Lately it seems that reason has taken a back seat to the crazies out there. But, fortunately, that’s not true.
The other day I met a gentleman, who shall remain unidentified, who firmly believes in conspiracies. He submitted a nearly 2,000-word letter to the editor and before I even read it I told him it would have to be considerably shorter, pointing to our 400-word maximum length policy. I handed it back to him for resubmission, but he asked me to read it and advise him on how to shorten it to a printable length. Reluctantly, I agreed to do so in a day or two and call him.
When I read it, I immediately knew how he could shorten it. So I called him and suggested that he take out the conspiracy theories about the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the Oklahoma City bombing, and the Homeland Security and Patriot Act measures (which were, he contends, intended to create a police state). I told him that if he stuck to his premise that there’s no such thing as a “free press” (because we’re participants in a conspiracy of silence) and the “insider attacks against America’s schools ... to produce a raging national ‘gun control’ fever,” that should bring the letter down to the required length for publication.
He seemed to consider my advice but was more interested in hearing what I thought about his overall letter, and like a fool I told him. I started with a light-hearted comment that if the press is in on all these conspiracies I must have missed the memo, but he didn’t laugh.
Instead, he responded that my denial was exactly what he’d expect me to say.
I won’t go into the argument that ensued except to say that it was an exercise in futility, and that this particular letter writer hasn’t resubmitted his letter. I suspect that, in his mind, his views were vindicated because I wasn’t willing to run his letter as-is. He’ll probably report that to his fellow conspiracy theorists in a memo of his own.
Kidding aside, it must be hard on such people, to live under such dark suspicions all the time. My sympathy ends, however, when I think about how they are choosing their own paranoia. The world as they see it is of their own creation.
Last week, my lack of sympathy turned to outright disdain when I started reading about “truthers” (a misnomer if I’ve even heard one) who are claiming the Newtown, Conn., massacre was a government hoax, and that a school psychologist in Newtown who cared for six children during the attack is a government-paid actor.
With these types of reports, it’s easy to conclude that the lunatics have taken over the asylum. But I still say, they haven’t.
Granted, our national discourse has been influenced to a degree by extreme and unreasonable viewpoints, but most people see such nonsense for what it is. For example, with so much expressed disdain being thrown at President Obama, you might think that he’s hated by most Americans, but last week’s Gallup poll found he had a 54 percent approval rating. That’s the average for all U.S. presidents since 1938, according to Gallup’s website.
But what about the 41 percent who disapproved of his performance as President? I’ll give you 2-to-1 odds that an overwhelming majority of them also see the “truthers” for the nuts they are.
The Internet has given a much louder voice to the conspiracy theorists, and an ample dose of the Big Lie — a propaganda technique that if you tell an outrageous falsehood often enough people will begin to believe it — gives their beliefs legs. But that doesn’t make their notions any less ridiculous, and fortunately most people see right through it.
Tom McDonald is editor and publisher of the Optic. He may be reached at 505-425-6796, ext. 237, or firstname.lastname@example.org.