“Among the Truthers” by Jonathan Kay

July 5, 2011


Canadian journalist Jonathan Kay has produced an excellent, if somewhat controversial, look at the rise of conspiracy theory believers in America, Among the Truthers: A Journey through America’s Growing Conspiracist Underground.

If you know someone who believes in any fringe doctrine, this is the book for you. Not because it delves deeply into debunking any particular conspiracy, but because it takes the overview, a sort of high altitude mapping of this territory and allows you to see how and why these ideas develop, and take hold.

Just like television was once touted as a medium to bring high culture and elevated debate into all the homes of the nation, the Internet was also given a lot of great advance press, using almost the same hopeful praise from 60 years ago that greeted the rise of a nation-wide forest of TV antennas.

But just like the multiplicity of cable channels on your television, the vast content of the web makes room for all sorts of disinformation and lies. And since the cost of a professional looking website is within the means of almost everyone with a computer, it can be almost impossible to distinguish between a site whose content is vetted and well-researched and one that is the product of a single author’s delusions.

Into this fragmentation of the country’s media diet all manner of strange beasts stalk.

Just as we now have to be our own health care advocates, we now have to be our own curators of reliable content, if we wish to remain grounded in reality.

I would give Kay’s book my highest recommendation, even though I quibble with some of those he puts on the fringe, like author Naomi Klein and historian Howard Zinn. Another wonderful part of Kay’s book are the compelling quotations that begin each chapter. Below are samples of two that I especially liked:


“The conspiracy community regularly seizes on one slip of the tongue, mis-understanding, or slight discrepancy to defeat 20 pieces of solid evidence; accepts one witness of theirs, even if he or she is a provable nut, as being far more credible that 10 normal witnesses on the other side; treats rumors, even questions, as the equivalent of proof; leaps from the most miniscule of discoveries to the grandest of conclusions; and insists, as the late lawyer Louis Nizer once observed, that the failure to explain everything perfectly negates all that is explained.”


–Vincent Bugliosi, Reclaiming History: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy


“Nothing you learn in the course of your studies will be of the slightest possible use to you in after life, save only this: That if you work hard and diligently you should be able to detect when a man is talking rot. And that, in my view, is the main, if not the sole purpose of education.”


–Harold Macmillan, Prime Minister of Britain 1957-1963, quoting his classics tutor at Oxford


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