Theorizing About the Theories

A new player, Jesse Walker, had joined “the game which never ends, because you can’t defeat them.” (You can only soldier on, and peel back the layers.) But was Walker, author of The United States of Paranoia, a game manager or a game player? (Background: Newsweek: Conspiracy Theories “A Clear and Present Danger”, Ersjdamoo’s Blog entry of May 19, 2014.)

It now seems Walker occupies a middle ground, the ground of “Reason.” After all, Walker is books editor of Reason magazine, so he would seek a “Reason” vantage point!

Walker’s recent book, The United States of Paranoia, offers a reasonable framework for understanding conspiracy theories. They can be divided into five categories: (1) the Enemy Outside, an alien force based outside the community’s borders; (2) the Enemy Within, fellow citizens who cannot be easily distinguished from friends; (3) the Enemy Above, plotting at the top of the power structure; (4) the Enemy Below, conspiring in the underclass; and (5) the Benevolent Conspiracy, which isn’t an enemy at all. [1]

The problem with such a reasonable framework is that it kills the spirit of the living creature, “conspiracy theories.” Killing the Spirit was a book by the late Page Smith, U.S. historian, professor, author, and newspaper columnist. Smith railed against “Academic fundamentalism”, the stubborn refusal of the academy to acknowledge any truth that does not conform to professorial dogmas. More to the point, Smith complained about the application of scientific method and statistical analysis to fields in the humanities where they literally kill the spirit of the discipline. [2]

“Conspiracy theories” are where fact meets fiction, wrote a columnist in one of the Dallas newspapers in the 1990s. Even Jesse Walker would agree with this since he himself theorizes they are a sort of folklore. This puts “conspiracy theories” into the realm of literature. Literature is part of the humanities, the area where Page Smith said “Reason” (the application of scientific method and statistical analysis) was literally killing the spirit of what was being analyzed.

“Conspiracy theories” are alive and evolving. They are a living organism. What Walker does is like taking a picture of a 20-year-old and saying he has captured the subject. In a way he has. But take a picture of that same 20-year-old forty years later and it turns out you did not exactly capture the subject back when you thought you had.

The Russian philosopher P.D. Ouspensky described art as the language of the fourth dimension. Those who try to analyze “conspiracy theories” wind up three-dimensionalizing a four-dimensional subject and in the process they kill it.

Jesse Walker’s book, The United States of Paranoia, features impressive historical research. It is a fascinating read and is recommended. The downside though is when Walker imposes a framework on his subject and inadvertently begins to kill it. Less injurious to the subject is Mark Fenster’s book, Conspiracy Theories: Secrecy and Power in American Culture (although Fenster also analyzes). For Fenster, “conspiracy theorists” are like Gnostics, searching for some transcendent thing. They keep peeling back the layers of the onion, yet never arrive at the core. Hence, for Fenster, it is never “case closed” with conspiracy theories since they are an alive, living creature. (Background: Paranoia: It’s So Much Fun, Ersjdamoo’s Blog entry of May 18, 2014.)

Wilhelm Reich, M.D., wrote about what he called “the emotional plague.” It was, thought Reich, a kind of anti-life force which every so often develops into an epidemic just like any other contagious disease. In his book, The Murder of Christ, Reich saw Jesus as a victim of one of these outbreaks. Jesus was a truly living being, and the forces of the emotional plague couldn’t deal with that. He painfully reminded too many people that they too had once been fully alive, before the emotional plague had reduced them to figuratively walking on crutches through life. One such “crutch” can be the deification of “Reason.” Reason has its place, but there are areas in which reason fails.

One of P.D. Ouspensky’s teachers was Georges Ivanovitch Gurdjieff. Gurdjieff had heard that long, long ago, as far back as seventy generations before the last deluge (and a generation was counted as a hundred years), when there was dry land where now is water and water where now is dry land, there existed on earth a great civilization, the center of which was the former island Haninn. The sole survivors of the earlier deluge were certain brethren of the former Imastun Brotherhood, whose members had constituted a whole caste spread all over the earth. But however great the distance between them, they maintained constant communication with one another and reported everything to the center by means of telepathy. For this, they made use of what are called pythonesses, who served them, as it were, as receiving apparatuses. These pythonesses, in a trance, unconsciously received and recorded all that was transmitted to them from various places by the Imastuns, writing it down in four different agreed directions according to the direction from which the information reached them. [3]

So what would “Reason” say about the pythonesses who helped the brethren of the former Imastun Brotherhood maintain constant communication? These pythonesses were being most unreasonable, communicating via telepathy. Perhaps Jesse Walker would file this under category (5) the Benevolent Conspiracy, which isn’t an enemy at all. But still, such explanations tend to neuter the life force inherent in the subject.

——- Sources ——-
[1] “It’s All a Conspiracy”, by Jesse Walker. http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/future_tense/2014/05/conspiracy_theory_research_can_t_be_believed.html
[2] “Correlation is not necessarily Causation”, by Oakshaman Vine Voice (pseudonym), customer review of Killing The Spirit by Page Smith. Amazon.com, August 3, 2002.
[3] Meetings With Remarkable Men, by Georges Ivanovitch Gurdjieff

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About ersjdamoo

Editor of Conspiracy Nation, later renamed Melchizedek Communique. Close associate of the late Sherman H. Skolnick. Jack of all trades, master of none. Sagittarius, with Sagittarius rising. I'm not a bum, I'm a philosopher.
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2 Responses to Theorizing About the Theories

  1. Pingback: Interview With the Assassin | Ersjdamoo's Blog

  2. Pingback: Now Available in Paperback: The United States of Paranoia - Hit & Run : Reason.com

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