“Nothing is true. Everything is permitted.” – Attributed to Hassan-I Sabbah, founder of the Hashshashin
When contradictions, deceits, and miscellaneous frauds have multiplied past a certain point, the very existence of truth is called into question. This has a curious, anti-intuitive consequence: propositions previously on the borderline of credibility become much more credible. The most curious aspect of this phenomenon is that those borderline propositions all become equally credible.
How long has it been since the assassination of President John F. Kennedy? It’ll be sixty years come this November 22, right? If you were alive and paying attention back then, you probably recall that there were an awful lot of what are commonly called “conspiracy theories” about that event. Some of them involved the Castro regime in Cuba. Others involved the Cosa Nostra or the CIA. And the mainstream media did its best to consign them to the wastelands beyond the realm of credibility. We were told, repeatedly and relentlessly, that the killing was accomplished by a lone, somewhat crazy gunman with four shots from his rifle. And the great majority of us chose to accept that explanation.
But there was a lawyer-writer who didn’t accept it. His book, a critique of the Warren Commission investigation of and report on the assassination, stirred a furor that was slow to abate. Many regarded it as an important contribution, not because his hypotheses about the forces behind the assassination were unquestionably correct, but because it ruthlessly exposed the flaws in the official account. Despite the emphasis placed on it, the Warren Commission’s report was less than credible. Mark Lane’s book made that plain.
We’ve had a lot of crap shoveled at us since then. Recently there’s been some testimony, and some evidence, coming to light about that assassination. Is it wholly accurate? Hard to say, after sixty years. But what’s not “hard to say” is this: Because of all the obvious lies and obfuscations that have been thrown at us since then, the window of credibility has been opened wide – and not just about the death of President Kennedy. Today, no candidate explanation for anything has more credibility a priori than any other.
That is not a good thing.
A wide-open window of credibility lets in a lot of noise. It’s a great time for the cranks, the snake-oil salesmen, and the promoters of lunatic theses. They get as much of a hearing as the sobersided and the responsible…but it’s not their doing that it should be so. The window of credibility is opened wide because men with mighty voices and a reputation for knowledge misused those things, in service to an agenda other than truth.
The current Sturm und Drang over the COVID-19 pandemic and the various vaccines for it is a case in point. So much of what occupied the public’s attention was propaganda and “fear porn” that sober analysis that paid proper attention to evidence and logic was largely sidelined. Analysts attentive to the surrounding phenomena were called – drum roll, please – “conspiracy theorists.” The “authorities” did their best to silence them. Now that the “official line” about the pandemic and the vaccines has been destroyed by the evidence that’s accumulated since then, those “conspiracy theorists” are looking at least as credible as the “authorities” ever did. But that’s not the whole story; cranks, hustlers, and assorted nut jobs are getting an equal amount of attention and respect.
Everything about COVID-19 and the vaccines is clouded by the storms of controversy. As the actual events recede in time, it becomes ever more difficult to find out what really happened and why. What’s increased is popular skepticism, especially of proclamations and explanations emitted from supposed “authorities.”
Skepticism about the statements of “authorities” is healthful. Indeed, it’s necessary to the pursuit of reliable knowledge. But a complete cynicism about all analysts and researchers is not. It leads to a distrust of the pursuit of knowledge itself – i.e., of the possibility that any process, however rigorous, can allow anyone to know anything more than anyone else.
As I’ve said before, only the ability to predict events reliably should be taken as a possible sign of knowledge. The deceits of “authorities,” which justly destroy our willingness to rely on such persons, must not give rise to cynicism about the pursuit of knowledge by well-established processes such as scientific method and objective investigation. Those things work…when we use them according to their rules. And by using them carefully, with due attention both to human fallibility and to wishful thinking, we can lower the sash on the window of credibility, such that at least some of the noise from the cranks and the con men can be excluded from public discourse.