Sunday, January 17, 2010

Institutional analysis becomes conspiracy theory when the government says so.

At least, Cass Sunstein would like to make that official. Papa Cass is one of Obama's closest confidants and head of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. He's considered to be a major contender for the next Supreme Court opening, which should really scare the shit out of both liberals and conservatives because he's open to the idea of "cognitive infiltration" of those who investigate or foster conspiracy theories. Cass Sunstein is not crazy by the way -- well, yes he is. What I mean is, he acknowledge's that several bad conspiracy theories turned out to be true during the Cold War, like the one about the DOD manufacturing terrorist plots and blaming them on Castro. It's just that now is the present, which as every Serious government official knows has nothing to do with the future. Anyway, why would someone who acknowledges that many government conspiracy theories have been verified as accurate want to have the same government interfere with the public dialogue -- that is, any more than it already has through the MSM? Well, that's an easy one. Glenn Greenwald explores Cass's reasoning behind "cognitive infiltration" in the first link, and I largely agree with his analysis. I think that what it boils down to is this: Cass Sunstein is a bad elitist, which is worse than a neutral elitist. Here are my definitions: 
elitism (neutral) - the belief that elites (those who have distinguished themselves based on merit or subjective criteria) should lead, teach or otherwise influence society in a non-deceptive manner and that this elite guidance achieves the most favorable results for society as a whole.
bad elitism - the belief that elites must deceive the public or conduct covert propaganda in order to achieve the most favorable results for society as a whole.
Does this make sense?  I found the dictionary definitions inadequate. One could write a PhD dissertation on the modern conceptions of elitism, but I've chosen to draw the line between neutral and bad elitism at the point of deception. In this construction, Cass is (not coincidentally) a bad elitist.

P.S. - Do try to muddle through the abstract of Cass's paper in the second link. I think Cass accurately describes most conspiracy theorists as "typically suffer[ing] from a crippled epistemology," but Cass needs to take a timeout and realize that covert government interference in public debate is designed to cripple epistemology in society at-large. If it indeed becomes standard practice to make undisclosed payments to experts who are willing or pleased to tow the government line, then every expert opinion becomes fair game for government skeptics. Now, you could argue that we've been dealing with this sort of corruption for a long time and no epistemological crises have crippled society yet, but Cass seems to be open to the idea that cognitive infiltration be legalized and accepted by the high courts as Constitutional.

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