That squeal of joy you might have heard last night about the time the polls closed? That was me, sorry.
Just the fact that we can close the book on this election (and possibly burn it—let’s be honest; this was offensive all around) is enough to keep me doing a happy dance for about a week. However, a week is about all it will last, as it seems far too many people succumbed to not only negative campaigning, but complete fabrication … not that it matters, though, as apparently fact-checking is a liberal conspiracy. Plus there’s that backlog of letters put on hold because of the election, and those I just couldn’t fit in to think about …
I’ve been concerned for quite a while now that our electorate would bow to fear-mongerers and vote for people who have no business in elected office, and sadly, I was right to be concerned. It’s not always good to be right.
The attorney general for a state, for instance, is supposed to give state leaders legal counsel and protect the interests of the state and its citizens. However, in the past few years several state attorneys general have decided instead to spend time using state funds to fight the federal government at a time when many states are struggling (not all states have laws mandating a balanced budget).
As Texas attorney general, Republican gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott, for example, has boasted that he’s filed 30 (or is it 31?) lawsuits against the Obama administration. Somehow I doubt that he’s mentioned the cost to state taxpayers in the neighborhood of $3 billion, or the fact that most have been embarrassing losses. Leslie Rutledge, the Republican candidate for Arkansas’ attorney general (at the time of this writing ahead in the votes), promised throughout the campaign (when she wasn’t whining about “liberal plots” to take her down) to spend her time fighting Barack Obama as well.
This makes sense how?
But hope springs eternal; I could easily be wrong and/or overly cynical. Or I could be right … and over in the corner, weeping. No politician should be proud of the conduct in this election, but those who won on the basis of fear and lies should really be ashamed.
A little bit of skepticism is healthy and necessary in this world, as is a touch of paranoia (a paranoid cat, for example, can be hilarious … though perhaps not at 3 a.m.).
But when every moment is dictated by fear … yeah, you have a problem.
Unfortunately, that’s what happens with a lot of conspiracy theorists … who hate that term, by the way. Google “debunking the debunkers” and marvel at the arguments employed. Sadly, like in politics, much of it is smoke and mirrors, straw men and logical fallacies and, also like in politics, they don’t take it well when challenged with evidence.
Caitlin Shure of Scientific American notes that despite conspiracy adherents’ claims of logic, scientific theory and conspiracy theory differ in one very important way:
“Scientific theories, by definition, must be falsifiable. That is, they must make reliable predictions about the world; and if those predictions turn out to be incorrect, the theory can be declared false. Conspiracy theories, on the other hand, are tough to disprove. Their proponents can make the theories increasingly elaborate to accommodate new observations; and, ultimately, any information contradicting a conspiracy theory can be answered with, ‘Well sure, that’s what they want you to think.’”
I’ve never said conspiracies don’t exist, because they certainly do; they’re just rarely as convoluted, far-reaching or diabolical as the stories that make the rounds. It’s the ones proved conclusively wrong, the myths that continue to proliferate, that cause a problem. Their defenders are vociferous and unlikely to be dissuaded.
They are the “scary world” theory (known to research geeks as George Gerbner’s “mean world” cultivation theory) writ large.
Not everything is a conspiracy, nor are there nefarious plotters everywhere. Terminator and 1984 are fiction, though more believable than many ideas out there.
And let’s be clear: A conspiracy involves a secret organized effort of two or more people, not simply random events and people strung together (cue the “coincidence theorist” line).
If a conspiracy theory has yet to be proved right or wrong, it’s still just a theory. If it’s been proved wrong (yet still passed around as truth), it’s a myth.
If it’s been proved correct by actual evidence rather than supposition, then it’s a conspiracy. Iran-Contra; the failed plots to assassinate Hitler; the Treasury Department poisoning alcohol during Prohibition; Watergate; Operation Northwoods, a plan which, as a pretext to war, would blame bombings to take place in the U.S. on Cuba (but was rejected by President Kennedy); the Prism surveillance program—all conspiracies with varying degrees of success, all found out.
Claims of George W. Bush racism in the Hurricane Katrina response in 2005? That doesn’t even really qualify as a conspiracy theory; it’s merely trying to explain behavior and linking it to government inefficiency, yet is still advanced by some as a conspiracy.
Was the CIA and/or Bush behind 9/11? I’d say probably not, based on the findings of various commissions, but the truther movement continues on both sides of the aisle. This one has staying power for as long as people have irrational fear of those who are different from them and those who have power over them … so basically forever.
WMDs? The recent disclosure of abandoned weapons found in Iraq has been hailed by many conservatives as proof that WMDs did exist and thus Bush is vindicated. As the story is still developing, I prefer to wait until more information is known; rushing to judgment often leads to bad decisions. Call this pending.
Election conspiracy theories show up on both sides just about every time there’s an election, whether the 2000 election (those Florida votes and the ensuing chaos), 2004 (fraud in Ohio?) or 2012 (all votes in some majority-black precincts were for Obama!!). In most cases, it tends to be sour grapes, though some do have a grain (possibly microscopic) of truth.
And here’s a theory from my mom and me: In the past year, my home county closed several polling places, including the one she worked every election. That location, the only polling place for residents of the unincorporated area, typically served more voters than did most of the rural precincts in the county, with many of them elderly and/or farmers. The north part of the county (basically one city) traditionally trends Republican; southward, where my mom lives, polls heavily Democratic.
She now has to travel about 15 miles to work the polls (she couldn’t get a closer assignment), and those who once voted at her old location are now traveling to a neighboring town. Sure, you might argue, it just means they’ll have to travel a little further, but remember that many of them are elderly. It’s also a spread-out rural area, not a city, so there’s not really an organized effort to get these people, who generally vote for Democrats, to the polls.
So was it part of an effort to suppress Democratic voters? Probably not really, but it’s food for thought. And no, I’m not becoming a conspiracy theorist; I don’t have the time for that.
One of the biggest problems with conspiracy theories—such as the 9/11 or birther theories—is that the length of time, chain of events and scope of people involved are so vast that it makes them highly improbable (not the same as impossible, but the odds are not in their favor). Such a large operation remaining secret for so long strains credibility.
And yep, I just pissed off a lot of conspiracy theorists (and there, I did it again!).
So what to do when confronted by someone so enmeshed in the throes of a conspiracy theory? Meh, there’s not really much of a point if they won’t believe any evidence that doesn’t come from their “trusted” sources and will thus lock you into an argument you just can’t win. And don’t get me started on the irony of people who trust no one trusting those sources.
As I often say, trust but verify. It’s the same here; check out what you’re told … if just for your own enlightenment, because deeply entrenched ideas can be nearly impossible to shake. You might never be able to convince the theorists of the truth unless you have all the time in the world to dedicate to the task.
Instead, how about simply enjoying what so many of these guys refuse to? Watch the leaves fall on a breezy day; laugh with a friend; seek knowledge free of fear; just sit and meditate.
Regardless of our problems, we’re not in as dire a place as some believe, so live in the now rather than the highly improbable Terminator future. Or you can continue to live in unrealistic fear rather than healthy skepticism. Simply ignore those of us who can still laugh (especially if we’re laughing at you … sorry).