The new conspiracy theorists

San Francisco is a small town and I knew Naomi Wolf when we were both young. With the best will in the world, I didn’t like her. Okay, I’m lying — I didn’t have the best will in the world. I was an insecure teenager, and viewed with hostility anyone who wasn’t manifestly friendly towards me — and Naomi definitely was not friendly. She and her crowd viewed themselves as eclectic intellectuals, and I was a nerdy, pop-culture infused troglodyte (they got the nerdy part right).

I was never privileged to hear this elite group’s truly meaningful conversations, but I wouldn’t doubt that, when they felt it would be useful to stroke their genius chops, they engaged in erudite musings about Proust and Kant, or perhaps Marx and Camus. Naomi, although the baby of the bunch, was easily the most intimidating because, in addition to being such an intellectual (something admired in the circles in which I grew up), she was also strikingly pretty, an attribute she liked to accentuate with gauzy Indian style skirts and dresses.

That’s the view from my 15/16 year old brain. Looking back, I suspect that Naomi and her group were neither more nor less intelligent than any of the other kids I grew up around. To deal with the angst that affects all teenagers, they had carved out an identity for themselves as precocious, left-wing intellectuals. No matter their inner insecurities, it was an effective and intimidating pose. The problem is that Naomi is still running around being a precocious, pretty, left-wing . . . ah, I hesitate to say intellectual. If her recent writings are any indication, she’s still relying heavily on pompous academic prose, but her ideas are becoming fairly disconnected from reality.

Case in point: An April 2007 article she wrote for the Guardian that, God alone knows how, I somehow missed. You can read it here, but you’d probably enjoy Noemie Emery’s summary even more:

In 4,600 overwrought words, she explained to the readers of the Guardian that there are ten steps to “Fascist America” and Bush is taking them all. He has whipped up a menace (the war on terror); created “a prison system outside the rule of law” (Guantánamo, to which public dissidents, including “clergy and journalists” will be sent “soon enough”); developed “a thug caste .  .  . groups of scary young men out to terrorize citizens” (young Republican staffers who supposedly “menaced poll workers” during the 2000 recount in Florida); set up an “internal surveillance system” (NSA scanning for phone calls to and from terrorists). An airtight case, this, and leading to just one conclusion: “Beneath our very noses, George Bush and his administration are using time-tested tactics to close down an open society. It is time for us to be willing to think the unthinkable .  .  . that it can happen here.”

At least Naomi’s style hasn’t changed — she’s always been overwrought. That same nascent hysteria reveals itself in an interview she just did with Joe Scarborough (didn’t he used to be a conservative?). As with her Guardian article, Naomi abandons the logical analysis skills carefully inculcated into us when we were young. She just goes for the irrational jugular. Here’s Bryan Preston describing her Jose Padilla argument (and affect):

It also intrigues me that here, Wolf not only sheepishly giggles through an interview about a creeping police state that she either really believes or cynically says is just around the corner, but that she also plays fast and loose with the facts concerning Jose Padilla. She states twice that what happened to him can happen to any American. The fact is, as Wolf surely knows if she spent more than half a minute looking into the case, is that Padilla was apprehended on the evidence given up by captured al Qaeda handler Abu Zubaydah and he had filled out a terrorist job application form while in an al Qaeda post. I guess if you’re on Zubaydah’s rolodex and he can tell US authorities where you’re traveling and when you’re traveling there and that you’re on a scouting mission for the terrorist group, and if you’ve filled out al Qaeda’s human resources paperwork, then yeah, what happened to Padilla can happen to you too. Otherwise, no, Naomi, it can’t happen to any American.

Naomi, of course, is just one of the more pretty and verbal faces of the paranoid style of American Leftist politics. (Interestingly, during the 1950s, it was the Right fringe that embodied that paranoia, most especially with the deep fear of fluoridated water.) Robert Fisk, he who created the whole new internet pastime of “fisking,” has outed himself as a Troofer. Carefully insulting himself from facts — readily obtainable, well publicized facts — he asks disingenuous questions about 9/11, all aimed at establishing that Bush’s fascist government, in thrall to Saudi big oil, and guided by the evil Cheney and Rove, masterminded a plot to kill 3,000 Americans, and then obviously killed the dozens or hundreds of co-conspirators who must have been involved to ensure that none talked. Understand that, in the Fisk world view, you start at the end: No one is talking. Therefore they must have been killed. The only person who would want to have killed these unknown dead people is someone who wanted to prevent them from talking. That someone must have been Bush, because he’s evil. And what would they talk about? ENOUGH! You get it. These are the ravings of crazy people, and I find it creepy and delusional to send my own mind down that path, even in jest.

