More than a half century ago, when I was a teen, I enjoyed reading science fiction. It was the 1950s and reports of flying saucer sightings regularly hit the news. Tabloids carried accounts of alien abductions. The movies and fiction writers exploited the public’s interest and produced all manner of fanciful entertainment that speculated about what it would be like if space aliens were among us. There was a TV comedy staring a Martian. Not surprisingly, there was a fringe of believers who speculated that aliens had secretly taken over the US Government.
Today, most see such a theory as amusing, and at the time the main stream media referred to the adherents to such bizarre ideas as “the lunatic fringe” or the “tin-foil hats.” If you knew one of them, it was shocking how earnest they were, and how evident their fear and concern was.
As a teen I wondered how one would know if such outlandish things might be true. I was particularly impressed by a book, Flying Saucers are Real, written by Maj. Donald Kehoe a Marine Corps aviator. He seemed to be a level-headed and reliable source saying that one should not dismiss UFOs as imaginary. It seemed plausible that a conspiracy could actually exist.
Such was not the case of course, and in the fullness of time that became evident, at least to most of us. But we still have conspiracy thinking. One of the contemporary theories that keeps surfacing is the 9-11 false flag allegations. I was surprised to hear a friend, a well educated academic with a PhD, advance such a theory, citing a video she had recently seen.
As it happens, I have done my own investigation on this one. The experience has left me deeply concerned about how we think, and how we come to know what we think we know.
Here is the article that I wrote about the 9-11 conspiracy. Be sure to check out the comments, because they reveal much about those who believe in conspiracy.
Here are other articles that pertain to the “truth” movement which is more accurately described as advocacy for a point of view – case building and defense of a certain orthodoxy of conspiracy belief. An actual truth movement would be populated by seekers of authenticity, and not by people who attack those who oppose their views and fear “infiltration” by different ideas. The next link considers how Cass Sunstein was attacked for speculating about ways to penetrate the firewalls that extremist groups build around their orthodoxy.
The next article proposes what to look for in evaluating information when you can’t go to the sources yourself.
This last one deals with the terrible and tragic consequences of the false theory that vaccines cause autism.
We are faced with a crisis of critical thinking, or rather a dangerous loss of capacity to discern authentic information in a world where anyone can publish anything. There is a growing contempt for intellectuals, science, and educated professional opinion. Pseudo-science drives lucrative markets for supplements and “traditional” medicines. We haven’t had ethical editorial oversight in decades on much of the “news.” High schools haven’t taught ethics or critical thinking or Civics in recent years. How can we expect democracy to thrive in an avalanche of propaganda, disinformation, sensational tabloid journalism, political spin, and outright deception?