Why do People believe in Conspiracies?

What happens when one’s beliefs come in conflict with reality? Not a small conflict, like the shops closing earlier than expected, but a massive conflict, such as believing that a non-existent conspiracy is out to get you.

Both leftists and rightists have their pet conspiracies. I have conspiracy theories. Every now and then, a conspiracy theory turns out to be true, but usually they aren’t.

Here’s an interesting example of a non-political conspiracy theory: Obsessed Benedict Cumberbatch Fans Tried to Have Me Fired:

It started, as so many online flaps do, with a thoughtless tweet. A starstruck friend and I had bumped into the popular actor Benedict Cumberbatch and his pregnant wife, and I made a faintly ironic tweet about it. …

Then the replies started. “How do you know it was his wife?” “What’s his wife like?”

Then, “SHE’S NOT PREGNANT.“ …

Members of the self-named “Skeptics” (a group of exclusively female Cumberbatch fans who believe that his wife is, variously: a prostitute, a hired PR girlfriend, a blackmailer, a con artist, a domestic abuser, mentally ill, and apparently the most brilliant criminal mastermind of all time, and that the marriage, his wife’s pregnancy, and very existence of their child have all been faked in a wide-ranging international conspiracy orchestrated by a 30-something British opera director in an attempt to force a naïve and helpless movie star to pretend to be married to her) had discovered me, and they were not impressed.

These sorts of fans are probably either 14 years old or actually low-level mentally ill.

In a way, I suspect that mental illness is far more common than we generally acknowledge.

If we define mental illness in evolutionary terms as something that interferes with survival and reproduction, then it is relatively rare. For example, depression–one of the most common mental illnesses–doesn’t interfere with female fertility, and at least in some studies, neuroticism is positively associated with having more children.

By contrast, if we define mental illness as including any significant disconnect from reality, then large swaths of people may be ill. People who are convinced that movie stars’ wives are fake, for example, may be perfectly adept at getting pregnant, but they are still delusional.

Here is another conspiracy theory: The Fetid, Right-Wing Origins of “Learn to Code”:

Last Thursday, I received the news that the HuffPost Opinion section—where I’d been opining on a weekly basis for a few months—had been axed in its entirety. … Dozens of jobs were slashed at HuffPost that day, following a round of layoffs at Gannett Media; further jobs were about to be disappeared at BuzzFeed. …

Then the responses started rolling in—some sympathy from fellow journalists and readers, then an irritating gush of near-identical responses: “Learn to code.” “Maybe learn to code?” “BETTER LEARN TO CODE THEN.” …

On its own, telling a laid-off journalist to “learn to code” is a profoundly annoying bit of “advice,” a nugget of condescension and antipathy. … the timing and ubiquity of the same phrase made me immediately suspect a brigade attack. My suspicions were confirmed when conservative figures like Tucker Carlson and Donald Trump Jr. joined the pile-on, revealing the ways in which right-wing hordes have harnessed social media to discredit and harass their opponents.

So the journalist does some deep sleuthing, discovers that people on 4Chan are talking about telling journalists they should learn to code, and decides that the entire thing is some coordinated troll attack for no other reason than trolls are gonna troll. Just like some movie stars inexplicably have fake girlfriends, so people on 4Chan inexplicably hate journalists.

Related: The Death of a Dreamer:

The day before the conference, Heinz had apparently been told he would be on for ten minutes rather than the three he’d been planning. To fill some of the time at the end, he decided to speak briefly about some of companies he’d partnered with who’d be using Cambrian Genomics technology. Welcoming one of these partners onstage, Gilad Gome of Petomics, he talked about the idea of changing the smell of faeces and gastric wind and using it as an alert that a person was unwell. “When your farts change from wintergreen to banana maybe that means you have an infection in your gut,” he said. He introduced Sweet Peach as a similar project. “The idea is to get rid of UTIs and yeast infections and change the smell of the vagina through probiotics,” he said. …

