The rise of conspiracy entrepreneurs and their followers
May 4, 2019 10:39 AM   Subscribe

In 2016, Anna Merlan reported from her time At Sea with America's Largest Floating Gathering of Conspiracy Theorists for Jezebel (previously). Three years later, she writes for The Guardian and considers Why we are addicted to conspiracy theories, looking at the rise of Alex Jones, InfoWars and Trump. Related: Why conspiracy theories are getting more absurd and harder to refute, an article by Sean Illing for Vox, interviewing Harvard politics professor Nancy L. Rosenblum. "Democracy requires a minimum amount of mutual trust among citizens, and conspiracism destroys it."
posted by filthy light thief (43 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
 
I have one friend in particular who I think will never let go of this mode of thought, though he generally keeps it to himself. I think it must be organic (congenital?) to some extent.
posted by not_that_epiphanius at 11:23 AM on May 4 [1 favorite]


20+ years ago, I lived in an apartment building and the resident with the space next to mine in the garage has an INFOWARS bumper sticker. It didn't take much research (even in the pre-Google days) to realize this was not a neighbor to reach out to. It's just a sad statement on our society that INFOWARS is still a thing two decades later.
posted by oneswellfoop at 11:35 AM on May 4 [6 favorites]


Someone explain to me how anyone seriously committed to their unconventional yet factually true idea would decide to take a cruise with a bunch of nut cases?

The article has a cached link to the schedule, yoga each morning and UFO watch each night. I do want to sit in on this seminar (team robot!):
Botticelli Dining Room, Deck 6 Aft	1:00-2:30 pm	The Agenda: Angelic Human or Robotic Superman, You Decide
posted by sammyo at 12:06 PM on May 4 [2 favorites]


I had a silly comment about the conspiracy currently occurring as we speak in my electrical outlets in the form of a weird ground loop hum I can't seem to isolate that is conspiring to prevent me from recording anything, but here's a more serious comment:

Something that's often left out of this discussion is mental health issues. When I was at my nuttiest and most credulous of some pretty wacky shit, it isn't a coincidence that it was also when I was the most depressed, disempowered and disenfranchised - if not outright vulnerable.
posted by loquacious at 12:28 PM on May 4 [13 favorites]


Remember when conspiracy theories were harmless and kinda funny?

My friends and I were into The Illuminatus Trilogy as teens, but we all knew it was meant as satire. Essentially a source of pre-internet memes. Never would we have imagined we'd be living through an age where people would be taking that crap seriously. I haven't attempted re-reading it, but I can't imagine it would hold up.
posted by panama joe at 12:43 PM on May 4 [24 favorites]


Gore Vidal nailed it: "I say, they [those at the top] don't have to conspire, because they all think alike. The president of General Motors and the president of Chase Manhattan Bank really are not going to disagree much on anything, nor would the editor of the New York Times disagree with them. They all tend to think quite alike, otherwise they would not be in those jobs.”

There's only one true (non-)conspiracy: No one, left, right or elsewhere, whose career in power depends on a constituency of voters will ever completely solve any hot-button vote-generating issue (without creating another one) because, like the man said in the movie, "I want everyone to remember why they need us! " It's a fundamental conflict of interest.
posted by zaixfeep at 12:43 PM on May 4 [18 favorites]


My panel would be called The Agenda Agenda: Using Language To Cultivate Fear Controll Your Mind
posted by glonous keming at 12:48 PM on May 4 [6 favorites]


Sigh. I used to find this stuff a lot more fun and interesting when it was nicely abstract and far off. Now it’s like “which of these assholes is going to go full nazi and make their bullshit the central pillar of an awful regime next?”. That or, you know, just glom onto the Trump regime and get offered a cabinet position.
posted by Artw at 12:51 PM on May 4 [15 favorites]


But then, I have seen so much Projection in the batguano craziness coming from Trump and other, less powerful, trollish types, that I can't help but wonder if the people who really do run the world are providing support to the Conspiracy Entrepreneurs to keep suspicion away from them.

