Rewriting the Second Amendment

Does it really matter?

There is no topic that generates quite as much hysteria as gun rights. Not even the quality of soccer clubs. Opinions cut across age, race, religion, and even political ideology. If you were raised with firearms in your home, gun ownership is a God-given human right as important as freedom of thought, speech, assembly, and religion. If you weren’t raised with firearms in your home, gun ownership is something that needs to be regulated in order to protect society, just like automobiles, dangerous chemicals, tobacco, and playground equipment.

What People Think About Guns

If you ask people what they believe the Second Amendment of the Constitution means, or should mean, they’ll tell you bluntly with total certainty. Cut through the high-tension rhetoric and you’ll find rationales that expose much about our society.

One approach to assessing the attitudes of society about firearms is to ask people how they would rewrite the Second Amendment. That question was asked by the Los Angeles Times in 2017 and by Quora in 2018 via the internet. No adjustments were made for demographic information in these surveys (i.e., they are not statistical polls). The responses were all open-format.

Responses from the LA Times did included information on whether the respondent said they owned any guns. 64% of the comments came from individuals who said they did not own any guns and 36% came from individuals who said they were gun owners. (For context, other surveys indicate that about 30% of American adults own one or more guns.) The tenor of some of the responses suggested that the gun-ownership data are not entirely reliable.

All of the responses were categorized into six common themes plus a separate category for unique responses. Although neither of the sources represent a statistically-designed survey, the comments are interesting. Results are summarized in the following table.

The proportions of responses in the seven categories are similar for both sources. Furthermore, the proportion of responses that want to expand gun ownership (EXPANDED and TYRANNY) is about the same as the proportion of responses that want to limit gun ownership (REPEALED, REGULATED, and MILITIAS). About 13% of responses indicated that no change in the Amendment was needed.

Of the 270 responses (in the LA Times survey) from individuals who said they did not own a gun, 28% would clarify the need for regulation, 23% would clarify or expand gun ownership rights, 21% would clarify the role of a militia, 10% would leave the Amendment as it is, and 9% would repeal the Amendment.

Of the 153 responses from individuals who said they owned a gun, 41% would clarify or expand gun ownership rights, 18% would keep the Amendment the same. 17% would allow some regulation, usually for mental illness or criminal history, and 7% would repeal the Amendment.

The “unique” responses were unique; they couldn’t be categorized. Two responses said that the right-to-vote and the right-to-an-education should not be infringed. I can’t argue with that. One response said that the Amendment should be limited to water pistols. Another said the Amendment should prevent men from owning guns.

Repeal the Amendment

Respondents who would repeal the Amendment say it has outlived its usefulness. Like the Third Amendment, it no longer applies in today’s society. The late SCOTUS Justice Antonin Scalia said, it is “debatable” whether the Second Amendment as a whole is “outmoded” in a nation “where our standing army is the pride of our Nation, where well-trained police forces provide personal security, and where gun violence is a serious problem.” 7% of the respondents didn’t think it was so debatable.

Guns aren’t essential survival tools needed to defend against wild animals, Indian attacks, and most importantly, invasions by foreign armies. Those functions have been replaced by local animal-control, law-enforcement, and the U.S. military. Personal firearm ownership now has nothing to do with the defense of the nation. There are no more militias that need individuals to bring their own guns with them in the event that their States call them into service. Today’s militias, National Guards, provide all the firearms and provisions necessary.

Moreover, membership in an 18th century State-militia wasn’t all voluntary, like modern militias. You could join independently but most participants were conscripted. Each State militia had geographical subunits, all under government control. Citizens were required to register with their local officers, and the officers were required to maintain the lists of eligible white men. Militiamen were required to participate in training and musters during peacetime, and report for active duty when needed. They were under considerable government regulation.

Respondents reasoned that because there is no current need for militias, the Second Amendment should be repealed.

Regulate Gun Ownership

23% of respondents want to rewrite the Second Amendment so that it is easier for governments to regulate gun ownership, and thereby, safeguard its citizens. Types of regulation that were mentioned include:

  • Individuals who have been convicted of a felony should not possess firearms
  • Individuals with a history of mental illness should not possess firearms
  • Firearms may be used for training, marksmanship, and hunting at any time at authorized locations. Use of a firearm for self-defense should be restricted to in one’s own home.
  • Weapons must have a safety device that will allow usage only by the owner.
  • Arms should be limited to no more than 7 bullets.
  • Every weapon should have a 4-year-term registration. Any weapon without a valid registration should be confiscated by law enforcement.
  • All gun owners should be required to obtain and carry a photo license. Any gun owner without a valid license should have his firearms confiscated by law enforcement.
  • Households should be limited to one weapon of a given type and a limited amount of ammunition.
  • Gun manufacturers, sellers, and owners should be liable for any harm caused by a weapon they manufactured, sold, or had possession of, including weapons that were stolen and not immediately reported to the police.
  • Firearms should be designated for one primary use, such as personal defense or hunting.
  • All members of a household in which a gun is stored should complete a sanctioned safety and gun-usage course
  • Weapons should be stored, unloaded, in a locked depository when not in use.

Individuals Are Not Militias

Comments involving militias mostly involved the debate over whether the Amendment applied to militias or to individual citizens. 17% of all the responses involved this concept.

At the time the Second Amendment was written, a militia was an official government institution under state authority. Membership in the militia was not a matter of an individual choice or open to everybody as it is today. If you were a fit, white, male, of an appropriate age and the government needed you, you were required to participate. States didn’t have the funds to outfit everyone so you had to bring your own clothes, bedding, personal items, and, of course, weapon.

Furthermore, James Madison, who wrote the Constitution, was proficient in Latin rules-of-grammar and used that knowledge to write the Amendment. The Latin construction of the Amendment requires the first part of the sentence—A well-regulated Militia, being necessary for the security of a free State—to be inseparably connected to the second part—the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed. One part cannot exist without the other. Therefore, the Amendment was originally written to mean that one has the right to keep and bear firearms if, and only if, one is a member of a well-regulated militia.

For 200 years, the courts held that the Amendment referred to the rights of states to maintain militias. The Amendment was the Founding Fathers’ way of telling the new central government not to mess with State governments. That changed in the 2008 case of District of Columbia vs. Heller when the court reinterpreted the Amendment to provide individuals the right to keep a firearm in their homes for purposes of self-defense. That decision was championed by the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. He was ignorant of Latin rules of grammar and thought that the first part of the Amendment was merely “introductory” and that it could be ignored. The full court voted 5-4 in favor of what has been characterized by historians and legal scholars as a blatantly erroneous interpretation.

There was agreement from many survey respondents that militias had long ago been replaced by standing armies maintained by States or the Federal government. Commenters took this to mean that either:

  • There is no longer a need to raise a citizen militia so there is no need for citizens to own arms, or
  • There is no longer a need to raise a citizen militia so that part of the Amendment can be ignored.

