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Arthur Goldwag visits campus to talk about conspiracies in American politics

Author and scholar Arthur Goldwag
Conspiracies are the baliwick of author and scholar Arthur Goldwag who visits Penn State New Kensington May 1 to discuss political extremism.
4/7/2014 —

 

“Conspiracy Theory as the Canary in the
Mineshaft of the Democratic Polity"

7 p.m., Thursday, May 1, Conference Center

Conspiracy theory and American politics is the topic of a presentation at 7 p.m., Thursday, May 1, in the campus Conference Center. Author and scholar Arthur Goldwag will talk about “Conspiracy Theory as the Canary in the Mineshaft of the Democratic Polity.” The event is free to the public.

In addition to the evening lecture, Goldwag will meet during the day with students in an honors seminar class. The author was invited to campus by John Craig Hammond, assistant professor of history, who teaches the class.

“Arthur Goldwag knows more about conspiracy theories and the place of conspiracism in American life than perhaps any other writer,” said Hammond, who edited a book in 2010 on the politics of slavery. “After spending a semester examining conspiracy theories in American history, the students are excited to meet and work with Mr. Goldwag.”

Goldwag’s lecture on the growth of conspiracism and conspiratorial thinking in contemporary politics and public life complements and enlarges on his latest book, “The New Hate: A History of Fear and Loathing on the Populist Right” (Pantheon Books 2012). Tracing the historical roots of the conspiracy theories that have thrived on the fringes of American politics since colonial times, from the Anti-Masons and the Know Nothings in the 19th century to the revived KKK and Henry Ford's anti-Semitic writings in the 1920s, to the birthers, Birchers, and conservative talk radio show hosts today, Goldwag finds a number of common themes.

"I was writing a popular reference book called “Cults, Conspiracies, and Secret Societies," just as the 2008 presidential campaign and the financial collapse were occurring,” said Goldwag, who has written four books. “Listening to the speeches of the politicians that would spearhead the Tea Party, I began to hear echoes of 19th century agrarian populism, 1920s-era anti-Semites, and 1950s-vintage anti-Communists. People were talking about 'sound money' and further out on the fringe, about the existential threats to white European culture. I hadn't realized how old this new hate was."

Hammond's honors history class, “Conspiracy Theories in American Life,” is currently reading “The New Hate.”

“I think this class is insightful and challenges you to think in new ways about people who believe in conspiracies in this country," said Jonathan Simmen, a senior psychology major. “The class asks you to put yourself in their shoes and see the world as they see it, without simply stereotyping these individuals as being ‘crazy.’ Mr. Goldwag delves into the minds of the conspiracists he presents in his book, classifies the wave of conspiracies that have emerged, and shows the reader this movement is much like movements that have hit this country in the past.”

“The honors seminar has been beneficial for understanding our society,” said Nathan Schartner, a freshman in the Petroleum Engineering program. “We are learning how to understand and analyze conspiracism in America. This class has truly opened my eyes to how conspiracism has plagued American political culture.”

For Goldwag’s visit, the honors class will read a version of a Goldwag article that is a work in progress. The students will discuss and critique the piece with the author. In Hammond’s Civil War America class, Goldwag will discuss the meanings and memories of race, slavery, and the Civil War in contemporary American life.

"What I hope to convey to the students is that the politics of resentment, whether on the left or the right, is almost always a politics of manipulation, of divide and conquer, of distract and divert,” Goldwag said. “But at the same time, they shouldn't be blindly trusting of the government and the media. Think for yourself, and be attentive to the lessons that history teaches. There is nothing new under the sun."

The day before his campus visit, Wednesday, April 30, Goldwag will be a guest on Pittsburgh’s NPR news station, 90.5 WESA. He will be interviewed live at noon by Paul Guggenheimer, host of Essential Pittsburgh, a daily program of the radio station. Essential Pittsburgh, which airs from noon to 1 p.m., is a locally produced program dedicated to exploring critical issues affecting Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania. The show features community leaders and newsmakers in the arts, sciences, technology, business, healthcare, government and education. The interview will be repeated at 8 p.m. on WESA.

