Never before has so much information been available, and never before could so many people state freely what they believe to be true. Everyone can construct their own reality that can shake up the power structure. This is actually good news, because it is dangerous for dictators and despots. But on the other hand, never before has it been so difficult to attain a clear picture out of the flood of contradictory information. Anyone can find confirmation for their own truth and perspective. Rumors and conspiracy theories spread rampantly. We are experiencing an unleashing of thought fueled by conviction, a new kind of culture war.
The absurd "chemtrails" conspiracy is stupid, but relatively harmless. But not all conspiracy theories are so benign. The authors discuss the Kopp Verlag and its star (fake) journalist Udo Ulfkotte, about whom I have written extensively. Ulfkotte and his colleagues at Kopp relentlessly attempt to discredit the mainstream media in Germany as totally controlled by outside forces - the CIA, the Federal Reserve, Jewish bankers, etc. - poisoning the public debate, while getting quite rich in the process. The result is the Pegida movement, which is now morphing into violence against asylum seekers in Germany:
What is dangerous in all this is not only the hate that divides society. Danger arises when a conspiracy theory becomes a justification for engaging in violence — when the conspiracy theorist believes that he must use other means to finally open the eyes of everyone else. And when a conspiracy theorist believes that he is not only being persecuted by the "power structure," but will also be eliminated at some point, will he not then attempt to preempt his opponents — and eliminate them first? "In the parallel universe of their forums and hate-filled books, the prophets of the great media conspiracy already now are constructing a wartime situation that leaves no time for thinking in alternatives," says the media scientist Mr. Pörksen. That is ultimately the manner of thinking of suicide bombers.
The Zeit authors are right to point out that conspiracy theories are not just a threat to Germany, but also to the United States:
America is the land of the free, but it is also the land of the apocalypse. Here distrust of authority is a basic institutional orientation. Americans have organized their country so that the individual states have power, and not the elite in Washington. The opinions of individuals are traditionally given just as much weight as the majority opinion. But the rejection of scientific results has another basis. It is the fear of losing control — not only over the world, but also over one's own life.
The presidential campaign of Donald Trump can be seen as a triumph of conspiracy theories. Trump has been the biggest proponent of the "Birther" theory that President Obama was actually born in Kenya, and therefore not eligible for the office of president. Now he is winning huge support by stating - without a shred of evidence - that the Mexican government is sending rapists and murders over the border to the US as illegal immigrants. Fortunately, no demagogues like Trump have emerged (so far) in Germany, but the violence against asylum seekers from Kosovo, Africa and the Middle East - especially in eastern Germany, is very disturbing.