I have an essay in the latest Standpoint on the explosion of conspiracy theories.
Until recently, examining paranoid politics was not a respectable occupation for serious writers. Stephen Jay Gould once wrote that few of his scientific colleagues wanted to spend years looking for fraudulent science when they could be concentrating on making their own discoveries. The same unwillingness to waste precious time protected fraudulent history. The effort needed to go through the shifting assertions of, say, the 9/11 “truth” campaigners would question the researcher’s sanity as much as the sanity of his or her targets. Such studies of paranoia as there have been followed the format of Louis Theroux’s Weird Weekends, where the role of the journalist is to confirm the audience’s sense of its own superiority by inspecting American survivalists or racial supremacists, much as Georgian gentlemen examined the lunatics of Bedlam.
The rise of radical Islam with its medieval manias about Jewish conspiracies and Crusader intrigues and the wild fears the disasters of the Bush administration provoked are driving out unwarranted superciliousness, and not before time.