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Jonathan Kay - Among the Truthers
Posted: 23 May 2011 09:36 PM   [ Ignore ]
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Host: Chris Mooney

From Birthers, to Truthers, to Deathers—to occasional Liars—America seems to be crawling right now with fevered conspiracy mongers. What’s up with that?

To find out, Point of Inquiry turns in this episode to Jonathan Kay, author of the new book Among the Truthers: A Journey into America’s Growing Conspiracist Underground. In it, Kay provides a fascinating look at some of our indigenous kooks, and why they seem to be thriving right now.

Jonathan Kay is the managing editor of Canada’s National Post newspaper and a weekly columnist for its op-ed page.

Kay’s writing covers a diversity of subjects, and he’s been published in a variety of outlets including Commentary, the New York Post, Reader’s Digest, and the New Yorker. In 2002, he was awarded Canada’s National Newspaper Award for Critical Writing, and in 2004 he won a National Newspaper Award for Editorial Writing.

http://www.pointofinquiry.org/jonathan_kay_among_the_truthers/

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Posted: 24 May 2011 12:57 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Thank you for another great episode. I always like episodes that have special relevance to current issues.

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Posted: 24 May 2011 02:50 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Great episode. Around 22:30 into the episode, Mr. Kay says that Truthers on the left and right agree on 99% of the details of 9/11 except for who organized the plot. He says, “It’s a textbook example of a phenomenon that has been observed throughout history… that the radical fringes of the left and the right tend to resemble each other.”

I disagree. I think it demonstrates how people mold the conspiracy theory to fit their existing viewpoint. It’s the usual cognitive biases, accepting facts or claims that fit their preferred narrative, forgetting or ignoring or de-emphasizing facts or claims that don’t fit their preferred narrative.

Anyway, the left/right spectrum doesn’t map political positions adequately. They need to be charted on an X, Y and maybe Z axis, at which point it becomes too complicated to make an easy or useful visualization. Unfortunately the left/right political spectrum is often used as part of a middle ground fallacy. I always imagine members of Mussolini’s fascists around maybe 1940 having a debate with members of the Nazi Party about differences in their specific party platforms, then one of them saying, “Gentlemen, please, we’ll find the middle ground between our two extremes.”

(Yeah, I think I just Godwinned.)

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Posted: 24 May 2011 09:33 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Was it just or did it sound like one of these two guys was playing a video game throughout the interview?

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Posted: 24 May 2011 11:27 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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The conspiracy theorists will stay nuts through the second Obama term it seems safe to say, but they should take comfort that it’s almost certain a white president will be elected in 2016.

Though I’m sure she’ll be subject to lots of conspiracy theories herself.

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Posted: 25 May 2011 01:16 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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As a Finnish person I’m especially interested in conspiracy theories as they are gaining ground in here also. With the political rise of the so called “True Finns” (Perussuomalaiset) it seems like conspiracy theories are everywhere.  (They incorporate extreme left and right.) It’s very frightening because it seems to go hand in hand with the so called “climate skepticism” and anti-scientific attitudes in general.

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Posted: 25 May 2011 05:50 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Eero T. Eloranta - 25 May 2011 01:16 AM

With the political rise of the so called “True Finns” (Perussuomalaiset) it seems like conspiracy theories are everywhere.

That’s funny. In English, there’s a fallacy known informally as No True Scotsman, when people basically define “True” to mean whatever characteristics they want.

Teacher: All Scotsmen enjoy haggis.
Student: My uncle is a Scotsman, and he doesn’t like haggis!
Teacher: Well, all true Scotsmen like haggis.

I assume the people calling themselves “True Finns” are guilty of the same fallacy.

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Posted: 25 May 2011 06:32 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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deidzoeb - 25 May 2011 05:50 AM
Eero T. Eloranta - 25 May 2011 01:16 AM

With the political rise of the so called “True Finns” (Perussuomalaiset) it seems like conspiracy theories are everywhere.

That’s funny. In English, there’s a fallacy known informally as No True Scotsman, when people basically define “True” to mean whatever characteristics they want.

Teacher: All Scotsmen enjoy haggis.
Student: My uncle is a Scotsman, and he doesn’t like haggis!
Teacher: Well, all true Scotsmen like haggis.

I assume the people calling themselves “True Finns” are guilty of the same fallacy.

My English is limited but I know “No True Scotsman” and I believe it is a fallacy in Finnish also. smile It must not be related to the language we use.

“True Finn” is not an accurate translation. Actually it would be like “Common Finnish Folk”. It’s stupid anyway. smile

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Posted: 25 May 2011 10:28 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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It would have been useful to indicate clearly that Mr Kay is an ideologically-oriented writer, and not a dispassionate journalist. He works for the clearly right-wing National Post, which I would characterize as somewhere between Fox News and the Washington Times in tenor (although it’s much more polished in appearance). His animus towards the left was quite clear, as much as his willingness to excuse the right.

Other than that, it was a good show, with many good points made.

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Posted: 25 May 2011 11:58 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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The notion that the good old days when news could only be gotten from the corporate media was a better time was fairly amusing.
What’s a conspiracy? Any group of people meeting with an agenda behind closed doors are basically conspiring. The question is which of these is believable or not based on the evidence.
The notion that Americans should just eat up whatever the media throws at them is just silly at this point.
The fact that Iraq was invaded in response to 9/11 is enough to show that some conspiracies just exist period.
As for 911 itself, who knows if the government didn’t just let it happen? There is plenty of evidence that they were warned about it and yet the entire protocol to deal with this sort of thing just failed miserably… maybe. The notion that WTC 7 fell on it’s own is hard to take with a straight face. 
I also enjoyed the way Chris and the guest were sort of struggling to admit that Chomsky (are they even fit to wash is feet, intellectually speaking?) was no truther even though they don’t agree with him on other issues (which, and why we will never know).

