“Man-made climate change is a myth… I think all these issues have to be settled on the base of real science, not manufactured science” – Michelle Bachmann
I’m continuing my research in what is now a very clear association between parts of the climate sceptic movement and conspiracy culture.
For those interested in conspiracy culture I plan to regularly publish lists of those texts and papers I’ve read over the past few years – all of which will be added to the library. This will also help set the scene for what will no doubt be the focus of this blog from this point forward: conspiracy culture and the role of values in the climate change debate.
The following post refers you to some key scholarly texts, but also why I believe they are relevant to any attempted understanding of climate change scepticism. I’m also sketching out in broad terms some key concepts based on my reading of the academic literature. From this point much of the research, writing and work of this blog will flow from my reading and interacting with scholars on the above.
There is a lot to take in here: consider this a “primer” with subsequent posts and articles discussing these concepts in more detail.
With this in mind, let us enter the world of conspiracy culture and the fear of the coming New World Order and just how much it dominates the fears and nightmares of sceptics and conservatives…
Manufacturing a global crisis with climate change: the conspiracy culture and climate scepticism link
Where to begin your understanding of conspiracy culture and its relation to climate scepticism?
That was the challenge I faced several years ago as a novice blogger with some general assumptions about conspiracy culture and the drivers of conspiracy theorists.
Was it all simple paranoia?
Where these people somehow unwell?
Is this a new political phenomenon?
What I found was surprising – to me at least.
Conspiracy culture is more pervasive than one would image and has been shaping politics in surprising ways – more so than it is generally understood by those of us assuming people view the word in the same logical, Enlightenment model of the world employed by the scientists or the “rational” individual.
If the evidence is overwhelming, acceptance – or belief – should follow.
As it turns out reason is somewhat in short supply and conspiracy theories have been flourishing on the margins of politics and debate for decades and have now erupted into the mainstream.
Ideas once considered fringe have become been accepted by millions and by elites: indeed, nearly all GOP American presidential candidates have dismissed the science as not merely flawed, but “a myth” and hoax (see above).
This is conspiracy culture bursting into the mainstream and shaping the politics of a super power.
As scholars of conspiracy culture have warned for decades now, such wide-scale adoption of conspiracy culture has the potential to distort the political process.
Indeed, the lamentable state of the climate change debate and the continuing rejection of the science by sections of the public and conservative political elites could possibly be traced to a growing acceptance of conspiracy theories and their currency in what is often called the “culture war”.
Thus the Michelle Bachmann’s and Sarah Palins of the world – the ultra-religious conservative American politicians both touted as possible Presidential candidates – noted for their rejection of climate change, evolution and embrace of free markets are not an aberration.
They are the products of a specific culture, part of which embraces and extols conspiracy theories and the rejection of certain forms of knowledge as the product of “satanic forces” that must be both refuted and countered.
Introductory and general texts
The following introductory texts are a good as place to start as any.
A culture of conspiracy: apocalyptic visions in contemporary America by Michael Barkun - Barkun provides a useful framework for understanding conspiracy culture: the different types of conspiracies; how conspiracy theorists are attracted to “stigmatized” knowledge”; and the strong association between right-wing popularism and “new world order” paranoia. Personally, this is my favoured text.
Enemies within: the culture of conspiracy within modern America by Robert Alan Goldberg - Another favourite text of mine, Goldberg’s text clearly demonstrates conspiracy culture is nothing new to American politics: indeed, the argument could be made that it has always been part of politics and not an aberration of the political process.
We tend to see the likes of the Tea Party, the hysterical paranoia of Glenn Beck, Birthers and Truthers as something new: the fact is every decade spawns a new class of conspiracy theorists in response to political and world events.
It was inevitable – indeed, it should have been foreseen – that conspiracy theorists would react to climate change and filter it through pre-existing conspiracy theories.
The following text provides context and the long history of conspiracy theories and how they have shaped politics:
Real enemies: conspiracy theories and American democracy, World War 1 to 9/11 by Kathryn Olmsted - This text really helped my understanding that every decade conspiracy theories are reborn and repurposed to soothe the anxieties of the time. Did you know that prior to World War 2 significant sections of the Republican Party believed President Roosevelt was a secret socialist who intended to establish a dictatorship by expanding the Federal government to such an extent it would control every aspect of the individual’s life?
Reading such works was illuminating, especially the parallels with conspiracy theories that have wide currency at the moment. Indeed, it was surprising to find that in the immediate aftermath of the attack on Pearl Harbor right-wing conservatives started theorising the President allowed the Japanese to attack as a pretext to usher in a fascist regime – a variation of the false flag theory.
The truth is out there: the role of the media and popular culture
Both the internet and popular culture have been critical in shaping conspiracy culture (and vice versa). This will be explored more fully but a good place to start is here:
Conspiracy theory in film, television and politics by Gordon B. Arnold - This is a terrific primer on how popular culture has influenced and shaped conspiracy culture. Starting with how Hollywood responded to the “reds under the bed” paranoia of the 1950s it traces the evolution of conspiracy themes in film and television until the early twenty-first century.
Arnold’s book makes a strong case for the idea that fringe conspiracy beliefs were “mainstreamed” by the media and made more palatable to a general audience. Perhaps we see this mainstreaming of “conspiracy ideation” manifesting itself in the large numbers of people who believe Obama was not born in the United States or 9/11 was an “inside job”.
We live in a culture in which new conspiracy theories are ripe for adoption by the public and even members of the political, media and business classes. But there is more to this than an overabundance of conspiracy theories wrapped up in entertaining movies and shows such as “The X-Files”.
We also need to consider the rise of right-wing popularism.
Strange bedfellows: the emergence of right-wing-popularism and its fusion with climate scepticism
The roots of the “culture war” can be seen in the rise of right-wing movements who have sought to wind back the role of government, implement “market solutions” and return society to “traditional values” – what I have tentatively been referring to as neo-fundamentalism (to distinguish it from neo-liberalism).
Thus understanding the emergence of what is referred to as right-wing popularism (RWP) and how this may have impacted the climate change debate is critical.
This broad-based “movement” was the product of the cold war paranoia about socialism and a reaction to globalisation, the civil, women’s and gay rights movements and the massive cultural and societal changes of the past decades. One can also see it the emergence of the “moral majority” and strident evangelical strain of religion in the US and other parts of the globe.
I’d recommend the following text that to help decode the messages and arguments (while tracing the history) of the radical right and the seemingly impossible contradictions of their arguments and world views:
Right-wing popularism in America: too close for comfort by Chip Berlot – This is a must read in any attempt to understand contemporary politics in America – from libertarians to fundamentalists, the rise of the right-wing is charted brilliantly.
Belort makes the argument – forcefully and correctly I believe – that for the past 60 years the extremist and radical fringe within the US (I would argue Australia to a lessor extent) has sought to capture the conservative movement while pushing their radical agenda of libertarian economics, social conservatism and religiosity.
As the issue of climate change “heated up”, a popularist and conservative reaction to the perceived regulatory and cultural changes also came into being.
The threat of more regulation, arguments for less consumption and the necessity of global agreements literally terrified the conservatives and those with a right-wing predisposition – it fuelled their fear of New World Orders, reds under the beds and wind farms as agents of disease.
More discussion on this to come… enjoy the those texts if you get a chance.
The next posts will explore conspiracy culture a little more and make the argument that climate sceptics see themselves as the “saviours” of science and traditional values, and are engaged in what one could call “counter-subversion” angainst “the enemy within”.