Everyone’s a Conspiracy Theorist, now

We live in interesting times. The internet was supposed to usher in an era of increased knowledge, understanding, and maybe even human harmony. Instead it has turned us all into conspiracy theorists.

Don’t get hoity-toity and claim that it’s only those Bad Guys over on the other side of the aisle who believe in conspiracies. The Left believes that the country is run by a secret cabal of heterosexual white men whose tentacles reach into every aspect of life, from prenatal care to television to incarceration. As conspiracies go, this one is well-established and believed to some degree by nearly everyone on the Left; millions of dollars have been funneled into university research departments for the purpose of “uncovering” more evidence of this secret cabal’s universal reach.

The Right’s beliefs are far more heterogenous–unlike the left, they struggle to pick a single enemy to blame and focus all of their attacks on–but right now they are united in their belief that Democrats cheated and stole the election. This right-wing conspiracy is nearly identical to the left-wing conspiracy of 4 years ago that Russia stole the election. If any leftists are reading this, I hope you realize now just how dumb your Putin conspiracies sounded and I hope you sincerely regret the billions of taxpayer dollars you guys spent investigating that nonsense. There are people struggling to pay rent and buy food, you know.

Ahem.

To be clear, just because something is a conspiracy doesn’t make it wrong. People have conspired in the past; people will conspire in the future. Sometimes there genuinely is something going on. Most of the time, though, people aren’t conspiring in the way we typically use the word. People look out for themselves. They make backroom deals; they protect their turf. They grift and graft and try to cover up incompetence. Things aren’t done in “secret” so much as “most people don’t have time to keep track of all of the boring details.”

Unfortunately, if you yourself do not know much about a field, it is rather difficult to distinguish between someone who actually knows a lot about that field and someone who merely sounds like they know about that field. If you have any expertise in any field, you have probably noticed both people who think they know a lot about your field when they actually don’t and also people who believe these fakers. Many normal people simply can’t distinguish between actual expertise and things that sound like expertise.

The situation only gets worse when the popular view of a field is already incorrect. Take, for an historical example, heliocentrism versus geocentrism. If you were an ordinary person in Gallileo’s age, you’d know in your bones that geocentrism was obviously correct. Things don’t move unless you push them, and what’s going around pushing the Earth? You’ve moved–you walked and run, ridden horses and ridden in carts–and you know what movement feels like. It feels like an earthquake, which clearly doesn’t happen every day. Any idiot can look up at the sky and notice that the clouds, sun, moon, planets, and stars all clearly go around the Earth. This is all common sense. The idea that some ivory-tower mathematicians have invented a “new math” (lolwut) and used it to determine that the Earth is secretly moving but you can’t feel it because *handwaves* “You only feel acceleration and deceleration, not steady movement, I have never ridden on a horse,” is clearly just nerds making stuff up.

From the inside, any particular worldview provides detailed and accurate explanations of the universe around it, and from the outside, looks silly. Why did it rain? Well, because we did a rain dance / because the Crocodile God was angry / because energy from the sun sucked water from the ocean into the air as invisible water, and then a low pressure zone in Canada made the air flow over to your neighborhood and as the air moved uphill, it lost the ability to hold up the water and it formed into clouds and rained. Why didn’t it rain again today? You did the rain dance wrong / your sacrifice to the Crocodile God made him happy / Canada warmed up.

My mother has recently become very enthusiastic about Qanon. I don’t consider this a problem–she’s bored because of Covid and it gives her something to do–but it is fascinating to watch which ideas she finds credible and which ones she doesn’t. Of course, most conspiracies contain, at their hearts, some grain of truth. Does the Vatican have a pedophile problem? Well, yes. Is the Roman Catholic Church something like a huge international network of powerful pedophiles working together to protect each other from prosecution? Well, that’s not exactly the first definition I’d give of it, but I can see how someone who was abused by a priest as a child might see it that way. Did the Pope hack the US election in order to get Trump out of office before he shuts down the Vatican’s Satanic international child trafficking ring? I have serious doubts.

