[from a dkos comment...]
the primary problem with conspiracy theory, insofar as a site like this goes, is that it undercuts the fundamental premise of election-focused activism. conspiracy theories place the real fulcrum of power outside the agreed upon political system. once you stop believing that the agreed upon system is in fact the system in power – or put another way, that the agreed upon system is operating in the agreed upon ways – then the purpose in organizing politically to articulate a vision and win elections is profoundly compromised. to acknowledge conspiracy is to acknowledge that the system is being critically gamed by people acting in a criminal manner. that the system, in other words, is being run by secret means, responding to private directives and not the public will. so, even though conspiracy is the historically demonstrated norm of those in power, it remains an outrageous claim relative to our own country.
why is this? we have no problem seeing the conspiratorial character of aggressive, imperial, governments historically and worldwide. we have no problem accepting it as a fictional description of events in our own country. why not take the reasonable step of suspecting that the historical norm applies to America?
it’s another instance where rationality is trumped by faith in American exceptionalism. though of course, as is normal, rationality is prevented from knowing that it’s been trumped by a sense of emotional outrage implicitly certain of its justification. an emotional sense, that is, that the premise being asserted or suggested is outrageous. This, incidentally, is why charging Glenn Beck with being motivated by racism is an apt counter to the news that Van Jones signed on to a petition questioning the integrity of the official 9/11 Report. By fighting outrage with outrage we might avoid violating our own sacred premises while still protecting Obama’s appointment.
political reality, ultimately, is not determined by facts, but by emotional adherence to a particular story of national identity. it is because of this that Chomsky only gets on television outside of America. not because he’s not rational, informed and insightful – which he abundantly and obviously is – but because he articulates a worldview that denies American exceptionalism… including the exceptionally non-conspiratorial nature of American political power.
if this were actually a reality based community, the concept of American exceptionalism, in all its forms, would be rationally disassembled as yet another imperial myth. but this isn’t science, it’s politics; and in the political world, reality is determined by strategy, not by facts. facts are everywhere fixed around policies driven by cryptic reasons. driven within government by conspiracies of special interests acting in secret and veiling their activities by a sham public process of representative democracy; and driven within the public mind by unconscious processes of personal and collective narcissism.
as Reinhold Niebuhr remarked, “perhaps the most significant moral characteristic of a nation is its hypocrisy.”
but, again, people who have widely lost faith in the process are bound to exclude themselves from the process. so, it is essential, from a political perspective, to preserve your party’s sense of faith in itself and the process – and thus, to enforce a sense of disdain toward enervating conspiracy theory. theory, that is, that undercuts the potential value, and so the strategic possibilities, of the process.
the rejection of ‘conspiracy theory’ is part of the more general protection of faith in American exceptionalism – whether that exceptionalism is viewed as an historical reality or an historical opportunity to change (at last!) the dismal norms of history. reflexively labelling it, to put it kindly, crazy is just another instance of a characteristic emotionally self-protective behavior of social groups. by using emotional abuse to defend sacred premises those premises are kept free from rational examination and the survival and self-image of the group is preserved. just as GWB had a vested interest in declaring that we must never tolerate outrageous conspiracy theories, so too does the Daily Kos community. conspiracy theory threatens the whole edifice of motivational identity. we cannot be the people we’ve been waiting for if the system is a farce covering for a criminal syndicate. in order to believe that we are them, we have to believe that the system is either essentially representative or that we are in a position to make it so by the commonly accepted means of ‘more and better Democrats.’ theories of government by criminal conspiracy undercut either form of this necessary faith.
of course in this sense the conspiracy theorist has already reached the complete cynicism as regards government that is likely near a majority opinion in this country. the conspiracy theorists, however challenged by fact, have been emotionally prescient in their complete disbelief.
and herein lies the root of the secondary problem with conspiracy theory: thinking conspiratorially can really drive you crazy. it is psychologically perilous for an individual to entirely lose faith in the dominant narrative of his or her society. to be alienated from this worldview brings a crisis in sanity. one becomes open, then, to truth – to actual reality as opposed to the storybook strategic realities of politics – but also to all manner of crackpot anxieties. even Hamlet, among history’s wisest minds, was driven near to madness by the awful truth communicated by his father’s ghost.