How does evidence happen? And when evidence happens badly, how can we find a fitting response to those making extraordinary claims? These are the questions driving Jenny Rice’s groundbreaking study into the life of evidence as she seeks to uncover why traditional modes of argument often fail in the face of claims that rely on bad evidence. The chapters make a deep dive into the nature and character of evidence itself by examining literal archives, though some quite unorthodox, as well as more popular archives that exist within public memory. Rice looks to examples that lie at the fringes of public discourse—pseudo-science, the paranormal, conspiracy theories about 9/11, the moon landing, UFO sightings, and Obama’s birth record. Such fringe examples, Rice argues, bring to light other questions about evidence that force us to reassess and move beyond traditional forms of ethics and debate.
After sketching a broader framework for understanding what evidence is, Awful Archives then asks how we can practice more ethical and productive forms of debate, especially when we’re faced with arguments that feel like a dead end. Thorough, engaging, and deeply insightful, Awful Archives:Conspiracy Theory, Rhetoric, and Acts of Evidence introduces an entirely new perspective on evidence—one that will impact the field for years to come.
It’s tempting to think that we live in an unprecedentedly fertile age for conspiracy theories, with seemingly each churn of the news cycle bringing fresh manifestations of large-scale paranoia. But the sad fact is that these narratives of suspicion—and the delusional psychologies that fuel them—have been a constant presence in American life for nearly as long as there’s been an America.
In this sweeping book, Thomas Milan Konda traces the country’s obsession with conspiratorial thought from the early days of the republic to our own anxious moment. Conspiracies of Conspiracies details centuries of sinister speculations—from antisemitism and anti-Catholicism to UFOs and reptilian humanoids—and their often incendiary outcomes. Rather than simply rehashing the surface eccentricities of such theories, Konda draws from his unprecedented assemblage of conspiratorial writing to crack open the mindsets that lead people toward these self-sealing worlds of denial. What is distinctively American about these theories, he argues, is not simply our country’s homegrown obsession with them but their ongoing prevalence and virulence. Konda proves that conspiracy theories are no harmless sideshow. They are instead the dark and secret heart of American political history—one that is poisoning the bloodstream of an increasingly sick body politic.
Conspiracy Theories and the Failure of Intellectual Critique argues that conspiracy theories, including those that conflict with official accounts and suggest that prominent people in Western democracies have engaged in appalling behavior, should be taken seriously and judged on their merits and problems on a case-by-case basis. It builds on the philosophical work on this topic that has developed over the past quarter century, challenging some of it, but affirming the emerging consensus: each conspiracy theory ought to be judged on its particular merits and faults.
The philosophical consensus contrasts starkly with what one finds in the social science literature. Kurtis Hagen argues that significant aspects of that literature, especially the psychological study of conspiracy theorists, has turned out to be flawed and misleading. Those flaws are not randomly directed; rather, they consistently serve to disparage conspiracy theorists unfairly. This suggests that there may be a bias against conspiracy theorists in the academy, skewing “scientific” results. Conspiracy Theories and the Failure of Intellectual Critique argues that social scientists who study conspiracy theories and/or conspiracy theorists would do well to better absorb the implications of the philosophical literature.
JFK, Karl Marx, the Pope, Aristotle Onassis, Queen Elizabeth II, Howard Hughes, Fox Mulder, Bill Clinton--all have been linked to vastly complicated global (or even galactic) intrigues. In this enlightening tour of conspiracy theories, Mark Fenster guides readers through this shadowy world and analyzes its complex role in American culture and politics.
Fenster argues that conspiracy theories are a form of popular political interpretation and contends that understanding how they circulate through mass culture helps us better understand our society as a whole. To that end, he discusses Richard Hofstadter's The Paranoid Style in American Politics, the militia movement, The X-Files, popular Christian apocalyptic thought, and such artifacts of suspicion as The Turner Diaries, the Illuminatus! trilogy, and the novels of Richard Condon.
