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fusion paranoia

from Mel Ayton’s Conspiracy Thinking and the John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King Assassinations:

There was always an inevitability in the linking of the assassinations to alleged ‘conspirators’. America is obsessed with conspiracy theories and a large proportion of the population believe there are conspiratorial answers to everything from the JFK assassination to the sightings of alien spacecraft. This has occurred because there is a general psychological tendency for people to think that a major or significant event must have been caused by something similarly major, significant or powerful. As historian Henry Steele Commager observed in the late 1960s, “There has come in recent years something that might be called a conspiracy psychology: a feeling that great events can’t be explained by ordinary processes. We are on the road to a paranoid explanation of things. The conspiracy theory, the conspiracy mentality, will not accept ordinary evidence…there’s some psychological requirement that forces them to reject the ordinary and find refuge in the extraordinary.”

An article in the American Journal of Psychology explains this phenomena as, “Humans naturally respond[ing] to events or situations which have had an emotional impact upon them by trying to make sense of those events, typically in values-laden spiritual, moral or political terms, though occasionally in scientific terms. Events which resist such interpretation—for example, because they are, in fact, senseless—can provoke the inquirer to have recourse to ever more extreme speculations, until one is reached that is capable of offering the inquirer the required emotional satisfaction. Once cognized, confirmation bias and avoidance of cognitive dissonance may reinforce the belief. In a context where conspiracy theory has become popular within a social group, communal reinforcement may equally play a part. As sociological historian Holger Herwig found in studying German explanations of World War I: ‘Those events that are most important are hardest to understand, because they attract the greatest attention from mythmakers and charlatans’.” Dr Patrick Leman of the Royal Holloway University of London also conducted research into the phenomenon. Leman said that conspiracy theories flower because people feel distanced from institutions of power so are more likely to distrust official accounts. Furthermore, he observed, the rise of the internet allows new theories to spread quickly and widely. (The Economist, 9.7.2004)

from Wikipedia’s entry on Conspiracy theory, subsection on Political use:

In his two volume work The Open Society and Its Enemies Popper used the term “conspiracy theory” to criticize the ideologies driving fascism, Nazism and communism. Popper argued that totalitarianism was founded on “conspiracy theories” which drew on imaginary plots driven by paranoid scenarios predicated on tribalism, racism or classism. Popper did not argue against the existence of everyday conspiracies (as incorrectly suggested in much of the later literature). Popper even uses the term “conspiracy” to describe ordinary political activity in the classical Athens of Plato (who was the principal target of his attack in The Open Society & Its Enemies).

In his critique of Marx and the twentieth century totalitarians, Popper wrote, “I do not wish to imply that conspiracies never happen. On the contrary, they are typical social phenomena.”[32]

He reiterated his point, “Conspiracies occur, it must be admitted. But the striking fact which, in spite of their occurrence, disproved the conspiracy theory is that few of these conspiracies are ultimately successful. Conspirators rarely consummate their conspiracy.”[32]

Popper proposed the term “the conspiracy theory of society” to criticize the methodology of Marx, Hitler and others whom he deemed to be deluded by “historicism” – the reduction of history to an overt and naive distortion via a crude formulaic analysis usually predicated on an agenda replete with unsound presuppositions.[33]

(fourth and final paragraph above now deleted from Wikipedia.)

from Wikipedia’s entry on Conspiracy theory, subsection on fusion paranoia:

Michael Kelly, a Washington Post journalist and critic of anti-war movements on both the left and right, coined the term “fusion paranoia” to refer to a political convergence of left-wing and right-wing activists around anti-war issues and civil liberties, which he claimed were motivated by a shared belief in conspiracism or anti-government views.

Social critics have adopted this term to refer to the synthesis of paranoid conspiracy theories, which were once limited to American fringe audiences, has given them mass appeal and enable them to become commonplace in mass media, thereby inaugurating an unrivaled popular culture of conspiracism in the U.S. of the late 20th and early 21st century. Some warn that this development in conspiracy theory may have negative effects on American political life, such as producerist demagogy and moral panic influencing elections as well as domestic and foreign policy.[14]

Daniel Pipes, a Jerusalem Post journalist, wrote in the 2004 article Fusion paranoia–A new twist in conspiracy theories:

Fears of a petty conspiracy – a political rival or business competitor plotting to do you harm – are as old as the human psyche. But fears of a grand conspiracy – that the Illuminati or Jews plan to take over the world – go back only 900 years and have been operational for just two centuries, since the French Revolution. Conspiracy theories grew in importance from then until World War II, when two arch-conspiracy theorists, Hitler and Stalin, faced off against each other, causing the greatest blood-letting in human history. This hideous spectacle sobered Americans, who in subsequent decades relegated conspiracy theories to the fringe, where mainly two groups promoted such ideas.

The politically disaffected: Blacks (Louis Farrakhan, Cynthia McKinney), the hard Right (John Birch Society, Pat Buchanan), and other alienated elements (Ross Perot, Lyndon LaRouche). Their theories imply a political agenda, but lack much of a following.

The culturally suspicious: These include “Kennedy assassinologists,” “ufologists,” and those who believe a reptilian race runs the earth and alien installations exist under the earth’s surface. Such themes enjoy enormous popularity (a year 2000 poll found 43 percent of Americans believing in UFOs), but carry no political agenda.

The major new development, reports Barkun, professor of political science in the Maxwell School at Syracuse University, is not just an erosion in the divisions between these two groups, but their joining forces with occultists, persons bored by rationalism. Occultists are drawn to what Barkun calls the “cultural dumping ground of the heretical, the scandalous, the unfashionable, and the dangerous” – such as spiritualism, Theosophy, alternative medicine, alchemy, and astrology. Thus, the author who worries about the Secret Service taking orders from the Bavarian Illuminati is old school; the one who worries about a “joint Reptilian-Bavarian Illuminati” takeover is at the cutting edge of the new synthesis. These bizarre notions constitute what the late Michael Kelly termed “fusion paranoia,” a promiscuous absorption of fears from any source whatsoever.

fand rom Daniel Pipes’ [Michael Barkun on] Old Conspiracies, New Beliefs, from NY Sun, following on the quote above:

The connection of conspiracy theorists and occultists follows from their common, crooked premises. First, “any widely accepted belief must necessarily be false.” Second, rejected knowledge — what the establishment spurns — must be true.

The result is a large, self-referential network. Flying saucer advocates promote anti-Jewish phobias. Anti-Semites channel in Peru. Some anti-Semites see extraterrestrials functioning as surrogate Jews; others believe the Protocols of the Elders of Zion are the joint product of “the Rothschilds and the reptile-Aryans.” By the late 1980s, Mr. Barkun found that “virtually all of the radical right’s ideas about the New World Order had found their way into UFO literature.”

Commentary: …of primary interest here is the example of large-self-referential networks developing out of simple rules.

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