How We All Turned Into Truthers

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
April 26 2011 8:12 AM

How We All Turned Into Truthers

My new piece is an attempt to understand why the hell conspiracy theories became such a dominant part of politics -- seriously, I've been expecting them to fade for months. It's based in part on a smart new book about conspiracy culture, Jonathan Kay's Among the Truthers .

Kay's research is reassuring, in its way, because by taking all these obsessions seriously, he can diagnose their origin. The problem of the conspiracy theorist is the problem of the "failed historian." Kay gives an example. For a while, Sigmund Freud believed that Shakespeare wrote Hamlet after his father died. When Freud wrote The Interpretation of Dreams , he cited the play as a key Oedpial work. But in 1919, historians discovered that Shakespeare wrote the play before his father died. How did Freud respond? He became obsessed with the conspiracy theory that the 17 th Earl of Oxford had written the plays credited to "William Shakespeare."

Are the paranoid Democrats of 2006 and the unhinged Republicans of 2011 following in the footsteps of Sigmund Freud? Maybe. They might even argue that the stakes are higher for them: All Freud had to do was defend a thick chunk of his book. They're on the cusp of losing their country.
Advertisement

 

Read, read, before the helicopters come.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

TODAY IN SLATE

Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

I Bought the Huge iPhone. I’m Already Thinking of Returning It.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Students Aren’t Going to College Football Games as Much Anymore

And schools are getting worried.

Two Damn Good, Very Different Movies About Soldiers Returning From War

The XX Factor

Lifetime Didn’t Think the Steubenville Rape Case Was Dramatic Enough

So they added a little self-immolation.

Politics

Blacks Don’t Have a Corporal Punishment Problem

Americans do. But when blacks exhibit the same behaviors as others, it becomes part of a greater black pathology. 

Why a Sketch of Chelsea Manning Is Stirring Up Controversy

How Worried Should Poland, the Baltic States, and Georgia Be About a Russian Invasion?

Trending News Channel
Sept. 19 2014 1:11 PM Watch Flashes of Lightning Created in a Lab  
  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 20 2014 11:13 AM -30-
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 20 2014 6:30 AM The Man Making Bill Gates Richer
  Life
Quora
Sept. 20 2014 7:27 AM How Do Plants Grow Aboard the International Space Station?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 20 2014 3:21 PM “The More You Know (About Black People)” Uses Very Funny PSAs to Condemn Black Stereotypes
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 6:31 PM The One Big Problem With the Enormous New iPhone
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 20 2014 7:00 AM The Shaggy Sun
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.