Conspiracy Theorist Conspiracy Theorists

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jas

Timebandit wrote:
Perhaps tin foil celebs like Ms Atkisson get called the things they do because the shoe fits.

Oh, darn. It sounded to me like she's had a pretty remarkable career full of achievements. But Timebandit, anonymous Babble poster, says she's a right wing tin-foil hatter, so that must be what she is. Frown

 

ETA: right wing celebrity tin-foil hatter. (Which is even worse. Because celebrity is just so... ugh.)

Timebandit Timebandit's picture

Oh, I have no problem with celebrity. I do take issue with celebrity being substituted for actually doing the work of a journalist. At one point she seemed to be pretty damn good at her job, but seems to have become a little erratic over the last few years. A shame, too. But she's a right wing wackaloon now.

jas

A wackaloon! Awesome!  Smile

And what was the quote from the video I just finished posting?  Oh yeah:

"Beware when interests attack an issue by controversializing or attacking the people, personalities and organizations surrounding it, rather than the facts."

Yes, we're pretty familiar with this approach by now. Somehow the ones who use it never seem to tire of it!

Mr. Magoo Mr. Magoo's picture

Quote:
BTW, Babblers - Mr Magoo is just having us on with all the Titanic talk. "Surely ice doesn't break steel!".

To plagiarize all the best Scooby-Do villains, "... and I would have got away with it too, if it weren't for you meddling kids!". Cool

Timebandit Timebandit's picture

The fact is, her backspace key got stuck. Thinking it was Obama trying to meddle with her reporting on a story hundreds of others were reporting on sounds just a bit off. Maybe she wouldn't have people say such things if she didn't provide them with a pattern of behaviour. That goes for a variety of other conspiracy theorists.

The thing about Atkisson is that she had a lot of support and good will from her profession before she started on some highly incredible tangents. It's kind of sad. http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/11/whatever-happened-sharyl-a...

Quote:
So what happened? Was Attkisson always on the edge? Or is this a genuinely bizarre case of Obama Derangement Syndrome taking over someone's life? There's a story here, but I can't tell if it's shameful or just sad. I'd like to know.

jas

Timebandit wrote:
The fact is, her backspace key got stuck. Thinking it was Obama trying to meddle with her reporting on a story hundreds of others were reporting on sounds just a bit off.

What she says about Wikipedia is true, and we already know that corporations and special interests hire trolls for social and mainstream media. So what does your regurgitated 'backspace key' theory have to do with any of the points she raises? Don't you think she might know a little more about these matters than you do?

Timebandit Timebandit's picture

No, not necessarily.  I make documentaries - some of them current affairs and investigative, others in the realm of science and medicine.  I actually know more than the average person would.

Here's an interesting study into the psychology behind the alarming number of people who buy into conspiracy theories:

Quote:
The prevalence of conspiracism offers new possibilities for the study of political opinion. Ever since Converse's (1964) seminal description of American belief systems, political scientists have struggled to identify the central organizing principles behind public beliefs. Given the near random quality to survey responses among half of the population, scholars have tended to focus their attention on variables like ideology and race, even if this yields only partial explanations for how ordinary citizens comprehend political life. Conspiracism illuminates some alternative mechanisms that organize public opinion. For many Americans, complicated or nuanced explanations for political events are both cognitively taxing and have limited appeal. A conspiracy narrative may provide a more accessible and convincing account of political events, especially because it may coincide with their ordinary cognitive tendencies.

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/ajps.12084/full

From an interview with one of the authors of the study:

Quote:

These views are inaccurate. We think of conspiracy theories as simply another form of magical thinking. And as with all types of magical thinking, people engage in conspiracy theories in order to cope with difficult emotions.

Usually this emotion is the apprehension that is triggered by an inexplicable or unusual event. In struggling to restore our emotional equilibrium, we search for patterns. In looking for patterns, we use mental shortcuts called heuristics. These heuristics include our tendency to ascribe intentionality to inanimate objects or to assume that things that resemble each other share core traits.

Because conspiracy theories articulate these heuristics, they may feel more intuitively compelling than other explanations, particularly to people in distress.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/monkey-cage/wp/2015/02/19/fifty-perc...

jas

Timebandit, you would not know more than Attkinson about the workings of major media and its corporate ties and compromises. You are also not a psychologist, so please stop with your armchair psychologizing about people you know nothing about.

And to post diatribes about "conspiracy theories" as a whole, in a thread about the how that label is used is simply proving the point. What "conspiracy theories" are you talking about? Who decides what a "conspiracy theory" is?

I would note also, with some humour, that you've used absolutely every discreditation tactic that Attkinson (along with others - she's certainly not the first) has warned about, as well as conforming to almost every behaviour I characterized in my script, lol.

Address the facts, please. Not who, in your anonymous opinion, is a wackaloon. We don't care.

Timebandit Timebandit's picture

My point is that the discreditation tactics, as you put them, may merely be a comment on actual patterns of behaviour of those who are being "discredited".  Magical thinking is magical thinking - pointing out that adhering to magical thinking in the face of evidence to the contrary and refusing to listen to reason makes one look out of touch with reality.  Or, more bluntly, *is* out of touch with reality.