The first group follows the interpretation of the Amendment from its ratification until 2008 and the second group follows the Scalia interpretation in the case of District of Columbia vs. Heller. Individuals who do not own firearms tend to be somewhat more likely to want to clarify that the Amendment refers to enabling States to arm their militias while gun owners want to delete any mention of militias.

The second interpretation of the Amendment doesn’t make any sense. Imagine if Madison wrote, “A well-funded franchise, being necessary to the establishment of a baseball dynasty, the claim that the New York Yankees are the greatest team of all time shall not be disputed.” No one (except a Yankees fan) would think the second part of the sentence could stand without the first part of the sentence.

Leave the Amendment Alone

Some respondents don’t think there is any problem with the Amendment, based of course on their own interpretation of what it means. About 13% of all respondents thought the Amendment should stay as it is. 10% of respondents who said they didn’t own a gun and 18% who said they did own a gun thought the Amendment should stay the same.

Expand Gun Ownership Rights

35% of respondents want to rewrite the Second Amendment to clarify or expand the rights of gun owners. Some of the comments suggested simple edits:

  • Remove the reference to militia from the present version of the 2nd Amendment.
  • Change “well-regulated” to “in working order
  • People shall be able to own whatever they want as long as they don’t harm others.

Some rewrites were more involved:

  • The people shall have the right to form well-regulated militias, and possess any type of weapon they choose, in any way they wish, anywhere they see fit.
  • All citizens and legal residents, eighteen years of age and older shall have the right to possess firearms. This right shall not be infringed by any State, Local, or Federal government by regulation, statute, law, ordinance, or order.
  • All persons shall have the unalienable, natural, and god given right to keep and bear arms and to use force in defense of themselves, their families, their property, and the state.
  • The government shall make no law limiting the amount or type of arms, the amount or type of ammunition, nor the capacity thereof, nor shall they make any law requiring the registration thereof, nor any law limiting the possession, manufacture, or transfer of arms to others.
  • Any man or woman who is of rational and sound mind and has the right to vote shall have the right to keep and bear Arms after being trained with them in a conscription system intended to establish a trained citizenry to later form militias.

Some of the comments were meant to explain or introduce ideas:

  • The Founding Fathers never intended for the American People to be without arms, nor did they intend to restrict ownership of any class of arms.
  • Weapons are a category of property and as such shall not be regulated.
  • Any object can be used as a weapon. Objects should not be regulated.
  • Firearm ownership is about personal freedom.
  • Bearing arms means to have one on your person at any and all times

Quite a few comments mentioned what firearms people should be allowed to possess. A weapon was defined by one commenter as “any item, tool, munition, ordinance or apparatus intended to be used in the commissioning of Civil Defense activities, defending of the self, another person or property, hunting game, recreational activities, militia activities, or collecting.” Other commenters said that weapons should include: all type of guns and accessories, regardless of size, caliber, ammunition capacity, or functionality, even guns that haven’t been invented yet; arms in common use by our military including automatic weapons, anti-air missiles, and fully armed attack helicopters; gun powder and explosives; any form or type of propellant; and firearm manufacturing capabilities like 3D printing.

Some of the ideas to expand gun rights defied categorization:

“Those who use their 1st Amendments rights to try to take away the 2nd Amendment rights of others shall lose their 1st Amendment rights.”

“Every man, woman, and responsible child has an unalienable individual, civil, Constitutional, and human right to obtain, own, and carry, openly or concealed, any weapon—rifle, shotgun, handgun, machine gun, anything—any time, any place, without asking anyone’s permission.”

“Firearms shall not be subject to Federal or State regulation in any form. No license, permit, allowance, or certification shall be required by any government body. The penalty for government infringement, whether attempted or real, is subject to penalties of up to life imprisonment and fines of your entire government salary.”

“I would make the Second Amendment first. And it should mention that God and Jesus are both pro-Second Amendment, and that they don’t like abortion.”

“All male American citizens, the people of God, the members of His Christian Race, the American Christian Soldiers, may own and freely carry any firearm of their choosing, anywhere, at any time. There is no restriction on type of firearm, age, or ammunition. This right shall not be infringed by background checks, waiting periods, or any liberal laws.”

Prevent Tyranny

5% of the comments involved the idea that the Founding Fathers’ aim in ratifying the Amendment was to provide citizens with means to overthrow the government should it become tyrannical. Three ideas that were presented include:

  • The government shall have NO weapons in excess of that of the People.
  • Elected officials should have term-limits as they are the reason that we really need guns in the first place!
  • Any judge who rules that this amendment may or has been superseded, or otherwise attempts to alter this amendment, will be guilty of Supreme High Treason punishable by summary execution.

Does It Matter?

Actually, no. It doesn’t matter. The Nation is divided on regulating firearms, though not evenly divided. More importantly, the NRA is spending too much money for any amendment to the Constitution to happen. The conservative SCOTUS gave them what they wanted in 2008 when they rewrote 220 years of history in District of Columbia vs. Heller.

History suggests that, without the need for militias, the Founding Fathers would have ignored gun ownership. There would have been no reason to mention guns any more than any other consumer good. Everyone had guns and needed them for hunting and protection. There were already hundreds of laws that regulated their use to ensure the safety of all citizens.

The surveys conducted by the LA Times and Quora indicate that 49% of respondents favor gun-control positions (repeal, regulate, militia) compared to 34% of respondents who favor gun-rights positions (expand, tyranny). Of the respondents to the LA Times survey who said that they did not own a gun, 57% favor gun control and 29% favor some gun rights. Of the respondents who said that they did own a gun, 45% favor gun rights and 34% favor some gun control. It seems that considerable portions of both gun-ownership camps are amenable to the other sides’ positions.

Extremes of individual opinions reflect facts, influencer opinions, sometimes informed and sometimes not, and the media. No one stays on the sidelines. Some individuals want personal freedom. Some individuals want personal safety.

ProCon.org summarizes prevalent arguments about gun rights and gun control. Most of the country’s population favor gun-control. However, gun-rights proponents—gun manufacturers and gun-rights groups—have spent eight times more to advance their cause. It skews peoples’ perceptions of the mood of the country.

Our perception that the divide in gun-ownership positions is hopelessly wide is a product of the most visible proponents—the NRA, the Boogaloo Movement, Chuck Norris, and Ted Nugent for gun rights, versus Gabby Giffords, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, and the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence for gun control. These voices are the ones that are most amplified by the media,

Does the second amendment facilitate any of this? Again, no. In some ways, it accentuates the divide by giving people fake targets to argue about. What the Founding Fathers meant by what they wrote over 200 years ago is irrelevant. We don’t care that the Third Amendment is irrelevant yet can’t recognize that the Second Amendment is also. What’s important now, though, is to understand the nature of the divide and stop yelling past each other so something effective can be accomplished.

“gun collection” by Genista is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

The Demographics of Gun Ownership

Our national religion isn’t Christianity, it’s weaponry.

