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In 1969, as an 11-year old Beatles fan, I learned that Paul was dead. The devastating evidence in the clues laced into songs and album art was irrefutable. My only nagging doubt was how they’d found someone who looked, sounded and wrote songs exactly like Paul McCartney.
Since then, the belief in far-fetched conspiracies and other preposterous notions has moved steadily from the fringes toward the mainstream. Many seemingly intelligent people can spout 9/11 Truth theories or climate change denialism, with a wealth of evidence at their fingertips, but with no apparent ability to consider likelihoods or judge human behavior.
Today’s conspiracy theories contain the hallmarks of the “Paul Is Dead” scare: The eagerness to use a few stray anomalies or unanswered questions to fabricate a highly unlikely scenarios; and the blithe dismissal of the preponderance of contradictory evidence as part of a cover up. These theories all posit unbroached secrecy and frictionless cooperation among hundreds or thousands of co-conspirators.
A healthy skepticism of authority has given way to a political program of paranoia, to the point where even genuine whistleblowers or speakers of truth to power, like Edward Snowden and Noam Chomsky, are dismissed as accomplices in a grand conspiracy.
It is almost as if some evil group were creating and spreading cockamamie theories as false flags to engender cynicism, in an effort to distract us and disengage us from the reality of politics, democracy and the hard work of thinking logically and carefully.
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