Good luck disabusing a Qanon fan of their favorite conspiracy theories: Q is internally consistent enough to provide explanations for all observed phenomena, and before you start, you’ll have to do a bunch of research on your own to figure out which of their claims are actually true and which aren’t supported by the evidence. Then you’ll have to come up with a good explanation for “why all of these seemingly trustworthy people are lying” and a bunch of alternative explanations for all of the pro-Q evidence, at which point you are trying to convince your friend that there exists a secret conspiracy of people on the internet who completely fabricated this entire Qanon thing for years and tricked her into believing it for no discernable reason other than “the lols” or maybe ad revenue, at which point you sound like the crazy conspiracy theorist.

And the exact same is true on the Left. Just try to convince them that there is not actually a great big conspiracy of white men trying to oppress them and you’ll get an endless stream of “what about this” and “you’re wrong about this minor point” and “here’s a psych study that was conducted by totally unbiased researchers that proves babies are racist.”

Bizarre effect of the internet: everyone now believes in conspiracies.

18 thoughts on “Everyone’s a Conspiracy Theorist, now

  1. I think it’s worth bearing in mind the difference between coordinated and uncoordinated conspiracies:

    If, one day, all major social media sites simultaneously suspend Alex Jones’ account on each site, that looks like a coordinated conspiracy. They probably did this after talking to each other and coming to an agreement.

    If I have a pet design for a perpetual motion machine, and I shop it around to every physics professor whose email address I can find, and they all tell me I’m stupid, that’s an uncoordinated conspiracy. (Is there a conspiracy to reject and belittle people with perpetual motion machine designs? Yes!) They’re all most likely responding to me independently, even if I happen to get fourteen hate-responses all on the same day. Physics professors do do some coordination over the issue in general — it’s not hard to find public opinion pieces on the themes “why people with perpetual motion machine designs are stupid, without exception” / “why you shouldn’t read that email from the perpetual motion machine guy” / “why perpetual motion machines don’t exist” / … , but they don’t coordinate over how to respond to individual letters from cranks. Instead, physics professors broadly share some specific training and a set of goals, and those things combine to ensure that they all respond to me in very similar ways.

    It is my impression that official Left orthodoxy is that oppression of underperforming groups by whites is an uncoordinated conspiracy, and indeed that this is the entire reason behind the development of the term “systemic racism”.

    As I read it, the 2016 Russia panic theorized a coordinated conspiracy, but 2020 “stolen election” theories don’t; it’s good enough for them to posit that, say, Philadelphia had a coordinated conspiracy to create Democratic votes, but this conspiracy was not coordinated with the rest of Pennsylvania (obviously) or with Atlanta, Georgia, where there was notionally another independent group doing the same thing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • My mother believes that the Pope ordered the Dominion machines hacked and the Italian government is covering it up, so at least some Repubs think things very similar to the Russian hacking theory.

      Like

    • I was a leftist at the beginning of the Trump administration, & in my experience the Russia panickers didn’t believe in a conspiracy to rig the election the way the Qanon people do. They thought that the Russian government had spread pro-Trump misinformation online & coordinated with Trump to leak information damaging to Hillary at key moments, & they worried that Trump would help them as President in return, but they didn’t think the Russians had actually hacked the voting machines to overturn a pro-Hillary result; they thought the way the Electoral College let Trump win despite getting less of the popular vote was unfair, but they accepted that he was legally the president (mostly: I’m sure you can find a few weakmen who disagree).

      Regarding “systemic racism”, you are correct that this is the standard academic explanation, but the typical believers can’t even stick to their own line & switch to believing that individual prejudice is the problem whenever convenient for them, resulting in “anti-racism training” that does nothing but let its inventors charge lots of money, various arguments that all white people are secretly racist, pointless condemnations of non-prejudiced ideological opponents, &, of course, the opportunity to take the place in an institutional hierarchy of those condemned, or at least to avoid condemnation themselves.

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  2. Newton knew how to talk to non-nerds. He illustrated his stuff by a drawing of a cannon shooting a cannon ball at various velocities. Every normie king, aristocrat, general or whoever immediately thought “this nerd might have something that can help us win wars”.

    Want to explain some math to normies? Make the calculation about money. They will listen.

