Conspiracy Theorists

Conspiracy Theorists November 25, 2020

I like 3lermeope: he (I presume) always brings fine wine to the party, and for that I am hugely grateful. Here, he shares a bottle with C Peterson, and they both like a good pinot:*

I don’t care for the conspiracy theorist fools in the thread below spilling their truth decay effluence everywhere to see how many clean rivers they can pollute. They are just as culpable as the original sources. Or is that so? How much blame can we put onto these footsoldiers?

It is so, and quite a bit. People are responsible for what they say and type, and it does no good for the person to claim that they were merely parroting without thought someone else. That’s a choice, too; a person is not required to be a parrot.

Someone (Jim Jones, iirc) posted a Hannah Arendt quote the other day, wherein she argues that the ideal subject in a totalitarian regime would be one that is completely insensible to the distinctions between true and false, fact and fiction. What has always bothered me about this formulation is that it is entirely too forgiving by being too general. Take any adult who moves through the world without constant assistance and you will find a person capable of distinguishing true from false, and fact from fiction, in all the ways that matter for surviving to the next day. They don’t eat sand, drink gasoline, or exit their apartment via the window. This success at navigating the world tells me that the problem isn’t general, but very specific. They aren’t unaware of the distinctions, but rather they must suspend them in specific cases. It takes some active effort for them to successfully ignore what they know, in favor of endorsing a story they like better.

This is maintained through studious cultivation of personal ignorance. With the Internet, just about everyone living in at least a minimally free country has access to high-quality, reliable sources of information on any and all topics that a person could possibly want to know something about. And, further, just about everyone is familiar with which sources are reliable because they use them in other areas of life; for work tasks, or when they’re looking for driving directions, or finding lunch, or comparing contractors, or any number of other purposes, folks use Google Search et. al. without trouble or hint of doubt. It is only when they are motivated to disbelieve the result because they are desperate to preserve some prior belief that they suddenly become arch skeptics.

To that end, I think of conspiracy theory peddlers as really something more like personal excuse merchants. They sell you a package of knowing lies that satisfy the need to have something to point to to justify what was already believed the whole time. It’s not your fault when things aren’t going right, it’s Jews/TheDeepState/Feminazis/Trans People in your Bathrooms, etc. etc.. The more a person indulges the feeling of security from being perplexed by not knowing things, the less they feel motivated to seek actually accurate explanations, which always take more effort to understand and utilize anyway.

CP replied:

And, further, just about everyone is familiar with
which sources are reliable because they use them in other areas of
life;…

Unfortunately, people who have not learned critical thinking skills are masters at compartmentalization. They manage to completely separate accessing high quality information about ordinary details of everyday life from accessing data about matters that they’ve been programmed to respond to reflexively, matters which they choose (consciously or otherwise) to avoid analyzing at all.

In a very real sense, these people (as we see with a few trolls in this forum) are truly not familiar with reliable sources when it comes to certain subjects.

3lemenope responded:

It’s certainly true that they become that way, through self-training of bad habits. But I submit that there is (what we generally mean by) a choice or series of choices to turn away from trying to know and finding good sources at the start of it. A person must be faced with either the disorienting experience of not knowing, or knowing wrong, and then deliberately turn away from sources that can explain what is happening, which is facilitated by the batshit explanation being cognitively less taxing and more interesting and the reality drab and boring and often personally unflattering by comparison.

Of course, some of the blame falls on the education system, since to know correct things usually has a prerequisite of knowing more basic correct things that the new knowledge relies upon. My grandmother (who is still kicking at 95!) and I were talking about this the other day, as she expressed being flummoxed by people being so easily led astray by conspiracy theories; the one she had heard a friend spouting was a version of the Bill Gates-Vaccines-Microchips-5G strain. I pointed out that if a person doesn’t know how vaccines work, and they don’t know how 5G works, and they don’t really know what a microchip actually is, they have a lessened ability to filter out false claims about these things; things that are in actuality impossible come to sound plausible. Not no ability, because people generally still know how people function, and so should still be able to analyze the claims regarding motivation and capacity and the ability to keep secrets. But it’s harder when you don’t know how the thing under discussion works, even at the most basic level of abstraction.

[And no, I won’t get onto talking about free will here and Robert Kane’s Self-Forming Actions…]

NOTES

*I’m not sure either of them do; how far can I take a metaphor?


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