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Conspiracy Theory Is Not Crazy

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by Eric RauchwayOn my way to work I bicycle past a car that bears the bumper sticker, 9/11 was an inside job. I disagree, if only on the grounds of incompetence; if this administration had targeted the Twin Towers, we'd be grieving today for the meaningless tragedy that befell the Minnesota Twins.

But conspiracy theories thrive in our country, perhaps more than in others. Today Scott McLemee borrows from Richard Hofstadter to discuss 9/11 conspiracists:

The conspiratorial mentality or "paranoid style"--for which important events in public life are best understood as the product of hidden, malevolent forces controlling history--is strongly prone to assuming a scholarly form.

Conspiracy theory is not, Hofstadter and McLemee note, crazy: It's super-rational. In conspiracy theory, someone is in charge--someone meant for things to be this way. This is obviously, if oddly comforting to lots of people: Maybe it's a wicked world full of snares for the unwary, but at least there's a spider at the center of the web.

The alternative metaphor is harder to accept: This bad world is like an onion whose layers you peel back, weeping, only to find there's nothing at the center.

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