Archive for the ‘Conspiracy Theories’ Category

Paranoid Stylings: American Politics in the Twenty-first Century

January 18, 2013

conspiracy_theorists

    This glimpse across a long span of time emboldens me to make the conjecture—it is no more than that—that a mentality disposed to see the world in this way may be a persistent psychic phenomenon, more or less constantly affecting a modest minority of the population. But certain religious traditions, certain social structures and national inheritances, certain historical catastrophes or frustrations may be conducive to the release of such psychic energies, and to situations in which they can more readily be built into mass movements or political parties. In American experience ethnic and religious conflict have plainly been a major focus for militant and suspicious minds of this sort, but class conflicts also can mobilize such energies. Perhaps the central situation conducive to the diffusion of the paranoid tendency is a confrontation of opposed interests which are (or are felt to be) totally irreconcilable, and thus by nature not susceptible to the normal political processes of bargain and compromise. The situation becomes worse when the representatives of a particular social interest—perhaps because of the very unrealistic and unrealizable nature of its demands—are shut out of the political process. Having no access to political bargaining or the making of decisions, they find their original conception that the world of power is sinister and malicious fully confirmed. They see only the consequences of power—and this through distorting lenses—and have no chance to observe its actual machinery. A distinguished historian has said that one of the most valuable things about history is that it teaches us how things do not happen. It is precisely this kind of awareness that the paranoid fails to develop. He has a special resistance of his own, of course, to developing such awareness, but circumstances often deprive him of exposure to events that might enlighten him—and in any case he resists enlightenment.

    – Richard Hofstadter, The Paranoid Style in American Politics

It seems that everything that happens in America nowadays is part of some sort of conspiracy. A small, but very vocal group of people are now claiming that the Sandy Hook massacre was faked, that it was a “false-flag operation”, carried out so that President Obama can have an excuse to “take away our guns”. One witness to the shootings has received threatening phone calls and e-mails accusing him of being in the pay of the government. There are also conspiracy theories about the Aurora Shootings.

You can laugh (or cry) all you want about this, but is it really any sillier than some of the claims made by the 9/11 “Truth” movement? I don’t know how many times I read somebody on Indymedia or some other website claiming that the “hole” in the Pentagon could not possibly have been made by an airplane, as if this person had spent his life observing planes crashing into buildings. And a surprisingly large number of Americans think that the Apollo moon landing was faked. One wonders why they just don’t go all the way and claim that everything on the news is faked.

In his essay, The Paranoid Style in American Politics, Richard Hofstadter argued that there is a long history of conspiracist thinking in the U.S. He discusses anti-Masonry and anti-Catholicism in nineteenth century America, and he draws a direct line from them to the anti-Communism of the 1940’s and 1950’s. A common characteristic of these movements is a belief that the U.S. is under threat from secretive forces, usually of foreign in origin. (Think of how birthers try to claim that Obama wasn’t born in the U.S.) Hofstadter sees these movements as being mainly rural in character. This may have been true of earlier movements, but it can’t really be said of the 9/11 “Truth” movement. It seems to me that the paranoid style is beginning to become so pervasive in this country that it is starting to crowd out reasonable critiques of our political and economic system.

The Fog of War

January 6, 2013

Fog_of_war

I just got around to watching Errol Morris’s 2003 documentary, The Fog of War. I didn’t see this film when it first came out, probably because 2003 was a busy year for me. I found it somewhat disappointing. Much of it consists of McNamara trying to justify his actions. I should have expected that, but the reviews I read led me to believe it would be much more than that. Still, the film does have some interesting moments, and it gives some insight into the way one member of the ruling class thinks. I don’t think this is a minor thing. I think that perhaps the reason so many people on the Left are suckers for crackpot conspiracy theories is that they don’t have much understanding of how the ruling class thinks.

The film begins with McNamara, who is shown in tight close-ups most of the time, discussing the Cuban Missile Crisis. McNamara repeatedly points out the U.S. and the Soviet Union came extremely close to a nuclear war. McNamara uses his account of the crisis to illustrate one of the “eleven lessons” he talks about in the course of The Fog of War; in this case, “empathize with your enemy”. McNamara tells how a diplomat named Tommy Thompson, who knew Krushchev well, persuaded a skeptical Kennedy that the Soviet premier would be willing to cut a deal over Cuba, which turned out to be the case. This raises the question of why there was a crisis at all, though, unfortunately, Morris doesn’t ask this question. McNamara also uses this incident to illustrate another one of his “lessons”: “rationality will not save us”. McNamara insists that the governments of the U.S., the Soviet Union, and Cuba all behaved in a “rational” manner, even though they brought their countries to the brink of nuclear annihilation. So, if this is rationality, then what is irrationality? And if rationality will not save us, then what will? Morris doesn’t ask, and McNamara doesn’t say.