Fenster analyzes the "conspiracy community" of radio shows, magazine and book publishers, Internet resources, and role-playing games that promote these theories. In this world, the very denial of a conspiracy's existence becomes proof that it exists, and the truth is always "out there." He believes conspiracy theory has become a thrill for a bored subculture, one characterized by its members' reinterpretation of "accepted" history, their deep cynicism about contemporary politics, and their longing for a utopian future.
Fenster's progressive critique of conspiracy theories both recognizes the secrecy and inequities of power in contemporary politics and economics and works toward effective political engagement. Probing conspiracy theory's tendencies toward scapegoating, racism, and fascism, as well as Hofstadter's centrist acceptance of a postwar American "consensus," he advocates what conspiracy theory wants but cannot articulate: a more inclusive, engaging political culture.
"Fenster, a lone writer (the literary equivalent of a lone gunman, perhaps), segues from the novels of Thomas Pynchon to the Clinton Death List. . . . Conspiracy Theories is a dangerous book. I suspect 'they' (and you know who I mean, of course) will take care of this lone writer any day now."--Bookforum
"Fenster makes a powerful argument for regarding conspiracism as an integral product of the political system, reflecting inadequacies the establishment itself is blind to and expressing strong desires for the realization of frustrated ideals. Conspiracy Theories is a fascinating look at an important, little-studied topic. Informative and thought-provoking." --Philadelphia City Paper
"Fenster culls the liveliest counterintelligences out there--the Michigan Militia, religious millennialists, Chris Carter, even Oliver Stone--and sets them up as the last idealists. They might be obsessive and maniacal, but they're after a transparent political system, where big business and the government can be held accountable. Their 'paranoid style,' according to Fenster, is just old-school populism refitted for the media age." --Voice Literary Supplement
"Fenster makes a powerful argument for regarding conspiracism as an integral product of the political system, reflecting inadequacies the establishment itself is blind to and expressing strong desires for the realization of frustrated ideals. Conspiracy Theories is a fascinating look at an important, little-studied topic. Informative and thought-provoking." Philadelphia City Paper
"Fenster's careful examination of conspiratorial beliefs as evidence by right-wing groups, by various media, and even by those who devise such theories as a form of ludic or satiric endeavor (like Robert Anton Wilson) is revealing. And his articulation of the set of political-rather than pathological-reasons for their behavior is salutary." --American Book Review
"Fenster's extensive and impressive research provided a means of coming to terms with the radical disjunction between the interpretive framework which I used to understand events such as the one at Littleton, and a framework at odds with my own which was now confronting me on a daily basis." --Canadian Journal of Communication
"In this lively and wide-ranging critique, Fenster argues that conspiracy theories are attempts to engage in a more inclusive political culture." --Religious Studies Review
"Mark Fenster has provided a solid and illuminating study of the public's fascination with conspiracy theories and sets forth a stimulating correlation between the popularity of such theories and the social and political values of our society. This is a comprehensive and intriguing analysis of our often obsessive interest in conspiracy theories." --Gerald Posner, author of Killing the Dream : James Earl Ray and the Assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Case Closed : Lee Harvey Oswald and the Assassination of JFK
"I find the issue of conspiracy theory compelling and appreciate Fenster's fruitful approach to what has been mysteriously ignored by the academy." --Barbie Zelizer, author of Covering the Body: The Kennedy Assassination, the Media, and the Shaping of Collective Memory
"Fenster shines a powerful light on the fantasies of secrecy that pervade American culture, illuminating both the way they originate and how they work. His analysis is theoretically acute, his criticism of previous scholarly studies is compelling, and he offers razor-sharp readings of an impressive array of movements, events, and cultural practices. He stands out, above all, for his ability to capture the power and appeal of conspiratorial understandings of politics even as he explains their fundamental political limitations. The only thing that can keep this book from having the impact it deserves is a vast, academic conspiracy." --Mark T. Reinhardt, Williams College
Mark Fenster received his Ph.D. in communication from the University of Illinois and his law degree from Yale University. He currently lives in Denver.