Growing up in the 1950s, we played with toy pistols and rifles made all the more realistic by caps. And why not? The TV shows we all watched were westerns—Lone Ranger, Rifleman, Gunsmoke, Have Gun Will Travel, and many more. Then there were all those war movies meant to resurrect World War II patriotism during the Korean and Vietnam Wars.

My father served in WWII, So did my nine uncles. One died in the war. One was an avid hunter both before and after the war. None of the other seven ever touched a gun again. By the time I got to high school, I had lost any interest I might have bad in guns. Now I wonder, why are some people obsessed by guns, either for or against, and others not at all?

Legal Gun Ownership

Americans own more guns per capita than any other country, 1.2 guns for every individual. That’s more than Russia (0.12), China (0.04), North Korea (0.003), Iraq (0.20), Iran (0.07), and Afghanistan (0.12). Only about 0.3% of America’s guns are registered. Half of America’s 265 million guns are owned by just 3% of American adults.

In 2017, the Pew Research Center (PRC) surveyed 3,930 U.S. adults, randomly selected from prior PRC landline and cellphone surveys, on the topic of gun ownership. PRC found that:

  • Overall. 30% of American adults own a gun and another 11% live with someone who owns a gun. (For comparison, Gallup independently found that between 1996 and 2020, 29% of Americans own a gun and another 13% live with someone who owns a gun. Those are virtually identical results.)
  • Location. 16% of adults who live in the Northeast own a gun, as do 36% of adults in the South, 32% of adults in the Midwest, and 31% of adults in the West. 46% of those who live in rural areas, 28% of those who live in the suburbs, and 19% of those who live in urban areas own guns.
  • Firearm Characteristics. 66% of gun owners own more than 1 gun; 29% own 5 or more guns. 72% of gun owners own a handgun or pistol, 62% own a rifle, and 54% own a shotgun.
  • Owner Characteristics. 39% of men own a gun compared to 22% of women. 36% of whites, 24% of blacks, and 15% of Hispanics own a gun. 31% of gun owners have a high school diploma or less; 34% have some college education. 44% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents own a gun compared to 20% of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents. 44% of veterans own a firearm. There is no difference in gun ownership based on income level except for Americans who make less than $25,000/year who are less likely to own guns.
  • Owner Mindset. 73% of current gun owners can’t see themselves ever not owning a gun. 15% of those who own just 1 gun, 21% of those who own 2 to 4 guns, and 42% of those who own 5 or more guns say gun ownership is very important to their overall identity.
  • Ownership Rationale. 67% of current gun owners say protection is a major reason they own a gun, 38% say hunting, 30% say sport shooting, 13% say gun collection, and 8% say job requirements. Although two-thirds of current gun owners say protection is a major reason they own a gun, a study of crime victims during 2007-2011 found that the use of a gun for self-defense occurs in only 0.9% of interpersonal crimes. It was more common among males, in rural areas, away from home, against male offenders, and against offenders with a gun. It did not reduce the risk of victim injury; 4% were still injured.

Most gun owners don’t become interested in firearms casually. It is a passion that they develop early in life. 67% of current gun owners had guns in their household growing up. In contrast, 40% of non-gun owners grew up in a gun-owning household. 37% of gun owners were younger than 18 when they first got their own gun. 76% report that they first fired a gun before they were 18. Furthermore, 72% of gun owners grew up in a rural community compared to 52% who grew up in a small town, 37% who grew up in a suburb, and 39% who grew up in a city.

Nearly half of gun owners have only one or two guns but14% have between 8 and 140 guns. Their average is 17. Americans who own at least 17 firearms are sometimes “… dedicated collectors with special rooms to display their assortment of historic firearms. Others are firearms instructors, gunsmiths, or competitive shooters, who need a variety of firearms in the course of work or competition. Some gun owners have a survivalist streak, and believe in storing up weapons, as well as food and water, in case of a disaster scenario. Others simply picked up a handgun here, a shotgun or hunting rifle there, and somehow ended up with dozens.” Some Americans also inherit guns from their parents and grandparents. The ownership of so many guns by so few individuals is thought to be similar to patterns for just about any consumer collectible. There are, in fact, more than 120 gun collectors’ clubs across the United States.

I can appreciate this. I’m not a carpenter but I have more than 15 hammers—1 was my father’s, 3 are rock hammers I got in college, 3 are sledge hammers for gardening, 2 are mallets, a is a small hammer I use for crafting, and the rest are claw and ball peen hammers of various weights. Don’t even ask me about my screwdrivers.

So, a current gun owner might have lived in a rural area where he learned about guns from his family, neighbors, and friends. Gun ownership was part of his cultural identity that might have involved hunting, marksmanship, and family traditions. It’s no wonder that belief in gun rights is so deeply ingrained in some people, almost like a love infatuation or a religion.

At the same time, there are people who hate guns and campaign to control them more effectively. They may have been, or known someone who was, the victim of gun violence. They may be deeply affected by gun violence that is reported every day on the news, especially mass murders, serial killings, and school shootings. They might worry about their friends and relatives who may be exposed to gun violence because of where they live or work. They may just not like living in fear of other people who own guns, especially those in their own households and neighborhoods.

Fear breeds hysteria; hysteria breeds irrational behavior. It may cause an otherwise level-headed person to purchase a gun “for protection” despite evidence that guns are not useful for that purpose. It may cause some individuals to purchase more guns because they believe that the government will try to take their guns and their gun-rights away. It may cause a person to assemble an arsenal of military-grade weaponry as defense against a tyrannical government or societal dysfunction. It may cause people to demand that the government enact and enforce rigid gun controls even though the number of deaths attributable to firearms is small compared to the numbers of deaths attributable to drug overdoses and medical malpractice.

Illegal Gun Ownership

The information from PRC’s survey is quite revealing. The survey itself is intriguing, too. It is both statistically-sound and yet deficient. It thoroughly characterizes the ownership of LEGAL guns but doesn’t shed any light on the underworld of ILLEGAL weaponry. Those data are harder to come by.

In 1997 and 2004, the US Department of Justice conducted national surveys of state prison inmates that asked how they obtained the guns they used in their crimes. 52% of the inmates obtained the gun they used in their crime legally (39% from family or friends and 13% from commercial sources). 39% of the inmates obtained their gun illegally (23% off the street, 8% from the black market, and 8% by theft).

In the 13 states with the fewest restrictions on gun ownership, 40% of inmates illegally obtained the guns they used in their crime. In the other 37 states with more restrictive laws, 60% of the inmates obtained their gun illegally. Gun-control does appear to be associated with increased ownership of illegal guns.

For perspective, of the 98 mass-shootings in the U.S. that occurred between 1982 and February 2020, 84% involved weapons that were obtained legally and 16% involved guns that were obtained illegally.