“These Startup Dudes Want to Make Women’s Private Parts Smell Like Ripe Fruit” ran the headline at Inc.com later that day. … Soon, the Huffington Post picked it up: “Two Science Startup Dudes Introduced a New Product Idea this Week: A Probiotic Supplement that Will Make Women’s Vaginas Smell Like Peaches.” Gawker called it a “waste of science” and said Sweet Peach “sounds like a C-list rom-com with a similarly retrograde view on the priorities of the contemporary human female.” Then, Inc.com weighed in again: “Its mission, apparently hatched by a couple of 11-year-old boys still in the ‘ew, girl cooties’ stage, is to make sure women’s vaginas smell ‘pleasant.’” Similarly negative stories began appearing in major news sources such as SalonBuzzfeed, the Daily Mail and Business Insider.

Long story short, all of the negative publicity resulted in public ostracism in his real life; funding for his company dried up; the company crashed; and he committed suicide.

Shit like this is why so many people hate journalists at magazines like HuffPo.

HuffPo journalists apparently think it’s fine to lie about a guy’s company and drive him to suicide, but think it is very concerning that some assholes told them to “learn to code.” (That said, a bullying campaign targeted at a bunch of people who just lost their jobs might also push someone over the edge to suicide.)

Over in reality land, the learn-to-code meme is far bigger than 4Chan and stems from society’s generalized attempt to replace outsourced manufacturing and other blue-collar labor with white collar jobs like coding. Earning a degree in computer science is, however, outside both the cognitive and physical resources of most laid-off factory workers. Indeed, as the information revolution progresses and society grows more complex, it is not unreasonable to expect that many people will simply not be smart enough to keep up. These are the losers, and there is nothing to be done for them but eternal bread and circuses, welfare and soma.

They commit suicide a lot.

It’s tempting to claim that being so out of touch with mainstream culture that you believe the “learn to code” meme sprang up ex nihilo is part of why these journalists got fired, but it’s far more likely they were just the latest victims of the contraction of print media that’s been going on for two decades.

People believe many other things that defy logic. The QAnoners fall more into the non-functional loony category, but the also-fanciful Russia Conspiracy is widely believed by otherwise levelheaded and normal liberals. The usually not too insane NY Times just ran an article claiming that, “As soon as black women could afford to buy mink coats, white society and white women said fur was all wrong.” Whew. There’s a lot implied in that statement.

(While I can’t tell you what people in New York think of black women wearing fur, I can tell you that around here, the only concern is for the fur.)

And there are many conservatives who believe an equal number of silly things about vast conspiracies–be they run by the Jews or the Gays or whomever–but in general, conservative conspiracy theories don’t get as much attention from reasonable people. Conservative conspiracies are low-class.

Take, for example, the way Alex Jones was deplatformed for getting the Sandy Hook students and their families harassed. Infowars is considered low-class and disreputable. But The New York Times did the exact same thing to the Covington students and their families, resulting in harassment and death threats for them, yet the NY Times has not been deplatformed.

What makes a conspiracy low or high status, published in the NY Times or on Infowars, believed by people who are otherwise kind of crazy or otherwise fairly sane?

Centrists and moderates tend not to champion political conspiracies, probably because they basically like society the way it is. “There is great big conspiracy to make society a nice place!” is not an argument most people will bother with. People who are further toward the political extremes, however, are dissatisfied with much of the way society is run. These people need an explanation for why society is so awful.

“Satan” is the archetypal explanation. The Evil One leads people into evil, and thus there is sin in the world and we are fallen from our original state of utopian grace. Satan has the rhetorical advantage of generally not being associated with a real person, so people of even moderate persuasions can be convinced to rally against the abstraction of evil, but sometimes people get a bit too worked up and actual people are put in prison for witchcraft or devil worship. Our last serious witch-hunt was in the 1980s, when people became convinced that Satanists were operating an international daycare conspiracy to kidnap, rape, and torture people’s children.

Today’s Pizzagaters are disreputable, but the Satanic Daycare Conspiracy was pushed by completely respectable mainstream media outlets and supported by the actions of actual police, judges, prosecutors, etc. If you lived through the 80s, you’ve probably repressed your memory of this, but it was a totally real conspiracy that actually sent real people to prison.