The reality on the ground simply doesn’t penetrate the minds of the Fisks and Naomis, minds we are privileged to see exposed because of all the airtime and press-time they’re freely and admiringly given in newspapers and TV shows — papers and shows, incidentally, that have somehow managed to function with great commercial success despite Fuhrer Bush’s threatening police state. Noemie Emery summarizes the staggering disconnect between paranoid beliefs and facts. Speaking of the paranoid conspiracy theories, she says:

Well, this explains many things. It explains why poor Cindy Sheehan is now sitting in prison; why Bush critics like CIA retiree Valerie Plame have been ostracized by the corporate media and are wasting away in anonymity; why no critic of Bush can get a hearing, why no book complaining about him can ever get published, and why our multiplexes are filled with one pro-Bush propaganda movie after another, glorifying the Iraq war and rallying the nation behind its leader.

Meanwhile, back on planet Earth, Cindy Sheehan is running for Congress; Valerie Plame is rich and famous; the young Republican “thugs” made all of one appearance seven years ago–chanting “Let us in!” when Miami-Dade County vote counters planned to move to a small inner room with no observers present; and press censorship is now so far-reaching that you can’t even expose a legal, effective, and top-secret plan to trace terrorists without getting a Pulitzer Prize. “What if the publisher of a major U.S. newspaper were charged with treason or espionage?” Wolf asks breathlessly. “What if he or she got 10 years in jail?” Well, journalists have been harassed, pressed for their sources, and threatened with prison, but not by George W. Bush and his people. Back in the real world, only one prominent journalist has been jailed by the federal government in recent memory, and that was Judith Miller, imprisoned for 80-plus days for contempt by prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, the great hero of the anti-Bush forces for having indicted Vice President Cheney’s chief of staff.

What you have to wonder at the end of the day is how effective these conspiracy theories actually are to the average person who doesn’t live and breath paranoia and politics. Is the regular guy so used to taking instruction from the television that he thinks, “Well, gee, I’d better vote Democrat to protect my Constitutional rights” or is he sufficiently attached to reality that he can reach the same conclusion Emery did? Namely, that these conspiracy theories cannot be correct because those espousing them are running around on the streets (and blathering on our TV screens) and have not been confined to gulags, psychiatric wards or firing squads — all stock in trade for those who told the truth during the much admired (by the Left) Communist years in the Soviet Union and China. I’d like to place my faith in American pragmatism and intelligence, but I do worry that 50 years of TV watching might have destroyed the ordinary person’s innate human ability to separate fairy tale from fact.

I’ll let a cartoon have the last word here:

UPDATE: For those swamped by delusions, Kyle-Anne Shiver provides some reality checks.

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17 Responses

  1. People like Fisk and Wolf only underline the adage that “some things are so fundamentally stupid you need to be an “intellectual’ to believe them”. The really scary part, however, is how readily society is willing to give a podium to such mediocre individuals.

  2. Well, people who are smarter can also hold more contradictory thoughts in their heads. The higher your IQ, the more such thoughts you can juggle around your head, Danny, without them bumping up against the other.

  3. I am not real optimistic about the abiliy of the average Joe to thinkf for themselves. Ok, let me clarify that, I am concerned that too many people take the path of least resistance and just accept what is being fed to them.

    It is not just disappointing, it is disoncerting.

  4. These are the ravings of crazy people, and I find it creepy and delusional to send my own mind down that path, even in jest.

    I’ve been down that road as part of my personal assessment of these folks. Trust me, it ain’t all that.

    What you have to wonder at the end of the day is how effective these conspiracy theories actually are to the average person who doesn’t live and breath paranoia and politics.

    Depends upon whether their forces win or lose in Iraq, Book. A lot of such things, including public opinion, depends upon success on the battlefield.

    There’s two things concerning mental agility in my view. Intelligence and Wisdom. Wolf’s crowd probably had a mediocre amount of the former and a black hole presence in the latter, Book.

  5. thank-god-she-can-always-fall-back-on-her-looks/

    ? hehe

  6. I’ve thought for a while that the paranoid style in American politics that Richard Hofstadter, himself a liberal, identified in the early Sixties and found planted on the right has now migrated to the left and shows no signs of abating, and seems to propagate. It’s more of a runner and not a clumper form of bamboo.

  7. I remember Naomi from the same period you do. I remember her father the Marxist professor too.

    Naomi was very good looking and has the curse of a good looking person (gay men have the same curse and the same trouble). From infancy, very good looking people get inordinate attention. But the attention is superficial.

    The trouble is, that despite all the attention most people never really ‘see’ the beautiful person as anything but ‘good looks.’ Most people looked right through Naomi. Hence the need to have a dramatic persona. For Naomi that dramatic persona was ‘radical lefty.’

    Further trouble arises over time because it is necessary to escalate the persona. The good looks fade but the need for attention doesn’t.

    Naomi’s books have been escalating on the ‘get more attention’ scale year by year. From The Beauty Myth, to Misconceptions…Motherhood, to Promiscuities and finally to the hopelessly absurd The End of America.

    I am always sympathetic to Naomi and her Botox crowd.

    The Beauty Myth that Naomi should have written about is the myth that beauty is anything but a curse.

  8. Too right, Michael. I think, too, that for Naomi, her looks were always a mixed blessing. She gloried in them, but suspected that people didn’t take her seriously, which made her ever more pompous in her intellectual efforts.