Atkisson works in media, so do I.  I'm not going around claiming Obama hacked my specific computer out of hundreds of other journalist's computers out there.  I don't know if Atkisson has a mental health issue right now, or what it might be, but she's behaving in an erratic way and making some pretty outrageous claims without evidence. Should she be free from criticism or rational arguments "discrediting" her?  I don't think so.  What it comes down to in the case of your argument, though, is that you can criticize all of the arguments that are at odds with your worldview, but we're not supposed to criticize that worldview or produce contrary facts.  You alone get to be the arbiter of what constitutes evidence.  I guess some of us aren't content to go along with the World According to jas.

jas

"Conspiracy theory" - Foundation of a weaponized term

Conspiracy theory’s acutely negative connotations may be traced to liberal historian Richard Hofstadter’s well-known fusillades against the “New Right.” Yet it was the Central Intelligence Agency that likely played the greatest role in effectively “weaponizing” the term. In the groundswell of public skepticism toward the Warren Commission’s findings on the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the CIA sent a detailed directive to all of its bureaus. Titled “Countering Criticism of the Warren Commission Report,” the dispatch played a definitive role in making the “conspiracy theory” term a weapon to be wielded against almost any individual or group calling the government’s increasingly clandestine programs and activities into question....

The memorandum lays out a detailed series of actions and techniques for “countering and discrediting the claims of the conspiracy theorists, so as to inhibit the circulation of such claims in other countries.” For example, approaching “friendly elite contacts (especially politicians and editors)” to remind them of the Warren Commission’s integrity and soundness should be prioritized. “[T]he charges of the critics are without serious foundation,” the document reads, and “further speculative discussion only plays in to the hands of the [Communist] opposition.”

The agency also directed its members “[t]o employ propaganda assets to [negate] and refute the attacks of the critics. Book reviews and feature articles are particularly appropriate for this purpose.”

Timebandit Timebandit's picture

Oh, good!  More magical thinkers!!  Wow, that argument blew my doors off!  NO WAY could I come up with a compelling counter to that site! 

Praise Jeebus, I see the light!!!

Sineed

The problem I have with conspiracy theories is they are a distraction from the real problems in the world. For instance, the real story of the Boston Bombing is the growing problem of radicalization of young people, probably by way of the Internet, and what is going to happen to our on-line freedoms when governments start cracking down more than they have. Or the real story of 9/11 is how decades of American foreign policy and how they fought the Cold War contributed to the rise of Al Quaida.

Some people like conspiracies because they appeal to the pattern recognition part of our brains, and also they imply a simpler world, where groups of evil masterminds control and manipulate things to the detriment of sheeple everywhere.

Timebandit Timebandit's picture

One of the things I found really interesting in the study I linked to above was that the tendency to accept a number of conspiracy theories seemed to be correlated for a tendency to be attracted to Manichean views of the world - that good vs evil is a very real thing and inherent in how the world works. 

Interesting, too, that you point out distraction.  I think that might be the whole point - a somewhat unconscious attempt to self-distract from some really troubling things that we don't have agency over.

jas

A more fun article: Wink

Zen ... and the Art of Debunkery (Or, How to Debunk Just About Anything)

What is "debunkery?" Essentially it is the attempt to debunk (invalidate) new fields of discovery by substituting scientistic rhetoric for scientific inquiry.

While informed skepticism is an integral part of the scientific method, professional debunkers -- often called "kneejerk skeptics" -- tend to be skeptics in name only, and to speak with little or no authority on the subject matter of which they are so passionately skeptical. At best, debunkers will occasionally expose other people's errors; but for the most part they purvey their own brand of pseudoscience, fall prey to their own superstition and gullibility, and contribute little to the actual advancement of knowledge. As such, they well and truly represent the Right Wing of science.

jas

Sineed wrote:
For instance, the real story of the Boston Bombing is the growing problem of radicalization of young people, probably by way of the Internet, and what is going to happen to our on-line freedoms when governments start cracking down more than they have.

I would say that's the false story. The story being used to justify increased state surveillance and domestic police actions - moves we're already seeing. Did you see the article I posted:

Government agents 'directly involved' in most high-profile US terror plots.

Sounds kind of conspiracist, doesn't it?

Sineed wrote:
Or the real story of 9/11 is how decades of American foreign policy and how they fought the Cold War contributed to the rise of Al Quaida.

But not about US government funding of Al Qaeda or many of the other odd connections and collaborations that have been documented? That doesn't figure into your understanding of any of these events? Smile

And since we're talking about it, what to make of people who see "conspiracy theorists" everywhere they look? And within every strain of thought that disagrees with their personal view? And who assume their own mental health is above question? Is that not something to be concerned about? I don't sit around psychologizing about it, but to me it speaks to fear and 'othering', for one; possibly a lack of education or understanding of mass media, not to mention scientific or political history; a dangerous and unjustified acceptance of mainstream and traditional authority. Here's a short article identifying some of the problem characteristics: Pseudoscience, Pseudoskepticism and Rejection Bias

sherpa-finn

If folks are seriously interested in the phenomenon of conspiracy theories so prevalent in our society, they could do worse than read a number of the articles in a recent volume of a psychology journal dedicated to this very issue, and freely available on-line.

http://www.psypag.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/Issue-88.pdf

I can't speak for all the articles, but I found a number of them interesting. Given teh nature of the journal, one should not be surprised that the perspective is more psychological that political in nature.

