It’s not okay to be a grown adult in 2022 and believe we’re seeing an unprecedented wave of censorship because the European Union, Silicon Valley megacorporations and TV service providers want to protect everyone from “disinformation”. – Caitlin Johnstone
Belief means not wanting to know what is true. – Friedrich Nietzsche
Centrists and liberals are not the only ones to use the phrase “conspiracy theory” to de-legitimize ideas further out on the spectrum than they are comfortable with. Many progressives, for example, are disappointed with Noam Chomsky, both for ridiculing the 9/11 Truth movement as well as for not questioning the “single gunman” narrative of the Kennedy assassination.
But as always, my greater interest is in considering the mythological implications, because our attitudes, prejudices, ignorance and naiveté are determined by the unconscious ways in which we attend to our American myths. And to do that, we have to look at how the left also engages in false equivalencies. Sorry, no Greek myths here.
Throughout almost all American history, the witch-hunts and hysteria that crop up every generation have mobilized the right wing, especially those males who could be manipulated into identifying as white rather than as working class.
Or at least until after World War Two. Perhaps it began with the fluoridation dispute in the 1950s. It picked up intensity with the political assassinations and blossomed fully after 9-11, when many serious, good-hearted, influential progressives (including Chomsky) demonized some of their brethren who dared to articulate the latest “conspiracy theory.” Later, Tim Wise, a profoundly important activist and writer, exploded in maximal sarcasm:
So please, stay at home 24/7, insisting to yourself and all who will listen about how vaccinations are the cause of autism and how Tower 7 was brought down by Dick Cheney or whatever, and how hyper-oxygenation can cure HIV/AIDS (or at least it would, if HIV/AIDS really existed which it doesn’t of course), and how everything – yes everything – is a “false flag” because Alex Jones said so after skipping his meds for like a month. So there was no Sandy Hook shooting, and no 9/11, and no attack on the Pentagon and all those folks who supposedly died are hanging out on an island like in “Lost” where they are fed and cared for by the NSA and CIA, along with those folks who faked the moon landing and the curvature of the Earth. Oh and while doing this…claim to be a progressive or leftist or radical. Because saying it makes it true!
Tim Wise is a good man who is justifiably angry and extremely articulate within his areas of expertise – racism and white privilege. And I’m not saying that he’s wrong (the broader issue, once again, is not about right and wrong; it’s about innocence and experience.) But look at the language of FE, how he lumps progressives who question certain dominant paradigms that he takes for granted together with right-wing loonies. In his mind they all deserve nothing but ridicule. And I’ve found that his opinions, and worse, his tone, are quite characteristic of countless opinion pieces we’ve all seen in the liberal media. Since the advent of Covid and the Ukraine war, the sarcasm and the circular firing squads have reached pandemic proportions. But we do need to notice when progressives do this.
Ridicule is a tool of the gatekeepers. The Tim Wise quote is too far over the top to characterize “reasonable” (NYT, etc) opinion, but its intention is the same: to marginalize people rather than engage with them.
When did sarcasm ever change anyone’s mind? Is his screed even intended to be read by people who don’t agree with him? This is an important question, since practically all right-wing – and most liberal – rhetoric amounts to nothing more than preaching to one’s choir. It’s the real equivalency of politics and entertainment that we have gradually come to expect from our media.
To use gatekeeping language is to marginalize other people, and in the world of polar opposites, either you are with him on every single issue, or you can’t be trusted on any issue. Change the terminology just a little, and we are back in the language of the American frontier, where you are either among the elect inside the pale of the innocent community, or you represent the dark (ironic, considering Tim’s huge heart on the race issue) evil on the outside that is inscrutable: we just can’t understand why they hate us. And in American myth, evil is so, well, evil that it must be utterly and permanently obliterated and removed from memory. There is no middle ground.
This is the language of a demythologized world, in which subtle nuance (supposedly something that progressives claim to support) has been replaced by dualistic language. However, as I write in Chapter One of my book:
The Aramaic word spoken by Jesus and translated into Greek as diabolos and into English as “evil” actually means “unripe.” What if we used “unripe” instead of “evil?” “Unripe” persons are simply immature. Aren’t communities responsible for helping them “ripen,” rather than punishing or eradicating them?
It’s the language of Fox News. And worse: they want him to sound shrill. It makes their work that much easier. It assists in their broader intentions, to convince more and more of us to simply turn off to the cacophony of bitterness and ranting. Tim Wise is really much better than that.
The language of ridicule reveals how leftists can also engage in FEs. Most of the progressive print and online voices that I read have got on board the “ridicule the anti-vaxxers” train, and in a very specific way. They have bought the gatekeeper line that actually lumps many legitimate anti-corporate, anti-military dissenters together with Tea Party loonies simply because of their common views on vaccination.
This particular smear campaign has succeeded; many progressives seem to view the vaccination issue as just another left/right dispute, and so they no longer need to think about it. If they were experiencing anxiety over this issue (as we all do when our mythic assumptions are called into question), now their anxiety has been reduced. But the myth of American innocence is inherently unstable. Like any other addiction (alcoholism, consumerism, fundamentalism, Marxism, libertarianism, workaholism and our greatest addiction of all, fear), it has very little nutritional capacity and must be constantly fed. But I insist this issue is most certainly not about right and left.
And keep in mind that it was the CIA that coined the phrase, “conspiracy theorist,” and only when it perceived the need to marginalize those who were questioning the official story of the Kennedy assassination.
Why are so many progressives vehemently pro-vaccination and dismissive of alternate thinking on the matter? Perhaps because, as “secular humanists,” their religion is reason or rationality, and its dogma is science. Their world is explained by science rather than by the word of a deity. However, as with all dying mythologies, once a single facet of the dogma is questioned or shown to be imperfect, the entire theology is also called into question. The fear of such a chaotic universe is so strong that it overrides the strong evidence of both the massive corruption of science that is as strong as the corruption of the Catholic Church as well as the fact that many vaccine skeptics (all the ones I know) are not universally opposed to vaccines, only to the ones (or the combinations) they consider dangerous.
Indeed, perhaps many progressives refuse to let go of the belief in progress itself, which inevitably assumes the necessity of perpetual economic growth – on a planet that is rapidly approaching terminal limits and a collapsing ecosystem. Belief in progress conflicts with all our environmental concerns.
Perhaps progressives should agree on a different term to describe ourselves.
What to believe? How do we explain that many who question the dominant narrative on the Kennedy assassinations and 9-11 are right-wingers, just as many progressives refuse to get vaccinated and countless New Age people continue to support Trumpus? I’m less interested in answering these questions and more interested in pursuing the issue of belief itself, as I do in another series. As I write in Chapter One of my book,
Since monotheism rejects ambiguity and diversity, it requires belief, which implies not merely a single set of truths but also the obligation to convert – or eliminate – others. It invites misogyny, aggression, hatred of the body and a single creation myth.
Are you a believer – in religion or in science (a better term in this context would be scientism)? I’m reminded of those many examples of virulent anti-Catholics and anti-Communists who had previously been extreme believers in those causes. Switching from pro- to anti-, they may have simply turned the sights of their addictive personalities onto different targets. Charles Eisenstein writes:
To leap from one certainty to another skips the holy ground of uncertainty, of not knowing, of humility, into which genuinely new information can come. What unites the pundits of all persuasions is their certainty. Who is trustworthy? In the end, it is the person with the humility to recognize when he or she has been wrong.
Or, as Caroline Casey says, believe nothing; entertain possibilities.