Today’s atheists have had to invent less demonic adversaries. The far left believes that the world is run by a cabal of evil heterosexual patriarchal cis-gendered white male Christians. The alt-right believes the world is run by a cabal of scheming Jews. Both of these are conspiracy theories. (Moderates occasionally delve into non-political conspiracies, like the ones surrounding famous movie stars or vaccinations.)

These theories provide all-encompassing ways of understanding the world. People are inexplicably mean to you? It must be part of a conspiracy by “them” to “get” you. As people encounter new information, the ideology they already have shapes how they react, either incorporating it as corroborating evidence or discarding it as worthless propaganda put out by their enemies.

Unfortunately, this makes conspiracies difficult to disprove.

A conspiracy will be considered reputable and believed by otherwise sane and level-headed people if it comes from an already trusted source, like the New York Times or 60 Minutes. It is normal to trust a source you already trust. After all, humans, even intelligent ones, are incapable of knowing everything society needs to know to keep functioning. We therefore have systems of trust and verification set up–such as medical degrees–that let us know what other people know so we can draw on their knowledge. If a plumber says that my plumbing is busted, it is probably in my interest to believe them. So it goes all the way up society–so if trusted people on CNN or in the government think Trump colluded with the Russians, then a reasonable person concludes that Trump colluded with the Russians.

A conspiracy will be considered disreputable and will appeal more to mentally unstable people if it requires first rejecting an established, trusted source. It is easy to believe a false thing by accident if someone you trust states it first; it requires much more work to first justify why all of the trusted sources are saying an untrue thing. This is therefore much easier if you are already paranoid, and distrusting everyone around you is usually a bad idea. (But not always.)

Of course this does not tell us how a source becomes trusted in the first place, but it does suggest that a false idea, once spread by a trusted source, can become very pernicious. (Conversely, a true idea, spread by a false source, will struggle.) The dominance of Cultural Marxism in universities may simply be a side effect of leftist conspiracies being spread by people whom society (or universities) see as more trustworthy in the first place.

(I suppose the fact that I usually don’t believe in conspiracy theories and instead believe in the power of evolution–of species, ideas, cities, civilizations, the sexes, families, etc–to explain the world as it is, might be why I generally see myself as a moderate. However, this leaves me with the task of coming up with a conspiracy theory to explain why evolutionary theories are not more widely accepted. “Meta-conspiracy theorist” sounds about right.)

(My apologies if this post is disorganized; it’s late.)

Vacation Posting pt. 2: Brain Modules, Fertility, and Conspiracy

Sorry, I’ve been on vacation (and no, I do not like vacations.) This has interfered with my normal writing schedule, (it is now past 4 am) but here are the notes I managed to jot down in the car:

2. Brain Modules

This is relevant to my previous post on “The Modular Mind,” in which I proposed that people use a kind of compartmentalized or “modular” thinking to break down the complexity of life into manageable chunks. People can hold two beliefs at once that they think are “logical” but contradict each other because each belief is sort of “lodged in” a different module.

For example, Module 1 likes to think about Pensions. Mod 1 knows that pensions are paid for via current workers’ salaries, so we have to have enough future workers to fund future pension obligations.

Module 2 likes to think about the Environment. Mod 2 knows that we only have so many resources and that a growing population will quickly exhaust them, so we must reduce birthrates to save the environment.

Mod 1 then looks around and panics because, Oh no, there aren’t enough young people around to fund the pensions!

Mod 1 doesn’t bother to check in with Mod 2 about why there aren’t enough babies around. It just has some vague idea that people don’t want to make babies for some reason, so it goes and finds some people who do make babies and propose that we let more of them into the country.

Mod 1: Problem solved!

Mod 2: Oh no, look what all of those new people just did to our carbon footprint! We will have to reduce and conserve even more!

Modular thinking lets people process one problem very effectively, but interferes with seeing connections between those problems. In this case, they don’t see why mods 1 and 2 are working in opposition to each other.

