In this week's edition of The Daily Banter Mail Bag, Bob, Ben and Chez discuss fighting the conspiracy theorists, infiltrating the Bundy Ranch and our embarrassing old articles.
1. I really appreciate the work you do at The Daily Banter taking on conspiracy theorists and never letting them off. Here's my question. Besides mocking them what can we do to stop their campaign of disinformation? They're protected by the First Amendment as are we all, but what can we as intelligent American citizens and realists do to end the influence of people like Alex Jones?
Ben: You have to drain the swamp. Crazies like Alex Jones appear in societies with huge income disparity and fractured political systems. It's a historic phenomenon - the more volatile a country is, the more likely charismatic lunatics who are incredibly certain of their own beliefs grow in popularity. We can do our bit to help marginalize them by relentlessly dismantling the nonsense they spout, but the longer term strategy has to be political and economic stability. And that means voting in sensible people to run the country and doing whatever the hell we can to stem the awful influence of money in politics. It's not particularly sexy, but it will work.
Chez: In order to successfully have a debate about something, there has to be a common frame of reference between the parties. There has to be an agreement that these are the parameters of the discussion, the points we can agree on. As I said this week, this kind of thing is almost impossible with conspiracy theorists. They don't have shit and yet they think they do; they think they've figured it all out and if you upend their lack of logic they'll just come back with more points that aren't the least bit logical. You can't argue with somebody like that. They're bulletproof. But you're right, something has to be done and I think the important thing to keep in mind here is that there are MILLIONS more rational people in this country -- people who at least know reality when they see it -- than there are Alex Jones disciples. They only think they make a difference because they're very loud (which is what you have to be when you arguments are fucking stupid). What absolutely should be done is this: never, under any circumstances, give people like Jones or their followers even an ounce of legitimacy. They don't deserve it.
Bob: They'll never go away. The best and only thing we can do (if we choose) is to relentlessly marginalize them. Remember what the GOP did with the word "liberal?" We -- left and right alike -- ought to do that with "conspiracy theory," along with all of the individual crackpot theories (weather weapons, chemtrails, Illuminati, juice boxes, etc). With enough time and tenacity they might as well walk around with clown shoes.
2. What would I have to pay to get one of you to go on assignment to the Bundy Ranch (or even better, to go undercover there)? Whatever it is, I'll pay.
Chez: Just before I left KCBS in L.A. in '97 Harvey Levin, who was an investigative reporter there at the time, tried to draft me to infiltrate a white supremacist group in an undercover story he wanted to do. He figured since I had tattoos and was an asshole I'd fit in as long as I could keep my true opinions to myself. (Which I surely wouldn't have been able to.) While the thought of taking that assignment -- which I never got to -- still kind of thrills me because it would have been so much fun to bring down the people he was trying to publicly out, it's a terrifying prospect to actually go undercover among zealots whose behavior can never be predicted. It'd be interesting to see Bunkerville up close and I do feel like it would be a hell of a story, but I get the feeling that the first time I was stopped by one of these pricks at a checkpoint and mouthed off to him, telling him to get the fuck out of my way because he has no right to stop me, I'd probably get shot. But hey, if Ben wants to give me hazard pay.
Bob: [slowly passes Todd a piece of paper with many, many zeros on it]
Ben: Well, I have a Jewish last name, and there are a lot of guns down there. I don't think it would go to well, so it would have to be a lot of money. I'm talking at least half a mill.
3. Do you ever cringe when you go back and read some of the things you wrote years ago either because you've changed your mind or just feel like that's not "you" anymore?
Bob: It might sound weird, but I don't like anything I've written that's older than around half-a-year ago. It's like looking at embarrassing old yearbook photos. Frankly, I consider both my writing and my worldview a work-in-progress. My worst work is in the past and my best, most insightful stuff is yet to come -- and I'll probably never reach that point of absolute satisfaction or the definitive manifestation of "my voice," whatever that means. Likewise, I'm honestly mortified by a lot of the posts I wrote during the Bush years (my old Huffington Post articles, while they shuttled me to where I am today, are around 60 percent atrocious in hindsight). In terms of worldview, my opinions have evolved over my 10 years of professional political writing. On some issues, I'm more liberal that ever, while I've become more center/center-left on other issues, though I've always considered myself a pragmatic realist. And that's both my prerogative and, if you've experienced similar shifts, yours as well. Intellectual honesty dictates that we alter our views given new information. If any of us believe we're going to hold in perpetuity the exact same opinions we have now, we're either lying to ourselves or we're fundamentalist ideologues.
Chez: All the time.
Ben: Oh yeah, absolutely. My writing has evolved quite a bit, and so too have my views. I'm far less certain of my politics right now, and have moved away from the more ideological left. Don't get me wrong, I'm still very liberal, but when I read some of my old stuff I cringe a little as it comes of as being immature and preachy. I hate to bring up Greenwald again this week (we've been at him quite a bit), but I was far more inline with his world view a few years back and probably sounded a bit like him. Then I grew up and realized it wasn't all about me, and that the world was complicated and not so easy to define.