Where Am I in History?

I live far outside the boundaries of mainstream United States intellectual and political life. I’m a historian, writer, editor, and political analyst, and have participated in social movements all my life, from anti-nuclear and anti-war efforts in the 1970s and 1980s, to persistent labor agitating on and off the job (especially with Processed World magazine in the 1980s-90s), to the Critical Mass bicycling movement that propelled me into a role in new urban movements in Europe and Latin America during the 21st century. I write semi-regularly on this blog and I’ve published ten books with various publishers, all known to be on the “Left” (Verso Books, Pluto Press, AK Press, City Lights Books) or my own imprint, Full Enjoyment Books. I’ve had several titles translated and published in Italy and one in Brazil. My blog is read by a few hundred people, my books sell in the few thousands, and I have friends and fans from San Francisco to Santiago to Sao Paulo, Berkeley to Bergamo to Buenos Aires, Portland to Puerto Alegre, Mexico City to Milano, Toronto, Rome, and Guadalajara and points in between. I am proud of this, and it makes me happy and hopeful.

Coyotes, an ever more common sight on Bernal Heights, seen here at dusk on April 21.

I am far from silenced, and by many measurements I’m a modest success (even if I haven’t been able to economically support myself writing). But still, I’m a sublebrity (hat-tip to Brian Awehali for this great neologism) at best, and just another invisible “content producer” to most people. I’ve made no effort to get a “real job” since I was in my mid-20s, and have never tried to get my work in front of the big New York publishers, never connected with an agent, nor have I tried very hard to break into big circulation periodicals (a couple of tries led nowhere).

I’ve never officially made more than $25,000 in any of my 45 adult years, but I’m debt-free and even have a bit of savings, and with my very low Land Trust rent, my sweetheart and I live a materially comfortable life.

You could say I lack ambition. But actually I am profoundly ambitious with regard to my own goals, some of which I’ve had all my life (overthrow wage-labor and capitalism; live well now and work as little as possible), and others that have taken shape as I’ve gotten older:

• produce a dynamic archival space for recording and debating our shared history;

• participating in unfolding movements of techno-scientific workers to reclaim the purpose and design of their own work, and redirect the technosphere to a radically different way of life;

• adapt urban life to natural systems that undergird our existence, especially, perhaps, someday, redoing our relationship to fresh water, personal mobility, and public space;

• live to see the decommodification of housing and the reinvention of neighborhood life/politics.

• etc. etc. etc. …

Yes, I can keep adding to this list, but as a relatively isolated voice, not involved at the moment in any movement or political organizing effort, what’s the point? I like hearing and seeing my voice—if I didn’t I wouldn’t keep writing. But I am self-aware enough to know that narcissistic satisfaction is not an adequate reason to add more words to the empty, always urgent cacophony that is already burying countless intelligent ideas and vital critiques, including, presumably, my own!

We’ve all trekked up and down and all over Bernal countless times during this past year… but I still feel blessed that it is just a 25 minute walk from home.

With this predicament as my daily starting point, I ponder new books I want to write (and add to the tidal wave of new work always crashing over any of us trying to “keep up”), including a prequel novel to my previous After the Deluge, and two more histories of San Francisco covering 1957-67 and 1980-2020… or should I pursue a systemic reworking of our unique digital archive at foundsf.org to adapt it better to current stylistic preferences for online presentations, including adding a map interface?… or should I pursue building a solar energy commons, starting with our co-op building and reaching out to all the neighbors whose backyards connect in this large urban block in San Francisco’s Mission District, and pioneer a model of urban grassroots reinvention?

One or more of these projects will certainly reach fruition in the next years, maybe all of them! But I have to admit I kind of liked the Covid hiatus. It fit with my well-cloaked agoraphobia, removing any expectation that I would be going to events or seeing people out in the world. I have been quite content walking and biking on my own, seeing people very occasionally, hosting walks and tours outdoors during these months, and having hours every day to read, devouring dozens of books, following my curiosity and interests wherever they led me. I love being a completely independent public intellectual!

