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Once Upon a Paranoid Time (In America): Part Three -- Tilting at the Windmills of Empire

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The Eye of Providence (Conspiracy Theory)
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Dedicated to Gary Webb (RIP 2004)

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If a conspiracy theory is simply a theory which posits a conspiracy, then every politically and historically literate person is a big-time conspiracy theorist, since every such person subscribes to a vast range of conspiracy theories. That is, historically literate people believe organised bodies of propositions that explain alleged facts by positing conspiracies. [T]here are many facts which admit of no non-conspiratorial explanation and many conspiracy theories that are well established to qualify as knowledge. This affords us a deductive argument for the claim that it is not irrational to believe in some conspiracy theories, an argument that proceeds from premises that it is difficult to rationally deny.

Extract from: Conspiracy Theories and the Conventional Wisdom Revisited - Charles Pigden 2014

An examination of history reveals a persistent thread of convenient tragedy linked to the turning points of the fates of nations. And, in the smoke of the funeral pyre, not all the faces are crying. Filmmaker Oliver Stone

Some circumstantial evidence does exist, such as when you find a trout in the milk. Henry David Thoreau

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The Movements of Suspicious Discontent

Although possibly in the minority, history is littered with the mortal remains of outliers who courageously defied the 'received ignorance' of the era and/or rejected the rigid beliefs and entrenched prejudices of their contemporaries, only to have the passage of time vindicate, elevate and then revere them on the one hand and -- on the other -- relegate and condemn their detractors and persecutors to the trash bin of that same history. Oh what might have been then for humanity and the civilised world had the 'history' of the era listened more closely to the "outliers" and paid less attention to their detractors and defended them from their persecutors.

Doubtless these "outliers" included many a derided, put-upon, loony-toon conspiracy theorist.

With this opening in mind, a word or three about conspiracies in the context of the overarching American historical narrative and ongoing geo-political discourse is apposite. At the outset, no discussion of conspiracy would be complete without reference to U.S. historian Richard Hofstadter, a man who, as far back as 1964, famously identified what he called the 'Paranoid Style in American Politics'.

First published in Harper's Magazine in 1964, this article is considered one of the most influential in the iconic magazine's history, which, in and of itself, is a significant pointer to the centrality and endurance of conspiracy in the American political narrative. In this seminal work, Hofstadter defined conspiracy theory pejoratively and attached negative connotations to those predisposed to theorizing about all manner of institutional and political malfeasance, even before the spooks at Langley began tinkering with it.

In "Paranoid Style" Hofstadter openly declares the phrase is "meant to be" viewed pejoratively. After noting that "the paranoid style has a greater affinity for bad causes than good", Hofstadter goes on to say that, "[the] style has more to do with the way in which ideas are believed than with the truth or falsity of their content". As he said, he was

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"... [more] interested in getting at our political psychology through our political rhetoric. The paranoid style is an old and recurrent phenomenon in our public life which has been frequently linked with movements of suspicious discontent" [my emphasis].

Although clearly not a fan of the conspiracy construct as a useful guide to history then, it would still be interesting to speculate on what Hofstadter, if he was still on the right side of the grass that is, might have to say now about our "political psychology" and how it has evolved since his heyday. This might especially be so as it relates to our "political rhetoric" and, in fact, the whole nine yards of the global politico-economic zeitgeist. All of which is to say we know a hell of a lot more now about the crypto-statists predisposition for deception, duplicity, disinformation along with subterfuge, [and for] secretive, subversive behaviour and "institutional malfeasance" than we did back in 1964. In so many ways and on so many levels, we are where we are because of it!

And if we do indeed know more about this "predisposition" and its effects on the course of history, it would be then largely -- and thankfully we might say -- because of the "movements of suspicious discontent" that Hofstadter so easily and breezily derided. Two examples suffice to support this. It is precisely because of these "movements" that many more Americans believe there was a conspiracy to off President John Kennedy than don't, with those that still accept the official 'conspiracy theory' of 9/11 being in the minority.

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Greg Maybury is a Perth (Australia) based freelance writer. His main areas of interest are American history and politics in general, with a special focus on economic, national security, military and geopolitical affairs, and both US domestic and (more...)

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