Either that or Weird Al is right and Patton Oswalt really is a lizard person.
posted by oneswellfoop at 1:02 PM on May 4 [4 favorites]


Thanks, Internet, for getting every crank in the world together for a neverending convention and letting them broadcast their opinions for free to the rest of the world. Bonus: they get to burst into all the non-crank conventions and shout down sanity.
posted by pracowity at 1:38 PM on May 4 [10 favorites]


My friends and I were into The Illuminatus Trilogy as teens, but we all knew it was meant as satire.

You know, I always felt a little uneasy about Illuminatus. I had lots of friends and boyfriends very conversant in RAW memes (including my husband) and I get why it's funny and interesting in a vacuum but I always felt like, people do actually believe this kind of thing for real, and it's kind of scary and not funny. So I was really never able bring myself to be all ohoho droll observations my good sir. It just fell very flat with me.

(I also never found public access era Infowars or David Icke amusing, though lots of my friends thought it was all hilarious and entertaining. It all just gave me a sick feeling in my gut, and it wasn't because I had any particular insight into the future or anything. It just felt like laughing at someone's loneliness and mental illness, or laughing at someone knowingly preying on loneliness and mental illness.)
posted by soren_lorensen at 1:39 PM on May 4 [17 favorites]


It's not all harmless lunacy on that cruise. Some of the lunacy is dangerous:
  • Autism Panel Discussion: What is the Cause? Vaccinations or GMOs?
  • Mandatory Vaccination: Will You Have A Right to Refuse?
posted by pracowity at 2:29 PM on May 4 [7 favorites]


If the cruise ship sunk and all aboard were lost, who would be left to claim the sinking was part of a conspiracy?
posted by Ber at 2:36 PM on May 4 [3 favorites]


Remember when conspiracy theories were harmless and kinda funny?

There were always plenty of racist/anti-Semitic ones floating around that were neither harmless nor funny. I remember seeing Klan literature in the early 90s that referenced the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and various flavors of the "internal cabal of Jewish bankers" canard, for example.

In fact, the far right has done a great job of leveraging the "this is just for the lulz" aspect of conspiracy culture to draw people into their web of bullshit and radicalize them.
posted by ryanshepard at 2:38 PM on May 4 [20 favorites]


I had lots of friends and boyfriends very conversant in RAW memes (including my husband) and I get why it's funny and interesting in a vacuum but I always felt like, people do actually believe this kind of thing for real, and it's kind of scary and not funny.

Alls I can say is that the early 90s was a different time. To find people who truly believed in that sort of thing, you'd have to become personally involved in some very specific subcultures, e.g. survivalists, white supremacists, maybe some of the nuttier Kennedy assassination theorists. I mean, those people were definitely out there, but you weren't likely to run into them just bumping around the counterculture. You were a lot more likely to run into people like my friends and I who thought the whole thing was a joke.

There were always plenty of racist/anti-Semitic ones floating around that were neither harmless nor funny. I remember seeing Klan literature in the early 90s that referenced the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and various flavors of the "internal cabal of Jewish bankers" canard, for example.

True fact. But again, the likelihood you'd run into that depended a lot on where you were at socially. It wasn't like now where you have a president who openly espouses those sorts of beliefs, and Klan literature is just a google search away. My friends and I were all like hippies, punks, goths, and just general burnout types. I don't think it ever even occurred to us that people took that sort of thing seriously.
posted by panama joe at 2:58 PM on May 4 [1 favorite]


To sort of highlight this point, a couple of Linklater movies (Waking Life and Slacker) contain monologues by none other than Alex Jones. At the time, he was just sort of this nutty public access TV guy in Austin, and Linklater took him for a funny, crazy shit disturber type. Nowadays of course Linklater totally regrets boosting Jones into the public consciousness, but at the time Jones was just thought of as this sort of harmless conspiracy guy. Nobody knew what he and his ilk would eventually become, once given a bigger microphone.
posted by panama joe at 3:05 PM on May 4 [11 favorites]


What do you call it when a cruise ship containing a bunch of lawyers conspiracy theorists sinks? A good start Another conspiracy!