I receive missives regularly from some Covid skeptics, which seemed important for a while, and then as waves of chaos and death beset one place after another over the past year, the doubters seemed obviously off track. In the context of the last year of Trumpism and the emergence of Q-Anon and the panoply of bizarre “conspiracy theories” sustaining neo-fascist “patriotism,” I stopped paying attention to the Covid skeptic claims, usually deleting without reading. After being on Thaddeus Russell’s podcast in 2019, I listen to it from time to time and heard an interview with Mark Crispin Miller, who has been written off by many as a delusional conspiracy theorist. But once upon a time, not so long ago, he was considered quite credible; he’s been a professor at NYU for years specializing in propaganda studies. He used to write respected investigative journalism regularly for the alt-left press back in the 1980s.

His discussion of the one-sided, semi-hysterical media coverage of the pandemic made sense to me, and his account of how he navigated the repressive reaction of the NYU administration that falsely accused him of violating its mask-wearing rules and advocating disobedience regarding public health guidelines seemed honest, too. But when he announced his belief that Trump lost the election through fraud he lost me. Nevertheless, I was curious about some of the references he cited, including a book in a University of Texas series that he (Miller) edited, Conspiracy Theory in America, which he characterized as the only book to historically examine the emergence of the term “conspiracy theory” and its use by ruling elites to discredit and marginalize critical voices who challenge(d) the official versions of everything from the JFK, RFK and Martin Luther King, Jr. assassinations to the 9/11 Twin Towers attack.

I got the book and read it, and also got Miller’s book on the theft and vote manipulation committed by the Republicans to win re-election for Bush/Cheney in 2004 against John Kerry. (I haven’t read the latter.) Lance deHaven-Smith wrote the critical analysis of “conspiracy theory,” making many intelligent arguments, but relying (in my opinion) too heavily on a CIA document printed as an appendix that indirectly advocates “conspiracy theory” as a way to discredit JFK assassination activists in the late 1960s. But he does show that the term was hardly ever used prior to this time, and it was heavily employed as a public bludgeon to write off and dismiss anyone who insisted that the JFK assassination was an organized murder conducted by elements of the government itself, probably with help from people associated with the mafia. The author is cautious about making any specific claims beyond his reasonable insistence that there is such a thing as “State Crimes Against Democracy” or SCADs, and that these events are usually glossed over and go largely unexamined. If anyone suggests they should be properly investigated they are usually denounced as “conspiracy theorists,” and momentum for scrutiny can be blocked. He argues, “the conspiracy-theory label is so dangerous as a principle for regulating political speech; it equates intellectual nonconformity with irrationality and seeks to enforce conformity in the name of reason, civility, and democracy.” (p. 40) That’s easy to agree with. So is this:

The elephant in America’s living room is the well-known but seldom acknowledged fact that the nation’s citizens do not believe much of what their government says, especially about events with which the government itself is in some way connected. In the post-WWII era, Americans have learned that the government has misled them about provoking wars, assassinating foreign leaders, wiretapping American citizens, stealing elections, collaborating with organized crime, and much more.

p. 173
View north from the Palou-Phelps open space and minipark over the Caltrain line.

I believe some explanations of world events that involve criminal conspiracies among spook agencies (CIA et al), hyper-wealthy funders of ultra-right global networks like the World Anti-Communist League, the globe-straddling heroin trade as a source of vast unregulated funds, and countless paramilitary organizations that carry out extrajudicial murders and have captured many politicians and even states around the world. DeHaven-Smith notes that the Iran-Contra Conspiracy in the 1980s was one of the few that was exposed and partially prosecuted, a clear example of a “state crime against democracy.” But most such crimes go unexamined and unpunished, the extensive crimes of the Bush/Cheney regime being obvious examples, along with the drone murder system normalized under Obama; Trump’s myriad crimes are still coming to light, but were often painfully obvious as they were unfolding. Big lies and endless diversions were relatively effective at making space for the criminal operations to continue, and Biden will most likely allow them all to be swept under the rug under the logic of “moving forward.”

That’s not surprising, given his life-long commitment to finance capital and the military-industrial complex. Nobody in mainstream U.S. politics really offers a deep challenge to the logic of an economy based on military Keynesianism, a reliance on military spending to sustain the domestic economy. That favored system produces the weaponry and infrastructure that imposes U.S. hegemony across the planet by way of its 800+ military bases and multiple bulky nuclear aircraft carrier squadrons ostensibly dispatched to distant oceans and other country’s coastlines to ensure “open seas” and “freedom of navigation.” How long will it be before these roaming war machines provoke a real war?

