Conspiracy theories are – as I have argued at length and in detail – a curse. They distort reality, encourage extremism, and lead to destructive results. That said, they can have a silver lining. I have documented, for example, the effects of "Benign Antisemitism." Here is another:
The foolish, conspiracist pamphlet published by John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt, two political scientists, in March 2006, The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, had significant malign implications (debasing the policy debate, fomenting antisemitism), but its silver lining can be seen in a press release issued today by the Council on American-Islamic Relations, "CAIR Calls Rushed U.S. Bomb Deliveries to Israel ‘Unconscionable'." Not surprisingly, CAIR condemns the Bush administration for expediting delivery of satellite and laser-guided bombs for use against its Hizbullah colleagues; more surprisingly, it does so within the conspiracist mentality. Dictates the self-serving pro-Islamist lobby: "America must disengage its Middle East policy from the self-serving dictates of the pro-Israel lobby."
CAIR believes that U.S. policy is made in the dark, at the behest of a lobby, and thereby ignores the lopsided views of the American electorate, 57 percent of whom sympathizes with Israel and only 4 percent with Hizbullah (according to a July 19 poll conducted by CNN). So long as CAIR continues to bark up the wrong tree, it has little chance of effecting real change.
Chip Berlet, a leftist analyst, makes this point repeatedly, beseeching his fellow progressives to avoid the too-common trap of conspiracism. An excerpt from his analysis, "Conspiracism as a Flawed Worldview":
Populist conspiracism sees secret plots by tiny cabals of evildoers as the major motor powering important historical events. Conspiracism tries to figure out how power is exercised in society, but ends up oversimplifying the complexities of modern society by blaming societal problems on manipulation by a handful of evil individuals. This is not an analysis that accurately evaluates the systems, structures and institutions of modern society. As such, conspiracism is neither investigative reporting, which seeks to expose actual conspiracies through careful research; nor is it power structure research, which seeks to accurately analyze the distribution of power and privilege in a society. Sadly, some sincere people who seek social and economic justice are attracted to conspiracism.
By the way, Berlet goes on to assert that "Overwhelmingly, … conspiracism in the U.S. is the central historic narrative of right-wing populism." That may have been true decades ago, but these days, the left is far more prone to this way of thinking.
Comment: This brings to mind the joke about two Jews in 1930s Germany. Karl is carrying both a Jewish newspaper and Der Stürmer, the Nazi daily, when he meets his friend Max, who asks, "Karl, why are you reading both newspapers?" Karl replies, "After I read the Jewish newspaper and end up miserable, learning how weak and in danger we are, I read Der Stürmer to feel better because it tells me how strong and powerful we are." (July 22, 2006)