The Religion of Weaponry

The culture-of-the-gun is much bigger than the 3 in 10 Americans who own a gun. It is part of our national identity.

The Military-Industrial-Complex runs our economy, just as President Eisenhower warned it would sixty years ago. The United States was the largest exporter of major arms from 2015-2019. Our country sold about 35% of all the world’s arms exports during that period Our weapon sales was 76% more than the next largest exporter, Russia. 70% of Americans believe that selling weapons to other countries makes the U.S. less safe, but U.S. businesses do it anyway. That’s capitalism.

Weaponry is a cult, both figuratively and literally. It has a system of beliefs relying on the interpretation of an ancient text, the Second Amendment. It has a charismatic leader in the NRA. It has a process of indoctrination through family traditions and peer pressure that is reinforced by organized (military and law enforcement) training.

Weaponry has a very small yet devoted group of followers who want to impose their beliefs on the rest of society. Followers do not tolerate opposing opinions or even critical inquiry. They are convinced that only their beliefs are true even when presented with contrary evidence.

Being members of what appears to be a cult, advocates of gun rights are often ostracized, humiliated, persecuted, and even prosecuted for their beliefs. This makes them even more entrenched in their beliefs and wary of what gun-control advocates, governments, and society might do to them. Their fear is as real as the fear of people who worry about gun violence.

Whether we like it or not, weaponry is the religion that rules us all. Until we learn to respect everybody’s beliefs, both for and against guns, we won’t live in a free country.

America’s Boldfaced Serial Killers

We see them. We know they’re there. We can’t avoid them.

by daveynin is licensed under CC BY 2.0

A new breed of serial killer has emerged in America. They are the people who, through their actions and inactions, spread the Covid-19 virus.

They don’t wash their hands or sanitize objects they touch. They don’t wear suitable masks, appropriately, all the time. They don’t isolate themselves or get tested. They ignore any symptoms they might have. They congregate closely with others.

They can’t seem to help themselves. They just want life to be good … for themselves. They don’t believe they are doing anything wrong. They don’t see the consequences of their actions. They don’t believe society has the right to restrict their actions. But their pursuit of happiness comes at the expense of others. They expect those others to deal with the harm they inflict.

They are everywhere — at church, at family events, at political rallies, in public spaces. They shop, eat out, throw parties, bar hop, travel, and vacation. They live life as they always have and make no concessions to the pleas of others.

They target the weak, the aged, the ill, and the unprepared. They don’t seem to know or care that they are dangerous. They don’t even recognize if they leave a target unharmed or inflict their curse. They may even turn their target into an unknowing serial killer.

Some of them might get caught, either in the act or later traced by their movements. A test may even confirm their culpability. But they won’t be punished. They’ll be released with only a warning. They will get away with what they have done and go on to resume their spree.

They may not just kill others, they may die themselves. Most believe they will be unaffected, that they will evade the invisible agents they don’t even believe exist. They think they are stronger, and luckier, and more special than the infectious curse they bring on others. But, not all of them will escape those consequences. Then, as a victim, they will feel regret.

The Political Divide Isn’t About Politics

Everyone knows that you can’t talk politics in the U.S. without an argument. It’s not the problems that are intractable, it’s our attitudes towards our adversaries, our fellow citizens.

Continue reading

Eliminate Socialism in the U.S.

Americans don’t know what it is but they don’t want it.

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Photo by Museums Victoria on Unsplash
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Socialism

People in the U.S have been taught to fear socialism. They’re not quite sure what socialism is, but they believe it is bad and they should rebel against anything that smacks of it. They ridicule people who defend it. They vote against candidates who support socialistic programs. So, we should give them what they want. We should eliminate socialism in the U.S.

What types of socialism do Americans want to eliminate? State socialism, democratic socialism, social democracy, or all of them? To many Americans, state-socialism, democratic socialism, and social democracy are all the same thing. They don’t understand the differences, and don’t want to.

State Socialism

Socialism, sometimes called state socialism, is defined as a political/economic system in which the means of production (machinery, tools, and factories used to produce goods for society) are owned and controlled by a democratically-run state but some other private property is allowed. That doesn’t really apply to the U.S. The means-of-production are all owned by private-sector firms operated to generate profit for the owners. So, eliminating state-socialism isn’t really an issue; there is none to eliminate. The only thing that might need to be eliminated is the public’s incorrect perception of what “socialism” actually is.

There are, however, quite a few aspects of the federal government that do have elements of socialism — those involving democratic socialism and social democracy.

Democratic Socialism

In democratic socialism, government ownership is much more limited than in state socialism. Also, democratic-socialist governments aim to benefit the populace rather than the state. There are two types of corporations owned by the U.S government — Federal-government-acquired corporations and Government-sponsored enterprises.

Federal-Government-Acquired Corporations

Federal-government-acquired corporations (FGACs) are organizations that the government found itself unwillingly in possession of because they needed to maintain the operations of a critical business that was failing. Railroads are the best example, such as the Alaska Railroad and Amtrak. Americans seem to want these holdings to be privatized as was done with Conrail. Presumably, people will be able to find other modes of transportation.

Government-Sponsored Enterprises

Government-sponsored enterprises (GSEs) are financial-services corporations that were created by Congress to facilitate economic investment and provide guarantees that limit the risk of capital losses to investors. Americans must believe that Fannie MaeFreddie MacGinnie Mae, and the Federal Home Loan Banks only encourage bad investments. For the same reasons, farmers shouldn’t receive the support provided by the Federal Farm Credit Banks or the Federal Agricultural Mortgage Corporation. The private-sector could address these needs without having government protections by just increasing their prices to protect themselves. Also, TARP was a big mistake; the economy should have been allowed to fail. Americans want free-market capitalism not socialistic protections.

Social Democracy

In social democracies, ownership is mainly private but government regulates the owners. Resources accrued through taxation are used to benefit the populace. Social democracies develop by minimizing the harsher aspects of capitalism. Social democracy, on the other hand, manifests itself as government support for two beneficiaries — business and people.

Corporate Socialism

Corporate socialism (AKA corporate welfare) involves several forms of support for businesses. The most overt are direct payments to businesses as well as tax breaks and loan guarantees. This support was estimated to be $100 billion a decade ago but most of the benefits are impossible to quantify.

For example, the federal government spends billions of dollars per year on the air traffic control system and grants to commercial airports, mostly small local airports. Canada and Great Britain have made made these self-supporting. Other recipients of corporate socialism include: farm businesses ($25 billion per year); rural businesses ($6 billion per year); energy-related businesses ($4 billion per year); and small businesses ($1 billion per year).

The government manages communications by radio, television, wire, satellite and cable to control unfair competition. The government owns vast land holdings they use to control mineral, ecological, water, and tourism resources. It also maintains roads, waterways, and ports used by businesses. This is clearly corporate-socialism, which apparently, Americans do not want.