Also per Weird Al, it's not Illuminati but Alumin-ati.
posted by zaixfeep at 3:27 PM on May 4


If the cruise ship sunk and all aboard were lost, who would be left to claim the sinking was part of a conspiracy?
posted by Ber


The ones who spent too much on foil, buckets of survival chow and vitamins to afford a cruise ticket. And the ones who were thwarted in their attempt to get a ticket due to some kind of conspiracy by the Secret Executive Bohemian Cabal of Ticketmaster.
posted by zaixfeep at 3:40 PM on May 4 [1 favorite]


My friends and I were all like hippies, punks, goths, and just general burnout types. I don't think it ever even occurred to us that people took that sort of thing seriously.

I used to hang around a lot of leftie fans of conspiracy theories and many of them did eventually also find their own particular flavor of belief in some claims that aren't that far from the Illuminati/Protocols crowd. The slippage between the various beliefs in extraordinary collaborations determining events and shaping the world isn't really that great a divide once someone starts down the rabbit holes. The belief in there being vast underground conspiracies becomes the strongest factor, the flavor of the conspiracies then subject to whims of taste that shift mostly to maintain the strongest sense of "proof" for the demand for conspiracy. An unending circle of self justification.
posted by gusottertrout at 3:51 PM on May 4 [6 favorites]


I’m pretty sure there is no Western conspiracy theory that is more than three steps from “the Jews did it.” That took all the fun out of the damned things for me.
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:23 PM on May 4 [29 favorites]


I sometimes tell people that because unfounded* conspiracy theories tend to sap ones confidence in the efficacy of resistance, and send you into unproductive activities, it is in the interests of say the CIA to promote them, and therefore people who are anti-establishment should discount them and be especially skeptical. This greatly annoys 9/11 truthers and the like.

*obviously there are well-founded conspiracy theories because historically, conspiracies have happened and no doubt will continue to happen, but that's not what we're talking about here
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 6:02 PM on May 4 [7 favorites]


> I’m pretty sure there is no Western conspiracy theory that is more than three steps from “the Jews did it.”

Hmmmmm.

"The editor of an Arab-language news website based in Mississauga, Ont., apologized after the site published an article claiming that Jews sank the Titanic to kill three men on board who were opposed to the proposed Federal Reserve Bank in the United States."

Damn it! No, wait, I've got this.

Roswell. I can't find anything about Jewish coverups in the New Mexico desert.
posted by Leon at 6:04 PM on May 4 [3 favorites]


Some of conspiracy theories in the YouTube/Twitter era are getting more and more avant-garde.

Sam Kriss, in The Atlantic: Flat-Earthers Have a Wild New Theory About Forests (mountains are the stumps of giant primeval trees)

The Inverse article on that same theory is surprisingly sympathetic- "The Flat Earthers are wrong about the rock and the mountains, but they aren’t wrong to say we’re living on the dead corpse of a once-vibrant planet."
posted by Apocryphon at 6:13 PM on May 4 [3 favorites]


To sort of highlight this point, a couple of Linklater movies (Waking Life and Slacker) contain monologues by none other than Alex Jones.

He’s in A Scanner Darkly, too. At least there he gets tased and dragged off by the evil government to some unspecified fate. Would that that had happened in real life.

I sometimes tell people that because unfounded* conspiracy theories tend to sap ones confidence in the efficacy of resistance, and send you into unproductive activities, it is in the interests of say the CIA to promote them, and therefore people who are anti-establishment should discount them and be especially skeptical.

The problem is that, while the overwhelming majority of conspiracy theories are nonsense and often anti-semitic to boot, some are true. I mean, a lot of people on this website - myself included - believe that there was genuine collusion between Trump (himself / his family / his campaign) with Russia. John Ronson wrote a funny book about rightwing nutjobs that culminated in him bringing Bohemian Grove to public attention, where... political and business leaders meet in secret every year to worship an owl? (?!) David Icke, who is absolutely an anti-semite, correctly pointed out that Jimmy Savile was a child predator loooong before anyone else in the UK did. The CIA really did dose people with LSD. The UK and US very probably did assassinate a UN Secretary General by shooting down his plane. The P2 lodge existed in Italy (and the Gladius network!). Etc etc etc ad nauseum.

