Sunday, May 10, 2020

On Conspiracies (Part Two)

(This is the second installment in my essay on conspiracies. Part One can be found here.)

Looking again to the conspiracy metric, we observe to the right of the Demonstrable Conspiracies category is the next major classifier: Open-Ended Conspiracies (OEC).

The OEC category, by far, contains the greatest number and variety of conspiracy theories, due to the fact that all conspiracy theories - no matter the subject - begin as open-ended.

It’s here that we find arguments for the existence of cabals of all sorts – usually bent on socio-political or socio-economic domination; also, assassinations, extraterrestrials, and plots intended to keep the public ignorant of knowledge that has been deemed verboten.

Conspiracies plotted on the metric begin as open-ended, before moving, by degrees, to the right or left along the x-axis. Movement of this kind indicates the extent to which the conspiracy might be considered demonstrable, as implied by the previously described category or fantastical, a quality attributed to the last conspiracy theory designation that I’ll define later. 

Now, what do I mean, open-ended?

Simply put, an open-ended conspiracy implies a condition where reliable sources of information are limited, or conversely, overabundant. As a result, reliable judgements on claims posed and evidence presented by a given conspiracy theory are impossible to entirely validate or invalidate.

The Bush Administration’s conspiracy to mislead the UN with regards to weapons of mass destruction in Iraq in 2003, for example - now classed in the DC category - would have been initially identified as an OEC.

Due to the scrutiny of international observers and reportage not beholden to Washington, however, the conspiracy – insofar as it was meant to obscure America’s intention to go to war regardless of UN consensus – was exposed, and the deception became common knowledge. 

As far as our metric goes, this revelation coincided with a shift into the DC category, as the historicity of the occasion became a matter of public record.   

Nearest to demonstrable status in the OEC category are conspiracy theories related to the assassination of former American President John F. Kennedy and African-American civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

A few degrees further along the spectrum we find the 9/11 truther movement, which is dedicated to promoting divergent accounts of the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York City and Washington.

This was, in fact, the topic upon which my friend and I discoursed when the germ of this essay was contrived. It brings to the fore an essential characteristic that can be related to the conspiracies listed in the OEC category; which is to say that, in one way or another, these conspiracies are demarcating the limits of what can be positively ascertained  – at least in comparison to the conspiracies classed in the DC category.

By the definition provided, the term open-ended paradoxically implies an epistemological barrier to reasonable certainty, or put another way, a barrier between what is known and unknown. 

I’ll elaborate. In the previous three cases, for example – the assassinations of Kennedy and King, and the 9/11 attacks – the historical record of each event has been complicated. 

Official accounts are disputed, counter-narratives are proposed, key evidence is lost or destroyed, witnesses die or are killed-off, individuals and organizations work at cross-purposes for reasons unrelated to the event itself...

For all these reasons and more, the conspiracies listed in the OEC category are inherently uncertain and lack epistemological veracity – that is, a coherent evidentiary basis, or in more colloquially terminology, the facts – to provide a foundation for meaningful social change.

Failing to inspire that change, 9/11 and assassination conspiracies become subjects of cultish devotion, with acolytes advancing their belief online and IRL with wild-eyed religiosity. 

Faith does not align the conspiracy perspective with any truer reality than the non-believer might perceive; instead, the conspiracy theory gets its context from an alternate world view, focused typically on a clandestine organization of powerful individuals who are thought to be the people really running things.

Whatever the particulars of the theories in this category, the idea of the alternate world view is the important takeaway here, for this perspective – no matter what sources inform it - becomes the ground in which all later conspiracy theories take root.

Now at the midpoint of the OEC category, we come to the problematic topic of racist conspiracies, a subject which requires more lucidity of thought than any of the concepts that have come before. 

Conspiracy theories of this sort, deleterious as they are to the better angels of human nature, pervade all societies, and must be confronted here, too, if this is an honest and complete exposition on the topic.