Despite claims to have been making a profit, the Export‐​Import Bank has been criticized for unsound accounting practices that hide their actual costs-the-taxpayers being ten times as much. The federal government also provides aid to exporters through the Department of Commerce and the Foreign Military Financing program. This doesn’t even compare to the much more significant benefits of the government’s foreign-trade agreements, tariffs, regulation of imports, and their protections for intellectual properties and foreign operations. War is expensive.

The government also supports a variety of businesses by conducting basic research and providing the results for free. Pharmaceutical and technology businesses are huge beneficiaries. The government also indirectly supports businesses’ ability to pay low wages through the $70 billion earned income tax credit, SNAP, and other individual welfare programs that enable the minimum-wage labor force to survive. Tax-exempt organizations, like non-profit businesses and religions, are also part of corporate socialism. Though unquantified, and perhaps unquantifiable, these socialistic benefits to businesses are unquestionable huge. They are everywhere. But apparently, Americans don’t want them. They’re socialism.

Finally, the 2020 federal CARES Act provided over $1.1 trillion in direct payments and loans to business — $669 billion as loans to small businesses and $500 billion for large corporations. (For comparison, $560 billion went to individual Americans as direct payments or unemployment benefits and $340 billion went to state and local governments.) This is the kind of socialism that Americans fear and want to eliminate.

People Socialism

If you believe politicians and partisan organizations, what really outrages Americans is people socialism — support provided to individuals. However, in 2018, only 10% of Americans recognized this as socialism. Unquestionably, though, there are numerous socialistic programs running in the country, each having it’s own dependents.

Older Americans say that Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid are essential. And while their support crosses political lines, Republican politicians have been working on eliminating the programs since their inceptions.

Most Americans believe public education, public transportation, and local law enforcement, emergency services, public parks, and libraries are essential. On the other hand. some Americans believe that federal anti-poverty programs are socialistic programs that have to go. They want to eliminate things like: food stamps, WIC, and school lunches; public housing; child care and educational programs; college/trade school (Pell) grants; job training and employment services; and home energy assistance.

It seems that some people define socialism as any government benefit that someone else gets that they don’t.

Fear, Hate, and Socialism

Americans may not know what socialism is — state socialism, democratic socialism, or social democracy — but they’ve been convinced by politicians that they don’t like it and don’t want it. They’ve been told they shouldn’t w ant: Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid; air-traffic control; essential railroads; publicly-owned financial institutions; support for small businesses, farms and rural businesses, energy-related businesses, exporters and U.S. corporations operating overseas; management of communication airwaves, transportation routes, and natural resources; research on technology and medicine; support for individuals in the forms of food stamps, public housing, child care, educational programs, job training, employment services, and home energy assistance; nor local public education, public transportation, law enforcement, emergency services, public parks and libraries.

It’s tragic that the public’s perception of socialism in the U.S. has been tainted by politicians and misinformed individuals. Maybe the only way to counter their misinformation is to eliminate all the benefits of socialism and to start anew as an unregulated, free-market capitalistic society. Give Americans what they think they want, like with Prohibition. What could go wrong?

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The Curse of the Non-Voter

Since 2000, over 40% of eligible voters have not voted. Here is some information about how big an issue non-voting is, why individuals don’t vote, and what we might do about it.

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What Do You Mean by Socialism?

It seems like you can’t have a political discussion without someone using the word socialism, sometimes affectionately and sometimes disparagingly. At least with words like Hitler and Nazi, you know the intent.

Socialism is a defined as a political/economic system in which the means of production (machinery, tools, and factories used to produce goods for society) are owned and controlled by a democratically-run state but private-property is allowed. In contrast, communism, implies that all property is owned by the state. In capitalism the means of production are owned by private interests rather than by the state, and they are operated to generate profit for the owner. But what do Americans think socialism is?

Gallup conducted polls in 1949 and 2018 asking what respondents understood socialism to be. The results are shown in the following table. In 1949, about three-fifths of Americans thought of socialism as the dictionary definition of government ownership. One-fifth thought it referred more to equality. By 2018, three-tenths thought of socialism in terms of equality and another tenth thought of it in terms of social services. Only two-tenths thought of socialism in terms of government ownership. Three-tenths had some other unique understanding.

When the word socialism comes up in a political discussion today, its meaning is rarely clear. Sometimes, it refers to the dictionary definition, although not as often as one might suppose. Sometimes it just refers to government control. And sometimes, it takes on a more modern definition of democratic socialism or social democracy.

In democratic socialism, government ownership is much more limited than in traditional socialism. Democratic-socialist governments also aim to benefit the populace rather than the state. In social democracies, ownership is mainly private but government regulates the owners. Resources accrued through taxation are used to benefit the populace. Social democracies develop by reforming the harsher aspects of capitalism.

In the U.S., democratic socialism is limited. The government owns the postal Service (USPS), the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (PBS), the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), the mortgage companies Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), Amtrak, the National Parks, and a variety of other non-government entities. But these entities are operated for the benefits of the populace rather than the state as they would be in a traditional socialist government.

Social democracy, on the other hand, manifests itself as government support for two beneficiaries—people and business. Corporate socialism includes: direct payments to businesses; tax breaks; data and scientific research; management of broadcast, transportation, and national resources; maintenance of roads, waterways, and ports; foreign-trade agreements, tariffs, and regulation of imports; and protection for intellectual properties and foreign operations. People socialism includes: Social Security; Medicare/Medicaid; federal anti-poverty programs; public education; public transportation; local law enforcement and emergency services; public parks and libraries; nonprofit corporations, and many more examples.

In 1949, half of Americans believed that some aspects of the government were socialistic. In 2018, only two-fifths believed that despite there being many more social programs. The public perception of socialism in the U.S. has been greatly influenced by opinions expressed by politicians and partisan organizations.

“Republicans, who are overwhelmingly negative about socialism, tend to skew toward seeing socialism as government control of the economy and in derogatory terms, while Democrats, a majority of whom are positive about socialism, are more likely to view it as government provision of services.” – Frank Newport, Ph.D., Gallup, Inc.

So if you are going to talk about SOCIALISM, whether good or bad, be sure you explain exactly what you mean by the word. You might save yourself from getting some nasty replies.

Nine Ideas for Blocking Writers Block

There’s a lot of advice about how to avoid writer’s block. You know what they are. Here are some things you might not have heard.

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Attacks on Conspiracy Theories Are a Conspiracy

And some of those conspirators don’t even know it.

Mockingbird photo by Joshua J. Cotten on Unsplash

A conspiracy is a plot by two or more people to do something unsavory. A conspiracy theory is an attempt to explain something unusual. Some conspiracy theories are false, some are unproven, some are unprovable, and some have turned out to be true. Closely associated with conspiracy theories are mysteries and unexplained phenomena, like UFOs, Bigfoot, and out-of-place archeological artifacts, which are sometimes the subject of conspiracy theories. Urban legends, fanciful tales told to evoke trepidation, often revolve around conspiracies. Conspiracy theories have the power to induce extreme lunacy in both proponents and critics alike.