So how do you decide between what’s credible and what isn’t? The only people with interest in these things normally have lots of other beliefs (at best odd and at worst deeply unsavoury) that make them easy to discredit, and hard to put much faith in. So in the absence of more mainstream proof, in the absence of any ability to confirm it independently, what do you rely on? I suppose I rely on whether it’s internally consistent, passes the cui bono test, and feels intuitively possible, and there’s no obvious reason for the source of the conspiracy to be lying to me. But (perhaps aside from that last), all that is a fancy way of saying “does this accord with my priors?”. Which is, I suppose, what the idiots on the boat are doing? I find it hard to get around that.

Am I just privileged to have grown up in a vaguely functional educational system, one that paid at least lip service to critical thinking skills? Plus a home environment without exposure to the more poisonous and stupid parts of that country’s media? That feels kind of self-congratulatory, and if there’s one thing that the last few years have taught me, it’s that the world is a lot weirder and dumber than I’d imagined. I’m not sure my argument from incredulity still holds up.
posted by chappell, ambrose at 6:21 PM on May 4 [15 favorites]


'High Weirdness By Mail: A Directory of the Fringe: Crackpots, Kooks, and True Visionaries' (1988) by Ivan Stang from the Church of Subgenius was a thing that stoners chuckled about back a generation ago. Times have changed since then. The lunatic fringe is now a rapidly growing voter constituency posed to take over, if it hasn't already.
posted by ovvl at 6:23 PM on May 4 [5 favorites]


Remember when conspiracy theories were harmless and kinda funny?

No.
posted by MikeKD at 6:41 PM on May 4 [13 favorites]


Giving everyone a primer in Foucault would be extremely helpful.
posted by Saxon Kane at 7:54 PM on May 4 [8 favorites]


Giving everyone a primer in Foucault would be extremely helpful.

It’s a shopping list!
posted by panama joe at 10:25 PM on May 4 [1 favorite]


Also, RAW truly is the poor man’s Pynchon. But I didn’t know that at age 16.
posted by panama joe at 10:35 PM on May 4 [3 favorites]


Sometimes leftists talk about doing outreach to conspiracy theorists. After all, there is an overarching conspiratorial cabal running our society; they're called capitalists. And the left has had creepy covert operations committed against it in the US -- intelligence agencies used to infiltrate socialist organizations and spread shitty Maoist pamphlets around the membership to try and sow division. And don't forget about truly sensational coverups like MKUltra!

The problem is, you try and tell a conspiracy nut about marxism and they totally tune you out. Why is that? Because marxism is about identifying your oppressor and fighting your oppression. The conspiratorial mindset is incompatible with this because it's all about pure spectatorship. If aliens or the illuminati or some all-powerful ethnic group runs the world, you are powerless to do anything about it. You get to wash your hands of political action while feeling great about it, because at least you have access to secret knowledge that the rest of the world is too foolish to see.

Look at QAnon -- the entire thing is pure passive entertainment. The whole mythos of it is that there are secret state actors that are poised to take back the country. They're sending the fans coded messages, but they never ask for their help. All QAnon fans have to do is watch and cheer from the sidelines. There is no place in the movement for anyone to actually do anything besides hold events that look more like fan conventions than political rallies.

When you point out the real enemy to these people, they are utterly uninterested, because a leftist analysis comes with the possibility and expectation of actually doing something about it. You'd do as well asking a sitcom viewer to reach into the TV and adjust Urkel's bowtie.
posted by One Second Before Awakening at 11:29 PM on May 4 [37 favorites]


I suppose I rely on whether it’s internally consistent, passes the cui bono test, and feels intuitively possible, and there’s no obvious reason for the source of the conspiracy to be lying to me. But (perhaps aside from that last), all that is a fancy way of saying “does this accord with my priors?”. Which is, I suppose, what the idiots on the boat are doing? I find it hard to get around that.

From my ancient past studying Philosophy, the thing I remember is the idea of falsifiability being an aspect of any scientific theory, and if something can explain everything, that is a red flag.

