Saturday, June 01, 2013

Dystopias - Three Presentations On Conspiracies In US And Lack of Academic Coverage of Them

Here's the panel I'm at this morning.  (Yeah I'm here at 8am - that's 7am Alaska time)

(l-r)Thorne, Good, Wilson, DeHaven-Smith (head), Witt
I've decided the best I can do is give you the abstracts and some pictures.  So here you go. 
Concurrent Session III, Session #1
Saturday June 1, 2013
8:00 am

Panel: "Between Rocks and Hard Places, Dystopias and Utopias: Of Cold War, Camelot, and Beyond”
Cold War hysteria made John F. Kennedy's peace overtures to Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev—first in Cuba, then Indochina—into the dystopian nightmares of the military industrial complex (MIC) and its allies. The usage of Kennedy’s assassination to render salient and vivid the MIC’s preferred narrative of an evil other poised against a forever virtuous America, a "City on the Hill", links the deaths of the Kennedys, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, and scores of others. We know from the Church Commission hearings the extent to which civil rights activism was tarred with communist hysteria by the machinations of the FBI and its COINTELPRO units. Presumptive dystopian vistas fabricated by state secrecy, counter-insurgent propaganda (the "conspiracy theory" and “red scare” memes) and media manipulation form a clear and coherent pattern of elite usurpation of government authority in U.S. history over the past several decades. Today war mongering and profiteering culminate with the dystopian nightmare of a forever militarized US devoted to Orwellian contradictions, teetering perilously towards the very real nightmare vista William Sloane Coffin limned succinctly: "Hell is truth seen too late." This panel assembles papers that key into topical areas #1 and #2 of this year’s PATNet conference call, examining direct and indirect political and administrative consequences of President Kennedy’s assassination and the legacy of permanent war zeitgeist now inscribed throughout U.S. governing institutions.

Convener: Matthew Witt, University of LaVerne

“The Dystopian Turn in America’s Political Lexicon after the Assassination of President Kennedy”
Lance deHaven-Smith, Florida State University (
The assassination of President Kennedy is widely considered to have marked a turning point in American politics and civic culture.  Almost immediately after the assassination, the Kennedy years were described in utopian terms as “Camelot.”   This label was associated with youth, prosperity, progress, and grandeur, and this is how the “Kennedy Era,” as it is now called, continues to be viewed. Eventually looking back, Americans viewed themselves as having lost pride and faith in the nation’s political class, its optimism about the nation’s future, and its trust in government. As scores of polls indicate,
certainly trust in government declined, and suspicions about government conspiracies proliferated.  But how did the president’s assassination cause the civic culture to take this dystopian turn?  Why did the government’s efforts to discredit JFK-assassination conspiracy theories fail? How should government respond to these suspicions today, as the 50th anniversary of the assassination approaches and refocuses attention on the crime?  What are the implications for government action in the future when suspicious political crimes and tragedies occur?  This paper will analyze data from Google Labs’ “n-gram” database to track changes in the American political lexicon in the aftermath of the assassination of President Kennedy. The n-gram database is a set of searchable datasets containing 500 billion words and phrases from 5.2 million books published between 1500 and 2008.  Google’s “n-gram viewer” offers a powerful tool for studying the dynamics of civic culture in response to major events and official accounts.
“Dystopian Crucible:  The Kennedy Assassinations and the Fate of “American Liberalism”
Aaron Good, Temple University
Fifty years after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, this paper reexamines the consequences of the assassinations of the Kennedy brothers.  It finds that rather than being stochastic and ultimately insignificant phenomena, the assassinations were pivotal events with enormous structural effects on American politics in the decades since. Questions examined include the
following: How did the pragmatic ‘eutopian’ project of American liberalism essentially vanish from the American political landscape?  What events were most responsible for the breakdown of the liberal Bretton-Woods international economic order?  Was there a crucible that eventually gave rise to the project for neoliberal globalization, a project that has assumed an increasingly dystopian cast?  How did America’s postwar position as vaguely benevolent global capitalist hegemon deteriorate to the extent that it is now the financially strained, militarily overstretched, neoliberal hegemon that we see today? 

