A hobby of mine is to keep up with the ever-shifting arguments of Holocaust deniers. I do this mainly because it provides me with insight into how insane liars operate. I also do this because it is every decent person’s responsibility to defend history from the lunatic fringe, and doing so requires keeping up with both the latest scholarship as well as the latest pseudo-scholarship.
When you spend enough time reading denialist literature–indeed, if you spend enough time reading conspiracy theorists in general–you notice the same methods and tendencies appear over and over. One of these is what I call the Law of Mutually Exclusive Exculpations. This is when different denialists propose different but mutually contradictory versions of the conspiracy theory. A weird kind of theoretical inbreeding develops wherein the theorists begin to quote and support one another, absorbing these different arguments into their own narratives, which they continually revise, despite all the narratives contradicting one another.
Holocaust deniers do it all the time. The Holocaust never happened, some say. Others say it happened, but it was exaggerated. There were no gas chambers. There were gas chambers, but they were used only for delousing. The Nazis didn’t do it. Actually, they did but Hitler didn’t know about it. Actually, he did know about it but tried to stop it. And so on and so on. Each of these theories contradicts the others, but all deniers seem to support every one of these theories, so long as the general theme of making light of the “official narrative” is maintained. The objective is not to get at the truth, but to subvert it at all costs, even at the expense of internal consistency.
Scandal denial is no different. I hate to traffic in Godwin’s Law and lump people in with Holocaust deniers, but as a lesson in rhetorical slipperiness it needs to be done. Shape-shifting and mutually contradictory arguments are thrown at the wall like wet toilet paper, in the hopes that some of it will stick. The IRS targeted conservatives, but it was only “local officials” who did it. Actually, it was Washington officials too, but this is somehow still “local.” Actually, the IRS didn’t target conservatives. OK, the IRS was just doing its job in targeting conservatives. Actually, it was “bad management,” but it was still good management since it was justified. Somehow, in the denialist universe, all these arguments obtain simultaneously. Each is valid even though each is contradicted by the other. We are expected to be so stupid and naive as to believe all of them.