Besides the New Hate and Cults books, Goldwag has written “Isms & Ologies” (Vintage, 2007); and “The Beliefnet Guide to Kabbalah” (Doubleday, 2005). He also is a contributing writer for numerous websites on a variety of issues. He has written about spirituality for websites such as Killing the Buddha and Rewire Me. He exposes racists and sexists for the Southern Poverty Law Center. He tackles politics for journals and websites such as Washington Spectator, Truth Out, Huffington Post, Atlantic, Daily Beast, and Salon.

After earning a bachelor’s degree from Kenyon (Ohio) College, Goldwag worked in book publishing for more than twenty years, including stints at Random House, New York Review of Books, and Book-of-the-Month Club. He was a contributing editor at Scholastic’s Storyworks magazine, where he wrote stories, plays, and essays for children. A native of New Jersey, Goldwag lives in Brooklyn with his wife and two sons.

Seating is limited in the Conference Center. Reservations are encouraged but not necessary. Guests will be admitted on a first-come, first-served basis. For more information, call 724-334-6032.

For more about Goldwag, visit http://arthurgoldwag.wordpress.com/

What Professor Hammond’s Honor Students are Saying

“This class has allowed us to intelligently address a controversial issue that many of us encounter daily; irrational and conspiratorial beliefs that are negatively affecting the world around us. Mr. Goldwag’s book has provided us with a detailed history and an unbiased direction to guide our in-class discussions as well as our own interpretation of what causes so many Americans to believe in these extreme conspiratorial beliefs.”
- Amanda Stumme, Junior Psychology, Honors Student, Pittsburgh

“Conspiracy Theories in American Life is one of the highlights of my semester. Not only has it provided me with new ways to see and interpret the world around me, but it has also given me new ways to interpret others' claims and arguments as well as develop my own. Overall this class has been a great opportunity, and I couldn't be more excited to be able to speak with Arthur Goldwag, the author of one of our texts.”
- Kylie Kinlough, Freshman, Chemical Engineering, Honors Student, Plum Borough

“The honors seminar has been beneficial for understanding our society. We are learning how to understand and analyze conspiracism in America. This class has truly opened my eyes to how conspiracism has plagued American political culture.” - Nathan Schartner, Freshman, Petroleum Engineering, Honors Student, Highland Park, Pittsburgh

“I think this class is insightful and challenges you to think in new ways about people who believe in conspiracies in this country. The class asks you to put yourself in their shoes and see the world as they see it, without simply stereotyping these individuals as being ‘crazy’.


Mr. Goldwag delves into the minds of the conspiracists he presents in his book, classifies the wave of conspiracies that have emerged, and shows the reader this movement is much like movements that have hit this country in the past. The times have changed but the inner workings of peoples' minds still remain very much the same.


“I think it will be exciting to see what Goldwag has been working on since his book “The New Hate,” the developments he has made on concepts we have studied in class, and any new projects he might be undertaking. More importantly, his visit will give us the opportunity to ask questions and hear genuine firsthand accounts of his experiences in person.”

-Jonathan Simmen, Senior, Psychology, Honors Student, Forest Hills

“I thoroughly enjoy this class because of the unique and interesting approach of professor Hammond. This class allows us the best opportunity to really dig deep and learn how to analyze the text and link it to several topics that we look at simultaneously. I feel this a vital tool for my future that this class has helped me develop. Mr. Goldwag goes a step further when he talk about some common topics, and over all I feel his book is filled with insightful facts that make it a very interesting read.”
- Omar Abdul Aziz, Sophomore,  Energy, Business and Finance, International Student, New York and Pakistan

"I enjoy taking this class on conspiracy theories because it has made me understand and analyze how widespread conspiracy theories are in the United States. I am often surprised and amused by the discussions held in our class about these conspiracy theories. I think Arthur Goldwag's book is interesting because it provides a different perspective to conspiracies by claiming that hate is the driving force of conspiracy theories."
- Aishwarya Venketeswaran, Freshman, Computer Science, Honors Student, 
International Student,
Fox Chapel and India

"The course itself is very eye opening, and as such has had me considering things that were only on the periphery of my vision and thoughts for several years.Though we are only a few chapters into Mr. Goldwag's book, The New Hate, it is reassuring to see that much of the information he is using, many of the ideas, are similar in regards to conspiracy theories across the country. Mr. Goldwag's visit to our class will likely be a lively discussion, if the ones we have in class are any example. With someone who has a lengthy background on the subject matter, it will make for an excellent resource for our knowledge base."
- John Ramsey, Senior, Administration of Justice, Pittsburgh

 

 

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