    Everything expressed in the terms of sex, money or violence is attention-grabbing and people give it at least the benefit of doubt, because if there is a chance you might be right, that could be useful or could be dangerous to them. Stock floor traders are the broest bros ever, but they respect finance-math nerds.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Whew! Thanks fir this post.

    On one hand: everything is a “conspiracy”. The only difference is what perception of power is operative.

    On the other hand: if you are not worried about what the internet has to say, that is it all equally nonsense, then the reality of it all becomes quite apparent: we all have ideas and the best way to be happy/live with the most contentment and comfort and not get hurt or have friends and family have to get hurt or die, is to be open to talk about what we think is going on without out getting out tighty-whiteys all in a bunch about people who think we are wrong.

    …And like that ever happens! Lol

    Becuase it is the nature of human beings to hang on to conspiracy theories. That’s the lesson of the internet: the “big conspiracy theory” that said humans are intelligent and generally smart and ethical good was debunked by the sheer evidence we now are experiencing: human beings believe whatever makes sense to them. Period. And the idea that there is a “real true and right” political situation out there is just determined by what conspiracy theory has the best or more powerful backing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • “On one hand: everything is a “conspiracy”. The only difference is what perception of power is operative.”

      Weird. I have always disliked you for being too leftist, hence too unrealist. As a rightist, I think some people are better than others and they must rule, as in: we are better off if they rule than if we do. But now you are making a lot of realist sense.

      Try this on for size:

      The core idea of conspiracy is secrecy, the lack of openness, transparency and publicity.

      The rule of the many (demoncracy) is open and transparent and non-conspiratiorial in how decisions are **made**. You go there, argue, vote, participate in the decision.

      The rule of one (monarchy, but also any normal business, corporation) is open and knowable and transparent non-conspiratiorial in how decisions are **executed** : there is one clear order.

      To execute means: to enforce.

      Modern democracy is democracy at making a decision, monarchy in executing i.e. enforcing it.

      Oligarchy is is obviously nebulous at making decisions and obviously nebulous at executing them.

      I will leave this as a homework assignment of the reader. We have oligarchy hence we adoi not know what decisions are made and how they are enforced.

      Liked by 2 people

    • Some bluecheck had tweeted that the trans prisoners were being brutalized in the men’s prisons, so they were moving them to the women’s prisons. I responded that they should stop letting men in the men’s prisons brutalize each other, rather than foist the problem off on the women. Twitter decided that this was “suspicious activity” and immediately restricted my account. I have never before received any warnings or been disciplined in any way.

      “Brutalizing prisoners is okay, but don’t you dare refer to biological males in the men’s prison as ‘men'” is the bizarre line Twitter has decided to enforce,

      Like

      • I’ve been long thinking about this. When a prisoner doesn’t get enough sunlight in his cell, Amnesty starts making noise about human rights. When a prisoner is regularly raped and brutalized by other prisoners, nothing happens. And this is so common that that movie comedies are made about it and yet nothing happens. https://www.imdb.com/title/tt2561572/ though I somehow fail to see how it is comical, I thought in this all that super enlightened age sentencing someone to five years of rape and beating should be a scandal, not a joke.

        And I sometimes wonder if it is more or less intended. I mean, there are smart white collar criminals out there working elaborate frauds and they are hard to catch, smarter than the police. And for an introverted person a prison with a library and computers is not even such a bad place. So the only real deterrent is that these guys are really afraid of the hardened criminals in there.

        Liked by 1 person

      • The libraries in prisons have been closed off and on for a year due to covid. The food they are given is often rotten, to be honest. (Prison kitchen staff try to sort through the rotten and not-rotten food they are given and only cook the good stuff, but sometimes things slip through.) Prisons are often too hot or too cold, and prisoners are not given things they need (like blankets) to make up for it, and god forbid you have a medical condition. Due to the pandemic, some prisons have been housing covid-positive prisoners outside in unheated tents in the winter. I really don’t recommend prison, even for introverts.

        But yes, I think most people think “bad guys are gonna get raped and brutalized” is a good thing, not a bad thing. The only time it’s a bad thing is when that “bad guy” is actually a “good guy” due to membership in a protected class, like trans people.

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      • Twitter has been banning sane opinions for some time. It seems it flagged your comment as too right-wing despite it being the truth.

        Liked by 1 person

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