I learned about a historian I’d never heard of while reading the conspiracy book. Charles Austin Beard was one of the most prominent historians in the United States until WWII. He was born in the late 19th century and rose to prominence by writing a biting economic critique of the U.S. Constitution, showing that the economic interests of various factions (especially their fears that private property would be challenged by unchecked democracy) shaped the document that is now treated as sacrosanct, even by progressives. Apparently he appreciated Marx but thought the work that Beard himself had done with the Federalist papers was the real source of his economic analysis of U.S. history. I found a biography of Beard written in 2018 by Richard Drake where the author seeks to bring Beard’s critique of American Imperialism back to the fore. For Beard’s case is illuminating: he went from being a pre-eminent scholar and historian to a discredited crank in a few short years, mostly because he refused to buy into WWII propaganda, seeing the parallels with Woodrow Wilson’s WWI propaganda campaign all too clearly.

Beard thought that FDR had brought the United States to the point of no return in its history. From then on only a war economy could keep the American capitalist system operating. In this chief executive, Wall Street and what would become known as the military-industrial complex had found their ideal collaborator and patron. Their collaboration meant “perpetual war for perpetual peace,” an agenda that carried a death sentence for the country, be it near or far, Beard believed. The Second World War’s terrible outcome unmistakably proved to him that the leaders in Washington either did not know what they were doing or, more likely, did know and did not care about the destructive shock waves they had unleashed in society. He placed the blame primarily on the president. To Beard, FDR seemed to be creating a military empire as a way of covering up the failure of the New Deal to overcome the Depression. Roosevelt had discovered that capitalism could not cure itself by peaceful means. His discovery meant that war remained as the system’s only option for survival. The country would be saddled with the responsibility of keeping a lid on the capitalist status quo—an utter impossibility, given the sordid fate of the billions living in squalor, want, and degradation who subsisted in the deep shadows of the world system.

p. 260-261

Andrew Bacevich summarizes what befell Beard in the review I linked to above:

The charge laid against Beard by those who destroyed his reputation was that he was an “isolationist.” This was a malign distortion of Beard’s actual views, albeit one employed time and again ever since to smear anyone daring as Beard did to challenge the prevailing globalist consensus. The very fact that the smear retains political utility seven decades after World War II is a prime example of how the Good War continues to pervert contemporary foreign policy discourse.

DeHaven-Smith connects what happened to Beard to a larger project of establishing control over the public sphere in the Cold War United States by right-wing theorists like Leo Strauss and Carl Schmitt (Schmitt was publicly cited as an influence during the Bush/Cheney neoconservative military surge into Iraq, Afghanistan, and beyond), combined with the rise of behaviorism. The manipulative logic of behaviorism has gotten more attention in recent years, but its insidious and unaccountable presence in our interactions with the Internet is difficult to see, let alone disentangle. Combining the pavlovian incentives of online engagement with the deliberate manipulations of right-wing ideologues who think their mission is to deceive the public while creating conditions amenable to the best interests of the current rulers/owners is indeed a recipe for a dystopian nightmare… and apparently we’re living in it!

Learning about Beard was really enlightening, since I’ve been working in a stream of public history that, now that I know about him, clearly descends from his work in the 1930s and 40s. Here’s an extended quote from his biographer Richard Drake about Beard’s treatment after WWII (and subsequent disappearance from public awareness) as well as his prescience:

Beard published at war’s end his two big Roosevelt books: American Foreign Policy in the Making, 1932-1940 and President Roosevelt and the Coming of the War, 1941. They buried his reputation as a historian.

Beard thought he was being careful and cautious in writing about FDR, but none of his defense strategies shielded him from the attacks that came in the last six months of his life. The accusation of his having been an objective ally of Fascists and Nazis did not seem unjust to a broad spectrum of intelligent American opinion. For many learned people in America, even among those who once had been Beard’s friends and admirers, his intellectual influence in retrospect began to seem baleful. He gasped at such comments and concluded that there might be a large element of fantasy in American about its claims to honor freedom of expression. You could express yourself here, so long as you agreed with everyone about what really mattered, such as the unflawed goodness of the American cause in the Second World War.

For Beard, the postwar establishment of American military bases in Europe and elsewhere abroad had an entirely different purpose from the one announced by American leaders. The Soviets, he argued, served as pretext and a means to American imperialist ends.

Beard, therefore, would not have been at all surprised by what happened at the end of the Cold War. The fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 and its subsequent disappearance from the world map scarcely registered as a pause in the American military buildup worldwide. Although the Soviet threat had been presented as the justification for the bases, they continued in existence and soon increased in number, even when the stated reason for them had vanished. He had expected that replacement threats, should any be needed in the future, would never be in short supply.