Dystopian Spectacle and the False Flag Mechanism: Dallas, The Gulf of Tonkin, and Watergate
Eric Wilson, Monash University
Abstract: As David Kaiser has recently demonstrated in his magisterial The Road to Dallas: the Assassination of John F. Kennedy (Cambridge: The Belknap Press, 2008), the stage-managing of self-induced political crises and states of emergency—the ‘false flag’—became part of the standard operational procedure of the US ‘dual state’ over the course of the Cold War. Discussing Operation Northwoods and its uncanny resemblance to the ‘Cuban angle’ of both Lee Harvey Oswald and Dallas, Kaiser reveals how the Kennedy assassination, even if it were the handiwork of a ‘lone gunman’, can be cognitively situated into the wider networks of parapolitical relationships of the dual state. Whatever the truth of Dallas, the ‘false flag’ was successfully deployed in the Gulf of Tonkin crisis of August 1964, leading to direct and
full-scale US military intervention throughout the entirety of Indo-China. The parapolitical continuity between Dallas and Watergate is given additional plausibility by interpreting the constitutional crisis of the Nixon presidency as a parapolitical attempt to undermine, or at least retaliate against, post-Vietnam peace settlement and detente. The notorious ‘third-rate burglary’ may itself have been a highly singular form of the false flag, signifying the complete undermining of the public liberal state by the shadow deep state. This paper outlines a ‘minimalist’ theory of a conspiracy to assassinate the President; that is, in order for a ‘conspiracy’ to be made out on the basis of the historical record before us, what conditions must have been fulfilled and what is the absolute minimum that must be true? A ‘minimalist’ theory would involve two necessary suppositions: (i) that the murder of Kennedy was a ‘false flag’ operation (the artificial creation of a ‘state of exception’ by the covert agencies of the State to further a foreign policy objective—in this case, the invasion of Cuba); and (ii) that the epicenter of the operation was within the disparate and myriad ‘parapolitical’ networks of Cold War New Orleans (CIA, DIA, NI, Mafia, anti-Castro Cuban networks).

Moderator: Kym Thorne, University of South Australia
Really, there are women at this conference, they play a big role, but I'm afraid the two panels I've covered so far are just men. 
There was another paper scheduled, but the presenter didn't make it.  Judging from the name, I'm guessing missing the presenter is a woman.

“Dystopian Denial: How Failure in Public Discourse Fuels the Drug-Security Relationship” 
Laurie Manwell, University of Guelph
Utopia” is inextricably linked with Western hegemony and violence and cannot be productively rehabilitated unless the denial of a dystopian reality is destroyed. Since the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the Western "drug-security relationship" has fueled America’s economic and military influence over the rest of the world--notoriously revealed by the Iran-Contra scandal. Collective denial of such “deep state events” (global criminal syndicates) is a way to control information related to drug trafficking, human security, and war policy. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) now emphasizes research “based on a public health and human rights approach,” including “drug prevention, treatment and rehabilitation efforts focused on decreasing vulnerability among at-risk groups, including women, youth, prisoners, people who have been trafficked and people living with HIV/AIDS” (UNODC, 2010, p. 43). Yet collective denial of the “the twin forces of sanctioned violence and drugs” has permitted the metastasis of the “deep state” of which there will be no recompense until “these interactions are publicly exposed and debated” (Scott, 2010, p. 16). If not, we face the looming prospect of “the dystopic future toward which the United States is inexorably heading[…]when ordinary people are threatened with imprisonment for petty offenses while they see elites illegally spying, invading, torturing, and plundering with nearly total impunity” (Greenwald, 2011, p. 273-4). This paper examines the role government and public administration can and should play to subvert contemporary utopian imaginings founded on misleading campaigns linking drugs and violence.


  1. Thank you for this write-up. Here is a book recommendation for you:


  2. AG, thanks for a stimulating panel. I'm still thinking about it and I'm intrigued with the idea of developing a way to distinguish serious parapolitical from mere conspiracy theorists. But I guess there are people working hard to label folks doing this work as nutjobs. Scary. Thanks for the book link. I've read a little about here, I think I heard her interviewed on NPR. I want to read the book.


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