In other news...
I was reading online comments to a Globe & Mail article on toxic house dust this morning, and several commenters referred to something called "chemtrails" as if everyone should know what they were. I googled the word, and the first hit is this site, which explains that Henry Kissinger initiated a plan to reduce world population by spraying deadly chemicals that look like jet streams. This depopulation agenda is being implemented by the New World Order, a group intent on diminishing the population of every country but China - which it wants to raise up as the next superpower. The author of the chemtrail web site is a member of the American Society of Dowsers, a group devoted to using psychic energy to locate underground water sources.
Now, I'm a "field reporter" for Zombie World News, so I generally accept this sort of thing for its entertainment value, and I wish I could leave it at that. But nutbar theories are really getting out of control. Sure, we've always had them: for example, in the 19th century many popular novels featured somnambulism, and consequently a high percentage of the population believed that they sleepwalked. But the current beliefs in nutbar conspiracies, in the paranormal, in psychic abilities, in armageddon, in angels and demons, in creationism - all represent a sliding away from civilization into barbarism.
I've had intelligent, educated friends tell me with great conviction that 9/11 was a Jewish conspiracy (there was a documentary claiming that on the Canadian Vision channel); that tampons contain ground glass; that all Social Sciences are a plot by the devil. In my last job, at least three people (all city dwellers with university degrees) didn't believe in Darwin. Some friends and relatives regularly forward me emails containing hoax information, and no matter how often I refer them to snopes and its ilk, they never check the facts - they blindly believe what is written down, no matter how ridiculous - and they send it on to everyone in their address book.
Why does it matter? Chris Volkay argues, "When we believe in fairy tales, we keep ourselves timorous children. We lose our individual strength and begin looking to things outside of ourselves for that strength and guidance."
There's also the tragic situation of learned people wasting their time defending truth. Anthropologist Richard Leakey is fighting to keep early hominid fossils on display in Kenya, against objections from evangelical creationists. (Here's a great article on the debate against creationism.)
There are groups devoted to combatting nutbar theories (for example, Skeptics' toolbox and the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry), and I'm all for them, but it's like holding up a toilet plunger against a tsunami of water rolling at you. In a world where US middle east policy is largely dictated by people whose support for Israel is based on the belief that The End of the World is Nigh, what are we to do?