Birtherism and the Yearning for Reboot

Who is a conspiracy theorist but a diviner of the world’s order? What is a conspiracy theory but that order? In a world where either God or his plan – the teleological tit – has gone missing, the conspiracy is cold comfort: life has a meaning, though it may be to no one’s liking. Satan, at least, and his minions have their purpose and their lights, and the cosmos is not random.

from The New Yorker

But what about birtherism? Is it merely a low refresh rate in the CRT of the brain, or does it betoken something too? Do believers only gag on a middle name or recoil from too much contrast. Do they still dream dark hearts in Africa? There is surely some of each. But maybe there is more abrain, and perhaps we find it (ah, that search for meaning) in this Talking Points Memo video from last Thursday, in which Tea Partiers comment on Donald Trump and his founding his campaign on the rock of the bogus birth. It is the last speaker who provides the revelation.

John Balazic of Maryland didn’t seem all that excited about Trump as a candidate, but said that the birth certificate was an important issue.

“He’s about as documented as most of the illegals in this country right now,” Balazic said. “So unless he can come forward and prove that we’re all wrong, he should be considered an illegal alien, his administration illegal, it should be voided immediately and hopefully we can save what’s left of this country.”

There it is – amid all the concrete talk of birth certificates and planted newspaper announcements, the simple technical mediation of the physical world, like checking names on a voter roll before the booth, nothing more than rightful guardianship of the rules – an eruption to the surface of what is really going on, of what is really hoped for: that the administration and all it has done and stands for be voided. Not simply illegitimate, but invalid.

In the right wing rejection of modernity, the birther questioning of whether Barack Obama is technically qualified to be president on the basis of natural-born citizenship challenges not just the man, but the ideas for which he stands. To disqualify him, these birthers imagine, rids the nation not only of a technically unqualified office holder, but also the political philosophy he represents: “we can save what’s left of this country.” It is a way of defeating the ideas and the policies absent real intellectual engagement with them. They are made, in one stroke, simply without force. Voided.

Birthers, in their imaginings of birth fraud, seek an end profoundly and satisfyingly deep. Why argue the ideas when the ideas have no standing to begin, when the person who voices them is in some sense not genuine, not real? How, then, can the ideas be real? Like calling someone or some idea socialist, it is imagined that the ad hominem voids the ideas along with the person.

In a way, the birther wishes to mimic the logical distinction between truth and validity. He imagines himself the upholder of institutions, of formal structure and the technically correct argument, reaching a sound conclusion because the conclusion is not only true, but follows in strict entailment from the premises. For there is doing things, and there is doing things correctly, and one wouldn’t want to stumble into the truth. One doesn’t want to stumble at all. There are, after all, rules, and if Obama didn’t follow them, if he’s been fooling us, lying to us, as part of some – conspiracy – why, then, the entire kit and caboodle, the whole farrago, was no more than an illusion, a con. We don’t have to deal with it anymore. Tilt. Reset. Hard reboot of the system.

In deductive logic, though, claims of formal invalidity apply to the argument itself, not to any right to make the argument, and one has to establish the invalidity. One doesn’t get to say bzzz, sorry, you’re invalid, case closed. It puts one in mind of the Misfit in Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man Is Hard to Find,” who claims that “Jesus thrown everything off balance” by performing miracles the Misfit wasn’t around to see himself and thus couldn’t be sure of. Any requirement to be good in this life was therefore voided. Because while the authorities could prove the Misfit committed a crime and “had the papers on me…they never shown me my papers.”

He then kills an entire family.

The Misfit, like the birther, like the postmodern relativist the birther despises, engages over the question of Obama’s birth certificate in a form of radical skepticism, meant to extend a purported gap in knowledge into the dissolution of a whole system of thought. Because for the birther, it’s not about the “papers.” It’s about the crime. The crime is liberalism.



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