The Fog of War then goes into a discussion of McNamara’s early years. During the Second World War, he served as an analyst for the Army Air Corps. Under the command of Gen. Curtis LeMay, McNamara helped plan the fire bombing of Tokyo, which killed 100,000 people. This leads to the film’s most startling moment: McNamara frankly states that he and Gen. LeMay were war criminals. Still, he expresses no regrets about what he did.

The largest section of the film is devoted to the Vietnam War. McNamara doesn’t say much about the strategic justification for the U.S.’s intervention in Vietnam; he seems to consider this to be self-evident. McNamara admits that there was some confusion over what actually happened in the Gulf of Tonkin Incident; nevertheless, he and President Johnson used it as justification to launch an intensive bombing campaign in North Vietnam. McNamara also gives a discussion in which he tries to distance himself from the use of Agent Orange in Vietnam. To illustrate his “lesson” of “empathize with your enemy”, McNamara talks about how years after the war he met the former foreign minister of North Vietnam. McNamara says he was surprised to learn from this man that his government viewed the U.S. as a foreign colonial power trying to take control of their country. Reall? It never occurred to McNamara that the Vietnamese might view the U.S. in this way? If McNamara was being honest here, then he was every bit as self-deluded as the people who led us into the Iraq War. (It so happens that this film was released the same year as the U.S. invasion of Iraq.)

McNamara casually discusses the deaths of millions of people, yet he gets choked up when he recounts how he helped pick out the grave-site for John F. Kennedy. One is reminded here of Stalin’s dictum: “One death is a tragedy, but a million deaths is a statistic.” I don’t think it is a stretch for me to say that McNamara had some of Stalin’s bureaucratic mind-set.

Another of McNamara’s “lessons” is “in order to do good, you may have to engage in evil”. One wonders if McNamara ever questioned whether what he was trying to do was actually good.

Art Robinson

October 10, 2012


Art Robinson contemplating what kind of bullshit people will believe next.

When I was driving through rural Oregon the other day, I was dismayed to see signs promoting the congressional candidacy of the bizarre cult leader respected scientist and politician, Art Robinson. Robinson’s website is worth checking out. It is a compendium of many of the pea-brained sophistries that pass for informed opinion in this country nowadays. For example, here is Robinson’s discussion of the 10th Amendment to the Constitution:

    Nevertheless, our congressional representatives – all of whom swear an oath to uphold the Constitution – flagrantly disregard the 10th Amendment. They do this largely by using public funds to pay for government agencies that constantly violate this Amendment and by the issuance of “mandates” that dictate “required” state and local actions.

    Robinson lost the 2010 election to Pete DeFazio. Several months later, Robinson began telling people that Oregon State University was planning on expelling his three children, who were graduate students there, as retaliation for his running against DeFazio.

    What excuse do congressmen give for violating the 10th Amendment? Mostly, they just ignore it, without giving any excuse at all. If pressed, some point to the Constitution.

    “We the people of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
    ~ Preamble

    The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States . . .
    ~Article 1, Section 8

    Citing the phrase “promote (or provide for) the general Welfare,” they claim that this permits Congress to do anything it decides will be good for general welfare – anything at all! This is bogus.

This is what the 10th Amendment says:

    The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

So, if the Constitution says that Congress has the power to “provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States” that means that power has been delegated to it by the Constitution.

Robinsosn has a PhD in chemistry. One can only wonder how a man with such apparently poor reading comprehension skills was able to earn an advanced degree (or even a high school diploma, for that matter). One can only assume that he did it through sheer force of will.

On the issue of energy, Robinson writes:

    Nuclear and hydroelectric electricity are inexpensive, clean, and safe. Spent nuclear fuel – so-called “nuclear waste” – is easily disposed of by nuclear fuel re-cycling, a method used in other countries but prohibited by misguided government policies in the U.S. Coal, oil, and natural gas are indispensable for many purposes. Solar and wind are expensive and resource-intensive, but useful in remote locations.

