Are you familiar with the term “sheeple”? Have you heard it used in the past, either in passing, or perhaps directed against you as a form of insult? Maybe you know exactly what “sheeple” are. Wikipedia reports that “sheeple” is a term of disparagement, in which people are likened to sheep, and is used to denote persons who voluntarily acquiesce to a perceived authority or suggestion without specific research to fully understand the ramifications. Wikipedia goes on to suggest that in its current mainstream North American usage, that “sheeple” tend to take things at face value, especially if it is in the mainstream media.
As Greens, we have a long history with fighting against perceived “mainstream” arguments, especially in the environmental movement. It wasn't so long ago that people accepted that the scientific community was largely in disagreement as to whether or not anthropogenic global warming was happening. “The jury is still out” was a phrase which was bandied about a lot, despite significant agreement amongst scientists. Today, virtually every government on the planet accepts the (significant) majority findings of our scientific community: that global warming is happening, and that humanity is responsible for it. Governments eventually came around to listening to scientists and not believing in media pundits who, although widely read and influential in the realm of public opinion, made wild claims based on unsupported arguments. A victory for science-based solutions over the media mis-led “sheeple” was at hand.
Of course, some would say that actions speak louder than words, and with the relative inaction of the global community to combat anthropogenic global warming, many Greens believe that our governments actually don't subscribe to their stated views that global warming is happening. Why else aren't we doing anything much about it?
In the last few years, a decreasing number of North Americans continue to believe that anthropogenic global warming is actually a reality, especially in the United States. A Gallup Poll, published in March, 2010, shows that this trend has actually been increasing since at least 1997. In 1997, only 31% of Americans believed that the threat of global warming was “exaggerated”. In 2008, this number was up to 41%; in 2010, it stands at 48%.
Still think that war against the denial industry has been won by our side? Just because we like to say that the war is over, that the jury has returned its verdict, and global warming is clearly happening because we, humanity, have been pouring greenhouse gases into our atmosphere at increasing and alarming rates for the past 100 or so years, doesn't actually end the argument. In fact, what our claims of victory have done is to provide our opponents with ammunition that environmentalists, the scientific community, international organizations, and governments are actually evidence that the debate isn't over, and is instead being covered up by those who want to claim victory.
So now we've entered the realm of “conspiracy theories”, haven't we? I mean, what else would you call a cover-up involving thousands of scientists, tens of thousands of legislators, a compliant media (if only those who are left-leaning), and likely millions of people who sincerely believe that our world is at threat from global warming and that something must be done about it. If all are involved in a cover-up to suppress the truth, well, that's a Conspiracy Theory, isn't it? And therefore, it's very easy to dismiss the views of those who believe in the conspiracy, because if they actually believe that's happening, well, that's....nuts, right?
Or is it really? Perhaps you have been labelled a “conspiracy theorist” at one time by those with whom you've shared your views. Or perhaps you've thought of yourself as a conspiracy theorist, but not in the denigrating way so many others have used the term. Do you remember the first time that you watched Barry Zwicker's “The End of Suburbia”, and perhaps felt a little smugness (and a great degree of despair) that you were in on a secret which the mainstream world hadn't heard of? Those were revolutionary times for some of us, and when we began talking about “peak oil” to our friends, families and co-workers, they looked at us like we were crackpots. Those who bothered to look into the matter themselves either quickly found government statistics which boldly asserted that there is nothing to worry about...or quickly adopted our own way of looking at the world.
Hmmm....I wonder what Barrie Zwicker has been up to since then? But I digress...
Maybe you hold different views on the assassination of President John F. Kennedy; maybe those views were informed by Oliver Stone's movie, “JFK”. Perhaps you believe that President Roosevelt knew in advance that the Imperial Japanese Navy was going to bomb Pearl Harbour yet did nothing about it. Maybe you believe that, during the Second World War, Prime Minister Winston Churchill deliberately chose not to intercept the Luftwaffe's bombing raid which burned the city of Coventry almost to the ground. Or perhaps you think that the Gulf of Tonkin incident, which led to a much more militant phase of American involvement in the Vietnam War didn't happen.