FWIW, I was pointed to the journal by a colleague last summer when over beer I asked the pointed question "What the f***k is a chemtrail, and what in the world are these people talking about?"

Sineed

Thanks for the link, sherpa-finn. I've been fascinated by the psychology of conspiracy theorists for a number of years (one of the reasons I keep engaging them) and have been meaning to do a literature search. I'll be reading this over the next few days.

For people interested in the topic I'd also recommmend "Among the Truthers" by Jonathan Kay. Yes, that Jonathan Kay. But he's politically neutral (mostly) in the book, focusing on people who are taken by fringe theories.

Sineed

jas wrote:
Here's a short article identifying some of the problem characteristics: Pseudoscience, Pseudoskepticism and Rejection Bias

From that link, which asserts that James Randy is an example of a "pseudoskeptic," a category that seems to have been invented by would-be scammers as an ad hominem smear upon the people who would expose them:

Quote:
How does Randy know that aliens haven’t contacted the White House? Does he think the White House would surely have told him of such a visit?

Talk about low-hanging fruit. It was right there on the first page linked. Other pages discuss "Altering Gene Expression with Thought," and there was this particular gem:

Quote:
Never ask a man if sexism exists. Never ask a white person if racism exists. Never ask Scott McGreal over at Psychology Today if there is a scientific taboo against ESP.

A veritable cornucopia of wackaloonery. He does seem like a nice guy though; he really believes, and doesn't seem to be trying to scam anybody. And I couldn't find any trace of Holocaust denial, unlike many others of his ilk. And he's not a bad writer.

 

Timebandit Timebandit's picture

Interesting publication, Sherpa-Finn. Some of the authors also have a blog, http://conspiracypsychology.com It hadn't bee very active lately, but some smaller bites and applications to things like public policy, current events and new research.

jas

Not sure what problem anyone has with this information. The history of this term is well known. Timebandit became hysterical about it for reasons I personally can't fathom, but I suppose that's no fault of mine.

"Conspiracy theory" - Foundation of a weaponized term

Conspiracy theory’s acutely negative connotations may be traced to liberal historian Richard Hofstadter’s well-known fusillades against the “New Right.” Yet it was the Central Intelligence Agency that likely played the greatest role in effectively “weaponizing” the term. In the groundswell of public skepticism toward the Warren Commission’s findings on the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the CIA sent a detailed directive to all of its bureaus. Titled “Countering Criticism of the Warren Commission Report,” the dispatch played a definitive role in making the “conspiracy theory” term a weapon to be wielded against almost any individual or group calling the government’s increasingly clandestine programs and activities into question....

The memorandum lays out a detailed series of actions and techniques for “countering and discrediting the claims of the conspiracy theorists, so as to inhibit the circulation of such claims in other countries.” For example, approaching “friendly elite contacts (especially politicians and editors)” to remind them of the Warren Commission’s integrity and soundness should be prioritized. “[T]he charges of the critics are without serious foundation,” the document reads, and “further speculative discussion only plays in to the hands of the [Communist] opposition.”

The agency also directed its members “[t]o employ propaganda assets to [negate] and refute the attacks of the critics. Book reviews and feature articles are particularly appropriate for this purpose.”

ygtbk

Sineed wrote:

Thanks for the link, sherpa-finn. I've been fascinated by the psychology of conspiracy theorists for a number of years (one of the reasons I keep engaging them) and have been meaning to do a literature search. I'll be reading this over the next few days.

For people interested in the topic I'd also recommmend "Among the Truthers" by Jonathan Kay. Yes, that Jonathan Kay. But he's politically neutral (mostly) in the book, focusing on people who are taken by fringe theories.

Haven't read the Jonathan Kay, yet, but "Everything Is Under Control" by Robert Anton Wilson (with an assist by Miriam Joan Hill) is a very informative book. It was published in 1998 and so is not up-to-speed with all the theories.

jas

Excellent paper on why people might choose to accept illogical narratives of large-scale events over more rational but systemically challenging ones.

In Denial of Democracy: Social Psychological Implications for Public Discourse on State Crimes Against Democracy Post-9/11 (American Behavioral Scientist)

System Justification Theory: How Preexisting Social Attitudes Can Suppress Evidence of SCADs

According to SJT, there are many “social psychological mechanisms by which people defend and justify the existing social, economic, and political arrangements, often to their own detriment” (Jost et al., 2008, p. 591; see Figure 2). Similar to reducing the negative effects of mortality salience proposed by TMT, justification of the system also maintains “consistency, coherence, and certainty, and existential needs to manage various forms of threat and distress and to find meaning in life” (Jost et al., 2008, p. 598). SJT is supported by research showing that people can be strongly motivated to truncate their evaluations of information to acquire or preserve a “definitive answer to a question as opposed to [experiencing] uncertainty, confusion, or ambiguity,” known as the need for closure (e.g., Kruglanski, 1989; cf. Kruglanski & Young Chun, 2008, p. 84). The persistence of faulty beliefs, then, at both individual and societal levels, may perform an important psychological function, for example, by promoting feelings of safety and justice rather than permitting acknowledgment of potential vulnerability and exploitation (Baumeister, 1997; J. Greenberg et al., 2008; Jost et al., 2008; Thompson & Schlehofer, 2008). Hence, system justification motives may interfere with SCADs inquiry because people are highly motivated to defend the institutions with which they are most familiar (e.g., religious and political conservatism, American capitalism, and military foreign interventionism), behavior that is supported largely by selective attention and interpretation of information (Jost et al., 2008):

