© Miri WTPOTUS 2011
A scholarly paper published January 15, 2008, by Cass R. Sunstein and Adrian Vermeule, both of Harvard Law School, addresses “conspiracy theories” and what governments can do about them. One might be forgiven for wondering why “governments” should think that they ought to do anything about them. Or perhaps I should say, why someone who now works in OUR government thinks the government should do anything about what free people think. This is, after all, the United States of America, founded upon the idea of freedom of speech, and by implication, of thoughts and beliefs, no matter how esoteric or wild. However, Sunstein and his co-author write,
Those who subscribe to conspiracy theories may create serious risks, including risks of violence, and the existence of such theories raises significant challenges for policy and law.
This, presumably, is their justification for believing that sometimes a government must intervene.
Considering that “birthers” were nearly immediately labeled “conspiracy theorists” by Obama supporters, members of his campaign (later his administration), and most of the mainstream media, and considering that they were (and are) derided, in Alinsky fashion, as mentally impaired beings, it might be instructive to ask whether Sunstein’s goal with this paper was to advise how to counter conspiracy theories promulgated by Islamic terrorists overseas or whether Sunstein’s goal was to launch a preemptive strike against those who might, very shortly, question whether or not presidential candidate Barack Hussein Obama II is a natural born citizen of the United States, as his admittedly fictional autobiography suggests.
(An aside: The analysis linked in my previous sentence, itself links to a 2008 NY Times story by Janny Scott, who is currently in the news as the author of a new book about Obama’s (alleged) mother, which was previewed recently in NY Times magazine and discussed in Business Insider. You may want to read both of Janny’s articles to compare and contrast, and for perspective on the likelihood that the new book from this Obama apologist will differ in tone and accuracy from her older Obama book review. Look for a quote by Cass Sunstein on page 3 of the book review.)
Sunstein and Vermeule define a conspiracy theory as
an effort to explain some event or practice by reference to the machinations of powerful people, who have also managed to conceal their role.
While taking care to state that conspiracy theories that are supported in fact, meaning that there truly IS a conspiracy, shouldn’t be “undermined,” they warn that
… the mechanisms that account for conspiracy theories overlap with those that account for false and dangerous beliefs of all sorts, including those that fuel anger and hatred.
Now consider the labels that have been put on Tea Partiers by politicians, Obama supporters, and many in the media who falsely call Tea Partiers violent, racist, even potential domestic terrorists. Consider also those who argue that if Obama, the first (alleged) “black” president, should be proved ineligible, then we may have riots the streets, such as we saw after the murder of MLK. Keeping these considerations in mind, now imagine the possibility that this administration might justify taking action against “conspiracy theorists” because “false and dangerous beliefs” could “fuel anger and hatred.”
One particularly interesting contention these authors make, in light of the extreme lack of objectivity currently displayed by our mainstream media when they cover Barack Hussein Obama II [emphasis added]:
In a closed society, secrets are not difficult to keep, and distrust of official accounts makes a great deal of sense. In such societies, conspiracy theories are both more likely to be true and harder to show to be false in light of available information. But when the press is free, and when checks and balances are in force, government cannot easily keep its conspiracies hidden for long. … Much depends on the background state of knowledge producing institutions. If those institutions are generally trustworthy, in part because they are embedded in an open society with a well-functioning marketplace of ideas and free flow of information, then conspiracy theories will generally (which is not to say always) be unjustified. On the other hand, individuals in societies with systematically malfunctioning or skewed institutions of knowledge – say, individuals who live in an authoritarian regime lacking a free press – may have good reason to distrust all or most of the official denials they hear.
Ask yourself whether we still have a free and open press, an objective press that is trustworthy and not skewed, a press with checks and balances. We the People “have good reason to distrust.”
These are Sunstein and Vermeule’s suggestions for “possible” governmental responses to “conspiracy theories” [emphasis added]:
What can government do about conspiracy theories? Among the things it can do, what should it do? We can readily imagine a series of possible responses:(1) Government might ban conspiracy theorizing.
(2) Government might impose some kind of tax, financial or otherwise, on those who disseminate such theories.
(3) Government might itself engage in counter-speech, marshaling arguments to discredit conspiracy theories.
(4) Government might formally hire credible private parties to engage in counter-speech.
(5 Government might engage in informal communication with such parties, encouraging them to help.
Each instrument has a distinctive set of potential effects, or costs and benefits, and each will have a place under imaginable conditions.
However, our main policy idea is that government should engage in cognitive infiltration of the groups that produce conspiracy theories, which involves a mix of (3), (4) and (5).
My admittedly kneejerk responses to these alternatives:
(1) Ban conspiracy theories? Not possible in the US, at least not yet. How would this be accomplished? Censorship of the media and the Internet? Orwellian thought control? Speech control? Mind control?
