Thursday, December 11, 2008

Trimming the fringe

Within my circle of friends, virtual and otherwise, it's understood that I don't do mass e-mails -- no idiotic humor, no videos of dancing babies, no chain letters and no religious tracts. With apologies to J.B. Books, I don't send these things to other people, and I require the same from them.

My wife, on the other hand, is a magnet for e-junk and doesn't discourage it. Occasionally she'll share something that she finds truly funny, deems unusually significant or, as was the case yesterday, calls for a shovel.

This particular message contained four links, all related to an exposé alleging official plans to replace U.S. legal tender with "Amero" currency, part of a top-secret government agenda to sacrifice U.S. sovereignty on the altar of a new North American Union.

The central "proof" of the theory consists of photographs of an Amero coin, said to have been minted in Denver, supposedly produced in great quantities and warehoused in China, awaiting the day when our government will spring the currency switch on an unsuspecting citizenry. The coin was photographed in the hands of a one-time Internet talk-radio host, who claims to have acquired the piece by way of a sympathetic soul who works at the Denver Mint.

I want to take a moment now to say that I won't be naming the nutjob who's holding the coin. First of all, he and his half-baked theory don't deserve any more publicity. Second, if talk radio is a wasteland where critical thought goes to die, then Internet talk radio is where common sense is interred -- and he couldn't even hold a job in that graveyard. And third, when I scoured the lunatic fringe for more of what this guy has to say, I learned that he traffics unapologetically in racism, anti-Semitism and white supremacy -- and I have no use for any of the above.

Further, the Amero coin he's holding in the photos is a meaningless curio offered for sale by a Colorado company. Using a novelty coin to "prove" this cockamamie theory is akin to publishing a picture of a Franklin Mint die-cast Corvette to support a claim that the government has perfected technology capable of shrinking large objects to a fraction of their original size -- and that we, of course, are next.

Conspiracy theories, like the people who propagate them, do have a certain entertainment value, but only to a point. In the end, the only thing exposed by an exposé mentality is human ignorance.

Expressed in formal terms, it's a logical fallacy called argumentum ad ignorantiam -- "an appeal to ignorance" -- and here's how it works: I claim that something is true (or false), and if you can't prove it false (or true), then I win.
Because it's my theory, and since I reject all arguments to the contrary, I always win.

When you think about it -- which requires actually thinking about it, by the way -- it's a pretty damned silly way to look at the world.

Ignorance inflames paranoia which, in turn, sustains ignorance. Make no mistake -- skepticism is healthy. Even cynicism, tempered by rational thought, can be productive.

Government is deserving of scrutiny, but ignorant paranoia causes some to dismiss as false or suspect absolutely everything that our government says and does. Such is the defective mindset devoted to conjuring ghosts where they may or may not exist -- Trilateral Commission, Council on Foreign Relations, Skull and Bones, New World Order. The list goes on.

It's an inescapable fact of life that most conversations happen out of earshot. It's also true that evil schemes are hatched behind closed doors and yes, the powerful keep secrets from the governed. None of those certainties, however, justifies categorical rejection of facts at hand.

Blind rejection, blind acceptance -- both are manifestations of ignorance. Not everything that our government does is sinister, any more than everything it does is wonderful. Skepticism (not paranoia) instructs us to differentiate between the two, and then critical thought (not ignorance) allows us to see facts.

Besides, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

I'll wrap my rant with this assertion: An obsession with conspiracies, cover-ups and hidden agendas only distracts us from "exposing" what's happening right under our noses.

(See also "Forest" and "Trees.")

The way I see it, there's more than enough sinister stuff going on in public to keep retired conspiracy buffs busy long after they've figured out who really shot JFK.