What, then, is a “conspiracy theorist”? Seems to me that in some cases, it might be just a question of timing. If you, in 1945, believed that Churchill let Coventry burn, doing nothing to stop the Luftwaffe, you might have been labelled a conspiracy theorist. Yet facts which emerged after the war would have vindicated your position (Churchill knew, and did nothing, because by taking action, he would have let on to the Germans that the British had broken their Enigma codes, and a valuable source of intelligence would have been loss. So civilians died to protect the secret). If you, in 1970, believed that the Gulf of Tonkin incident was a fabrication, and that the pretext for American military engagement in Vietnam was based on a lie (what “conspiracy theorists” refer to as a “false flag operation”), you would have been labelled a “conspiracy theorist”. Yet facts which have emerged since then clearly refute the “official” government story.
Governments are not always honest with their citizens. Sometimes they have very good reasons not to be honest. Sometimes, the reasons are a little murky. In the case of Coventry, the British government let scores of innocent civilians die horrible deaths, so that they could pursue their goal of winning the war. Many would suggest that this was a “good reason” to lie to citizens. Rationale in support of the government's decision to create a masquerade off the Vietnamese coast, involving American warships, is less clear. Of course, that wouldn't have been the first time that American naval vessels came under fire from foreign forces, so perhaps it was at least believable (remember the U.S.S. Maine, and of course, Pearl Harbour).
With regards to JFK and Pearl Harbour, the jury isn't out on these verdicts. Mainstream and government sources have clearly concluded that there is no evidence to support that Roosevelt was aware of Pearl Harbour before it happened, nor is there any evidence to support that JFK was murdered by anybody except Lee Harvey Oswald, he of lone gunman fame. We can dismiss anyone who believes otherwise as being either uninformed or unbalanced. Those cases are closed.
Just like the case for the existence of anthropogenic global warming. And hence many Greens are dismissive of those who believe otherwise as being misinformed (either wilfully or not) or, well, kooks.
Of course, if we're going to talk about conspiracy theories, we can't very well ignore 9/11, given that the events of that tragic day have spawned a multitude of theories, and a whole movement has emerged in the past decade dedicated to finding the out what really happened. People who belong to this movement describe themselves as “Truthers”, as they believe that they are looking for real answers to questions which have been asked by some, but not in the mainstream media.
For many Truthers, there are just too many unexplained events, or events whose explanations defy reality. Everything from missing planes to floating passports, cell phone calls and the collapse of buildings being reported on the news before they happened; all inform the Truther position that there was something more going on that day than what has been reported in the mainstream media. A changing government narrative hasn't helped give Truthers much confidence that the mainstream has answered all of the questions here. Nor has a decade-long war, waged to seek out 9/11's mastermind, provided much in the way of evidence for Truthers to give up their cause.
Truthers would suggest that if governments can and do lie to their citizens about some things, and if the mainstream media is complicit in repeating those lies, what really can we believe in? The answer should be that we can only rely on verifiable facts, and that arguments which are based on an incomplete set of facts can not be relied upon, and are likely not true as a result; otherwise, why withhold the facts? There doesn't appear to be a Churchill moment here. A case in point: Some Truthers believe that American Airlines Flight 77 did not strike the Pentagon as reported on 9/11. They sight conflicting eye-witness reports, lack of damage at the sight (to the building, and missing wreckage), and the difficulty of flying the pilot's alleged trajectory. These arguments have all been dismissed by mainstream commentators, without success for many Truthers. Truthers know that there were numerous cameras which recorded the impact on 9/11, but claim that video which actually shows an airplane striking the Pentagon has ever been released by government sources which seized the cameras. Of course, the government has released some video of the incident, which Truthers claim doesn't actually show an airplane. Their point is, if the mainstream argument is valid, why not release the video?
Why just claim that the argument is over and disengage?
Disengagement and Escalation
People have this habit of tuning out when they feel that they are not being heard. It is important for us all to believe that when we are expressing concerns, that those concerns are being heard and actually considered by those to whom we are expressing them. Just pretend to not be paying attention the next time you and your spouse find yourselves in an argument, and see how quickly things begins to escalate.
It's the same with Truthers. They feel excluded from the debate, and they are frustrated by it. They see those involved in their movement have been denied much in the way of opportunity to present their issues. They believe that not only is the government withholding information, but that the mainstream media hasn't been doing its job to ask the government questions about what it knows. Essentially, they view the mainstream media as being complicit in the cover-up. The government declares victory, the media reports it, end of story. If you still disagree, you must be uninformed or unbalanced.