A myth-busting journey through the twilight world of fringe ideas and alternative facts.
Is a secret and corrupt Illuminati conspiring to control world affairs and bring about a New World Order? Was Donald Trump a victim of massive voter fraud? Is Elizabeth II a shapeshifting reptilian alien? Who is doing all this plotting?
In Hope and Fear, Ronald H. Fritze explores the fringe ideas and conspiracy theories people have turned to in order to make sense of the world around them, from myths about the Knights Templar and the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel, to Nazis and the occult, the Protocols of Zion and UFOs. As Fritze reveals, when conspiracy theories, myths, and pseudo-history dominate a society’s thinking, facts, reality, and truth fall by the wayside.
"Looks back at the history of Posadism to explore why this largely discredited movement has elicited so much recent interest."—Art in America
Advocating nuclear war, attempting communication with dolphins, and taking an interest in the paranormal and UFOs, there is perhaps no greater (or stranger) cautionary tale for the Left than that of Posadism. Named after the Argentine Trotskyist J. Posadas, the movement’s journey through the fractious and sectarian world of mid-20th century revolutionary socialism was unique. This book is a “dumpster dive” into the weird and wonderful world of the Posadists.
Although at times significant, Posadas' movement was ultimately a failure. As it disintegrated, it increasingly grew to resemble a bizarre cult, detached from the working class it sought to liberate. The renewed interest in Posadism today, especially for its more outlandish fixations, speaks to both a cynicism towards the past and nostalgia for the earnest belief that a better world is possible. Chapters include:
*Revolutionary Youth or Patriotic Youth *The Death Throes of Capitalism *The Origins of Posadism *Flying Saucers, the Process of Matter and Energy, Science, the Revolutionary and Working-Class Stuggle, and the Socialist Future of Mankind *What Exists Cannot be True *Why Don’t Extraterrestrials Make Public Contact *UFOs to the People
In the Introduction, A.M. Gittlitz writes, “Insurrection or first contact could come any day, Marxists and ufologists both tell us, but both are far more likely if we desire them, embracing a sentiment enigmatically expressed in a meme come before its time, a poster on the wall of rouge FBI agent Fox Mulder in the ‘90s sci-fi noir The X-Files: hovering alongside a granny image of a comically unconvincingly flying saucer and the words I WANT TO BELIEVE".
Drawing on considerable archival research, and numerous interviews with ex- and current Posadists, I Want to Believe tells the fascinating story of this most unusual socialist movement and considers why it continues to capture the imaginations of leftists today.
In the spirit of justice Blas Valera broke all the rules-and paid with his life. Hundreds of years later, his ghost has returned to haunt the official story. But is it the truth, and will it set the record straight?
This is the tale of Father Blas Valera, the child of a native Incan woman and Spanish father, caught between the ancient world of the Incas and the conquistadors of Spain. Valera, a Jesuit in sixteenth-century Peru, believed in what to his superiors was pure heresy: that the Incan culture, religion, and language were equal to their Christian counterparts.
As punishment for his beliefs he was imprisoned, beaten, and, finally, exiled to Spain, where he died at the hands of English pirates in 1597.
Four centuries later, this Incan chronicler had been all but forgotten, until an Italian anthropologist discovered some startling documents in a private Neapolitan collection. The documents claimed, among other things, that Valera's death had been faked by the Jesuits; that he had returned to Peru; and, intriguingly, while there had taught his followers that the Incas used a secret phonetic quipu-a record-keeping device of the Inca empire-to record history.
Far from settling anything, the documents created an international sensation among scholars and led to bitter disputes over how they should be assessed. Are they forgeries, authentic documents, or something in between? If genuine, they will radically reform our view of Inca culture and Valera. The author insightfully examines the evidence, showing how fact and fiction intertwine, and brings the dimly understood history of this author-priest to light.
Sabine Hyland is Co-director of a multidisciplinary project studying the Chanka people of Peru. She holds a doctoral degree in anthropology from Yale, and is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at St. Norbert College.