From the outside–to someone who encounters both thoughts at once and so doesn’t process them separately–it makes no sense that someone could advocate both at once. They obviously contradict. Hence, outsiders tend to assume this contradiction is deliberate, caused by conspiracy, malice, or ill-will.

(Don’t worry, this is the last of the vacation posting.)

Open thread / Links / Aaargh

So I wrote this great (by my standards, anyway,) post, and then there was a glitch and it disappeared. Totes frustrating.

So while I re-write it, here’s an Open Thread / Links post. Feel free to chit-chat, ask questions, whatever. Just keep things civil or whatever.

Some things I’ve been reading:

1. The incredible story of one couple’s trip across the Democratic Republic of Congo: Lubumbashi to Kinshasa. (I actually read this a while ago, but have been meaning to recommend it.) Story is notable in several ways:

A. The raw descriptions of what life is actually like in the heart of the DRC, where even Coca Cola can’t go because there are no roads.

B. The perspectives on what has happened since the end of colonialism (basically, the collapse or outright destruction of colonial infrastructure like roads and buildings):

When I walk around our cities, I often think about what their ruins will look like to explorers in a thousand years
“We also pass a ruin of what once must have been a grand building. The walls are marked with logos from a Belgian University. This must have once been some scientific study centre of sorts.”

 

C. It was the first thing I’d read in about a decade that gave an actually positive impression of religion.

 

2. Real History of the World, which is kind of like my blog, but devoted to the conspiracy theory that all human life began in Africa and then spread out from there to the rest of the world. “But wait,” I hear you saying, “Isn’t that, like, the accepted scientific consensus on the origins of humanity?” Why yes, yes it is. But Real History of the World thinks that “they” (“albinos”) are trying to keep you from knowing that.

Their site is part actually accurate, part inaccurate (jfc, “Black Celts” are not black-skinned people, they are Welsh people with dark hair like Catherine Zeta-Jones:

This is what the old books mean by "Black Celts"
This is what the old books mean by “Black Celts”)

and part insight into the irrational paranoia of people who hate you.

This website is a good demonstration, btw, why I don’t believe conspiracy theories.

 

3. More perspectives on people who hate you (or at least me): Black Girl Dangerous’s This Is What Rihanna’s BBHMM Video Says About Black Women, White Women and Feminism

Still from Rhianna's music video about torturing a white woman for money
Still from Rhianna’s music video about torturing a white woman for money

“Yes, there are images of a woman being kidnapped, held hostage, and even hung upside down from the ceiling while topless. These are the kinds of images we see a lot in violent revenge films. They can be upsetting and harmful. I didn’t like seeing them here. But they’re also not the entire story.

Let me tell you what I see when I watch this video: I see a black woman putting her own well-being above the well-being of a white woman. …

if a white woman has to suffer some so that she, a black woman, can survive, so be it. After all, white women have been surviving on our suffering for hundreds of years.” –Black Girl Dangerous (Her bold, not mine.)

Feminists declaring themselves “allies” with people who beat, rape, and murder women is, of course, as much a betrayal of feminism’s goals as Anarchist communities getting taken over by Marxists.

 

4. Rushton’s Race, Evolution and Behavior: A Life History Perspective (second abridged edition.)

Rushton lays out an impressive array of data in support of his theory that different branches of the human family tree (whites, blacks, and Asians,) mature at different rates (eg, different gestation lengths) and have different r/k reproduction strategies.

On a similar note, “Multiplication is for White People”: Raising Expectations for Other People’s Children is actually an anti-racist book. I only read the first few pages before I had to leave the bookstore, but the author had some interesting, Rushton-supporting information about cross-cultural infant development rates, including early crawling in African infants.

 

5. Next, I am totally going to finish Moby Dick.

Black reactions to white people tanning

As I promised yesterday, I found the reactions on this post: Darkness Matters, to the phenomenon of white people using Melanotan II to, well, tan rather interesting. Her are a few quotes:

“Dr. Bey explained why whites have so much aggression, anger and hatred towards us and how they are planning to wipe us clean off the map. What I’m about to say is going to shock you. In the words of Booker T. Coleman, “Don’t believe anything I say. Do your own research. I could be lying to you.” Whites are kidnapping us, melting down our organs, cutting open our skulls and eating our pineal gland in order to become “powerful” and injecting our melanin into themselves.”