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Posted: 25 May 2011 01:19 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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Did Denis Robert and I listen to the same podcast? Kay was very critical of the right and somewhat critical of the left conspiracy theorists. I take Kay for what he says and how persuasive he is and don’t automatically write him off as biased because the paper(s) he writes for don’t exactly fit my political persuasion. This was one of the best interviews in a long time.

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Posted: 25 May 2011 11:51 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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pjbourque - 25 May 2011 01:19 PM

Did Denis Robert and I listen to the same podcast? Kay was very critical of the right and somewhat critical of the left conspiracy theorists. I take Kay for what he says and how persuasive he is and don’t automatically write him off as biased because the paper(s) he writes for don’t exactly fit my political persuasion. This was one of the best interviews in a long time.

No, you apparently did not hear the same podcast.
Kay seemed to me to almost entirely focused on conspiracy theories from “the left” when he stated and restated 911, Iraq, Afghanistan (2x, not again and again, and again) as the examples of topics for conspiracy theories. This seemed to continue until well past the 20 minute mark. In the remaining minutes jabs to the right were criticisms of what seemed to be a narrow group of (Ron Paul) Libertarians, and finally the birthers. So i can see how the other poster might not agree that Kay was very critical of the right and somewhat critical of the left.

And to a person that would call oneself a “progressive” or liberal, it would seem odd for Kay to focus on how the left has a “responsibility” for the flourishing of conspiracy theories side by side the influence of AM radio and Cable News (Fox maybe?). As best i could transcribe and paraphrase what he said—

“They talk about AM radio, they talk about Glen Beck on the right and how the right has become amenable to conspiracy theories. I did think it was important to my book that the left is not blameless here.”
“And i did give some examples, i think it was in chapter 9 of my book, of showing scholars who had attended conferences and voiced full fledged conspiracy theories, whose theories were even published in journals. You can say this is a fringe phenomenon ... and to the extent they were popular they are not popular now .... yet to a certain extent a whole generation of scholars especially in modern languages and the liberal arts more generally was raised on the idea that you should give some deference to other peoples construction of reality. Especially if those people come from a different social class, or from a different race.
So there has been some resistance, at least in some cohort of scholars, to really emphasize the idea of a single reality and to debunk people who clearly depart from that. There is a little bit of romanticism of people who have so called alternative narratives.
I encountered this when i went to law school, in the mid 90’s, although even by then it was dying out a little bit then. So i think its influence is less than - say - talk radio and cable news, but there is a certain faction of the intellectual left that i think were influenced by this a little bit.”

Mooney—fair enough, it is a part of intellectual history and we can mark it that way.

(with a chuckle, perhaps to avoid calling out his guest’s use of this reason for including this as a criticism of the left for some sort of balance(?). That these ideas are held by some, and now fewer, and were dying out, but it influences a certain faction of the intellectual left a little bit.)

This is compared to (balanced against?) the influence of talk radio and cable news, and Glen Beck(!?) on the tendency of politically right-leaning folk’s inclination to accept conspiracy theories?

“The idea that you should give some deference to other peoples construction of reality” is not necessarily an example of postmodernism.
Rather, it may instead be a gentle attempt to encourage people who believe that “there is a RIGHT and a WRONG by GOD and I learned it the right way at or across my Father’s knee” to imagine/understand and maybe even attempt to see how events, actions and such could/would be perceived differently through the lens of another persons world view (e.g. see George Lakoff, strict father vs nuturing parent morality).

sorry for my silly screen name. i did not realize that folk here use ‘real names’. i do not post anywhere often.
i fear that the above will be revealed to be a horribly illiterate and confused attempt to communicate come morning. at least i hope it will be seen as an attempt to communicate.

at least i didn’t mention Hitler.

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Posted: 26 May 2011 02:25 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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So apparently anyone who questions the official version of 9/11 is a “Truther” “nut”? That doesn’t seem very fair, when you consider how little evidence there really is for the official story. And as Jack Lewis points out, WT7 is very hard to explain, unless you just “go with it” in an almost faith-based way (isn’t that something we don’t like around here?).

It just seems unfair to me. Why believe the Bush administration’s story? We didn’t trust them on anything else.

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Posted: 26 May 2011 02:34 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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Because a conspiracy of that magnitude would be impossible to pull off. Plus there is no motive for it.

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“What people do is they confuse cynicism with skepticism. Cynicism is ‘you can’t change anything, everything sucks, there’s no point to anything.’ Skepticism is, ‘well, I’m not so sure.’” -Bill Nye

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Posted: 26 May 2011 03:38 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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I don’t see why Chris Mooney is bothered by the reference to postmodernism.  I think that postmodernism has had an insidious effect on a great deal of the thinking and dialog that goes on is this country often without the perpetrator even realizing it.  I hear it, see it all the time.  I’m not certain that postmodernism has much to do with these conspiracy theories but I don’t see why Mooney has a pet peeve about mentioning it…?

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Posted: 26 May 2011 03:54 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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I think that Mooney and Kay might do well to think about the distinction between IQ and “CTQ” (Critical Thinking Quotient, to coin a term).  When discussing how some of these conspiracy people may have higher IQs then the general population it ignores the possibility that they have very low “CTQ"s, which is my suspicion.  I’ve talked to conspiracy fans and often find that they’re very susceptible to such things as logical fallacies.

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