Even when faced with incontrovertible evidence of the system’s failings, people tend to support it as the best available option. Enduring support for the status quo is often explained in terms of the power of ideology to explain, justify, and rationalize discrepancies between the ideals of the system and its reality.

jas

More from the Laurie Manwell paper:

Reform Initiatives for Improving Public Discourse Regarding SCADs

The importance of continued public education and debate about SCADs in the post-9/11 world cannot be emphasized enough, especially with governments and media attempting to silence dissenting voices, often with ad hominem attacks. Many scholars have already “debunked” non sequitur labels, such as “conspiracy theory/theorist,” as mechanisms for a priori dismissal of a person’s arguments, particularly within the realm of scientific discourse (E. Herman & Chom, 1989; Simons, 1994; Parenti, 1996; Coady, 2003; Chomsky, 2004; Fetzer, 2007; Griffin, 2004, 2007a, 2007b; Jones, 2007a, 2007b). In a recent sociological analysis, Husting and Orr (2007) discussed the inherent dangers of applying “conspiracy” labels to public exchanges of ideas and scholarly dialogues in a democracy:

  • In a culture of fear, we should expect the rise of new mechanisms of social control to deflect distrust, anxiety, and threat.... Our findings suggest that authors use the conspiracy theorist label as (1) a routinized strategy of exclusion; (2) a reframing mechanism that deflects questions or concerns about power, corruption, and motive; and (3) an attack upon the personhood and competence of the questioner.... The mechanism allows those who use it to sidestep sound scholarly and journalistic practice, avoiding the examination of evidence, often in favor of one of the most important errors in logic and rhetoric—the ad hominem attack. While contest, claim, and counterclaim are vital to public discourse, we must recognize that “democracy is a fragile and delicate thing” (Denzin, 2004) and mechanisms that define the limits of the sayable must continually be challenged. (pp. 127, 147; italics added)

 

This is of relevant concern to leftist/progressive organizations and forums which, perhaps more than many other bodies, should be hyper-vigilant of those who would profess to speak for "the majority" on such concerns. I point to, of course, very vocal (read "loudmouth") intervenors who continually seek to discredit if not shut down discussion, often by use of labels, epithets and ridicule. On Babble and on other forums we've seen dogpiling and trashing of discussion with disrespectful or junky posts, clearly in an effort to have the discussion dismissed or shut down.

Understanding this as a much wider phenomenon, this already has had serious implications in the discussion of legitimate concerns about the 9/11 narrative (for example), and many of its attending events and phenomena. I would go so far as to say that those who use the term "conspiracy theory/ist" as a blanket term, without appraising the facts, and who ignore the rhetorical agenda behind that term should themselves be regarded with skepticism, at the very least.

Mr. Magoo Mr. Magoo's picture

Well, I'm sure that many fundamentalist Christians would love it if people would stop dismssing outright the possibility that the entirety of the universe was created by one supernatural being, out of sheer will, in six days.  Surely they'd prefer it if we could all just engage them in a healthy and spirited (no pun intended) debate on the matter -- and to perhaps even prove to them on their terms  that this wasn't the case!

Except that fundamentalist Christians aren't really the least bit interested in considering any other points of view -- that's pretty much what the term "fundamentalist Christian" implies.  No "real" fundamentalist Christian is ever going to say "Oh, well, I guess that makes more sense than two of every animal being herded onto a boat when the entire planet got flooded to exterminate the sinners...".

The suggestion that it's really the non-consipiracy-theorists who are too rigid and too hidebound and too dismissive is, frankly, a big mushy steamy pile of horse diarrhea.

As to these "legitimate concerns" of the Truthers, they pretty much lost me when they demanded to know why the towers didn't topple from the bottom like a cut down tree.  That, and the idea that heat can't weaken steel -- that one could have been well rebutted by any blacksmith, or anyone who even knows what a blacksmith is, and why they heated steel.

Timebandit Timebandit's picture

Manwell is referenced by 9/11 "truthers", but interestingly enough not so much by other psychologists. Here's a blog post by a neuroscientist who talks about Kevin Barrett, a truther who quotes Manwell and grossly misinterprets a study on online interaction between conspiracy theorists and people who do not buy into their claims in addition to his take (blogger Steven Novella, that is) on Manwell's paper. http://theness.com/neurologicablog/index.php/revenge-of-the-conspiracy-t... ETA:

Quote:
Manwell appears to be coming from an assumption that those who doubt a conspiracy surrounding the events of 9/11 are simply wrong or not aware of all the facts. She seems to assume, in fact, that the evidence points to a conspiracy, and therefore those who doubt it must be laboring under some psychological baggage or misinformation.

The alternate possibility – that some people who are skeptical of a 9/11 conspiracy have thoroughly examined the evidence and arguments and found them to be wanting – does not even seem to occur to Manwell.

Partly she, and by extensive Barrett, are arguing against the average person who is reflexively dismissive of a 9/11 conspiracy (with good reason, for it is absurd on its face), rather than addressing those who have carefully examined the evidence and arguments of the conspiracy theorists and systematically dismantled them. They are addressing the weakest form of opposition to their position rather than the strongest. They do this by referring to general cognitive biases as if they are specific to those who disagree with them, or are somehow an explanation for resistance to their crackpot theories.