Wow, that PhD didn’t do Art much good, did it? Other countries have the same problems disposing of spent nuclear fuels that we do. Art writes:

    Energy development need not cost the American taxpayer a single cent.

Especially since nuclear energy is not economically viable without government subsidies. I’m starting to get the sinking feeling that PhD’s are over-rated.

Robinson is opposed to women’s reproductive rights. He calls for the immediate deportation of all “illegal” immigrants. And he blames government regulations for the poor state of the economy, although it was actually under-regulation of the banking industry that led to the financial meltdown of 2008.

Robinson lost to Pete DeFazio in the 2010 election. Several months later, Robinson began telling people that Oregon State University was planning to expel his three children, who were graduate students there. He initially claimed that this was being done as retaliation for his opposing DeFazio. However, when a reporter asked Robinson for more details, he became mysteriously vague:

    I don’t have definitive proof,” Robinson said. “That is what I believe. Basically, I know what happened. I cannot tell you the motives of the people doing it.

Nevertheless, this shocking news compelled a group of gullible idiots
red-blooded Americans to take action. They held a demonstration at the OSU campus demanding justice for the Robinson children. This was met by a counter-demonstration of students, who did not care to have their school’s reputation impugned by a group of illiterate yahoos
concerned citizens.

This is the type of man who wants to represent us in Congress. Art Robinson: a choice, not an echo.

Jean Bricmont and Gilad Atzmon

October 3, 2012


Gilad Atzmon

Jean Bricmont has written an article defending Gilad Atzmon from his numerous critics on the Left, who accuse him of, among other things, being an anti-Semite. (Personal disclosure: I am one of them.) You can read the complete article here. (This links to Atzmon’s website. If you are unfamiliar with his work, you will be amazed at some of the things you will find there.) The first thing one notices about this piece is that it is extremely long-winded. You could cut out at least half the verbiage in it, and it would say the same exact thing. I consider that to be bad writing (although I realize some may not agree with me about this). I find this disheartening. I have always liked to think that theoretical physicists must also be good writers. Einstein wrote well. Carl Sagan could express himself clearly and succinctly. Yet another one of my illusions in life has been shattered.

After nine mostly long paragraphs, Bricmont finally gets to his main argument:

    This movement often gives the impression that its “solidarity” with Palestine takes place above all over there and requires more and more missions, trips, dialogues, reports, and even sometimes “peace processes.” But the plain facts of the matter are that the Israelis do not want to make the concessions that would be needed to live in peace and that a main reason for that attitude is that they think they can enjoy Western support ad vitam aeternam. Therefore, it is precisely this support that the solidarity movement should attack as its priority. Another frequent error is to think that this support is due to economic or strategic considerations. But, at least today, Israel is of no use to Western interests. [This is plainly false.] It turns the Muslim world against us [this is only partly true], doesn’t bring in a single drop of oil [man does not live by oil alone, Prof. Bricmont], and pushes the United States into a war with Iran that the Americans clearly don’t want [some, such as Norman Finkelstein, have argued that Israel is bluffing about this]. The reasons for this support are obvious enough: constant pressure from Zionist organizations on intellectuals, journalists and politicians by endlessly manipulating the accusation of anti-Semitism and the climate of guilt and repentance (for the Holocaust) kept on artificial life support, in large part by those same organizations. As a result, the main task of the Palestine solidarity movement should be to allow free speech about Palestine, but also to denounce the pressure and intimidation by various lobbies. Which is what Atzmon does. Far from rejecting him, the solidarity movement should make it a priority to defend the possibility of reading and listening to him, even if one is not in total agreement with what he says.

Look, so far as I and other leftists are concerned, Atzmon can write whatever bullshit that happens to float his boat. All we’re asking is that we at least acknowledge that what Atzmon writes is bullshit. Bricmont’s unwillingness to admit this raises serious questions about his intellectual honesty. Moreover, Bricmont makes so many dubious assertions here, that one must wonder whether he actually has any idea what he’s talking about. I think I should also point out that the “Israel is useless to the West” argument is often made by right-wing critics of Israel, at least some of whom are almost certainly anti-Semites. That fact should give Bricmont pause.

