The Republic of T.

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Birthers, Deathers & Bin Laden

It’s a little unnerving — because I’m not used to being in the majority — but it looks like I am now, at least when it comes to the president’s decision not to release pictures of Obsama bin Laden’s dead body. It turns out, nearly two thirds of Americans agree with Obama’s decision not to release bin Laden’s death photos.

U.S. Kills Bin Laden

Close to two-thirds of Americans support President Barack Obama’s decision not to release photos of Osama bin Laden’s corpse.

An NBC News poll conducted in the weekend after the White House decided against putting out the images taken after the successful raid in Pakistan found 52 percent of Americans saying they strongly back the president’s choice to keep the photos under wraps. Another 12 percent of those surveyed said they agreed, but not strongly, for a total of 64 percent.

…Of those surveyed, 24 percent said they strongly think the photos should be released, while another five percent agreed less strongly. Shortly after news of the president’s decision broke, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) called it “a mistake,” saying that images of the dead Al Qaeda leader would “prove that fact to the rest of the world.” On Saturday, the U.S. released videos of bin Laden taken from his compound which were interpreted by some as part of an effort to prove to Pakistanis that the raid did really happen to skeptical Pakistanis.

Well. Let’s face it. Some people are never going to be convinced that the Obama administration pulled this off, no matter how many other images or video footage are released.

According to the BBC, the newly released videos of Bin Laden — sitting on the floor of a room, with an unkempt grey beard and a blanket wrapped around him, watching television footage of himself; and rehearsal outtakes from his next never-to-be-released video statement. — have been met with skepticism in Pakistan.

"That’s not Osama, that’s my next door neighbor!" Really, then whose wives are Pakistan holding, and refusing to let U.S. officials question? Whose wife was it that told a Pakistan official that Osama and family had lived in the Abbottabad house for five years?

I’ll say this much, those guys in Pakistan have got nothing on our own homegrown variety of birthers-now-become-deathers.

With "birthers" mostly silent, "deathers" are now pushing a new conspiracy theory.

The release of President Obama’s birth certificate last week apparently tamped down — to a large degree — skeptics who questioned whether he could legally serve as president because they said he wasn’t a natural-born citizen. Now, a surprisingly diverse crop of people are questioning whether Osama bin Laden is actually dead.

Some media outlets and bloggers are calling them "deathers."

Their claims follow a wide range: Some believe that the world’s most-wanted terrorist was not the man killed Sunday, others think bin Laden is dead but was killed many years ago, and still others believe that the September 11 mastermind is alive — and secretly being interrogated.

What president Obama said about the birthers after releasing his long form birth certificate is probably always going to hold true here: there is going to be a segment of people that no matter what we put out, this issue is not going to be put to rest. No amount of evidence — from the trove of evidence taken from the bin Laden compound,  not the DNA evidence, not the eyewitness accounts, not even the statement from al Qaeda admitting Osama’s dead — are going to be enough to convince some people.

Nothing short of putting them in a time machine and taking back in time to the delivery room where Obama was born, at the moment of birth, is going to be enough to convince them. Not unless he was born with that day’s edition of the local newpaper in one hand and a Social Security card in the other. Likewise, take them back to the raid on the bin Laden compound, and his corpse better have a wallet with a drivers license in it, or something.

There’s an interesting reason why people are likely to believe conspiracy theories, like the "hoax" of Osama bin Laden’s death, so easily and fervently: because they’re prone to taking part in conspiracies themselves.

Know any conspiracy theorists? No doubt they’ve tried to convince you that man didn’t really land on the moon or President Obama was born in Kenya.

In fact, they were imparting genuinely interesting information — about themselves. New research suggests belief in such theories may reveal a Machiavellian mindset.

“At least among some samples and for some conspiracy theories, the perception that ‘they did it’ is fueled by the perception that ‘I would do it,’” University of Kent psychologists Karen Douglas and Robbie Sutton write in the British Journal of Social Psychology.

“These studies suggest that people who have more lax personal morality may endorse conspiracy theories to a greater extent because they are, on average, more willing to participate in the conspiracies themselves.”

Of course, that’s not the only reason. Strong belief in a conspiracy theory, the Alternet oints out, may also be an attempt to make sense of a disturbingly arbitrary world.

The reasons people persist in believing conspiracy theories — even when there is overwhelming evidence debunking them — have long been debated by psychologists. One credible theory contends convincing ourselves of conspiracies allows us to avoid acknowledging the terrifying arbitrariness of life.

“In a strange way, some conspiracy theories offer us accounts of events that allow us to retain a sense of safety and predictability,” British psychologist Patrick Leman noted in New Scientist in 2007. “Instability makes most of us uncomfortable.”

As a WaPo article about Obama’s long form birth certificate release, sometimes people embrace conspiracy theories because of beliefs that are integral to their identity.

The birther controversy has elements common to many other conspiracy theories in recent decades, such as the belief that the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks were an inside job facilitated by the U.S. government, and the theory that the government has been covering up the presence of extra­terrestrial visitors.

These theories do not always find a purchase on one distinct portion of the ideological spectrum. What they have in common is the emotional investment of the believers: The theory becomes not merely a hunch or a notion but rather a core belief that is part of the believer’s identity. The person isn’t going to abandon the faith simply because a piece of paper surfaces that would seem — to others who are not so invested in the theory — to refute the central notion.

“It’s easier psychologically to come up with a rationalization than it is to admit that you were wrong,” said Ronald Lindsay, president of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry in Amherst, N.Y., publisher of the myth-debunking magazine the Skeptical Inquirer.

“If you have a pre-commitment to a certain point of view, and that point of view is important for your identity — if you are emotionally attached to it — your emotion is going to shape your reasoning process. You’ll be presented with facts, but you’ll find some way to minimize the significance of those fact,” Lindsay said.

That explains a lot, actually. As far as the Pakistani street is concerned, maybe believing that the U.S. did not kill Osama bin Laden is defense against considering the possibility that the Pakistani government knew of his presence in the country since 2003. So the question of how bin Laden lived smack in the middle of a high security area, surrounded by Pakistani military, becomes moot — because it wasn’t really him, and he isn’t really dead anyway.

And the bithers/deathers? Well, I’m inclined towards the theory from the Alternet article. After all, aren’t these the same people who accepted, and demanded the rest of accept, W’s massive delusions about Iraq, terrorism, and WMD’s?

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