I’ve been stewing ideas for blog posts over the last while about the election, my philosophical research, and assembling my final thoughts on Finnegans Wake since I finished it last month. But the past few weeks have been busy with work and plans to attend conferences. Then just as I happened to get a few minutes, Osama bin Laden was assassinated. And since I never manage to update this frequenly enough to generate a serious readership beyond immediate friends and any intelligence agencies scanning the internet presence of young intellectuals, I thought I’d just muse about this until I felt like stopping.
I can’t say much that foreign policy experts and the more frequently-updated on the internet haven’t already said. But when I heard the circumstances of bin Laden’s burial, I knew what was coming next: Donald Trump spinning a ridiculous series of accusations that Obama faked the entire raid just to embarrass him. After all, the raid came the day after Obama and Seth Meyers humiliated Trump at the White House Correspondents Association dinner, and that’s too much of a coincidence to be a coincidence.
This is the way conspiracy thinking works, after all: nothing is a coincidence if it can be understood to be integrally connected to different events. Actually, a long term philosophical project of mine is to analyze conspiracy thinking as the ultimate irrefutable argument: even clear statements of fact against the claims of the conspiracy prove its truth, because any argument or fact showing the conspiracy theorist to be wrong can be understood as planted by the evil conspirators themselves. In the context of philosophy, it challenges irrefutability as the most important feature of a true account. But in a political context, it’s working very differently.
Obama’s best joke against Trump at the Correspondents dinner was a line connecting his boosting of the Birther conspiracy with ridiculously outlandish ideas. Now that the long-form birth certificate has been released, said Obama, “we can move on to the truly important matters that face our nation: Did we fake the moon landing? What really happened at Roswell? Where are Biggie and Tupac?” These are scenarios so zany, they can be dismissed by most people.
But contemporary conspiracies – 9/11 Truth, Birtherism – are deeply politically partisan. I have a rather apolitical friend who actually both theories, or at least considers them plausible. But he’s an outlier, because the American conspiracies of the 21st century are firmly divided along political lines. 9/11 Truth, or Trutherism, is a conspiracy of the left, those who were so driven into partisan rage against the Bush/Cheney Administration that they took gaps in evidence, the sheer monstrosity of the event, and gave it enough anger for fuel that they grew convinced that the American government caused the September 11 attacks, whether by launching missiles into the buildings, destroying them from inside, or remotely controlling the planes themselves.
Then during Obama’s campaign for the presidency, rumours began swirling that he was not born in the United States, and so ineligible for the role of president according to their constitution. This is a conspiracy of the right, prevalent among the Tea Party, tacitly tolerated by congressional leaders like John Boehner, and openly endorsed by congressional rebels like Michelle Bachmann. And most recently, Birtherism has been the key rant of the Trump pre-campaign. Critics of Birtherism have connected it to accusations of implicit racism, the unspoken feeling, probably largely unacknowledged by many of its believers, that a black person should not be president of the United States. At least that’s the joke: if he were white, we wouldn’t be questioning Obama’s qualifications.
The sad part is that the Birther conspiracy was started by desperate partisans in the Hillary Clinton campaign in 2008, before it was picked up by the American right. However, I’m at least slightly bemused that conspiracy theorists of left and right in America can find some common ground in the overlap among their main paranoiacally concocted secret plans. If you watch Zeitgeist, one of the better-known underground documentaries advocating 9/11 Truth, it actually connects Truther principles about a government conspiracy to control the Middle East with the Jewish conspiracy to control the international financial system and erode democracy from within its institutions by implanting surveillance microchips in the human body. That’s right: the flagship conspiracy of the West’s paranoid secular left is a grandson of the anti-Semitic Protocols of Zion.
See, that’s how you can tell conspiracy theory lineage: look for which secret societies they have in common. The secret societies don’t really exist, of course, but the conspiracies acknowledge that they must exist in order for these real events to happen. If there’s one thing a conspiracist can’t tolerate, it’s that the world is just messed up and terrible things just happen without the need for a secret intelligence directing it all.
I was expecting conspiracy theories about faking bin Laden’s death to arrive soon, probably from the Trump camp. The best way to discredit Obama, after all, is to tar him with the brush of conspirator. And discrediting Obama results in Republican victories. But it seems that this could be a conspiracy of the left in America, as well as of the right. I’m sure Trump will advocate the falsity of the Abbottabad raid as soon as he and his Celebrity Apprentice writers assemble enough epithets. But the first advocate out of the gate saying the government faked bin Laden’s death is one we haven’t heard from in a few years: Cindy Sheehan. She’s the activist who led many protests against the invasion of Iraq, and she was the first one to capitalize on the lack of photographic evidence and the quick disposal of the body. So maybe the far left's disappointment with Obama will result in a merger of the Fake Bin Laden Death conspiracy with the 9/11 Truth conspiracy, and lump the Democrats in with the Republicans as evil manipulators of a free public.
I never thought I'd sound radical advocating for listening to the government and believing in simple answers to questions.