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Michel Gagné — How to Think About Conspiracy Theories

Thinking Critically About the Kennedy Assassination Conspiracy Theories (book cover)

As we approach the sixtieth anniversary of the violent public assassination of President John F. Kennedy, over half of all Americans surveyed continue to believe that he was killed by a conspiracy involving multiple assassins.

Shermer and Gagné discuss: conspiracies and conspiracy theories • what role conspiracy theories play in society • who believes conspiracy theories and why • why conspiracy theorists rewrite the past • paranoid skepticism as a role in conspiracism • Oliver Stone’s “alternative version of history” • scapegoat theory of conspiracism (Rene Girard) and the military industrial complex • Marx’s dialectical materialism and conspiracism: all life is a battle between rival tribes • stolen future theory of conspiracism: there but for the conspiracy… • common themes in conspiracy theories like JFK, 9/11 Truth, Obama Birtherism, QAnon, Rigged Election and many others • JFK: the lone-gunman theory vs. hundreds of conspiracy theories • the nostalgic myth of “Camelot” and balancing the ledger of moral outrage • when Jack Became Jesus: JFK as a crucified Jesus • who was Lee Harvey Oswald and why did he kill Kennedy? • Cuba, Castro, the Bay of Pigs debacle, and Operation Northwoods • the CIA and why it is rational to be skeptical of their activities • how to determine if a conspiracy theory is true, false, or uncertain • epistemology, truth claims, how to evaluate evidence, knowledge as justified true belief • knowing vs. believing: I don’t want to believe in anything that must be believed in to be true • empirical truths vs. mythic truths • Did the resurrection of Jesus really happen or is it a mythological narrative with moral meaning.

Michel Jacques Gagné teaches courses in critical thinking, political philosophy, philosophy of religion, and ethics in the Humanities Department of Champlain College Saint-Lambert, located near Montreal, Canada. His podcast is called Paranoid Planet and his latest book under discussion is Thinking Critically About the Kennedy Assassination.

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This episode was released on June 4, 2022.

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