It’s distasteful to write about conspiracies predicated on race, religion or culture, albeit instructive to consider how easily any person might fall into patterns of tribal behavior, which - in its negative expressions - results in degenerate nationalism, unjust persecution of minorities, and exclusionary social practices.

This instinctive tendency – the bias - towards such behavior; the psychological predisposition that motivates human animals to organize around shared genetic, cultural or political heritage lands conspiracies of racist orientation in the OEC category, since it’s difficult, if not entirely impossible, to rule out the influence of such bias. 

But to be clear - the evidence is nigh conclusive - there is no genetic basis for believing different races of homo sapiens exist; that is a cultural creation, entirely

Yet there are individuals and organizations – whole societies, in fact – that will prop up the notion that one group of homo sapiens are inherently (that is to say, biologically/intellectually/spiritually) unique (that is to say, superior or inferior) to another group of homo sapiens. 

Jews throughout the centuries have been disproportionately represented in this case, at least in European history, where they have been made victims of real conspiracies and blamed for fanciful ones, then made scapegoats.

These fanciful conspiracies (by which I mean delusional) occupy a critical degree along the x-axis of the metric, and are pernicious in Western society, as they advance the notion that the world is controlled by Zionist politicians, bankers and entertainers.

It is here, at the critical degree marking the Jewish Cabal conspiracy, that the metric shows a sharp, parabolic rise on the y-axis to indicate increasing cognitive dissonance, growing, on average, at twice the rate of the increasing epistemological dissonance of the conspiracy theory measured on the x-axis.  

Why is this so? Not because, as I said earlier, humans are vulnerable to tribal thinking, or that we generally have difficulty shedding cultural and cognitive biases. That is a fact older than civilization. 

Rather, the psychological state experienced by an individual having greater dissonances in cognition and epistemology indicate a profound and intoxicating othering that takes place when angst, fear and ignorance experienced by a person (or group of people) is displaced to an external agent, whether that agent is a cultural group, a system of belief, the government, etc. 

This othering makes possible the magical thinking that can result in many forms of delusion, not the least of which is xenophobia that can and has reshaped whole societies. By tapping the tribal instincts of humanity’s ancient ancestors, shaped over many millennia, the demagogues who lead these societies are able to make their people believe all sorts of inane and dangerous notions.

Just past the critical degree that describes racist conspiracies, we find the most severe manifestations of the anti-vaccine movement, chem trail alarmists, as well as radical climate change deniers. As part of a conspiracy continuum, this movement along the metric implies a wider, even more seemingly malevolent othering at work in the world that puts the conspiracy theorist in imminent peril.   

If we consult the metric now, we see that we are on the threshold of a bizarre taxonomy. For it is among the conspiracy theories found at the far extreme of the OEC category that stories of Bigfoot, Loch Ness, fringe technology, ancient artifacts, Atlantis, extraterrestrials and forbidden archaeology prevail.

Subjects like these, in and of themselves, are not inherently conspiratorial. Conspiracy arises from the belief that information about these topics is being knowingly suppressed or maliciously invalidated by the prevailing authority, which is usually institutional in origin.

Situating this exotica where it is on the metric does not indicate belief in a racist conspiracy is the intellectual precondition to assertions that the public isn’t getting the straight goods about Earth’s zoology, or that human civilization is older than six thousand years. Believing in Bigfoot does not a Nazi make, and just because a person thinks Atlantis existed doesn’t mean they’re bigoted.

This menagerie has been put where it is on the metric because it’s the furthest measure yet of things outside the realm of day-to-day experience. Hence these theories rely on anecdotal accounts and subjective impressions, and tend to be increasingly fantastical in content.

Even so-called physical evidence – video of anomalous aerial phenomena, ancient underwater ruins and misshapen animal skeletons – can’t validate claims in theories derived from such artifacts without a contextualizing perspective that authenticates the assertion.

Fig.2 shows how a re-visioning of the conspiracy metric might position the center axis [x,y] in the middle of the OEC category, where negative integers along the x-axis would indicate movement toward the DC category, and positive integers in the other direction would occupy the third category.