Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Starting to crack

Something happens to successful movements about the time people start calling them “successful.” In poli-sci speak they start to develop institutions and organizations. Institutions are rules, organizations are groups (mnemonic go: “The Constitution is an institution, while the nation is an organization”). 9/11 denial could only be college kids passing around Loose Change for so long. Alex Jones, Disinfo and others who profit from gullibility smelled cash in the water, and 9/11 denial had some organizations behind it. Along came Prisonplanet then the wave of “(appeal to authority X) for 9/11 Truth” sites, and we were off to the races.

This is a familiar story. The cottage publishing industry that rose up around President Kennedy’s assassination and the mini-movement of modern-day UFO hunters tell the same story: Once enough people with enough money are engaged in promoting an idea – any idea, a bad idea, a good idea – that idea is probably going to stick around. Today nobody really seems to give a shit if the Bavarian Illuminati secretly controls the world or if aliens crash-landed at Roswell, but we all immediately know what I’m talking about. Truthers have their own versions of dedicated sources of content and attention that keep their movement going.

But lately, those organizations have started to break down. Infowars and Prisonplanet can barely be troubled to cover 9/11 denial these days. Alex Jones has a lot more to be wrong about concerning fluoride and the President’s birthplace. Skeptics are literally running out of content about 9/11 denial because there is so little by way of new absurdity actually being produced. Indeed, we’re generating more books about them these days than they are. And 9/11 deniers are starting to turn on those who have wandered from the path. For example, 9/11 deniers now generally believe one of their own founding fathers is now clearly a "disinformation agent."

Yet its “institutions” – its norms and rules – remain. 9/11 deniers still must believe everything they’re told by the higher-ups. It is still unpatriotic to the 9/11 denial community to admit that the thermite theory chapter of conspiracy theories has failed and must be closed. The cargo-cult approach to science remains: veteran deniers are trapped at the table bobbing their heads at each other about laughable hypothesizing, embarrassing “data collection” techniques and non-analysis. Newcomers have nowhere to start: by starting to rely on nonsensical jargon, the cult has eliminated most of its ability to initiate new acolytes.

This is just the beginning of a larger theory about conspiracies I’m just starting to think about, but it seems that the institutions can greatly outlive the organizations. Organizations that thrive on conspiracy theory talk can easily hop from subject to subject, and so those theories are unstable: their primary clearing-houses can abandon them at any time. 9/11 denial is starting to look so sloppy and silly because it has no organizations to forward its institutions: it is rules without rulemakers and, like any unenforced legal system, has come to just look sad, silly and empty.

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