Conspiracy Theories and Paranoia

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Conspiracy theories don’t just exist on the fringes of society—they’ve has always been part of our national identity, argues Jesse Walker. He presents a history of conspiracy theories in American culture and politics, from the colonial era to the War on Terror. The United States of Paranoia: A Conspiracy Theory shows how they reflect the anxieties and experiences of the people who believe them, even if they’ve unfounded and untrue.


Jesse Walker

Comments [27]

A.M. from NYC

Mick from Inwood, very insightful. And brilliantly put. Thank you. I also agree with Mel.

Sep. 10 2013 09:42 AM

Well, some people think gangstalking is just a conspiracy theory but it is real and appears to be a government program of bullying and abuse.

Aug. 29 2013 11:52 PM
John A

Amy: typos just make me think 'unpaid interns in a fast-media world'. See BLshow's treatment on fast-food employees this morn.
Noach: valuable as always. I could make time to go hear your Rabbi speak, and I'm not Jewish.

Aug. 29 2013 02:06 PM
Amy from Manhattan

To the screener or whoever is responsible for this: I think "Miscellaneous" is talking about "they've has always been" on lines 1-2 of the description of this segment, both on the overall page for today's program (line 2 only) & on this page. The word "has" should be deleted.

Aug. 29 2013 01:45 PM
henry from md

@Independent Noach, your suggestion that we as Jews stand up and denounce all crimes, even financial ones committed by Jews (there are many non-Jews involved too, you forgot to mention). If no one stood up against them it may be due to the possibility that some of those same people may be donors in the institutional world (just a speculation).

Besides, you forgot to mention the disproportionality of Jews in the scientific and art world (esp literature) as reflected by Nobel Prize winners.

Aug. 29 2013 01:34 PM
henry from md

The age old slanderous accusations against Jews-fomented by The Church (an institution engendered by its Jewish mother religion) has carried us into the catastrophic situation we face today, the possibility of wiping much of ourselves out if we can't find a better way of overcoming hatred as a driving force of human history.

It was anti-Semitism, seeded and fostered by the Church (over and above the Versailles Treaty) which led to Hitler's victory and following that to WW II and the nuclear age. We stand face to face with our past. Can we recover from it?

Aug. 29 2013 01:13 PM

(With the preface that I myself am an Orthodox Jew)

Jews make-up not more than 2% or so of the U.S. population, right?

Yet, fully one-third of the Supreme Court Justices are of Jewish descent. And we find similar disproportionality in the Senate, House and throughout most of government, don't we ?

Even worse, is the disproportionate number of the most powerful predatory "banksters" and the like who are Jewish.

Let me be clear: Of the various explanations for this striking disproptionately, a "Jewish conspiracy" to control the world is not one of them. That much is for certain. But given the striking disproportionality I cite, is it really so unreasonable or irrational for people-- esp. those who are ignorant and poorly-educated-- to suspect a Jewish conspiracy?

As a Jew, I have gradually and painfully become convinced that it is not entirely unreasonable and more importantly, that we, as Jews, would do well to:
- recognize and acknowledge this, publically, and,
- condemn and renounce crimes, esp. financial ones, committed by Jews, and make it clear that they are not representative of Judaism *

- Likewise for the culturally and morally corrupting and corrosive policies that (secular) Jews disproportionally support (such as unrestricted abortion-on-demand and the "LGBTQ" agenda)

*The Torah actually uses the same word "toeivah"; abomination, to refer to the use of dishonest weights and measures, that it does to refer to the vile, dangerous act of buggery.

Aug. 29 2013 01:02 PM
jgarbuz from Queens

But now, thanks to science, we know that we live in a totally random, totally purposeless universe where there is no "meaning" in anything. Things just happen. There is no "meaning" in any of it. The mind seeks purpose, but there is no purpose. There is only the HOW, not the WHY. Science can only try to answer HOW things are happening, but not why. Because there is no why, but only how. Things happen randomly, and the things that work best survive for a while. That's called Evolution. The configurations that have some success survive another day.

Aug. 29 2013 12:44 PM
mick from Inwood

People who commit criminal acts sometimes do not act alone. And not all accounts of crimes that have been labeled "conspiracy theories" posit all encompassing explanations of all the ills of the world. If the acts are related to some kinds of crime...traffic in illegal drugs for example, people involved are frequently indicted and tried for conspiracy to commit those acts. When events surrounding a successful crime are ambiguous or would seem to demand either an individual perpetrator with luck of a statistically highly improbably order, or the involvement of other actors (who could be prosecuted for conspiracy in that act under US law) should inquiry into a more probable cause be stopped with the label "conspiracy theory"? I believe that most "conspiracy theories" are paranoid delusions or pass times for the discontent, but I find it troubling when a line inquiry can be stopped by labeling it a conspiracy theory.