Conspiracies are Real

Conspiracies are obviously real. Prosecutors use them all the time in court. On the other hand, there are “crazy” conspiracy theories that are ridiculed as not supported by sufficient evidence. They are dismissed as unlikely. However, many “crazy” conspiracies theories have turned out to be true. Baseball had the Black Sox Scandal of 1919, the steroid scandal of 2004, and the sign-stealing scandal of 2017-18. Watergate, Iran-Contra, My Lai, weapons of mass destruction, warrantless wiretapping, and tortour at Abu Ghraib are also well-known examples. Pedophilia was confirmed in the Catholic Church, the Boy Scouts, Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics, and now the Jeffrey Epstein sex-trafficking ring. Business conspiracies that affected the lives of so many include: medical crimes of tobacco as a cause of lung cancer and Johnson & Johnson (asbestos in baby powder causing mesothelioma), environmental crimes of Union Carbide (Bhopal), Volkswagen (emissions fraud), and Kerr-McGee (Karen Silkwood), and the financial crimes of Enron, WorldCom, Bernie Madoff, Halliburton, Tyco, and Lehman Brothers. All of these conspiracies started as “crazy” theories that were ignored by authorities and society in general only to be proven true once people started to believe.

Some Theories Have Been Proven

Some conspiracies are so obvious, they are immediately accepted even without proof. The badminton competition at the 2012 London Olympics is an example. In other cases, a conspiracy theory is so far-fetched on first hearing that people shake their heads and forget about it. Those theories are neither believable nor entertaining. But, some of those theories are true:

  • Operation Snow White, the Church of Scientology infiltrated 136 government agencies, foreign embassies, and private organizations to purge unfavorable records about Scientology in more than 30 countries.
  • Fruit Machine, Canada was so paranoid about homosexuality in the 1960s that it developed a “gaydar” machine and used it to exclude or fire more than 400 men from government service. This hardly compares to Canada’s Indian residential school system scandal.
  • Operation Paperclip, the government secretly brought more than 1,600 German scientists, engineers, and technicians to the United States after World War II.
  • MK ULTRA, the CIA’s mind control experiments conducted illegally on unsuspecting human subjects.
  • COINTELPRO, the FBI’s program to illegally infiltrate, discredit, and disrupt American political organizations.

Some theories people don’t WANT to believe because they are so disturbing or had horrifying consequences, such as:

  • Gulf of Tonkin, the government deceived the American public about events that led to the U.S. entering the Vietnam War.
  • Project SUNSHINE, the AEC and USAF procured over 1,500 samples from recently deceased children without prior permission to measure the global dispersion of Sr-90.
  • Tuskegee experiment, the United States Public Health Service conducted clinical studies of untreated syphilis in African-American men between 1932 and 1972.
  • Prohibition poisoning, between 1926 and 1933 the government poisoned alcohol to keep people from drinking, killing more than 10,000 Americans. Fifty years later, the State Department supported Mexico spraying Paraquat on their marijuana fields.
  • War on drugs, Nixon’s declaration of a ‘War on Drugs’ targeted blacks and anti-war activists.
  • PRISM, the NSA’s illegal program of spying on civilian internet users.

These cases all started out as “crazy” speculation until they were found to be true. Even urban legends, like Cropsy, Charlie No-Face, and the North Pond Hermit, turned out to be more than campfire entertainment.

Sometimes it’s not so much an event or action that is a conspiracy, it is an effort to hide the event or action in a coverup. Some of the events covered up involved nuclear accidents, which could have resulted in untold deaths. The Watergate burglary was such a minor political conspiracy that Congress decided not to investigate it before the 1972 election held four months later. However, the coverup of the burglary was huge, leading to the resignation of President Richard Nixon in 1974. There are too many political coverups to mention.

Some Theories May Yet Be Proven

Other conspiracies that are often discredited actually have scientific or statistical evidence supporting them, including:

They might be proven one day but it’s difficult to gain momentum to investigate with so many close-minded naysayers blocking the way. Some of the theories, like those concerning climate change and 9/11, have considerable evidence that is mischaracterized and discredited in the press so the public doesn’t know what to believe.

Extraordinary Claims Require Extraordinary Evidence

The most believable conspiracy theories are those in which there is evidence based on:

The makings of the Watergate scandal began in 1967 with the creation of the Vietnam Study Task Force, which was tasked with writing an “encyclopedic history of the Vietnam War.” Their 1969 report, called colloquially the Pentagon Papers, revealed that the Johnson Administration conspired to lie to Congress and the public about their role in expanding the Vietnam war. The report was leaked to the press in 1971 by Daniel Ellsberg, who was a member of the Task Force. He was charged for his leak under the Espionage Act of 1917 but the charges were dismissed. Members of the Nixon Administration conspired to break into the office of Ellsberg’s psychiatrist in 1971 to find information about Ellsberg’s mental state in order to discredit him. Finding nothing of importance, they conspired to plant listening devices in the Headquarters of the Democratic National Committee at the Watergate Hotel. The five burglars were caught. The story was pursued by reporters from the Washington Post, Woodward and Bernstein, aided by whistleblower Deep Throat, eventually leading to the resignation of President Nixon in 1974. The whole conspiracy was insane; it was totally unbelievable. Most people didn’t pay any attention. It was all just politics as usual. Then on the night of October 20, 1973 came the Saturday Night Massacre. After that, the public consensus was to “Impeach the Cox Sacker.” As unbelievable as it was, it would have made a compelling novel. As a true story, it devastated the Nation.

While all of these types of evidence can be altered or even totally fabricated, mostly they are just interpreted in different ways based on preconceived notions. However, they can also provide legitimate proof of a theory if they are authentic.

While popular in courtrooms, eyewitness accounts are too often the products of defective memories or coercion to be of much value in discussing conspiracy theories. They may provide hints to the truth or hide it. They are far from proof. Judges and juries may reach life-or-death verdicts based on eyewitness accounts but society holds proof of conspiracy theories to a higher standard.

The same is true of expert opinions. What is accepted in court holds, or should hold, little sway in proving a conspiracy theory. This belief is asymmetrical. Critics and proponents of a theory will believe experts who support their claim but not those who refute it. Professionals in law enforcement, the military, commercial aviation, and government service are thought to be the most believable of observers until they report seeing a UFO or a cryptid.

Experts may have impressive educational credentials or unique experience profiles, but they are subject to the same human failings as everyone else. They can make professional mistakes, fall victim to psychological biases, and even succumb to intimidation and inducements. As a case in point, Darrell Huff, who wrote the best-seller How To Lie With Statistics, was paid by the tobacco industry to discredit the theory that cigarettes cause lung cancer. He even testified before Congress. As we all know, that conspiracy theory has proven to be true.