So my go to talking point is "what could prove this is wrong?"... if the answer is "nothing, it explains everything perfectly" then there you go, can't really argue.
posted by Meatbomb at 11:44 PM on May 4 [2 favorites]


the thing I remember is the idea of falsifiability being an aspect of any scientific theory, and if something can explain everything, that is a red flag.

From a medical point of view it reminds me of the overarching theme of the Sawbones podcast: cure-alls cure nothing.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 11:45 PM on May 4


Can the idea of falsifiability itself be proved wrong, then?

The only thing that would do that would be a valid theory which could not be falsified.

But if such a thing can exist, falsifiability is wrong. Yet in order for falsifiability to be a theory, since all theories must be falsifiable, a valid theory which is falsifiable must be possible even if we don't know what it is at the moment. But if falsifiability is true, that theory cannot possibly exist.

So if falsifiability is a theory, it disproves itself.

It could be something other than a theory, but if you want to claim that it's true, you've created a category of true things which aren't theories and can't be falsified.

Which I think is ridiculous. It can be a useful heuristic, but never any kind of universal law.
posted by jamjam at 12:28 AM on May 5 [1 favorite]


From my ancient past studying Philosophy, the thing I remember is the idea of falsifiability being an aspect of any scientific theory, and if something can explain everything, that is a red flag.

This is risking a digression, but firstly I don’t think that the two halves of your sentence go together. The point of falsifiability wrt to philosophy of science was to contribute to developing models with increasing, not decreasing, explanatory power - quantum physics over Newtonian mechanics, etc. These should be more vulnerable to falsification, if wrong. (The “cure-all” example in the subsequent comment would be easily falsified by any true statement of the form “this treatment does not cure X”.)

Secondly, philosophy of science does not reduce to philosophy of everything, and naive falsifiability is not necessarily the standard to which we should hold every conjecture about the world (it’s not actually even the standard to which Popper intended science to be held). OK, if a conspiracy theory is making a claim about something that should be “always” true, then this might be a useful standard. Do world leaders meet in a secretive Bilderberg group every year at a particular hotel? Let’s go and check next year, yes or no. (Even a negative result there is only a very narrow blow to the theory: perhaps there was a second hotel that shares the name, or the investigator wasn’t as cunning as the creepy world leaders.) But for anything that happened once, or is now finished, none of the theories are likely to be “falsifiable” in the Popperian sense. What simple statement can disprove the idea of a gunman on the grassy knoll? If there is no such statement, does that mean that such an suggestion is invalid - not just incorrect, but fundamentally scientifically invalid?

Here we need a process more like a murder trial. And jurisprudence for murder trials isn’t based on Popperian critical rationality, for reasons that I hope are obvious.

I don’t think that falsifiability helps solve the problem of conspiracy theories, which I believe are genuinely philosophically difficult to engage with, without being willing to admit that instinct may be the surest way to judge.
posted by chappell, ambrose at 12:33 AM on May 5 [5 favorites]


Like I said it was long ago.

I am thinking like this, for example the Flat Earthers:

"But what if we could go high high up, and see the curvature of the earth, would that show you?"
"It was all faked, the moon landings were blah blah blah..."
"OK, here, get in this high altitude jet. See you in a couple hours."
"Yeah but..." (some other post-hoc bogus excuse for why it does not prove them wrong)

When there is no conceivable real world evidence that they would accept as disproving their theory, that is when you have to just move on and stop arguing.

Sorry I guess the "philosophy" bit was a red herring and best leave that stuff to the experts.
posted by Meatbomb at 1:24 AM on May 5 [8 favorites]


Look at QAnon -- the entire thing is pure passive entertainment. The whole mythos of it is that there are secret state actors that are poised to take back the country. They're sending the fans coded messages, but they never ask for their help. All QAnon fans have to do is watch and cheer from the sidelines. There is no place in the movement for anyone to actually do anything besides hold events that look more like fan conventions than political rallies.