The specific threat did not matter, according to Beard, because the bases and the vast support network supplying them had a permanent supervisory purpose. He connected the military tactics to an overarching strategy of keeping the American economic system preeminent in the world, which far more than the promotion of the Four Freedoms had been the main American objective in the Second World War. The war ended, as planned, with the victors in command of the world’s resources. This actual outcome, as opposed to the fictitious triumph of democracy and human rights touted by people mistaking government propaganda for historical analysis, made the Second World War a problem requiring serious study. Instead, historians mistakenly treated it as a nonproblem presenting no ambiguity in its causes or consequences.

p. 261-263

Marginalization and exclusion from the public sphere is an ongoing process. My personal relationship to mainstream discourse is of little concern to me. I don’t think anyone has made any effort to exclude me or my ideas, but clearly no one has made any effort to bring them forward or to give them prominence. Is it because my rejection of the organization of life is unacceptably outside the bounds of civilized discourse? Sure, of course. So what?

I haven’t worried about it for decades. Instead I embarked on this stealth project, to produce a credible, un-ignorable body of work that sets the standard for local history in San Francisco. And if it succeeds at doing that, it also models what could be done in other cities, in other countries. As a model of bottom-up grassroots history, foundsf.org is slowly accumulating an incredible range of voices and historical accounts that will necessarily be a part of any future historical record. This was precisely the motivation at the outset of Shaping San Francisco in the mid-1990s: to record the events of our lives that future historians would not know about, would not necessarily care about, would not consider historically relevant, because they weren’t recorded or documented by bureaucrats or journalists, the front-line gatherers of history’s evidence. We immediately seized on the internet and digital technologies as a medium by which we could enter the field of creating historical sources, of making voices audible and visible that would otherwise be overlooked and lost to the historic record. Moreover we integrate those perspectives into our ever-expanding, sprawling online archive, putting them into historical context with fully developed secondary histories alongside primary sources too.

Glen Canyon has become another regular go-to walking destination…

We awkwardly worked our way to a self-description of this work, leaning on our somewhat vague ideas of the radical historians who preceded us. Our motto became, “History is a Creative Act in the Present.” It turns out that this kind of affirmation of the subjectivity of historians has its own long pedigree, and Beard himself was part of that. One of Beard’s most important influences was the Italian historian Benedetto Croce (1866-1952). Discussing his place in an excellent wide-ranging history of historiography, Jeremy D. Popkin writes:

His concentration on the mental activity performed by the historian led Benedetto Croce to argue that the past really had no existence outside the minds of those who studied it to answer questions relevant to their own times; he thus stressed the importance of the fact that history takes place in the present. As a leading American historian, Carl Becker, summarized Croce’s argument, “all living history . . . is contemporaneous: in so far as we think the past (and otherwise the past, however fully related in documents, is nothing to us) it becomes an integral and living part of our present world.” (emphasis added by me!)

p. 105

It’s surprising and gratifying to find precursors to our work so close and so sensibly argued in the heart of the history of writing and presenting history. We’re right in the stream of historical work that emerged as a repudiation of the bogus objectivity of document-driven, fact-based historians who were eager servants of the ruling class of their epochs, whether American historians of the 19th century like Hubert Howe Bancroft, or the founder of this approach, Leopold von Ranke of Germany. I assumed we were more connected to the French Annales school that focused on every day life and the long durée to arrive at new, more complex understandings of history that included the people who comprised the bulk of any society. But Popkin’s book From Herotodus to H-Net: The Story of Historiography carried the story forward to influences I was aware of without being clear on their place in the story:

In contrast to the French Annales historians, the members of the Past and Present group were more open about the connection they saw between historical research and social justice. Perhaps the most influential single volume published by a member of the group was Thompson’s Making of the English Working Class (1963), with its call for a history that would “rescue the poor stockinger, the Luddite cropper, the ‘obsolete’ handloom weaver, the ‘utopian’ artisan, and even the deluded follower of Joanna Southcott, from the enormous condescension of posterity.”

p. 124

It turns out, no surprise to me, that the field of history has undergone such intense criticism from within and without during the past few decades that in the mid-1980s historian Peter Novick concluded,

