Paul Krugman, on his blog, today wonders about birthers, and other crazed beliefs common on the right, through a discussion between John Quiggin and Jonathan Chait:
An interesting exchange between John Quiggin and Jonathan Chait on right-wing agnotology — that is, culturally-induced ignorance or doubt. The specific issue is birtherism, the claim that Barack Obama was born in Kenya or anyway not in America, which polls indicate is a view held by a majority of Republican primary voters.
Quiggin suggests that right-wingers aren’t really birthers in their hearts; it’s just that affirming birtherism is a sort of badge of belonging, a shibboleth in the original biblical sense. Chait counters that much of the modern right lives in a mental universe in which liberal elites hide the truth, and in which they, through their access to Fox News etc., know things the brainwashed masses don’t.
Such beliefs as the birthers', the Laffer curve, global warming denial, creationism, the 'Cloward-Piven conspiracy', the Aztlan and Caliphate/Sharia threats--there are an astounding number of examples from which to choose--are immune from challenge by recourse to facts and logic precisely because they are social markers, identifying members of an elect group, rather than any attempt to understand and characterize reality. And that flows from a political philosophy which, at its most fundamental level, reflects a division between a virtuous, besieged, deserving Self and a parasitic, evil, dehumanized Other. Questioning of any of these beliefs demonstrates that you are of the Other, and therefore must be rejected, as, perhaps, a Human In Name Only (HINO)--an elitist, liberal, out-of-touch, America hating, Constitution-shredding foe of all that's noble in the human spirit, and, therefore not to be even admitted to the debate. Some of the politicians are fellow true believers. Some, of course, will treat us to the disgusting spectacle of kissing Glenn Beck's, er, ring to be accepted as sufficiently pure to compete in the primaries. But there it is, and to the extent that they're holding the world hostage, they're dangerous. And I also agree that the health insurance reform bill,though flawed, has more merit that the left grants it, and should be supported more vigorously both for its own merits and in the larger context.