    By his all-out attack on Jewish “tribalism,” Atzmon’s essential contribution to solidarity with Palestine is to help non-Jews realize that they are not always in the wrong when conflicts with Jewish organizations arise. The day when non-Jews free themselves from the mixture of fear and internalization of guilt that currently paralyses them, unconditional support for Israel will collapse.

If I may speak for my fellow non-Jews, I don’t feel one shred of guilt about what happened during the years 1933-45. Again, one has to wonder whether Bricmont has any idea what he is talking about. What’s more, the second sentence is obviously nonsense. Bricmont apparently considers it a matter of principle to ignore the political and economic forces that drive the West’s support for Israel.

In all fairness to Bricmont, I should point out that he seems to be partly motivated by concerns about laws recently passed in France that prohibit certain types of speech. Although I don’t pretend to be an expert on French politics, it seems to me that the problem there is that France has no equivalent of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, which guarantees freedom of speech. (This is a problem in many other countries as well.) I realize that this argument may be too idealist, but I think there is at least some truth to it.

With all due respect, perhaps Bricmont should stick to particle physics. There is no shame in that.

Dr. Ismail Salami and the “Clash of Cultures”

September 26, 2012


Ismail Salami, Shakespearean scholar, author of children’s books, spouter of gibberish.

Dissident Voice has recently posted this cracking good article by Ismail Salami, entitled West Braces for Clash of Cultures. (No one I know is bracing for a clash of cultures, but then maybe I just don’t move through the right social circles.) The article begins:

    With the publication of the profane pictures of the holy Prophet of Islam in Charlie Hebdo magazine, the West seems to be consciously moving in a direction where chaos will dominate the international arena and a clash of cultures will inevitably run deeper for an indefinite period of time.

A literary agent once said to me, “You’ve got to grab the reader by the throat and lift him out of his chair.” Dr. Salami (I’m trying hard not to go for the obvious joke here) has clearly accomplished this with this extraordinary paragraph/run-on sentence. But what exactly does it mean? In the first half, he seems to suggest that Charlie Hebdo is published by somebody named “the West”. In the second half, he seems to be saying that a “clash of cultures” will “run deeper” (like a submarine?).

Clearly, Salami is a master of the Nietzschean aphoristic syle. However, he can be shockingly blunt when he puts his mind to it:

    There are abortive attempts by western analysts to interpret the two baneful incidents in the light of freedom of expression and thereby explain away the emotional hurt of the Muslim world.

That’s right, 1.6 billion Muslims will not be able to sleep tonight because of some cartoons in an obscure left-wing newspaper in France. If you believe that, I’ve got some property in Florida I’d like to sell you.

    However, to an intellectually trained mind, this seems more than just an insult to Islam and the Muslims.

Of course, those of us without intellectually trained minds just have no idea what the fuck is going on, do we? (By the way, someone needs to explain to Dr. Salami that “intellectually trained mind” is redundant.)

    The calculated move of the French magazine [sic] in publishing the insulting cartoons immediately after the blasphemous film indicates a united front forming against Islam in the West.

Damn right. As soon as the right-wing Christian producers of Innocence of Muslims had finished filming, they immediately called up their left-wing atheist comrades in France and said, “It’s your turn, bros!” Tag team style.

    On the one hand, the move can be seen as an attempt to help escalate the crisis in the Middle East region and on the other hand to plunge the world into a vortex where a clash of civilizations is imminent.

“… plunge the world into a vortex where a clash of civilizations is imminent.” This may not be worthy of Shakespeare, but it’s almost worthy of H.P. Lovecraft.

    Should we naively believe that the anti-Islam film which has caused much uproar and intellectual chagrin in the Muslim world is the work of a Coptic Christian Egyptian fraudster, a small-time porn director and a bunch of extremists who harbor deep hatred against Islam?

Uh… yes? Is this some sort of trick question?

    This is a good question and it deserves an answer.

As my Aunt Bea used to say, “Every good question deserves an answer.”

    Still, the answer seems to be found in the incident which followed the film i.e. the publication of the blasphemous cartoons.

Uh… what?

    Seen from an analytical point of view, the entire scenario apparently tilts the scale in favor of the Zionists who capitalize on a large-scale fracas between the Muslim countries and the rest of the world. In fact, they are the ones who will catch the bigger fish in these trouble waters.