And yet we see near constant "lone wolf" attacks from young men who've been conditioned to believe exactly the sort of conspiracies QAnon and like travelers revel in. The question isn't passive versus assertive or even what side of the political aisle one is on, since those with power have always sought ways to maintain it and control those who lack power through whatever means they can find and get away with using. Capitalism just happens to be the system we're mostly under at the moment, it isn't the wellspring of conspiracy, just the label for the current variety of abuse.

The question is always about human nature and the likelihood of actions matched to the limits of knowledge on the part of those making assessment. Conspiracy theories follow patterns close to that of fiction and religion, but with a basis in the real. Some real events of uncertain or indeterminate cause occur and are linked to other events through reference to benefit for some group. The real event are the foundation of the claim that becomes attached to ever less definitive links to create a chain that offers reason and proof of a connection between event and the desired group for blame. The shorter the chain, the more definitive the links, the clearer the connection, the more extended the chain the less certain the connection save for the insertion of a belief in place of proof to bridge any gaps. That belief comes from "knowing" the answer before one starts building the chain so it is working backwards from group to event in the assumption they are connected.

As we are relatively sophisticated in our recognition of the rules of fictional narrative we apply those to help us fill in the reasons for connections that comes from our need for narrative clarity and dislike of uncertainty. We make answers when we don't have them because we want them and want to believe there is a narrative logic to events that makes the world understandable instead of it being beyond our grasp with people acting to their own less scrutable wants and ends. We just can't bear uncertainty and our own limits of knowledge. When we find groups have acted in concert for the sake of power, we use that information to bolster our belief this set of events must likewise have been enacted with direction and purpose.

With any events on a scale beyond our immediate experience and knowledge and/or at a distance from our own lives we have to rely on others to provide information for us to assess the meaning. In the internet age there that kind of "information" is everywhere, most of it nonsense, but purporting itself as real. There is little to no trust in government or mainstream media, so many people pick a sides and take the info that sounds like it best fits their already held beliefs and allow them to expand to fit the rest they hadn't yet thought.

Countering conspiracies relies on some idea of who/what info is trustworthy, how far that trust can be extended, how much factual basis is at the root of the claims and how much is assumption based on conjecture or indeterminate linkage, such as A worked at place X where B did business, and what is it we are asked to believe about the world and people in general and those alleged to be involved in specific. The better grounding of knowledge one has and the less reliance on belief helps counter the excesses of the claims, but can never fully account for all possibility and will not be able to provide certainty for what did happen or is happening. That willing acceptance of not knowing seems to be what's disappearing, and that has no good fix I know of.
posted by gusottertrout at 1:49 AM on May 5 [2 favorites]


How about our acceptance of advertising and public relations and education that relies too much on memorization?
posted by Obscure Reference at 7:03 AM on May 5


If aliens or the illuminati or some all-powerful ethnic group runs the world, you are powerless to do anything about it.

only half right, i'm afraid - "you are powerless to do anything about it, but WE have the answer and if you (send us money, join our church, elect us, help us overthrow the government), WE will use our power on your behalf to fix it, or sell you tools with which you can protect yourself"

it's also fair to point out that if people actually trusted our institutions these days, conspiracy theories wouldn't be so popular - and that if our media aren't going to be willing or able to tell us what's going on, nature abhors a vacuum and that vacuum will be filled by bullshit
posted by pyramid termite at 9:02 AM on May 5 [6 favorites]


Here’s the issue around conspiracy theories, without getting too badly sidetracked into philosophy: imagine a collection of conspiracy theories, in which some are clear false (because they’re impossible for one reason or another). Of the rest, we know from inductive reasoning that at least a small percentage are probably true, as unlikely as all of them seem.

Imagine that we actually want to identify whether a conspiracy theory is true or false, and we’re not just content to sit on the fence until the evidence comes in (which could well never happen) - a conspiracy involving the suggestion of police corruption, for example.

