We Are Irredeemably Stupid, Tin Foil Hat Edition

Former baseball great Chipper Jones has slipped into the outrage/persecution complex. His crime? He wrote something stupid on Twitter. This past Friday, Chipper wrote, referring to the Sandy Hook massacre, “So the FBI comes out and confirms that Sandy Hook was a hoax! Where is the outrage? What else are we being lied to about? Waco? JFK? Pfff...” The internet was quick to respond, and Chipper had to return to Twitter to type up an apology. A supplicant come on bended knee, Chipper had roused the fury of the internet irate, and offered his due penance. He shouldn’t worry. The attention span for matters like this, especially involving retired athletes who are normally far away from the public eye, is short. He could have gotten away with doing nothing, but that would have meant staying offline for a week or so. Who wants to do that?

Where did Chipper get that stupid idea about Sandy Hook? Probably from Alex Jones, the conspiracist/provocateur who maintains a media empire dedicated to mistrust and outrageous fantasies. His proof is crime statistics released by the FBI that don’t count the victims of the massacre among the tally of murder victims in Newtown, Connecticut for that year. Differences in how multiple agencies collect and report crime statistics based on things like jurisdiction and what agency happened to be the first to respond are to blame for the discrepancy. But some conspiracy folks take the FBI numbers as proof, offered inadvertently, that the massacre didn’t happen. Rather, it was a hoax perpetrated by the government, with the complicity of the news media, in order to foment support for taking guns away from real, God-loving Americans, i.e., conservatives. It’s actually some wild shit, but totally crazy. The fact that Chipper bought into nonsense like this enough to let loose on Twitter is a disappointment, but it hardly makes him unique.

The idea that the government, or corporations, or shadow organizations of which we are unaware, are behind multiple conspiracies to deny us our freedom is not a new concept. But the access to fringe theories afford by the Information Age means that probably a majority of Americans now believe that at least one outlandish conspiracy theory is true.

9/11 was an inside job. Sandy Hook was a hoax. The Boston Marathon bombing was a false flag operation. These are three of the most popular, but a full listing would be very extensive. It seems that every time there is a story of some significance in the news, conspiracy theories immediately follow. While the news cannot be expected to report 100% of the story 100% of the time, and the government cannot be expected to tell the whole truth about much of anything, conspiracy theories tend to leap from the plausible to the outlandish with little urging, and with little regard for evidence.

One thing these conspiracies seem to have in common is the wonderful competence of the conspirators. For example, conspiracy theorists can’t seem to reconcile themselves with the idea that the Bush administration was incompetent, and that their incompetence was one of the reasons the 9/11 attacks happened. We have the most powerful and far-reaching government on the planet, and it seems to make no sense that we would get caught with our pants down. Well, it happened. The same government that got caught off guard by Hurricane Katrina and the 2008 financial meltdown; the same administration that mismanaged not one, but two, wars, could very well miss an imminent attack like 9/11. Our leaders are not gods. They are people.

I think one of the reasons people are so ready to embrace conspiracy theories is because it explains away poor behavior by our leaders and undesired outcomes in our policies. That is, as Americans, we are exposed to indoctrination into the American ideal from almost the moment we are out of the womb. Despite this being a free society, the propaganda is strong, as are the patriotic pressures. Yet, we see flaws in America. The ideal crumbles in the face of scrutiny.

Rather than acknowledge that maybe, just maybe, the flaws in the American experience are inherent, we instead choose to believe that the country is being corrupted by unseen cabals. Rather that admit that the people at the top are as stupid as we, that our freedoms are fragile, and that we can be victim to the same class woes that have infested every society in existence, there instead has to be a malicious agent at the top whose aim is to oppress. The reasons for the oppressions do not matter. They just are.

We are dealing with cognitive dissonance. We know the way our country is supposed to operate, at least we think we do, and when we see the system producing very un-American outcomes, we don’t look at the flaws of the system. Instead, we pronounce the system hijacked. That is why sometimes smart adults like Chipper can find themselves on Twitter letting the whole world know that acorns are rattling around in their empty heads.