Bigger than whose fish?

    Amidst this craftily authored plan [yeah it’s fucking brilliant, isn’t it?], Israel has commenced a series of war games in Golan Heights, the biggest the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) has conducted in the six years since the second Lebanon war on Hezbollah in 2006. Military sources say the war game looks like a real war with tens of thousands of soldiers and senior officers, including the artillery and the air force taking part. Israeli officials have announced that the situation in Syria is precariously volatile and that the country is in possession of a huge arsenal of chemical weapons which they fear might fall into the hands of wrong people stockpile if President Bashar Assad is ousted. This is the excuse which they use to justify their military show-off. In point of fact, Israel is readying itself to wage a military encounter in the region by using the anti-Islam scenario.

Perhaps I’m nitpicking, but the last two sentences seem to contradict each other. If Israel can use an alleged chemical weapons stockpile as an excuse to intervene in Syria, why would they need to use “the anti-Islam scenario” (whatever that is)? (By the way, the Israelis have never needed an excuse to do anything.)

One can clearly see why the editors of Dissident Voice thought this article was worth posting. What better way to understand what is currently happening in the Muslim world than by reading gibberish?

I feel inspired to write my own article for Dissident Voice. It will be a learned dissertation on why the sea is boiling hot and why pigs have wings.

Watch for it.

Mad Russians and the American Left

August 31, 2012


Soon to be a contributor to CounterPunch and Dissident Voice.

Back in the 1930’s, there was a radio comedian named Bert Gordon, who was billed as the Mad Russian. His tagline was “How do you dooo!”, which you can hear in some Warner Brothers cartoons from that period. Gordon was enormously popular in his time, but, alas, he is largely forgotten today. Yet, the spirit of the Mad Russian lives on at some left-wing websites. At CounterPunch, Israel Shamir has become their resident authority on Russia, the Dreyfus Affair, and conspiracy theories.

Not to be outdone, CP’s rival, Dissident Voice, have their own mad Russian, Andre Fomine. His latest article is entitled Pussy Riot, the CIA, and Cultural Terrorism. In this article, we learn the shocking truth about Pussy Riot:

    No doubt it was not a single spontaneous act by a group of dissolute individuals but an episode of a much wider global campaign to shake and eventually ruin traditional societies and institutions. It is being carried out by the same powerful circles which inspired — e.g. offensive caricatures of Prophet Muhammad in a Danish newspaper in 2005.

Oh, my. From Pussy Riot to Danish cartoons. Who could possibly be behind this fiendish global conspiracy? Need you ask?

    It is an open secret that avant-gardism became popular in the West in 1950-1960s thanks to unprecedented support from the CIA and was used by the United States as a powerful ideological weapon.

The CIA. Why, of course! Aren’t they behind everything?

Fomine ends his article with a dire warning: “The puppeteers of Modern Art and Cultural Terrorism keep carrying out their mission.” [Emphasis in the original.]

Modern Art! Run! Flee! Hide!

In another article, entitled The Last Victory of Muammar Gaddafi, Fomine exposes the sordid truth behind the “Arab Spring”:

    First, there was nothing spontaneous in the wave of 2011 North Africa and Middle East revolutions. The popular unrests in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Bahrain, etc were carefully prepared, organized, financed and supported through international media. Quite surprisingly, Al-Jazeera played a critically important role in fueling the conflicts within Arabic societies spreading disinformation and blocking truthful and sober voices.

The media did it! And, as we all know, media = CIA. Fomine, however, ends his article on a cheerful note:

    Thus we are entering very interesting, perhaps decisive times. Muammar Gaddafi has won his last battle despite eluding vigor and insolent pressure from everywhere. Will there be any new Gaddafis born by Muslim mothers to resist the new world order? We hope and pray for that.

More Gaddafis! That’s exactly what we need! The comments on the thread for this article were adulatory. (“Excellent article. I am glad that the author had the courage to write it.” I’m not sure that “courage” is the right word.) When one commenter was churlish enough to point out that Fomine offers no evidence to support his claim about the Arab revolutions, he was promptly smacked down by another commenter who wrote:

    How do you expect the writer can supply you with what you call proof?!
    Do you expect him to hack computers or bulglarise certain offices and displays the documents here for you to see??!! Is that make sense?!
    There is something called commonsense combined with knowledge of history, precedents and good analytical ability!