Aug. 29 2013 12:42 PM
John A

When you're the top predator around, as are humans on earth, the only predator to fear is other humans. Trying to live with no fear, period, is a way out.

Aug. 29 2013 12:37 PM
jgarbuz from Queens

To Joseph from Queens

Well the Jews are possibly one of the few if not only people in history which wrote sagas and stories about themselves that were so critical of themselves. What other people wrote self-critical histories or sagas? Mainly, because the Jews were the first people to believe in a one-god system, it means that if that if something bad happened to your people, it meant that that god was angry with you. Because you had "sinned." You had done something displeasing. So along with one god, the Jews invented sin and guilt :) If bad things are happening, it could only mean that god is punishing you because you were "bad." This idea was passed on into Christianity and to the pagan peoples who came under it. A one-god system means that you must be bad if god is doing bad things to you. This was not so obvious in a polytheistic system, where maybe your god was just weak and couldn't protect you from enemy gods.

Aug. 29 2013 12:37 PM
Richard from levittown

With advances in brain science, DNA, etc. There is a growing question about the role of "conspiracy" theories and the function of the brain in certain individuals. Hope the author will address this issue.

Aug. 29 2013 12:34 PM
Wayne Johnson Ph.D. from Bk

Child sexual abuse conspiracy theories abound in contemporary culture. In The Macmartin School case and The Little Rascals Day Care center accusations that children were taken on spaceships and abused in underground tunnels were given credence. In virtually all these cases (83 out of 85) charges were dropped or alleged perpetrators acquitted. It is clearly the new hysteria, symbolized by the false allegations sent by Tweets in the Steubenville case in Ohio.

Aug. 29 2013 12:32 PM
Russ from Harlem

@ fuva .... fear of a black/brown planet.. which it is.....

Aug. 29 2013 12:31 PM
Miscellaneous from NYC

Screener: You have a typo on the front page. Copyediting is important, even on line.

Aug. 29 2013 12:29 PM

I can understand the Catholics being considered a category as its reciprocal is their presumed nemesis the Masons. But please explain the author's claim of the Indians?

Aug. 29 2013 12:29 PM
John A

Interesting to recall that antigovernment fantasy media of decades ago Predated the Watergate revelations.

Aug. 29 2013 12:27 PM

Do we need a conspiracy theory to suspect Reason Magazine, and it's employees, including this one, of vested interests -- since it gets Koch brothers funding?

Aug. 29 2013 12:25 PM
Anthony Drago from Jackson Heights, NY

I am waiting to hear Richard Hofstadter's 1963 essay "The Paranoid Style in American Politics," mentioned in this discussion. Hofstadter deserves credit for focusing on the paranoid tendencies in American politics, as I am sure your guest would be the first to acknowledge.

Aug. 29 2013 12:25 PM
Joseph from Queens

Jgarbuz isn't it ironic ? that Jews get accused by the very book and sentiments that they wrought.... the old testament
even the new testament was written by Jews ... I believe this all goes back to religion and that evil / good view of the world that the Biblical religions forces the mindset that accepts that into...

Aug. 29 2013 12:22 PM
MC from Manhattan

I have never seen anything like the Salem Witch trials outside of European Culture... it would be interesting to see if these sorts of psychotic cultural manefestations occur world wide

outside of religious world views and to that point perhaps it is the conspiracy of the god/satan dualism that brings this about

Aug. 29 2013 12:18 PM
fuva from harlemworld

Black folks' conspiracy theories -- even when wrong -- are rarely farfetched.

Aug. 29 2013 12:18 PM
fuva from harlemworld

Black folks' conspiracy theories -- even when wrong -- are rarely farfetched.

Aug. 29 2013 12:18 PM
jgarbuz from Queens

The most ancient and powerful and destructive conspiracy theory of all has been the ongoing one that the Jews are a conspiracy against everyone else. And this has created thousands of years of Jewish paranoia resulting from thousands of years of persecution or at he very least suspicion.

Aug. 29 2013 12:17 PM
Anonymous from Park Slope

Negative, if you are going to perpetuate a lie at least get is straight..HIV/Aids was considered a war against homosexuality.

Aug. 29 2013 12:14 PM
John A

What a horror to have to report, huh? If someone counted the number of conspiracy theories with more than 10,000 adherents, the number would probably be over 500.

Aug. 29 2013 12:14 PM
Ed from Larchmont

The birther theory isn't a conspiracy theory - it's a claim of fact.

Aug. 29 2013 12:12 PM

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