Book Review

By Will Banyan (Copyright © 25 May 2014)

Jim Marrs, Our Occulted History: Do The Global Elite Conceal Ancient Aliens? (William Morrow, 2013).

The term “conspiracy theory” is much discussed and contested these days. In 2013 a number of books were released that attempted to shed new light on this increasingly contentious topic. In his well-received book, The United States of Paranoia: A Conspiracy Theory, Jesse Walker, a US-based writer, presented a “history of the things people believe, not an assessment of whether those beliefs are accurate.” As a social history of conspiracy thinking in the United States, Walker’s book is particularly informative, although its treatment of “New World Order” theories is surprisingly thin, a problem with a lot of books in this genre which seem fixated on the so-called event theories and how conspiracies are represented in popular television shows, films and fiction books. Nevertheless The United States of Paranoia contains many valuable insights into the evolution of conspiracism in the US and how some conspiracy themes have persisted over time. Walker places the appeal of conspiracy theories within the normal human ability for “finding patterns in chaos” and “constructing stories to make sense of events…” As a consequence Walker does not dismiss conspiracy theories outright, acknowledging that some conspiracies are real.

The other major study of conspiracism was Professor Lance deHaven-Smith’s Conspiracy Theory in America. The primary purpose of deHaven-Smith’s book, in contrast to Walker’s observational account, is to rescue the term “conspiracy theory” from its current pejorative context and re-establish it as a core part of the “political science” of the Founders of the US, one with continuing relevance today. DeHaven-Smith also argued that the term “conspiracy theory” had been actively promoted by the CIA in wake of the assassination of JFK as a term to discredit assassination theorists. Conspiracy Theory in America also serves as yet another platform for deHaven-Smith to promote his concept of “State Crimes Against Democracy” or SCADS, to help with the identification of conspiracies by the state.

The treatment of both books by mainstream reviewers also reflects more entrenched biases. Walker’s book has received highly favourable reviews, and has been widely hailed as a “bold and thought-provoking book” (Los Angeles Times) with “deep scholarship and relentless curiosity” (Globe and Mail), and for being “meticulously researched, broadly considered and effervescently written…”(Orlando Weekly). DeHaven’s book, in contrast, has been treated more warily, despite (or even because of) his academic status, his argument being seen as perhaps too radical to warrant popular attention. Indeed reviews appear to be confined to the conspiratorially minded. James Bailey at My FDL, for example, praised it as “excellent…logical and well documented”; while the reviewers at the Citizens for the Truth About the Kennedy Assassination website helpfully suggested, in an otherwise positive review, that deHaven-Smith should have written “either a shorter, or a much larger book.”

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