(2) Tax those who promulgate conspiracy theories? Can you imagine? This is a twofer for Marxist, thought-control Nazis–TAX them into submission while you make them submit!
(3) Counter-speech. Okay, if you grant that the government even has the Constitutional authority to spend the taxpayers’ money to combat “conspiracy theories”, then this might pass muster because at least it doesn’t infringe upon OUR free speech, free thought, or free beliefs (with an emphasis on “free”, meaning not subject to taxation). Counter-speech is what the Founders envisioned, when they wrote the Constitution. A marketplace of ideas, although I doubt any of them ever considered that our government might use our money to counter our own speech.
(4) Hire “credible private parties” to provide the counter-speech? Ponder this one, peeps. Are We the People paying for the asshats (h/t Pam Geller) at FactCheck, Media Matters, and obot war-rooms, where bogus bloggers set out to use Alinsky tactics against us–we who want only for our candidates to prove eligibility, under the Constitution, to serve us, not to rule us, as POTUS? Is our government, is this administration, already taking Sunstein’s suggestions to heart? How do we find out if we are paying for this astroturfed “counter-speech”, which has been so readily apparent to all of us since 2008?
(5) Informal communication with “credible private parties” to ask them to “help?” Can you say, JournO-list? Paid for by We the People? In this country, the government is (or is supposed to be) The People, which means that if taxpayer dollars are going towards such efforts, then we are paying for governmental attacks against ourselves! Again, how do we find out?
Sunstein and his co-author present this scenario:
If Albert and Barbara say that the CIA was responsible for the assassination of President Kennedy, Cynthia might not contradict them publicly and might even appear to share their judgment — not because she believes that judgment to be correct, but because she does not want to face their hostility or lose their good opinion.
This is what Obama’s true believers try to accomplish when they label and denigrate anyone who merely wants Obama to prove his eligibility. They call them “birthers”, ridicule them, call them kooks, mentally challenged, ignorant. Or worse–racist bigots. Hostility? You better believe it.
Here’s an amazing suggestion, straight from these authors:
Government agents (and their allies) might enter chat rooms, online social networks, or even real-space groups and attempt to undermine percolating conspiracy theories by raising doubts about their factual premises, causal logic or implications for political action. … In another variant, government officials would participate anonymously or even with false identities.
Yes, they might, and they may already have. Have you ever suspected, over the past few years, that this happens right now? Some bloggers believe that they have proof that this indeed occurs, because they have traced the IP#’s of commenters to government agencies and government computers.
Reading between the lines of Sunstein’s research paper, I believe it’s “justified” to ask whether the Obama administration took Sunstein’s “main policy idea” and put it into practice. If so, then We the People may likely pay for bureaucrats to engage in “counter-speech and marshall arguments” against us. We may pay, directly or indirectly, for “credible private parties to engage in counter-speech” (FactCheck, Media Matters, Snopes, public relations firms, progressive operatives who appear on CNN, FOX, CNBC, MSNBC and call into talk radio show, minions who write op-eds and letters to the editor, or “obots” who comment on blogs). Or we may merely pay for “informal communication with such parties, encouraging them to “help.” Did we pay for the secret meetings wherein someone organized media groups like JournOlist? We certainly paid for those organizing phone conferences between administration staffers and the NEA, which aimed to recruit artists to “help” promote the Obama agenda.
According to Wikipedia, the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs , which is currently headed by none other than Cass Sunstein, “develops and oversees the implementation of government-wide policies in the areas of information technology, information policy, privacy, and statistical policy.”
Could the policies Sunstein develops and oversees in the area of “information policy” include developing policies for debunking “conspiracy theories”? If so, it’s PROPAGANDA. Where in the U.S. Constitution is our government authorized to use taxpayer money to engage in PROPAGANDA against the people of this country?
But ARE they using our money? How do We the People find out whether or not our tax dollars are being spent against us? There has already been at least one example of this administration issuing a contract “for the development of Persona Management Software which would help the user create and manage a variety of distinct fake profiles online [emphasis added].” While this is software intended for use in Iraq and Afghanistan, who can assure us that, once developed, it won’t be used within the United States as well?
What say you? This is an open thread, so feel free to add your two cents about this subject or anything else on your mind.
h/t CanaGuy at Free Republic, who recently reminded me of this paper by Sunstein. We’ve written about or commented about Sunstein often, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here, for example. While Sunstein’s research paper has been analyzed on other blogs, as well as here, I thought it worth discussing yet again, because of what’s happened to Tea Partiers and so-called “birthers” at the hands of the complicit media and Obama’s supporters.