“As a broad community of discourse, as a community of scholars united by common aims, common standards, and common purposes, the discipline of history had ceased to exist.” A similar sense of crisis enveloped the influential Annales school in France. In their eagerness to embrace the new perspectives of cultural history, the critic François Dosse charged in 1987, the Annalistes had abandoned any pretense that the study of history had a definable framework. “One detects an ever-stronger odor of decay from a school where everyone takes his own path to salvation, to the point where one can ask what links a history that has become historical anthropology to a quantitative demographic and economic history and a conceptual history?” Dosse wrote.

p. 159

I see little reason to worry about tidying up the boundaries of the field of history vis-a-vis anthropology, archaeology, geography, sociology, let alone excluding historical accounts of biology, geology, ecology, etc. A multidisciplinary approach seems like common sense to me, and I guess it does to lots of other people these days, notwithstanding the resistance of formally trained Ph.D.s in these various fields with a vital stake in preserving the boundaries that define them as skilled professionals. I don’t doubt that there are many trained and credentialed historians with much better and finely honed skills than a dilettante like me. But we are linked, cousins in an ongoing project to activate the subjective agency of every person, so we can all see ourselves as historical actors, as people who are making history every day in everything we do… hopefully gaining self-awareness of this process of history making as we go along. And developing confidence that each of us has a role to play in recording and preserving our shared history for posterity, regardless of our formal training or received sense of capacity or entitlement to participate in that process.

A last view at dusk from Bernal Heights.

5 comments to Where Am I in History?

  • Thanks, Chris, I can always count on you to raise interesting subjects. Hell, I even saved this essayette for further contemplation (and documentation). Clearly lots to think about these days, and the revision of the role of cisgendered white heterosexual males is on my mind as well. I find solace in the a phrase in the 1975 booklet Sing a Battle Song: Poems by Women in the Weather Underground Organization expresses the challenge of compiling this sort of history:

    “One thing I know

    all truths come close, are never

    the final verity…”

  • Dilbert McWorthy

    The “decentralized, competitive world of journalism” began to disappear twenty-five years ago, bought up by big money. By now the process is about 99% complete.

  • Michael Whitson

    Chicken and egg question.  Which came first?  Theories of conspiracy or conspiracies of theory???  I pose that provocation not to make a glib word play but rather to emphasize the power of human thought to shape our world for better or worse.  Clearly, crazy delusional beliefs/theories have persisted throughout human history. It also seems important to contemplate the alignment/divergence between conspiratorial theories and real world practices of conspiracy.   To me the worst impacts of conspiracy theories aren’t even popularly recognized as such because they have been normalized in actual practice for so long.  Perhaps the most enduring of these have been religious.  Variations of “if you sin you will go to hell” have terrorized large masses of humans for centuries.  That “conspiracy theory” has resulted in some of the worst of human behavior on a scale that is unimaginable.  Perhaps the most lethal example of conspiracy-theory-into-practice in the US has been manifested via the NRA.  What could possibly be a crazier and more lethal conspiracy theory than the belief that the essence of human freedom is dependent upon American citizens being armed to the teeth.  Today this is played out in nearly daily mass shootings.  Yet the NRA has become so normalized almost no one even considers their sordid impact as the result of a misguided conspiracy theory of human nature.

  • Bruce light

    Chris really appreciate your writing always look forward to your next missive thanks for doing it bruster

  • You finally wrote something about conspiracy theories! One of my favorite topics.

    I’m glad you noted the over-reliance on that CIA document. For many believers in these theories, this document confirms the idea that this term is entirely made up, simply a way to discredit critical voices. I think of a bunch of reasons why I think that’s a stretch, but the main one is this: the phenomenon we now call “conspiracy theory” is at least as old as the modern world, and has been present and active in US politics since its founding.

    The so-called “Founders” of the US were entirely conspiratorial in their world view — they had “the paranoid style of politics.” They were paranoid about slave revolts; native attacks; subversion by covert monarchists; plots by foreign powers. (And, since they were right to fear each of these things, they confirmed early on that old idea that “even paranoids have enemies!”) I know that some historians of early American politics think that Declaration of Independence shows this paranoid style, when it accuses the King of trying to enslave the colonies — to do to the white settlers what they were doing to the Africans. That’s probably entirely wrong; the crown simply wanted to raise their taxes to pay for their war debts.

