Monday, March 8, 2010


Glenn Beck, salt of the earth, thinks that the words "social justice" secretly mean "Nazism." Somehow this seems to stretch an already fraught logic. I'm starting worry that some large part of our country has fallen into a kind of crypto-mania. There's nothing too surprising to me in 9/11 Truth conspiracies; events like that (think JFK's assassination) are prone to conspiratorial thinking. And even Birtherism seems to me somehow intelligible as a paranoid kickback against the seismic shock that the election of Obama must have seemed for some. But those are just the tip of the iceberg.

Consider the recent "controversy" over the crypto-Islamism of the Missile Defense Agency logo. Clearly a conspiracy. And then there's global domination conspiracy theories that deal with any anxiety around national sovereignty, but especially those that cohere around global warming and cap-and-trade. The idea is, of course, that there is a global conspiracy to reduce America's prominence in the world by manufacturing data about the climate, which can only be solved by international forces. It's another Beck-ian cryptogram: global warming = slavery. And then there's the "liberal plantation," which basically says that black people tend to be liberal because they're lazy and want to be on welfare. And of course, there are smaller conspiracies, too, like the idea that Obama "sold" a judgeship for votes on health-care. You get the idea. This has become so much a part of our current cultural fabric that I've even seen it verge into non-political arenas. Have you heard that Peyton Manning deliberately threw the Super Bowl because, you know, he loves New Orleans?

I'm not certain what to make of all of this. I'm not totally convinced that this is unique to our moment, but it does seem like it. I think that there's probably some good cultural studies work to be done here to understand not just why people are drawn to conspiracy theories but why they seem necessary to certain times and places and what kind of long-term impacts they have on a culture. If these things deeply impress the minds of their adherents, it seems likely that scientific rationality has a rough road ahead in America. (Sorry Darwin.) My guess would be that these things are more temporary, fueled by topical cultural desires and the rapid loss of a demographic's symbolic ground. But, again, who's to say?

I would be curious to know what other conspiracies we can come up with.


Gerry Canavan said...

I feel like this sort of hidden knowledge has been important on the right for a while, but the Beck thing about social justice is pretty astounding. It'll be fascinating to see if it gets results. Will people leave nearly every church ever in favor of, I don't know, prosperity theology I guess?

Do the Latter Day Saints really not preach social justice?

Tim said...

There's a nice post on the social justice = Nazism equation and its implication for LDS here:

Gerry Canavan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Gerry Canavan said...

Just put up a post about this based on your tip.

mark said...

it is dispiriting, isn't it? But I do not think that it is unique to these times: humans have ever thought thus, and have always conjured up fictitious powers behide notable events