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Old June 5th, 2011, 05:29 PM
James Brody James Brody is offline
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Talking Among the Truthers: A Review

Kay, Jonathan (2011) Among the Truthers: A Journey Through America’s Growing Conspiracist Underground. NY: Harper. 340 pages, includes index. List $27.99. Wait for the paperback.

Kay teased out very old human phenomena and gave them a unique name and a unique set of explanations. His story is sometimes fascinating and sometimes misleading. That is, he’s pretty good except when he talks about my particular set of truths that, of course, I know to be true.

A “truther” is one who subscribes to a set of beliefs that are not commonly recognized. For example, “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” was alleged to be written by Theodor Herzl and outlined a Jewish plot to feed porn and booze to the average folk and by other means to get control of banks, industries, the arts, and governments. The whole thing, however, was assembled by Russian agents and distributed as a piece of agitprop.

We are also introduced to a crowd that includes the Illuminati, Masons, Bilderbergers, 9-11 conspiracists, and organizations that assassinated King, Kennedy, and Kennedy. And the individuals who subscribe to Jack Kennedy theories are nearly always 9-11 theorists.
A truther is usually male, a maker of odd assemblies of facts, and an asker of questions that appear to be interlocked but frequently are not. They no longer need religion as a shelter but now have open-access web sites and find each other with Google.

Kay suggests that truthers are a growing infection and a sign of cultural disintegration.

He also added my favorite swarm to his stories, the TEA Party Nation’s meeting last February in Nashville. Kay attended and appears “fair” about the group’s sanity but skeptical about some of our speakers. Frankly, I immediately felt at home with that crowd of 1000 and am rarely thrilled as much as when I followed Andy Breitbart and shouted “USA” at thirty or so cameras and microphones across the back of the room.

I am a truther.

First, my profession already staked out the truther phenomenon and calls them paranoid schizophrenics. (I object to “schizophrenic” but the word is what we shrinks use.) Paranoid schizophrenics are perfectly normal except on a small range of topics, a set that is frequently unique to a particular individual. For example, I know a perfectly charming black guy who is convinced that the “single bullet” theory is about him, not John Kennedy. And he went so far as to bother Arlen Specter with his story. (My friend also had a father with closely similar beliefs and our Senator is old enough o have his own peculiarities.)

The paranoids seem perfectly “normal” until you trip into their domain of sensitivity and elicit rigidity, arguing, denial, and sometimes rage. And every one of them would qualify as his own truther. And most of them find truthers with similar beliefs whether at Harley clubs, Patriot conventions, on the Internet, or anywhere else that two or three can gather together in adulation of a particular name.

Second, human minds are organized into emergent networks. So are human societies. The gain from emergent networks is that they allow for close interconnections between a half-dozen members and for indirect connections between much larger groups. The slogan – each of us is within six steps of any one else of us – is generally true. For example, I once met the evolutionist Nicholas Humphrey and gained one-step access to Richard Dawkins. And I’ve met and sometimes annoyed E. O. Wilson and gained one-step access to his army of naturalists. And David Haig, through Wilson, once helped me to get my father’s name onto the bulletin boards in Harvard’s William James Hall.

These networks are “self-organizing” rather than pre-planned and each new member is recruited by existing members. You can apply but they have to let you in! Their formation aligns with research by statistical physicists and molecular biology as well as the thoughts of Adam Smith, Charles Darwin, Friedrich von Hayek, and those quirky guys who founded our republic.

Third, males dominate perhaps for reasons described by Nick Goldberg: That is, guys have a more active right frontal lobe that makes patterns from new information. Our left side, in contrast, stores and executes habits that we already discovered. Our right tracks our fingers, our left repeats whatever we were told. Guys lead in mathematics, girls now lead in computation but not innovation. Women have two left sides and stabilize large networks by forming “weak links.” That is, women lie in ways that stabilize family relationships. And their participation in elections is closely associated with the growth of local and national governments. Kuhn’s scientific revolutions, however, will continue to be led by young males or by a rare female. And a politician at forty-five is often more creative than at sixty. Small wonder that Obama gained the presidency over McCain or that Sarah was, and still is, far more credible than Mac.

Fourth, Genetic Similarity Theory tells us about the heritability that guides self-chosen organizations. Humor and favorite pastimes are useful clues. And husbands and wives are more similar for neck thickness than for their wrists…and the heritability of neck thickness is greater than that for wrists. Thus, a defiant daughter will have little difficulty picking out the one psychopath in a crowd of three hundred average teens.

Bottom lines: Kay’s examples are fascinating but his science is out of date. My cat is, in his way, a truther but so is any one of the rest of you if you have a mind.


Barabasi, A-L (2002) Linked: The New Science of Networks. NY: Perseus. See also Barabasi, A-L (2010) Bursts: The Hidden Pattern Behind Everything that We Do. New York: Dutton.
Brody, JF (2008) Rebellion: Physics to Personal Will. Bloomington, Indiana, iUniverse.
Csermely, Peter (2006) Weak Links: Stabilizers of Complex Systems from Proteins to Social Networks. NY: Springer.
Goldberg, E. (2001) The Executive Brain: Frontal Lobes and the Civilized Mind. NY: Oxford University Press.
Murray, Charles (2003) Human Accomplishment: The Pursuit of Excellence in the Arts & Sciences, 800 B.C. to 1950 NY: Harper Collins.
Rushton JP (2005) Ethnic nationalism, evolutionary psychology, and Genetic Similarity Theory. Nations & Nationalism. 11(4), 489-507.
Watts, D. & Strogatz, S. (1998) Collective dynamics of 'small-world' networks. Nature. 393: 440-442.

Last edited by James Brody; June 6th, 2011 at 10:40 AM..
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birther, connectivity, conservatism, emergent networks, jonathan kay, paranoid schizophrenia, truther

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