There is no sensible methodological way to do this, without relying heavily on your priors. The point of conspiracy theories is that (unlike scientific conjectures about the nature of the universe), the conspiracy supposes a malign agency involved which is actively trying to conceal its existence. Just like we don’t use the formal scientific method to judge whether magic is really happening in a magic trick, because it doesn’t account for the presence of the magician, who is actively trying to deceive the observer. (When Uri Geller made the claim that magic was real, we relied on James Randi to disprove him - another trained magician with a moral objection to the falsehood.) So then you’re left with a he-said-she-said situation which you have to judge evidence by appeals to authority - who do you find more convincing? And one side is probably trying to deceive you, either because they’re part of a genuine conspiracy to conceal bad deeds; or because they’re trying to sell you their book / nutrition supplement / larger philosophical framework about evil zionists.

So we’re back to priors. One side effect of that is that the choice of conspiracy theories people consider self-evidently true or false tells you a lot about their beliefs and how they arrive at them. For instance, I’m sure that some MeFites read my earlier list of conspiracies that I consider “proved” and were happy to dismiss the rest of my comment as the work of a crackpot. But whether or not this is a fair approach to conspiracy believers, dismissing people for their beliefs (even when incorrect) is leaving a lot of interesting and useful information on the table.

I once lived somewhere with a widespread conspiracy theory that white people came to the country to steal organs. I thought that was absolutely ridiculous (especially the corollary that organ stealers identified themselves by riding around only in red 4x4s) and I used to make jokes about it. Then two foreigners were lynched and burned to death on a beach, and I started taking it a lot more seriously. But the interesting thing about the conspiracy was how it reflected similar beliefs about vampires, which in turn reflected experiences of African countries under colonialism. Some of the details may have been wrong - even ludicrous - to an outsider, but the fundamentals were right. There really was a conspiracy to exploit African resources for colonial gain, under the excuse of spreading “civilisation”, even if that resource wasn’t necessarily blood, or organs.

Maybe the only useful information we can deduce from a belief in Infowars style con-jobs is “these believers are stupid / racist / both”. I’m not even convinced that understanding those beliefs even helps us to engage with them and counter them. However, I’m sure that future sociologists will have something interesting to say about, for example, the breakdown of faith in the US medical establishment by the bourgeoisie, beyond just “these over-privileged idiots didn’t understand science and their kids got preventable diseases as a result”.
posted by chappell, ambrose at 9:33 AM on May 5 [4 favorites]


You know, I always felt a little uneasy about Illuminatus. I had lots of friends and boyfriends very conversant in RAW memes (including my husband) and I get why it's funny and interesting in a vacuum but I always felt like, people do actually believe this kind of thing for real, and it's kind of scary and not funny. So I was really never able bring myself to be all ohoho droll observations my good sir. It just fell very flat with me.

The thing I took away from Illuminatus! was to be willing to question anything and everything... including The Illuminatus! Trilogy. For cryin' out loud, the book itself almost literally begs you to do so! Basically: nothing is above scrutiny. Not even the scrutiny. I'm not saying that means be a cynic and to doubt anything and everything; it's just a good idea to be skeptical -- in a healthy, non-paranoid way.
posted by grubi at 7:31 AM on May 6


When there is no conceivable real world evidence that they would accept as disproving their theory

There is a documentary on Netflix called, "Behind the Curve" where some flat-earth believers designed an experiment to disprove that the earth has curvature and is flat... Only their experiment worked and then they denied the results... (Also posted to FanFare)
posted by jkaczor at 7:44 AM on May 6 [1 favorite]



The thing I took away from Illuminatus! was to be willing to question anything and everything... including The Illuminatus! Trilogy. For cryin' out loud, the book itself almost literally begs you to do so! Basically: nothing is above scrutiny. Not even the scrutiny. I'm not saying that means be a cynic and to doubt anything and everything; it's just a good idea to be skeptical -- in a healthy, non-paranoid way.


that's exactly what they WANT you to think!
posted by some loser at 5:59 PM on May 6 [2 favorites]


My general complaint against conspiracy theories is that every single one of them seems to radically overestimate the ability of other people (/aliens/ethnicities/cabals) not to be complete, obvious fucking idiots.

The majority of the actual conspiracies are either entirely petty or so common-sense that observing them is like pointing out the full moon under a clear sky: "Hey, of course rich people are going to rig the game in their favor!"
posted by aspersioncast at 7:19 PM on May 6 [5 favorites]


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