Obfuscation is Real Too

Just as many conspiracies are true, so too is the concerted effort to disparage certain conspiracy theories so the public does not take them seriously. That effort is a conspiracy theory in itself, called Operation Mockingbird. Operation Mockingbird is allegedly a decades-long CIA program aimed at manipulating public discourse on sensitive topics. It operated by funding individuals, Mockingbirds, in the media, student groups, and cultural organizations. The Mockingbirds were convinced to disseminate information critical of whistleblowers who expose government conspiracies. The CIA support of Mockingbirds was exposed when a 1967 article in Ramparts magazine reported that the National Student Association received funding from the CIA. Later, in 1975, the Church Committee Congressional investigations exposed secret, illegal wiretapping, bugging, and harassment of American citizens, including reporters, government officials, Supreme Court justices, and most famously, Martin Luther King, Jr. Outspoken critics of some conspiracy theories may, in fact, be Mockingbirds.

Techniques used to censor proponents of conspiracy theories include: targeting, mischaracterization. defamation, denialism, misdirection, and cover up.

Targeting

When detractors talk about conspiracy theories, they ignore the thousands of true and possibly true conspiracies and instead focus on the few that are clearly disprovable, like the moon landings being a hoax, claims of a flat or hollow earth, Holocaust denialism, or Reptilian replacements. Life is short so I won’t comment on astrology, real or not. They are easy targets; they serve to discredit ALL conspiracy theories.

Mockingbirds focus on specific conspiracies involving the government. They don’t care so much about conspiracies in the private sector unless they affect the stock market or a key political donor. That may be the reason why it seems that a greater proportion of business conspiracies are exposed compared to government conspiracies.

Mischaracterization

One commonly used weapon of theory critics is the strawman. They’ll focus on one interpretation or aspect of a theory and ignore more relevant parts. Critics of anti-vaxxers focus on the autism connection and ignore the concern about harmful ingredients and side effects. Critics who proclaim, or deny, that there are coordinated efforts to sway elections confound voter fraud, which involves the rare instances of an individual voting illegally, with election fraud, which refer to the too-common, coordinated efforts to prevent or change many votes, by voter caging, purges of voter rolls, making voter registration difficult, spreading flyers with misinformation, deceptive robocalls, voter intimidation, voter ID laws, and closing polling places or restricting their hours. Critics of Bernie Sanders mischaracterize his platform as socialism, which he DOES NOT advocate, instead of social democracy, which he DOES advocate. The unfortunately named movement, Defund the Police, which isn’t about doing away with law enforcement as is alleged by critics, but instead about reprogramming some funding from law enforcement to social support. Black Lives Matter doesn’t mean that other lives don’t matter as detractors suggest.

The result of mischaracterization by theory critics is the creation of enough confusion that many people don’t understand what is being discussed.

Defamation

Another tactic theory critics use is defamation, an ad hominem argument. Nobody believed Linda Tripp when she disclosed the affair between Monica Lewinsky and Bill Clinton because she was defamed as a dishonest publicity-seeker. Whistleblowers like Sibel Edmonds, Edward Snowden, and Reality Winner were portrayed as unpatriotic lawbreakers. Witnesses of cryptids and UFOs are described as confused, unreliable, inexpert, dishonest, or even inebriated. Many sightings are never reported, especially by professionals, for fear they will be derided and ostracized.

Academia is a hotbed for slight-of-hand defamation. There is study after study after study by psychologists who analyze why people believe some of the least likely conspiracy theories, then they generalize back to the much larger portion of the population who believe only more reasonable theories. They never study prosecuting attorneys for why they claim conspiracies in court. What this does is paint ALL open-minded people with the broad brush of derangement that they identified in a few individuals based on their own biases. That is false guilt-by-association

Denialism

The first three things anyone involved in a crime will do are deny, deny, deny. Critics of conspiracy theories will always deny that a theory is likely or even possible. There is always the chance that the proponent of a theory will second-guess themselves, lose interest, or just give up. Police initially don’t believe many reports of sexual assault, missing persons, and police misconduct on the off chance that the claim will be dropped. That’s why initial reports of conspiracy theories are met with disbelief rather than curiosity. Whistleblowers have to be incredibly persistent. How many levels of an organization do they have to complain to before they get any attention? That’s why some whistleblowers leak directly to the press where they’re more likely to be listened to.

Denialism has consequences. How long did Jeffrey Epstein and his friends molest young women before he was finally brought to justice? How many of the 250 American gymnasts who were abused by Dr. Larry Nassar over 24 years had to report him before USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University took action? How many individuals died of AIDS before the government finally addressed the crisis?

Initial denialism is the accepted approach in society, as perhaps it should be. None of the great paradigm shifts in the history of science were adopted without long periods of discussion and debate, during which they were first ignored and defamed before they were finally accepted and assimilated. It’s called the Semmelweis Reflex. Gullibility isn’t a virtue but there’s a limit to denialism.

Misdirection

Critics of conspiracy theories sometimes use misdirection to derail arguments by theory proponents. Misdirection is sometimes called red herrings or whataboutism. South Park fans know it as the Chewbacca Defense. Sometimes the misdirection is overt, like just changing the topic of an awkward discussion. Sometimes the misdirection is buried in obfuscatory details.

For example, Dr. David Robert Grimes of Oxford University calculated how long a large (5,000+ person) conspiracy is likely to remain a secret before it is leaked. Ignoring external whistleblowers, like journalists and independent investigators, assuming there is no witness intimidation, and assuming all the conspirators had full knowledge of the scheme (i.e., there was no compartmentalization), conspiracies are likely to be exposed in a decade. Smaller conspiracies would have a lower probability of exposure, and take longer to be revealed. In the real world, with compartmentalization, intimidation, and destruction of evidence, a conspiracy theory may never be exposed. It’s like voting for entry into a sports hall-of-fame, if a theory hasn’t garnered a reasonable amount of support in a decade of consideration, it’s not likely to.

Grimes’ calculation is supposed to show that conspiracy theories are unlikely because otherwise they would have been exposed by one or more conspirators. People who cite Grimes to claim that conspiracy theories can’t be true because conspirators don’t come forward, ignore the fact that whistleblowers come forward all the time—Smedley Butler, Daniel Ellsberg, Frank Serpico, Mark Felt (Deep Throat), Karen Silkwood, Sibel Edmonds, Joseph Wilson, “Bunny” Greenhouse. Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden, and Reality Winner. These individuals all came forward to expose conspiracies and were ignored, criticized, demeaned, intimidated, and even prosecuted.

Cover Up and Whitewash

It seems that no information is released from the government without a cover up. There are many possible ingredients for a coverup: ignore claims; fabricate, withhold, alter, or destroy evidence; block, delay, constrain, or hijack investigations; file legal challenges; intimidate or harm participants and opponents; and hire agents (Mockingbirds) to refute the theory. They have become so common that people don’t even recognize them anymore.

While the terms are often used interchangeably, cover-up involves withholding incriminatory evidence, while whitewash involves releasing misleading evidence.

