopped Worrying and Love the Bomb
Triumph of the Will
“Among the Truthers: A Journey Through American’s Growing Conspiracist Underground”
by Jonathan Kay
HarperCollins Books, Hardbound, 368 pages, ISBN-13: 978-0062004819, $27.99.
Harper Paperback, 368 pages, ISBN-13: 978-0062004864, $15.99.
Article is Copr. © 2012 by John Scott G, and originally published on eNewsChannels.com – all commercial and reprint rights reserved. This is an original opinion article: no fee or any other consideration was paid to JSG by the book’s author, publisher, publicist or other entity.