(iPad giving me grief, sorry for later addition)

jas

You've got to be kidding. Steven Novella? Again?  Does he have a real job of any kind? Laughing He sure fancies himself an authority on many subjects. Perhaps he's a wannabe psychologist? One would wonder, the way he shills for sick quacks like the "False Memory Syndrome" Foundation (quite possibly a pedophilic front organization who lobby to have the accounts of victims of child sexual abuse discredited via fake science.) They never did succeed in getting their quack "syndrome" into the DSM. The psychology community has soundly rejected it.

Anyway, it doesn't matter what Steven Novella thinks. Especially when he doesn't think, but handwaves. Yes, there is plenty of legitimate reason to doubt the official 9/11 narrative. This is a majority opinion.

Secondly, what matters here is what points Manwell, and the others she cites, are raising about how these labels are used to dismiss (ahem, see above) what should be vital, pressing discussion in a democracy. That's all we need to discuss. Not what a professional pseudoskeptic thinks he can handwave away and publish on his blog.

 

PS: is that the best strawman you have, Magoo?

jas

There is no excuse at this stage of American development for a posture of political innocence, including unquestioning acceptance of the good faith of our government. After all, there has been a long history of manipulated public beliefs, especially in matters of war and peace. Historians are in increasing agreement that the facts were manipulated (1) in the explosion of the USS Maine to justify the start of the Spanish-American War (1898), (2) with respect to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor to justify the previously unpopular entry into World War II, (3) the Gulf of Tonkin incident of 1964, used by the White House to justify the dramatic extension of the Vietnam War to North Vietnam, and, most recently, (4) to portray Iraq as harboring a menacing arsenal of weaponry of mass destruction, in order to justify recourse to war in defiance of international law and the United Nations.

Why should the official account of 9/11 be treated as sacrosanct and accepted at face value, especially as it is the rationale for some of the most dangerous undertakings in the whole history of the world? (pp. ix-x)

Richard Falk, Professor Emeritus of International Law at Princeton and former UN Human Rights Rapporteur on Palestine

Timebandit Timebandit's picture

What I find interesting, jas, is that you are worked up about the phrase "conspiracy theorist" because it dismisses people who claim alternate theories of events. In the same breath, you dismiss a clinical neurology prof from Yale, asking if he has a job - apparently spending way to much time on his interest in skeptical reasoning. I might ask the same of any number of conspiracy theorists who spend their time torturing facts and misinterpreting studies to support their suppositions. Really, what it comes down to is confirmation bias. The people whose ideas seem to support your worldview are worth listening to, those who don't are derided and dismissed. Thank you for continuing to prove by example the peculiarities of the workings of the conspiracy theorist's mind.

jas

That said, do I sometimes seek to discredit a source? Yes, if only to give the debunkers/pseudoskeptics a taste of their own medicine. It seems they're quite happy to dish it out, but don't like having it dished back to them.

jas

As the articles above show, the term "conspiracy theorist" is used in a blanket fashion to deliberately sideline discussion that should be happening in a democratic society. So, sure, I get worked up about it when people continue to use it uncritically, do not address its poltical origins, and then don't bother to read about how it's being used to establish a false consensus.

Do I seek to discredit Steven Novella? Not really, but he happens to be one of these people who uses the term uncritically, and without investigating the facts -- just like you do. Do you deny that the majority position on the events of 9/11 is skepticism? Why would he try to deny this? He also seems to speak (or write) on many matters that are outside his area of expertise. So, to point out these facts is salient to the discussion, because he doesn't actually raise any points that contribute anything to it.

It also probably doesn't need to be pointed out that your own kneejerk response, EVERY SINGLE TIME, Timebandit, is to seek to discredit the messenger, rather than deal with the facts or issues raised. Exactly the response that we are examining here. You are like a textbook example, demonstrating the problem. I suspect you didn't even read the article before you sought out some way to discredit the author, via Steven Novella's opinion. You certainly don't seem to have anything to say about it yourself.

Timebandit Timebandit's picture

Except that you aren't exactly "giving them a taste of their own medicine". You're just making yourselves look even more foolish and delusional by making even more silly and unfounded claims. It sure doesn't help your case.

Timebandit Timebandit's picture

jas wrote:

As the articles above show, the term "conspiracy theorist" is used in a blanket fashion to deliberately sideline discussion that should be happening in a democratic society. So, sure, I get worked up about it when people continue to use it uncritically, do not address its poltical origins, and then don't bother to read about how it's being used to establish a false consensus.

Do I seek to discredit Steven Novella? Not really, but he happens to be one of these people who uses the term uncritically, and without investigating the facts -- just like you do. Do you deny that the majority position on the events of 9/11 is skepticism? Why would he try to deny this? He also seems to speak (or write) on many matters that are outside his area of expertise. So, to point out these facts is salient to the discussion, because he doesn't actually raise any points that contribute anything to it.

It also probably doesn't need to be pointed out that your own kneejerk response, EVERY SINGLE TIME, Timebandit, is to seek to discredit the messenger, rather than deal with the facts or issues raised. Exactly the response that we are examining here. You are like a textbook example, demonstrating the problem. I suspect you didn't even read the article before you sought out some way to discredit the author, via Steven Novella's opinion. You certainly don't seem to have anything to say about it yourself.

