By Don Pelton
Idiocy, crackpot ideas and fringe beliefs are nothing new. Greece, Rome and Egypt probably all had their archaic versions of Todd Akin and Michelle Bachman. But — except when they became an emperor or queen — their ideas rarely gained traction or currency. So why is it today that almost any insane or crackpot idea — whether rightwing, leftwing or both — can find a constituency of thousands and sometimes of millions?
There’s a judge down in Lubbock County, Texas, who wants to implement a local tax to prepare for the inevitable civil war when Obama is re-elected and the United Nations invades the United States. There’s evidence that he’s not alone in this belief.
The good judge is only expressing the logical conclusion that follows from the widespread paranoia about the UN’s Agenda 21 initiative, an entirely voluntary set of policy recommendations to achieve sustainability at the local level, but which the anti-Agenda 21 hysterics are convinced is a vast left-wing socialist conspiracy to take over the United States.
Anti-Agenda 21 paranoia is widespread and growing. Our neighbor city, Colfax, recently had an anti-Agenda 21 resolution on its city council agenda.
And, from what I can tell since we moved to Nevada County after the infamous NH2020 debacle, that brouhaha was driven by the same paranoid property rights and anti-environmental fanaticism that now drives the anti-Agenda 21 hysteria.
One fascinating aspect of this modern style of crackpottery is that it is often dressed-up convincingly as intelligence. An example is an anti-Agenda 21 video series that the Gold Country Tea Party Patriots produced from a presentation done by Michael Shaw of Freedom Advocates. Shaw is a sort of Johnny Appleseed of the anti-Agenda 21 movement. Individual property rights are his religion, and globalism is his Devil.
In his critique of our local Sierra Business Council (tape 5 of his video series), Shaw says that the man-made “global warming fraud” is being used as an excuse to implement globalism, which will remove property rights and allow the government to “herd people around like cattle.”
“Globalism is socialism,” Shaw says. “It’s communism.”
So, why would I say that Shaw comes across as intelligent? Take a look at the video production values. As one who has done some video editing using the amazing professional quality software available to average consumers, I was very impressed by the slick editing of the Shaw videos: picture-in-picture of the speaker while showing his slides, smooth professional scene transitions, quality titles and captions, etc. The Freedom Advocates webpage and the Gold Country Tea Party webpage also look polished and professional.
Shaw himself is facile in the use of language and knows how to craft compelling sentences full of the sort of imagery that resonates with his audience, whose Tea Party sensibilities he seems to reflect. But, while Shaw is articulate in his own way, he is weak in the ideas department, a weakness clearly not apparent to his fans.
The most stupefying illogicality in Shaw’s thinking is the notion that globalism in the form of the United Nations is an existential threat to the United States, whereas globalism in the form of the overweening power of corporations is apparently not a problem.
It’s depressingly easy to find other examples of crackpottery disguised as intelligence.
Locally, Nevada County has one of the highest levels of immunization non-compliance among all the counties in California. I have friends on the left, very intelligent in most other respects, who will never subject their children or themselves to any sort of vaccination.
In various counties around the state, widespread immunization non-compliance correlates powerfully with the re-emergence of such previously well-controlled and potentially fatal childhood diseases as pertussis (whooping cough).
Vaccines in the 20th century were responsible for the near-eradication of polio, smallpox and measles, and were high on the list of significant reasons for the increase in life expectancy at birth among U.S. residents by 62%, from 47.3 years in 1900 to 76.8 in 2000. And yet today’s vaccination refusers seem unable to appreciate the significance of that fact.
As so often happens with the good things in modern life, immunization is the victim of its own success. Although, in this case, the victim is the community at large.
When I recently pointed out to one of our clever non-compliant acquaintances that he was not properly taking into account the importance of herd-immunity , he looked blank and continued his dissertation on the evils of vaccination. Herd immunity is the aggregate level of immunity in a population. It synergistically gives an increment of added blanket protection to each individual in that community, thus compensating in part for the relatively lower effectiveness of vaccination in some individual cases.
In a simple example, because of herd immunity a non-vaccinated child in a classroom full of vaccinated children is sometimes better protected than a vaccinated child in a classroom full of non-vaccinated children.
A related notion I’ve often heard expressed by the same group of vaccine refusers is that all of the alarms about swine flu and threats of another 1918-style devastating H1N1 pandemic are nothing but fear-mongering that (1) will be used by Big Pharma to sell more drugs, or (2) will be used as a justification to impose a national mandate requiring all Americans to get the swine flu vaccine, or (3) will be used by the President to declare a state of emergency and pass control of our society to the United Nations.
Many of today’s most conspicuous crackpot conspiracy theories involve fairytales about Barak Obama, all of which are given more currency by being widely disseminated on the Internet:
- Barak Obama deliberately orchestrated episodes of gun violence (Aurora, Colorado,the Sikh temple, “Fast and Furious” at the Mexican border) in order to have an excuse to take away our guns.
- Obama is using the Social Security number of a deceased person
- Nobody remembers Obama at Columbia College
- Obama’s memoir, Dream From My Father, was ghostwritten by Bill Ayers
Both the political right and left have promulgated the Obama-orchestrated gun-violence conspiracy theory.
A friend of a relative recently told us that Obama is secretly funding Occupy Wall Street.
I’ve heard some of our friends on the left repeat — on Facebook and in person — the chemtrails conspiracy theory, the notion that the government is spraying biological agents from airplanes at high altitudes as part of a nefarious experiment on the American people, or possibly for population control.
And “so it goes,” as Kurt Vonnegut famously repeated in order to describe a world — our world — in which the completely weird had become banal and ordinary.
There should be a special phrase or term for crackpottery so amplified by the Internet that it begins to resemble intelligence.
Perhaps “crackpottery squared” or “crackpottery2” would do.
Some media analysts lay the blame for this promulgation of crackpottery on the “democratization of information.”
Others point to the “information silo,” which allows for a kind of parochial ghetto within the Internet city of information, where crackpottery can flourish.
And so it goes.