Wikipedia

These actions are applied to virtually every conspiracy theory involving the government (except the ones that they create). Government cover-ups have involved: Watergate; warrantless wiretapping; Iran-Contra; My Lai; the use of white phosphate in Iraq; and tortour at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay in violation of the Geneva Convention. Think also of how the government has covered up or whitewashed 9/11 events or UFO sightings, landings, and crashes. It makes you wonder why they are so sensitive about those “unproven” theories.

People are concerned about misinformation. They experience it daily, both online and offline. Some countries are less misinformed than the U.S., some are more misinformed. Domestic politicians are the single most frequently named source of misinformation, though people who self-identify as right-wing are more likely to blame the media. The media, particularly television, began changing in the late 1970s when they turned to profit-driven news divisions. This paradigm-shift in news reporting was exacerbated by Reagan’s 1987 revocation of the Fairness Doctrine and Clinton’s Bill Clinton signing of the 1996 Telecommunications Act. Fake news has been around for hundreds of years but the internet has turned a campfire into a raging inferno. Most people think that it is the responsibility of  media companies, technology companies, and government to do more to combat misinformation. Still, it persists. The days of Walter Cronkite are over.

Debunkers Are Bullies

When a conspiracy happens, nobody knows about it until some insider writes a book or gets the attention of the media. That’s when the discussion starts. Acceptance is another issue. Conspiracy theorists are routinely derided as crazy by the cancel culture. Some are never investigated because of societal ignorance or apathy. Most conspiracy “theories” are ignored for years before even being discussed openly. That’s what opponents want; they want to control the discussion, and so, everybody’s lives.

The Pot Calling the Kettle Black

People who oppose conspiracy theories are portrayed in the media as heroes. They’re not. “Reputable” debunkers are not always reputable. Take the cases of Richard Nixon, Bill Clinton, Darrell Huff, and outdoing them all, Donald Trump. Their supporters lined up to bolster their false claims.

The status of being considered an expert by society does not equate to being infallible. Experts are subject to the same human failings as everyone else. They can make professional mistakes, fall victim to psychological biases, and even succumb to intimidation and inducements. Darrell Huff isn’t the only example. Robert F. Kennedy Jr. coined the term biostitutes to brand scientists who misrepresent research or commit fraud to serve a benefactor or to make a personal gain. He was specifically criticizing Dr. Paul Offit for his ties to drug companies.

Our government is not alone in doing shady things to discredit conspiracies, and then getting caught. Pharmaceutical companies price-gouge medications. Powerful people silence victims of sexual assault and abuse. Foreign governments attempt to sow discord in the U.S. through social media. Systemic injustices and cultural prejudices hamper some people’s ability to succeed in our society.

[Debunkers] are getting blinkered by their own feelings of superiority–that the mere act of busting myths makes them more susceptible to spreading them.

Daniel Engber in FiveThirtyEight

Maybe some debunkers are really just trying to publicize conspiracy theories, bringing them to the public’s attention hoping for a backfire effect.

Proof Not So Positive

Some responses to conspiracy theories are actually just misinformation pushed by legitimate sources. They are called the official explanations. Those official explanations, which are meant to be accepted by the public, are sometimes unlikely, even ludicrous. These “crazy” official explanations virtually guarantee that there will be conspiracy theories.

Take the 1947 incident near Roswell, NM. The first official explanation was a UFO. Then, it was a weather balloon, which all those people in the military who were involved knew it wasn’t. Then 47 years later, the Air Force claimed it was a “balloon” from Project Mogul. But unlike weather balloons of the day, the Mogul balloon was a massive combination of several balloons that contained unusual types of reflectors, lightweight structural supports, metal foil, and other materials. It was meant to spy on Russia. The debris may not have been the result of the crash of an alien craft, but with all the confused disinformation, how could conspiracy theories not develop. Now, more than a few other countries are also investigating UFOs.

Roswell was a single event. Consider Project Blue Book. It wasn’t the first or the last investigation of UFOs by the Air Force, but it is the most well-known. Blue Book investigated 12,618 cases of UFO sightings, 701 of which couldn’t be explained. The problem was that the project became a PR vehicle to discredit UFO sightings, using such reasons as hoaxes, misidentified aircraft, birds, weather balloons, weather and astronomical phenomena, contrails, and even swamp gas. The project’s only scientific consultant, astronomer Dr. J. Allen Hynek, came to realize that there was “… virtually no scientific dialogue between Blue Book and the outside scientific world … The statistical methods employed by Blue Book are nothing less than a travesty.” Again, debunker efforts backfired.

Ridicule is not part of the scientific method, and people should not be taught that it is. The steady flow of reports, often made in concert by reliable observers, raises questions of scientific obligation and responsibility. … does not an obligation exist to say so to the public—not in words of open ridicule but seriously, to keep faith with the trust the public places in science and scientists?

Dr. J. Allen Hynek,

There are many other examples in which the official explanation is as unlikely, if not more unlikely than the conspiracy theory it is trying to debunk. Is the official explanation of 9/11, that 19 minimally-trained conspirators led by a Saudi millionaire living in a cave in Afghanistan, much more likely than the alternative conspiracy, that the US government and some co-conspirators had the attacks conducted within the framework of the al-Qaeda plan?

Furthermore, the official investigations of conspiracies are not always satisfying; they are often partisan, superficial, or inept. Was JFK assassinated by a lone gunman? The 1964 Warren Commission thought so but the 1979 House Select Committee on Assassinations thought there was evidence of a conspiracy. The investigation conducted by the 911 Commission, was rushed, underfunded, partisan, superficial, AND inept.

Hiding the truth only served to create more lies.

Why So Much Outrage

A conspiracy theory is only relevant if people care about it. Conspiracy theories that are so improbable that they are laughable should just be laughed off. They should be experienced as entertainment, silly but fun to experience like the X-Files, Harry Potter, and fan fiction. So why do some people rail against conspiracy theories so fiercely? Are they like Karens, grammar Nazis, the Holier-Than-Thou, or other type of control freaks? Do they believe they are protectors of science, the authority of government, or societal common sense?

Would finding out that the government participated in a 9/11 conspiracy to start wars in Iraq and Afghanistan be more surprising than when they used the Gulf of Tonkin conspiracy to expand the Vietnam war, or sold weapons to Iran in the 1980s during an arms embargo, or started the War on Drugs to target blacks and anti-war activists.

People who rail against ALL conspiracy theories are really no different from people who espouse the craziest of the crazy theories. They come to a conclusion and can’t be swayed. One is no less “crazy” than the other. Maybe they suffer from cognitive dissonance or lack open-mindedness or are unable to think critically. Maybe they are just insecure bullies. Then again, maybe they are part of a conspiracy against conspiracies—Mockingbirds.

“Mockingbird Aerial Display” by TexasEagle is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Sasquatch 2020