Friday, December 16, 2016

Pizzagate and Birthers

The alleged "Pizzagate" assailant, Edgar Maddison Welch, pleaded not guilty today. The poor fellow fell for fake news asserting that Hillary Clinton and other Democratic Party officials were involved in a child sex-trafficking ring located in tunnels beneath a D.C. pizza restaurant. Supposedly, Mr. Welch took it upon himself to "investigate" the matter, put guns and ammunition in his car, drove across state lines, brandished a weapon to frighten customers and employees out of the restaurant, discharged his firearm inside the building, searched for tunnels or hidden rooms, then quietly surrendered to police when he found none. No news yet on whether he'll get a psychiatric evaluation, although I strongly suspect he'll be found competent to stand trial.

Meanwhile, in Maricopa County, Arizona, semi-famous or infamous Sheriff Joe Arpaio is once again calling into question the birth certificate of President Obama. While carefully denying any claims about the President's place of birth, and less carefully denying any claims about the original birth certificate, Arpaio and associates claim the electronic copy of the birth certificate that is commonly bandied about on the internet is a forgery, and leave the rest to innuendo. This is, of course, the result of a lengthy "investigation" of sorts.

See the parallels?

Certainly Sheriff Arpaio and friends are more qualified than Mr. Welch, who apparently has no law enforcement experience. But purview? The birth certificate of the President of the United States is no more within the purview of an Arizona county sheriff than a child sex-trafficking ring in D.C. is within the purview of a private citizen in North Carolina.

Both of these incidents are symbolic of the current political climate. In our post-factual universe, individual opinions, whether well founded or not, are often valued as equal to or even superior to the careful analyses of trained experts working with testable facts. In both cases, people with limited access to information assumed that they somehow knew more than did officials with proper investigative powers and direct knowledge of the situation. They felt their ideological position gave them a special insight that others lacked, so they bypassed official channels and took "investigations" upon themselves. Both were goaded into action by the false or at least baseless information endlessly echoed inside the information bubble within which they choose to enclose themselves. And in the long run, both accomplished nothing, except maybe tiring themselves out and exposing themselves to ridicule and possible prosecution.

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