I did, actually, at first. It became apparent to me over time, though, that conspiracy theorists were immune to reason and would disregard facts that contradicted their preferred narrative regardless. As to the term, I don't use it uncritically, nor does Novella. Or Wood and Douglas, who have studied the phenomenon. I think parsing who coined the term is a distraction. Like many words, it's evolved to its current meaning and usage, and we know what is meant by it. There's a particular pattern of thinking that marks conspiracy ideation. Besides, this isn't a thread where we aren't arguing particular conspiracy theories, we are talking about the CT phenomenon. Or, at least, I am. Ciao for now, I'm off to go enjoy my weekend.

jas

Timebandit wrote:
I did, actually, at first. It became apparent to me over time, though, that conspiracy theorists were immune to reason and would disregard facts that contradicted their preferred narrative regardless.

It became apparent to you over the course of reading the article? You suddenly had insights about "conspiracy theorists" that allowed you to stop reading the article? Laughing

As far as 'disregarding facts that contradict one's preferred narrative' (and, btw, I like that description very much -- did you get it from the Manwell article?) haven't you just done this again? By dismissing a journal article by a researcher who has relevant education in such topics, in favour of a blog post by one of your preferred sources? A source who, btw, has no relevant education in these matters? How does this make you a credible contributor to this discussion?

jas

Kurtis Hagen wrote a paper that directly addresses our topic (see the opening post). This discussion is extremely pertinent today, as we seem to enter, at an ever more rapid pace, conditions that resemble a police state, complete with actual government murmurings about which groups and people might be suspect in this new 'War on Terror'-ized reality:

Sunstein and Vermeule argue that conspiracy theorists suffer from a "crippled epistemology" as a result of their informational isolation, and thus they need "cognitive diversity" introduced by infiltrating agents able to reframe their "stylized facts." Sunstein and Vermeule write: "...[W]e suggest a distinctive tactic for breaking up the hardcore of extremists who supply conspiracy theories: cognitive infiltration of extremist groups, whereby government agents or their allies (acting either virtually or in real space, and either openly or anonymously) will undermine the crippled epistemology of believers by planting doubts about the theories and stylized facts that circulate within such groups, thereby introducing beneficial cognitive diversity" (2009, 219).

Let's discuss stylized facts. Not always negative in connotation, a "stylized fact" can mean: a general claim that is widely accepted as true as a result of its (supposed) instantiation in a wide variety of contexts. Its presumed truth, then, serves to limit interpretations of phenomena. For example, the idea that conspiracy theories are unwarranted is a stylized fact in this sense. The common refrain, "I don't subscribe to conspiracy theories," suggests, as a general "fact," that conspiracy theories are always unwarranted, and that assumption (inappropriately) closes off the possibility of serious consideration of certain interpretations of events. Relatedly, "stylized fact" can refer to a simplified expression, or summary, of an empirical reality, which, being simplified, misses some (possibly significant) nuances. For example, Sunstein and Vermeule's presumption of a "well motivated" govemment, which they characterize as a "standard" assumption, may count as a stylized fact in both of the above senses. Is it true that the government is well motivated? Well, there may be some truth in the claim that it is, but that generalization glosses over some rather rough spots that may well be significant. (Was the Tuskegee Experiment "well motivated"?) And, the assumption closes off certain perfectly reasonable lines of inquiry.

Kurtis Hagen: Conspiracy Theories and Stylized Facts

Sean in Ottawa

I have a lot of trouble with the term conspiracy theorist. It seeks to divide society into those who believe conspiracies exist and those who don't labeling those who believe in them as crazy by definition no matter what they allege or what evidence exists.

Sorted that way, I must side with those who believe they exist. Small groups of people, in secret, conspire to effect actions or change trying to prevent others who are affected by the change from being aware of the change, the motivations and interests involved, and the effects of the change. To me that is a definition of a conspiracy.

When a conspiracy theory is proven it becomes history no longer remembered as a theory. There is a large body of outlandish theories used to discredit any emerging theory. Most of those I would admit to rejecting even as I object to the classification of conspiracy theories as a single thing.

To me the term conspiracy theorist is, through language, peer pressure to reject any non-conforming or challenging theory by lumping it in with previously widely rejected ideas.

I do think there are people who will believe uncritically almost anything that sounds argued no matter how poor the logic. However, there are also those who use the term conspiracy theorist to prevent any idea that is not part of the orthodoxy to take root. I would label as gullible both sides of the argument as two sides of the same coin.

6079_Smith_W

It is a pejorative term sure, but it can be fair comment. There are plenty of terms like that which are subjective - fascist and progressive, to name just two. But most of us manage to understand what they mean in context.

Of course some people are going to get their noses out of joint at being called one. So what? Again, when we are talking about seeing the same cabals behind absolutely everything, and the belief that even things that run counter to that are "false flags" it kind of begs the question.

And I agree that it can be on the spectrum of a psychological compulsion. The only person I ever had to unfriend on FB was a 9-11 truther who just wouldn't stop invading every conversation with that. I dropped him after repeated warnings.

The only technical question I would raise is when something crosses over from conspiracy theory to mass-delusion, which is something different. The international jewish conspiracy is the best example I can think of.