You know, I had not even considered cannibalism as a possible method for getting a tan. Also, I think she missed the part where it’s a fake hormone made in a lab that isn’t even identical to the real one in your body (and technically, it’s not fake melanin, but fake a-MSH.)

Some of the comments on the post are equally interesting:

“Not to forget mentioning the Rhesus Negative Blood type. Having learnt a lot about it (my mother is this blood type and I’m sure a lot of you know that it is the oldest blood type on this planet), it is no surprise to me that this, besides the melanin, could be why Caucasian ‘celebs’ are snatching up Black babies QUICK. It’s the cure. Even if the Caucasians are calling it the ‘Anunnaki blood type’.
They are trying to graft themselves back in because – and this could not be stressed enough, they’re fully aware that their time is up. …”

Actually, blacks tend to be Rh positive, like virtually everyone else on the planet. Rh negative blood is only found in >10% of people in Europeans. So, no, Europeans aren’t stealing black babies to get Rh negative blood. That’d be like stealing blacks to get blond hair.

Anunnaki? Or you can delve into the truly crazy shit.

Okay, I just want to pause here and issue a PSA on behalf of all whites, everywhere: No, we aren’t eating your brains. We don’t want to eat your brains. Or your skin. That’s disgusting. Also, this Anunnaki bullshit is pure crazypants. 99.99% of whites do not believe this. For goodness sakes.

Back to the comments.

“the blood bank won’t stop calling me and always trying to tell me that there is a blood shortage. They ask if, you could like to have your blood go to sicklwe [sic] cell children. I have found that they put a little mark on it so it is used for particular people.
They also run genetic test on your blood when you donate it and they have you sign away rights kind of alla Henretta Lacks. I’ve had one of them say that my blood helped people get well faster and that I should donate as much as possible. This has freaked me out and I haven’t been back since. I’m thinking of changing my phone number as I know they can track you through your cell phone using GPS. I don’t plan on being snatched.” (my bold)

“… I always told my family that whenever you see missing black kids that are posted on the news or on the board at Walmart, they are in underground slave camps and will be used for experiments. They are preying on the weak.”

“Do you think that maybe the babies are their own insurance policies to keep them alive if, the need a pigment fix. Do you think they would have their children drained of their blackness for such a thing?”

“And those abandoned warehouses, university hospitals that are Khazar funded, like NYU, LONG island Jewish, Columbia, Etc…are where they conduct experiments.”

Who are the Khazars, you’re wondering? “The Khazar theory” is a now-disproven theory of Ashkenazi Jewish origins favored principally by anti-Semites, Neo-Nazis, and people who don’t know any better. (We know it’s been disproven because we have genetic testing, and it turns out that the Askenazim are half Italian, half Middle Eastern, with no Khazar blood.) The one bit of truth to the idea is the fact that there was once a Jewish Khazar state, but it later converted to Islam, and thus it became rather lacking in Jews.

“Whites have always lusted after melanin, which explains their obsession with black sexuality. Whitewomen allowing random blackmen to impregnate them with a half-black baby with the consent of their white boyfriends and husbands. White female celebrities adopting black babies from Haiti and various countries across Africa, and so forth. What are white folks trying to accomplish? They want to mold black and half-black babies into white people under the guise of multiculturalism.”

“I think Dr. Llaila Afrika posited that the study of melanin is the ONLY thing they are doing in science nowadays & I believe he is right.”

“I notice they push the interracial agenda.Just look at paula paton and robin thicke.She is biracial but says she’s black and their child looks white he has blonde hair and blue eyes.This is what they are trying to do breed out the black race and replace it with a more fertile and tanner lookin white race.”