    Long for JFK’s assassination, this tendency was running rampant — not a dominant strand, but very influential: the Birch Society, the Klan; the anti-semites; even those opposing both world wars thought shadowy cabals were running the show.

    One thing about this category we call conspiracy theories that is worth considering is the fact that (in our period, at least) the narrative is that amateurs will uncover the truth. The conspiracy theorist has lost all trust in ordinary journalism, police work, judicial inquiries or government investigation. These forces are working together to suppress the truth, and so it has fallen to the conspiracy theorists to do the investigating. They are rarely journalists, cops or scientists themselves; they are ordinary people, doggedly working to uncover crimes.

    It’s a nice narrative. It poses the plucky, determined everyman against the depredations of the Deep State. We love this story. We tell it over and over again in the movies. And, since we know that human beings do conspire, and that governments lie, and that experts are often corrupt, we imagine that we see evidence for the truth of this story. People often ask “What about the conspiracy theories that have become conspiracy fact?”

    But Kirby Ferguson, the filmmaker who made This is Not a Conspiracy Theory and Everything is a Remix has a good point about this. He challenges us to make a list of all the known conspiracies that we all know. Here’s a start:

    Iran Contra
    NSA warrantless spying
    Tuskegee experiments
    Plots to kill Castro
    Gulf of Tonkin
    MK Ultra

    Now, make a list of all the major conspiracy THEORIES:

    9/11 “Truth”
    Denver Airport

    See any relation? There isn’t any. All of the known, actual conspiracies were uncovered through ordinary journalism, and/or police work, and/or whistleblowing. I know of no actual conspiracy that was successfully uncovered by these teams of amateurs and admirable ordinary people, devoting their lives to researching interesting inconsistencies or seeming contradictions in our consensus reality. (I know that our friend David Talbot would beg to differ. He believes that the murder of JFK has been solved. He’s entirely wrong — there’s no evidence that would convince any team of journalists at any news publisher anywhere in the world. If there were such evidence — and if somehow the thousands of news publishers in the US were too fearful (??)– the UK Guardian, Le Monde or some publisher in Japan would happily blare such a burning story from its masthead. They have not done so because the case has not been made in any form that would convince a team of serious skeptics — in fact, there is no evidence that can create a consensus even among the millions who believe a conspiracy exists in that case, since they all disagree with one another on every important claim. Certainly, there is no physical evidence in the form of weapons, bullets, bullet fragments, shell casings, finger prints, sound recordings, etc.)

    It’s true that the term is sometimes used too loosely. People applied the term to EFF and others who were fighting NSA surveillance in the early oughts. But note that that story was uncovered by reporters at NYT, WaPo, and Salon, not to mention several brave whistleblowers who risked their lives to bring out the truth. Normal journalism and government whistleblowing. People used that term against every anti-war movement I’ve been part of. To me, that doesn’t mean the term isn’t useful or illuminating.

    You began by asking what is this moment we’re in? One of the hallmarks of our era, as I see it, is an epistemological crisis, brought on by government malfeasance and the rise in equality, as well as the decline of democratic institutions and our education system. If we know that the government lies, corporations lie, billionaires lie, scientists lie, journalists lie, judges lie, and even (and especially) conspiracy theorists lie — how can we ever know that anything is true or false? If someone says “there is a secret government program to build an underground city,” how can we decide whether that’s true or false? In our time, many if not most people have decided on a heuristic that goes something like this: “Does it feel true? Are others in my tribe believers in this truth? If so, it’s probably true. On the other hand, if there is loud and strident opposition to this claim, that could mean that it’s false. But since its always better to be too skeptical than to be too naive, I will then conclude that it is probably half true.”

    That’s a problem. I know you’ve heard me say this before, but if our civilization collapses, and the human race becomes extinct, it is no exaggeration to say that the cause will very likely be a conspiracy theory — one form or another of science denialism. Now that’s pretty depressing! But to me, it’s an argument in favor of finding forms of investigation and falsification we can trust and rely on. I think that the decentralized, competitive world of journalism largely functions as intended — over time (revelations being delayed sometimes by decades). And I think that the system of peer review and extensive training and credentials for scientific experts also functions largely as intended. Neither system is perfect, both can be improved and reformed — that’s because they are made by humans and function under huge pressures to succumb to falsehoods.

    That’s how real life is. Messy, confusing, contradictory, beautiful, profound. Not the neat, simple, rather ugly truths proposed by what we call “conspiracy theories.”

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