 

 

Mr. Magoo Mr. Magoo's picture

Quote:
Sorted that way, I must side with those who believe they exist.

I would hope everyone would agree that they do exist, or else why would we need a word for them?

But it's a huge, fallacious leap from that to "... so that means THIS was a conspiracy".

There's a world of difference between saying that yes, throughout history people have surely conspired to do various evils and not get caught, and saying that surely the Boston Marathon bombing was a staged false flag event, the victims were paid actors, and all the hospitals and first responders were in on the ruse.

What word SHOULD I use for people who, nearly fifty years later, persist in insisting the the moon landing happened on a secret sound stage in the desert?  Just honest, curious scientists on a quest for truth??

Sean in Ottawa

Mr. Magoo wrote:

Quote:
Sorted that way, I must side with those who believe they exist.

I would hope everyone would agree that they do exist, or else why would we need a word for them?

But it's a huge, fallacious leap from that to "... so that means THIS was a conspiracy".

There's a world of difference between saying that yes, throughout history people have surely conspired to do various evils and not get caught, and saying that surely the Boston Marathon bombing was a staged false flag event, the victims were paid actors, and all the hospitals and first responders were in on the ruse.

What word SHOULD I use for people who, nearly fifty years later, persist in insisting the the moon landing happened on a secret sound stage in the desert?  Just honest, curious scientists on a quest for truth??

I get your point, I wish there were a way of capturing these without painting all who might point to a conspiracy as a nut --  by definition. And there are truly outlandish ones that persist in spite of absolutely no evidence.

If I want to be a "conspiracy theorist" myself I could say that some of these theories could be promoted just to discredit the whole idea of conspiracies as a class. Unfortunately, I think they are spawned with such regularity that this would not be necessary. Still I think the sheer volume of absurd conspiracy allegations serves to discredit and undermine healthy critical thinking.

I don't have an answer although I consider those who think conspiracies against the public never happen to be as gullible as those who accept whichever latest grand conspiracy as fact.

 

 

jas

6079_Smith_W wrote:
It is a pejorative term sure, but it can be fair comment. There are plenty of terms like that which are subjective - fascist and progressive, to name just two. But most of us manage to understand what they mean in context.

Except that fascism can be identified by definite characteristics that most people discussing it can agree upon. Whereas the term "conspiracy theory" is almost always subjective, especially if it's deployed prior to even an examination of the information, which it almost always is. In my experience, it's almost always used dismissively. And this. imo, is the main reason why the term, in its present usage, exists.

Secondly, if we examine where and how power concentrates, it's very easy to see how conspiracies do or could arise. So a theory about the possibility of conspiracy amongst powerful or secret parties is not necessarily wrong, as some of these articles point out, and as history has shown.

So what, really, is the purpose of the term?

1) Yes, conspiracies exist, and therefore theories about them would make those theories "conspiracy theories". So what? Why is that a problem? And

2) You say it's often "fair comment". In what way is it? In other words, what are your defining characteristics of a conspiracy theory?

  • Does it always involve a Jewish cabal? (I, for one, don't subscribe to this "international jewish conspiracy" theme that you seem to have identified -- I wouldn't even know what all it involves.)
  • Does it always involve shape-shifting reptilians?
  • Does it always involve the CIA? Or holographic planes, or aliens?

What actually are you referring to when you use the term? Because, like anything else, if you can't define the term, you probably shouldn't be using it. Right?

jas

Thanks Sean, I appreciate your comments.

Sean in Ottawa wrote:

If I want to be a "conspiracy theorist" myself I could say that some of these theories could be promoted just to discredit the whole idea of conspiracies as a class.

If we can believe that Cass Sunstein promoted the ideas referenced above, and we accept the reality of paid internet trolls on so many other issues, then it is highly plausible that many of the more outlandish conspiracy theories have indeed been seeded into public discourse expressly to muddy the waters and discredit the legitimate inquiries.

6079_Smith_W

No actually, if you look at the definition, there isn't broad agreement on the meaning of "fascism", and most of the time the term is used pretty loosely. Even those who use it fairly aren't usually going by the technical definition, and it is no different for most of the political and social terms we use. I am actually okay with that, as I am with use of the term "conspiracy theorist", because there is a general understanding, And I'd say the meaning of "conspiracy theorist" is far less muddy.. If people don't like the fact that it is calling them on often obsessive behaviour and leaping to conclusions, cherrypicking and ignoring evidence to fit their theories, too bad. I'd say

Kind of interesting to see "legitimate" conspiracy theorists throwing those they consider illegitimate under the bus in an attempt to bolster their own claims of validity.

I shouldn't be surprised that is a plot too, but I don't think the whoppers were invented (by the CIA, I presume) as a means of discrediting the so-called legitimate. The history of the "The Plot" is documented pretty well, not just in Will Eisner's graphic novel of the same name. And I think the haters came up with holocaust denial all on their own.

 

 

jas

6079_Smith_W wrote:

No actually, if you look at the definition, there isn't broad agreement on the meaning of "fascism", and most of the time the term is used pretty loosely. Even those who use it fairly aren't usually going by the technical definition, and it is no different for most of the political and social terms we use. I am actually okay with that, as I am with use of the term "conspiracy theorist", because there is a general understanding, And I'd say the meaning of "conspiracy theorist" is far less muddy.. If people don't like the fact that it is calling them on often obsessive behaviour and leaping to conclusions, cherrypicking and ignoring evidence to fit their theories, too bad. 