Yeah, who needs evidence?

As you can imagine, I wanted to learn more about this truly original thinker, Andre Fomine. I found out that he edits a web journal called Oriental Review. There, you can find excerpts from a book by Nikolay Starikov entitled Who Made Hitler Attack Stalin. The latest installment is titled Leon Trotsky, Father of German Nazism. Lest you think that this title is meant as a joke, here is how the article begins:

    Who organized the February and October revolutions in Russia and the November revolution in Germany? The Russian and German revolutions were organized by British intelligence, with the possible support of the United States and France.

That’s right, British intelligence must have engineered the Russian Revolution, since it was a strategic defeat for the British empire. This is common sense. Displaying his extraordinary narrative skill, Starikov tells us:

    Dropped into Russia by British intelligence, thanks to a secret agreement with German secret services aboard the “closed wagon,” the Bolsheviks refused to leave the political scene.

That’s right, the Bolsheviks (all of them) were parachuted into Russia inside a sealed train car. (It must have been awfully uncomfortable, but they were willing to endure anything for the revolution.) Later, we learn:

    The main funding supplied to the Russian Revolution from American bankers was transferred through accounts in neutral Sweden and briefcases of inconspicuous figures stealthily entering the country.

Because there’s nothing bankers love more than a government that’s dedicated to abolishing capitalism.

Just by clinking on certain links on the Dissident Voice website, you can find this treasure trove of occult knowledge.

How do you dooo!

Obama’s Budget Deal

August 4, 2011

Readers of my blog know that I have never been keen on conspiracist thinking, but I’m starting to get a bit paranoid after these recent budget negotiations. Watching them was like watching that old magician’s trick, in which the audience is made to look in one direction while the important thing that’s happening is in the other direction. For weeks we listened to one Tea Party Republican after another talk about how they must wreak the economy just to spite Obama. Meanwhile, few noticed that Obama actually proposed making cuts in Social Security and Medicare.

Think about it, and the conspiracy makes sense. First, find the stupidest members of the white middle class. Tell them that Obama is a socialist and a fascist and a Muslim. Then organize them into demonstrations and let them make fools out of themselves. So the rest of the country gawks at these people and no one pays attention to what Obama is doing. They don’t realize just how conservative Obama is, and how he is waging war on the working class and the poor.

It is becoming clear that the ruling class have decided that they can live with a permanent state of high unemployment. Indeed, they may even view that as preferable. And if it is fine with them, it is fine with Obama.

What we need in this country is a movement of unemployed people.

Glenn Beck and Israel

July 13, 2011

Glenn Beck has dabbled in anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. He has expressed admiration for the anti-Semitic writers Elizabeth Dilling and Eustace Mullins. Yet he was recently invited to speak before a committee of the Israeli Knesset, where he was well received and lauded as one of “Israel’s great friends”.

We live in a society in which anyone who criticizes Israel is labeled as an “anti-Semite”. Yet the Israelis have made it clear that they regard a genuine anti-Semite as one of “Israel’s great friends”.

What does this tell us about Israel?

Hamlet: The First Conspiracy Theorist

February 27, 2011


Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, spiritual forebear of Scully and Mulder.

In a previous post, I criticized Amiri Baraka for espousing conspiracy theories. In all fairness to Baraka, I should point out that he belongs to a long literary tradition of conspiracy theorists. The late Norman Mailer, for example, often dabbled in conspiracy theories, including, bizarrely, ones about the death of Marilyn Monroe. Mark Twain, who was fairly sensible most of the time, bought into the silly “Shakespeare didn’t write his plays” idea. Alexandre Dumas’s The Three Musketeers is about conspiracies in the court of Louis XIII, with Cardinal Richelieu as the seventeenth century equivalent of the C.I.A.

The first conspiracy theorist, however, was Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. He believed that his uncle had murdered his father and usurped his throne. How did did he know this? His father’s ghost told him so. I don’t think that kind of “evidence” would stand up in a court of law. What other proof did he have? He staged a play about a man who murders his brother, and afterwards his uncle seemed agitated. That seems pretty thin to me.

The irony of Shakespeare’s play is that Hamlet’s attempts to root out the truth are not only futile but also tragic, resulting in the deaths of several innocent people, including Hamlet himself. One may possibly draw a moral from this.