01.31.2010 0

Conspiracy Theories: Is Rebutting Them Governments Job?

  • On: 02/03/2010 09:20:35
  • In: First Amendment
  • By Victor Morawski

    Conspiracy theories abound in the U.S. about everything from who killed JFK to America’s alleged involvement in the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Most of us, while we may not agree with them, tolerate them nonetheless. That’s what freedom of speech is all about.

    Unless, of course, you are Obama Administration Regulatory Czar, Cass Sunstein.

    In a recently written “Preliminary Draft” of a research paper entitled “Conspiracy Theories,” he and his co-author Adrian Vermeule claim that, “government might do well to maintain a more vigorous counter misinformation establishment than it would otherwise do, one that identifies and rebuts many more conspiracy theories [than] would otherwise be rebutted.”

    What reasons do they give for justifying such an intrusion by government into freedom of expression? And even more important, do their suggestions have any place in a free and open society?

    Well, you have to understand that the government to which they wish to hand such unfettered, intrusive power has only the best of intentions — that it is “a well-motivated government that aims to eliminate conspiracy theories … if and only if social welfare is improved by doing so.” They then add, rather cryptically, that they will not give us a clearer idea of what they mean by “social welfare.” We’re to look at this expression as a hole into which the “right account” of social welfare is to be plugged later.

    Were they merely discussing some abstract philosophical concepts with little practical import, most of us would likely be willing to cut them some slack as starry-eyed academics typically out of touch with the real world. But they are arguing that the Federal government actually adopt a widespread program of infiltration and attempted overthrow of groups allegedly harboring “conspiracy” theories on a scale never before envisioned in the history of the Republic. And, of course, the government is to conduct this witch-hunt at significant taxpayer expense.

    Now most readers may believe that the vast majority of conspiracy theories are harmless, inconsequential and best ignored by government. Not surprisingly, Sunstein and his co-author try to disabuse us of this notion. They want them all investigated – especially if, in any way, they depart from current government dogma.

    They make a legitimate point that, while many conspiracy theories—like the Roswell UFO cover-up—seem to require no action from believers, some others may foment violent action, like the beliefs about the malevolence of the Federal Government resulting in the isolated actions of the Oklahoma City bomber. So some beliefs might result in significant harm if acted upon by “only a small fraction of adherents.” With this, most would agree, theoretically, at any rate.

    But that hardly justifies where Sunstein goes from here. For even though he recognizes that not all conspiracy theories foment violence, he still maintains that many of them, in fact, the most common cases, “can still have pernicious effects from the government’s point of view.” You see, he posits somewhat hysterically, they “induce widespread public skepticism about the government’s assertions.” Or, worse yet, they motivate people not to participate in “government-led efforts.” in some area.

    Here he opens the door to declaring a whole host of such theories “pernicious.” By the guidelines he lays down, practically any theory that contains beliefs that dissent from the government’s official line in almost any area or subject now qualifies as “pernicious”—not as legitimate free speech. He recommends against ignoring these theories as their proponents may “draw ominous inferences from the government’s silence.”

    So, Sunstein’s recommendation is to go after all so-called “conspirators” tooth and nail. He wants to unleash a whole host of government operatives on them, infiltrating their meetings, bugging their phones, monitoring their credit card transactions, tailing their cars, and likely even hiding under their beds if the Obama Administration so desires.

    It all sounds like some bizarre scenario culled from the “Coming Attractions” of a science fiction epic. But, unfortunately, in this case, it’s not science fiction at all. And, it’s not “coming;” it’s here.

    Cass Sunstein, as mentioned above, is the Obama Administration’s Regulations Czar. As such, he is responsible for deciding what government agencies are allowed to do. And that means when he says it’s time for government enforcers to start spying on “conspirators” who express “skepticism about government’s assertions,” it’s time for you to start looking over your shoulder.

    Victor Morawski, professor at Coppin State University, is a Liberty Features Syndicated writer for Americans for Limited Government.

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