I’m sick with the bug that is doing the rounds at the moment and it’s left me good for nothing, really. I’ve spent most of the last week moping and occasionally scanning in articles for various courses I am going to be teaching (as well as indulging in one of my many secret shames; rewatching ‘Remington Steele’). In amongst my back catalogue of readings I found a piece by George Case (who you may well be hearing a lot more of) from a 2006 issue of ‘The Skeptic’ (wherein, soon, my work shall appear). Case writes on matters conspiratorial and his 2006 article is an attack on vulgar intellectualism:
Everyone loves a good mystery, for a start. There’s an emotional satisfaction that comes with solving a puzzle or learning a secret; figuring out a scam, however dastardly, carries intellectual prestige. Second, spotting a conspiracy or cracking a ciher entitles us to look down on the next guy and wrap up any argument with an appeal to our own specialized knowledge–let the doubters dwell in their ignorance. … It is this element of elitism that especially distinguishes accusations of media brainwashing. “Disinformation” is not so much a political concept as it is a cultural one, a way of contrasting the critical few with the gullible many.
Well, at least, an attack on vulgar intellectualism is really the charitable interpretation; his real foe is The Disinformation Company, publisher of such tomes as You Are Being Lied To: The Disinformation Guide to Media Distortion, Historical Whitewashes and Cultural Myths, Everything You Know is Wrong: The Disinformation Guide to Secrets and Lies, 50 Things You’re Not supposed to Know, and Abuse Your Illusions: The Disinformation Guide to Media Mirages and Establishment Lies [list taken from the article, I freely admit].
Case’s argument, in a quoted nutshell is:
White Rose wannabes who cry “Big Brother” at any public assertion but their own may imagine they are resisting a tyrannical party line, but in fact they are merely getting their turn in the constant debate over political, economic, moral and philosophical issues that is a feature of modem democratic life. Too often, their turns are forfeited by cheap shots and easy answers.
A healthy suspicion of officialdom and popular opinion is a valuable intellectual quality. But the self-congratulatory, more-cynical-than-thou posturing of The Disinformation Company cheapens that cautionary sensibility into a pointless rejection of all things “mainstream” that offers no practical, positive options in its place.
Now, on one hand, I agree. There’s too much vulgar popular sentiment when it comes to anti-establishment views. Anyone who has been on a protest march in recent years (and I’m including you right-wingers; John Boscawen be praised for showing that side up) will know the embarrassment of finding out who has flitted to your cause’s side. However, Case, to my mind, ruins his argument in two ways. Firstly, he brings in the Nazis.
In Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, society was built on the deliberate fictions of a cruelly secretive ruling class, and the pamphleteers of the White Rose and the samizdat writers behind the Iron Curtain risked (and often lost) their lives to contradict them.
Whilst he doesn’t say it outright the implication seems to be that we’re lucky to be alive now. Which may be true, but that doesn’t mean we should blithely ignore blatant media bias, be faithful without reason towards our elected officials and the like. Sure, things could be worse. They also could be a lot better.
Secondly, he chooses targets which, quite frankly, make me think he’s anti all intellectuals. He singles out Harold Pinter for comment and in the next breath talks about elitism. It seems that he tars everyone with the same brush, and yet the figures he really is aiming towards, the authors of The Disinformation Company’s ever-growing back catalogue, aren’t really touched upon at all. It isn’t fair to lump in different categories of people and then apply a one-fits-all argument to them; that’s a Strawman, and them be fallacious [Hicksville accent ends].
It’s not even a particularly good argument when applied to just The Disinformation Company, either. I’ve flicked through a number oftheir books and whilst some are merely pandering to a scared public others are written by appropriated qualified experts who know what they are on about and, in a great many of the volumes, engage in fairly erudite discourse about their topics. These books cannot be dismissed out of hand as vulgar intellectualism; they need to be evaluated on their merits.
Case has written other articles on Conspiracy Theories and, given the tone of this one, I’m keen to read the others. I suspect, based upon this piece, that he’s not sympathetic to the notion that we should be open-minded about Conspiracy Theories. I think he probably is an adherent to the Cock-up Theory of History and maybe he’s even a bit Chomskian. I may well be wrong and I’ll tell you if I am. Until then, however, I have some light scanning and some heavy-duty recovery to do.