If people are discussing historical instances of fascism, I would say there is fairly broad agreement on what the term means. So I'm not really clear on what point you're making.

If you define "conspiracy theory" as "leaping to conclusions, cherrypicking and ignoring evidence to fit their theories", I would point out to you that is not the literal definition of the term, and it is also a highly subjective definition. Which makes it, obviously, unreliable. How would you know, in any given instance, what is "leaping to conclusions" unless you actually examine the information?

I would also point out, as I have several times upthread, that the characteristics you identify are, for me and many others, what define so-called debunkers and pseudoskeptics. We can see quite clearly upthread a poster ignoring information presented from a journal article in favour of a blog post from one of her preferred sources. A source who, moreover, has no relevant background informing his opinion on that particular subject. Doesn't that sound exactly like the characteristics you mention? Does that make her a conspiracy theorist?

Caissa

I hate the use of the term fascism outside of its historic evolution. A conspiracy theorist would be someone who believes a conspiracy exists in the face of a preponderance of evidence to the contrary.

Misfit Misfit's picture

Welcome back Sean. It's good to read you again.

6079_Smith_W

Sorry jas, no cigar. Common usage is completely valid, as much as word-Nazis (not a poke at you; just a little demonstration of usage) might try to enforce strict definitions.

And @ Caissa I try not to do so either, mainly because I think it waters down the power of the word. Though "fascist" has been bent out of shape to the point that it is almost meaningless. Still, if someone wants to call George Bush or Stephen Harper a fascist I'm not going to get on their case about it just because it is not technically correct. There is some fair comment to it.

Same thing with "conspiracy theorist". This isn't about definitions, because we know what it means; it is because people know what it means that they balk at being called one.

Besides, if we started trying to look at traits and distinguish between conspiracy theorists and fundamentalist religious people, the rude and obsessive, dogmatic zealots, and the brainwashed and those who buy popular cultural and political myths (and yeah, there are some distinctions) this might be become an even more embarrassing and anger-inducing conversation.

 

jas

6079_Smith_W wrote:
Sorry jas, no cigar. Common usage is completely valid, as much as word-Nazis (not a poke at you; just a little demonstration of usage) might try to enforce strict definitions.

Actually what this discussion is showing you, Smith, is that it isn't valid.

Your justification alone proves why. You say, "WE know what we're talking about when we use it."  In your statement are a number of invalid assumptions. An unquantified and undefined "we", for one (what I referred to earlier as the false consensus); that this "we" also agrees on what the term means (how would you know?); and that the definition used by this "we" is valid, and does not need to subject itself to scrutiny. It should go without saying that this is not a valid basis for intelligent, democratic discourse.

jas

In fact, a comment you make above illustrates this flawed (and I would add, outrageous) reasoning:

6079_Smith_W wrote:
Kind of interesting to see "legitimate" conspiracy theorists throwing those they consider illegitimate under the bus in an attempt to bolster their own claims of validity.

According to Smith, I shouldn't throw Holocaust denial (his example) under the bus because I'm (in his mind) a conspiracy theorist. And we conspiracy theorists all stick together. Or, if I am throwing it under a bus, it's because I need to in order to give more validity to other conspiracy theories I support, and NOT because I find the idea utterly lacking in credibility. That means I must secretly be one of those people Smith has identified as supporting "international jewish conspiracy theories".

This also suggests, in a broad stroke, that questions I might raise about, say, the official 9/11 narrative, should be treated with the same derision as Holocaust denial by the very fact that you've thrown both sets of questions into the same dumpster. See how convenient that is for you? And intellectually dishonest?

6079_Smith_W

Not really.

Again, sorry, but no cigar, because since I am not the one saying we shouldn't call conspiracy theories and theorists for what they are, it is not for me to hold my nose at stuff that I would ordinarily call bullshit on. It is your moral dilemma, not mine.

And did I accust you of supporting "protocols" theories? No I did not, your claim aside.

I would add though, I think the term has a lot more to do with the attitude than the actual beliefs.

I have friends who believe in flying saucers and even 9-11 theories. I would consider myself agnostic about the first, in fact. 

I also have friends who have posted stuff by David Icke and Kevin Annett. I don't particularly care if people believe in that stuff, though I do take the time to fill them in. It is when they insist that I have to believe that nonsense as well, and won't stop getting in my face about it that I have no problem calling them conspiracy theorists.

 

 

 

Sean in Ottawa

Caissa wrote:

A conspiracy theorist would be someone who believes a conspiracy exists in the face of a preponderance of evidence to the contrary.

 

I agree this is the definition that is the most common.

However this term is thrown at anyone who has an unpopular idea that involves an allegation of secrecy that is neither proven nor disproven.

Perhaps this is partly caused by semantics -- the term suggests a person who comes up with conspiracy ideas. Yet it is used against people who come up with even just one such idea. The meaning is really, as Caissa says, those who hold on to disproven ideas despite so much evidence available that they really should know better.

The apparent definition, the common use, the literal meaning and the well-known connotation are at odds in such a way that the allegation can be used to suppress ideas that should be considered  as well as take out the trash.

 

Sean in Ottawa

Misfit wrote:
Welcome back Sean. It's good to read you again.

Thank you.

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