“Victoria Rowell is another mixed blackwoman that birthed a white daughter with blonde hair and blue eyes, and she had the nerve to say her daughter is black by extension because she’s a black female…Insanity! Halle Berry is another stupid mixed blackwoman playing games with our bloodlines. Stacey Dash is half-black and half-mexican…all of her children have white fathers. Yet, she wants to portray herself as a black female. All of these women want blackmen to support their careers, and ignore the “Elephant In The Room.” They have white babies. Our race gains nothing by the likes of Tamera Mowry birthing white babies with whitemen…Nothing!”

” I’ve always known that something was amiss but couldn’t out my finger on it. You know when I “woke up”? When 9/11 hit. A friend of mine gave me The Protocols in school and while I did read it, It didn’t really register. When 9/11 happened, something clicked for me. Then I began to feel different. TV became a nuisance and my mind wasn’t clouded with football and music videos and clothes and shopping. I wanted more but couldn’t place what that was. When someone introduced me to some radio stations that talked about blacks and our sad state of affairs, I wept. At last!!! I’m not crazy after all.”

Honestly, I think combining Melanin Theory and Nazi propaganda is kind of weird.

(According to melanin theorist Wade Nobles, “That in the evolution of the species, in what some people call the Ontogenetic evolution of humankind, that in the evolution of the species the human family separated in a sense that one branch of the family stopped its evolutionary path and simply depended upon the central nervous system as the total machinery for understanding reality. Whereas, the root of the family continued its path and not only evolved a central nervous system but developed what I called at that time an essential melanic system. And that I even went so far as to try to develop a little formula and suggested that CNS + EMS = HB. CNS (Central Nervous System) + EMS (Essential Melanic System) = HB (Human Being). That the central nervous system combined with the essential melanic system is what makes you human. That, in fact, to be human is to be Black. To be human is to be Black.” From the Wikipedia.)

The whole post and comments are kind of like the Precious Bodily Fluids scene in Dr. Strangelove:

There was also a reference in the thread to the Night Doctors, so I looked them up on Wikipedia:

“Night Doctors, also known as night riders, night witches, Ku Klux doctors, and student doctors are bogeymen of African American folklore who emerged from the realities of grave robbing, medical experimentation, and intimidation rumors spread by Southern whites to prevent workers from leaving for the North. …In order to further emphasize the rumors, white owners would dress in white sheets to represent kidnappers. They wandered the African American communities to make them believe that they would be abducted, taken to medical facilities and killed.”

“In New Orleans there was an interesting variation on the night doctors called the “needle men”. Thought to be medical students from Charity Hospital (now the Medical Center of Louisiana at New Orleans), the needle men would poke an unsuspecting individual in the arm, resulting in death.”

“I sure don’t go out much at this time of year. You takes a chance just walkin’ on the streets. Them Needle Mens is everywhere. They always comes ’round in the fall, and they’s ’round to about March. You see, them Needle Mens is medical students from the Charity Hospital tryin’ to git your body to work on. That’s ’cause stiffs is very scarce at this time of the year”.

“Johns Hopkins Hospital was believed to be a source of “needle men” and the “black bottle men.” They were thought to kidnap African Americans right off the street. A woman from the book The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks states that “You’d be surprised how many people disappeared in East Baltimore when I was a girl. I’m telling you, I lived here in the fifties when they got Henrietta, and we weren’t allowed to go anywhere near Hopkins. When it got dark and we were young, we had to be on the steps, or Hopkins might get us.””

On a related note, Michiko Kakutani gives us a quick view into mainstream writer Ta-Nehisi Coates’s new book:

““Between the World and Me”… offers an abbreviated portrait of the author’s life at home, focusing mainly on the fear he felt growing up. Fear of the police, who he tells his son “have been endowed with the authority to destroy your body,” … The “need to be always on guard” was exhausting, “the slow siphoning of essence,” Mr. Coates writes. He “feared not just the violence of this world but the rules designed to protect you from it, the rules that would have you contort your body to address the block, and contort again to be taken seriously by colleagues, and contort again so as not to give police a reason.” … They were not human to me. Black, white, or whatever, they were menaces of nature; they were the fire, the comet, the storm, which could — with no justification — shatter my body.” (bold mine.)