  9. Beauty isn’t a curse. Attracting dumb sycophants, however…

    Naomi missed out on one single facet. To truly understand requires the ability to look within yourself and change yourself. Without such a power, you can not grasp the power of others and without that, you are forever cut off from the universe.

    The End of America? Naomi doesn’t even understand what it takes to change herself, how can she ever understand what it takes to end such a powerful system of people as America?

  10. Picking and choosing among the facts so that “the facts” match your hypothesis is a time-honored tradition. Ms. Wolf is following the tradition to a capital-T.

    She’s royalty now, firmly ensconced in her throne and her privileges, and nothing will dislodge her. Even if 50% of the libs turned conservative overnight, Ms. Wolf would still be royalty among the chic left. As long as she sticks to the usual script, of course. From the sounds of it, she’s sticking to the usual script SPLENDIDLY!

  11. [...] I ran a post about conspiracy theorists on the left.  One of their favorite conspiracy theories, one that they love to bleat out on every TV station, [...]

  12. [...] Bookworm Room, “The New Conspiracy Theorists” [...]

  13. Wow. You begin your argument with adolescent jealousy issues. Whining: Naomi is so smart and pretty! She wouldn’t be my friend! She just wants attention!
    Then you quote Bryan Preston, who obviously did not read her book. If he had, he would know that most of his “points” are moot. For example, he complained that Naomi claims Bush is Hitler, when in the beginning of her book she makes it clear that there are large differences between Hitler and the Germany of his time and Bush and the United States. He whines that people ignore Soviet Russia in their “totalitarian analogies”, but Stalin and Soviet Russia are mentioned several times within the first few chapters.
    You denounce her NON partisan message that democracy is fragile, all citizens should take an active, vigilant role in maintaining their constitutional rights as “paranoia”?
    It sounds like you have not read the book as well. Don’t knock it until you’ve read it. If reading it doesn’t change your mind at least then you could possibly make some valid points on the issue.
    You may have more in common with Naomi than you know. You apparently agree on one thing: people should watch less worthless television and take an active, intelligent role in their civic duties.

  14. It’s true, Kelly, I haven’t read Naomi’s book, having been turned off by her previous writing, all of which seems to me to crave validation for her sense of victimization. I have read her articles, including the one I let Emery summarize, and seen some of her TV interviews, including the one Preston challenged.

    The fact is that, once you’ve gone done the Bush = Hitler road, you don’t dig yourself out of that ditch by acknowledging that Nazi Germany and modern America aren’t really the same. Likewise, you can mention Stalinist Russia ’til you’re blue in the face, but you betray your ignorance (or ideological blinders) if you try to analogize the US, and American policies, to that totalitarian state. Naomi is, quite simply, shrill and she doesn’t take the edge of her more extreme pronouncements by showing that she is not, in fact, ignorant of historic reality.

    But thank you for the kind words about the virtues Naomi and I do share. I appreciate that. As I said at the beginning, while I think Naomi’s intellectual underpinnings are wrong, I’ve never doubted her intelligence.

  15. (didn’t he used to be a conservative?)

    9/11 altered the Republicans into a couple of groups called isolationists, paleocons, neo-cons, fiscal conservatives, and so forth. Joe transfered his opposition to Democrats spending much to Republicans spending much, aided by the 9/11 activation energy. Now perhaps he can’t find enough of a catalyst to switch back now that the Democrats are spending again.

  16. [...] A few weeks ago, I used Naomi Wolf’s latest anti-American article as the springboard for a larger post about the new conspiracy theorists among us.  Well, she’s back, and this time the Confederate Yankee is leading the attack, exposing her [...]

  17. OH, MAN are you guys going to be embarrassed before this Administration is out of office. The mob (Bush cabal lackeys) is singing like a flock of canaries and it’s just a matter of time before the truth spills out to the mainstream media. One old-time political observer recently mused that the half life of a government coverup is 7 years, and the neocons’ time is about up. Stay tuned.

    Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re NOT out to get you. History is littered with “I told you so’s.” For instance, historians now acknowledge Joseph McCarthy was right about the commie infiltrations. JFK really WAS murdered by the CIA and the mob. Read the book “Lies My Teacher Told Me” and you’ll learn how “official” American history is more aptly labeled “The American Myth.”

    Anyone by now who doesn’t know about the Nazis, Nazi sympathizers and financiers in the Bush Dynasty by now must be brain dead. Google Prescott Bush and IB Farben, Harriman, Warburg. Good god men what are you doing with your time? ESPN?

    Bottom line: If you are so emotionally attached to the Official Conspiracy Theory of 9/11 that you can’t see the REAL 9/11 story, might I suggest some advance therapy? You’ll need it to deal with your embarrassment, shock and grief before the year is out.

    How incredibly shallow this post is: Like her politics or not, Naomi Wolf is an oft-published pundit with a clear message that has NOTHING to do with her looks. But here you all are wasting bandwidth psychoanalyzing the pretty. Sad.

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