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For various reasons, the American government of the future claimed that our Moon Landings of the late s had been faked, a trick aimed at winning the Cold War by bankrupting Russia into fruitless space efforts of its own.
Instead, use of that highly loaded phrase is reserved for those theories, whether plausible or fanciful, that do not possess the endorsement stamp of establishmentarian approval. Even without such changes in media control, huge shifts in American public beliefs have frequently occurred in the recent past, merely on the basis of implied association.
In the initial weeks and months following the attacks, every American media organ was enlisted to denounce and vilify Osama Bin Laden, the purported Islamicist master-mind, as our greatest national enemy, with his bearded visage endlessly appearing on television and in print, soon becoming one of the most recognizable faces in the world.
These factors of media manipulation were very much in my mind a couple of years ago when I stumbled across a short but fascinating book published by the University of Texas academic press.
The author of Conspiracy Theory in America was Prof.
The result was a huge spike in the pejorative use of the phrase, which spread throughout the American media, with the residual impact continueing right down to the present day. Obviously, researchers never claimed that all major historical events had hidden causes, but it was widely accepted that some of them did, and attempting to investigate those possibilities was deemed a perfectly acceptable academic enterprise.
Many younger public intellectuals of a similar bent also suffered the same fate, or were even purged from respectability and denied any access to the mainstream media. At the same time, the totally contrary perspectives of two European political philosophers, Karl Popper and Leo Straussgradually gained ascendancy in American intellectual circles, and their ideas became dominant in public life.
Popper, the more widely influential, presented broad, largely theoretical objections to the very possibility of important conspiracies ever existing, suggesting that these would be implausibly difficult to implement given the fallibility of human agents; what might appear a conspiracy actually amounted to individual actors pursuing their narrow aims.
His own background as an individual of Jewish ancestry who had fled Austria in surely contributed to the depth of his feelings on these philosophical matters. Meanwhile, Strauss, a founding figure in modern neo-conservative thought, was equally harsh in his attacks upon conspiracy analysis, but for polar-opposite reasons.
In his mind, elite conspiracies were absolutely necessary and beneficial, a crucial social defense against anarchy or totalitarianism, but their effectiveness obviously depended upon keeping them hidden from the prying eyes of the ignorant masses.
So as a matter of self-defense, elites needed to actively suppress or otherwise undercut the unauthorized investigation of suspected conspiracies. Even for most educated Americans, theorists such as Beard, Popper, and Strauss are probably no more than vague names mentioned in textbooks, and that was certainly true in my own case.
But while the influence of Beard seems to have largely disappeared in elite circles, the same is hardly true of his rivals. Popper probably ranks as one of the founders of modern liberal thought, with an individual as politically influential as left-liberal financier George Soros claiming to be his intellectual disciple.
Meanwhile, the neo-conservative thinkers who have totally dominated the Republican Party and the Conservative Movement for the last couple of decades often proudly trace their ideas back to Strauss.
So, through a mixture of Popperian and Straussian thinking, the traditional American tendency to regard elite conspiracies as a real but harmful aspect of our society was gradually stigmatized as either paranoid or politically dangerous, laying the conditions for its exclusion from respectable discourse.
To a considerable extent, he seemed to be attacking straw men, recounting and ridiculing the most outlandish conspiratorial beliefs, while seeming to ignore the ones that had been proven correct. For example, he described how some of the more hysterical anti-Communists claimed that tens of thousands of Red Chinese troops were hidden in Mexico, preparing an attack on San Diego, while he failed to even acknowledge that for years Communist spies had indeed served near the very top of the U.
Not even the most conspiratorially minded individual suggests that all alleged conspiracies are true, merely that some of them might be. Most of these shifts in public sentiment occurred before I was born or when I was a very young child, and my own views were shaped by the rather conventional media narratives that I absorbed.
To the extent that I ever thought about the matter, my reasoning was simple and based on what seemed like good, solid common sense. Now given the imperfect nature of all attempts at concealment, it would surely be impossible for all of these to be kept entirely hidden.
And once the buzzing cloud of journalists noticed these, such blatant evidence of conspiracy would certainly attract an additional swarm of energetic investigators, tracing those items back to their origins, with more pieces gradually being uncovered until the entire cover-up likely collapsed.
Even if not all the crucial facts were ever determined, at least the simple conclusion that there had indeed been some sort of conspiracy would quickly become established. However, there was a tacit assumption in my reasoning, one that I have since decided was entirely false.
Obviously, many potential conspiracies either involve powerful governmental officials or situations in which their disclosure would represent a source of considerable embarrassment to such individuals. But I had always assumed that even if government failed in its investigatory role, the dedicated bloodhounds of the Fourth Estate would invariably come through, tirelessly seeking truth, ratings, and Pulitzers.
If those five—or ten or twenty or fifty—initial clues were simply ignored by the media, whether through laziness, incompetence, or much less venial sins, then there would be absolutely nothing to prevent successful conspiracies from taking place and remaining undetected, perhaps even the most blatant and careless ones.Located at the centre of Kuala Lumpur city, UTM KL offers bachelor & graduate degree programmes, the research university standard.
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