People generally don't react well you call them crazy. What ends up happening is the argument escalates. We've been seeing that throughout the past decade with Truthers, who aren't going to fade away any time soon. It is quite likely that their numbers are growing, as further evidence of government cover-ups come to light, such as George Bush's assertion that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, ready to incinerate Washington or New York City. Later admissions that WMD's didn't exist, and revisions to the “real” reason for going to war in the first place haven't instilled a lot of confidence in Truthers that the government can be trusted.
Truthers have been diversifying for years now. It's not unusual to hear Truthers talk about Bilderberg, the Amero and bank bail outs, even though on the surface, these things have little to do with the events of 9/11. However, when recalled that the Security and Prosperity Partnership was being proposed between President Bush and Prime Ministers Martin and Fox, the context for the discussion was greater North American security, as well as integration. And since many Americans continue to believe even today that the 9/11 terrorists entered the United States from Canada, it's not a stretch to see how a continental security agreement flows from 9/11.
Who stands to gain? That's the Truthers' best question, and they believe if you can answer that question, you'll find the truth behind any event. Who stood to gain from invading Iraq? Who stood to gain from an RCMP investigation into statements made by the Liberal Minister of Finance prior to the 2006 election? Who stands to gain by inaction on fighting climate change? We Greens aren't unfamiliar with this method of exposing the truth.
From a Truther perspective, much of what's happened in the past decade can be viewed as a series of gains for our government and their monied supporters. Gains made at the expense of the “little people” and their constitutional rights. They look at legislation in the U.S., such as the Patriot Act, which can curtail rights, and lead to outcomes which formerly would have been illegal. They look at the use of torture on foreign nationals to extract information and wonder what kind of society the United States is turning into.
Our Evolving Society
Here in Canada, we are very influenced by what happens in the United States. We've certainly had our own questions which many feel have been going unanswered, and we've seen the erosion of our rights through legislation, including the recent budget bill, which stripped our ability to oppose some public works on environmental grounds. Our own Party has expressed considerable concern regarding the democratic deficit, and the idea that our voices aren't being heard. Our Leader has talked about the secretive decision-making process of our Prime Minister, and has called for more honest answers to questions asked in parliament. Greens have expounded to no end that the media has been complicit in keeping our issues off of the front pages of newspapers and out of the 6 o'clock news. We are concerned that our voice may be silenced by the media consortium which controls the next televised leaders debate.
Does expressing concerns about government secrecy and the erosion of rights make us all Truthers of a sort? I mean, you don't have disbelieve in the mainstream story of 9/11 to think that maybe our democratic processes have taken a few steps backwards in the past 10 years. There are even some voices in the mainstream media which cover the democratic deficit fiercely (here James Travers of the Toronto Star comes to mind). However, largely, these issues are not front and centre in the media.
Greens in the Crosshairs
And how do you feel about that? A little angry, perhaps? Upset that your voice isn't being heard? Are you a little irritated that you'll go out and vote for a Party of your choice in the next election, but that because of the way our country elects parliamentarians that the outcome of the next election isn't likely going to be any different than what we have now? Feel like the cards are stacked against you, and there isn't anyone who will listen?
“Why don't those sheeple wake up to what's going on?” you might ask.
And that's another of the very same questions the “conspiracy theorists” have been asking. And they are wondering why you, Green Party supporter that you are, can't wake up and see what's really happening in the world, from their point of view. Many of them are wondering why you belong to a political organization which advocates for the military-industrial-banking complex, and why you want to abolish their rights. You, Green Party supporter, are public enemy number one.
But at least you're in good company, along with the NDP and Liberals, and even the Conservatives, who all express a belief in anthropogenic global warming. But since we Greens actually want to do something about it, we may find ourselves increasingly in the crosshairs of those who believe that there's a different agenda at play, and that climate change is one of many tools being used to promote bigger government, fewer human rights, population reduction, implanted monitoring devices, forced sterilization, and a distribution of wealth and resources which favours the richest few at the expense of the rest of us.
You see, we've declared the global warming debate over, and our side the victors in the debate. Anthropogenic global warming is happening, end of story. Funny, though, that an increasing number of people just don't believe it.
In Part 3 of this series of blogposts, I hope to look at why it is that the “third side” (for lack of a better term) believes that Greens have it completely wrong.