Saturday, January 8, 2011

Some thoughts on "American Conspiracies", by Jesse Ventura

The reputation of conspiracy theories and theorists in the United States today is so bad that I felt almost dirty when I occasionally found myself nodding my head and agreeing with something Jesse Ventura had written in American Conspiracies: Lies, Lies and More Dirty Lies that the Government Tells Us (written with Dick Russel; Skyhorse Publishing, 2010; 288 pages).

But the fact remains that I did agree with a few of the opinions shared by Ventura in the book. For example, he wrote that he believes we should go back to using paper ballots in elections in this country, and that they should be tabulated by hand (p. 130). I get the strangest looks when I say that, but I’ve been saying it for years. I worked as a precinct officer and as a precinct inspector in too many elections to trust any voting method that doesn’t leave a paper trail.

Ventura also writes that he advocates the abandonment of the Electoral College, and I’m right there with him on that, too. Any electoral system that lets the person who gets the most votes still lose the election is too open to manipulation and abuse for my comfort. Certainly, the 2000 election, which Ventura (along with quite a few other people, to be honest) believes was stolen, is not the first time the Electoral College system has put the loser of the popular vote into the White House.

So, I found myself agreeing to a point with Ventura’s chapter on the elections of 2000 and 2004, both of which he believes were stolen, the former in Florida and the latter in Ohio, by the manipulation of electronic voting machines, by the purging of voters from the rolls who shouldn’t have been purged, and by voter intimidation.

I suspect that Ventura is on less stable ground with some the other conspiracy theories he explores in his book, although his explanations of them did make me stop and think about them before wondering just how accurate his facts were and how plausible were the hypotheses he wove from them. And even if his facts were accurate the fact is, there is no way of ever knowing for sure whether the events he describes were driven by conspiracies or were just the way things turned out. This being the case, I suppose the real value of American Conspiracies, like other books on conspiracies, is as a series of thought experiments or “what if” questions. I do think there are legitimate questions about some of the events Ventura looks at, such as the assassinations of the Kennedys, Dr. King, and Malcolm X. As I have said before in this blog, I don’t believe that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone, even if I’m not convinced of some of the wilder theories about the killing of John F. Kennedy.

Similarly, I’m not opposed to asking questions about the attacks of 9/11, even if I’m not ready to say, as Ventura does, that either some in the US government were involved in it, or else knew about it and did nothing to stop it. There are those who would hold that there is no room for any questioning of the official explanation of what happened on that day, and that to ask those questions amounts to treason, or very nearly so. But, as Ventura points out in the book, the First Amendment to the US Constitution is there to protect unpopular speech (his emphasis), because popular speech doesn’t need to be protected (p. 120).

I suppose the question becomes, does the fact that I’m open to some of the questions that Ventura asks in the book and the fact that I did in fact agree with some of the things he writes, make me a conspiracy “nut”? I don’t think so. What I do think is that if we stop asking questions about the things that happen in our world, and if we discourage others from asking such questions, even if none of the conspiracies Ventura theorizes about in his book were really conspiracies, it will make it easier for budding conspirators some time in the future to put a real conspiracy into motion and be successful with it. Asking questions like Ventura does, and examining the answers closely, rather than just accepting those answers either in favor to or opposed to a verdict of conspiracy, can only work to strengthen critical thinking skills in individuals and in society. And I don’t think that is a bad thing.

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