Archive for the ‘conspiracy theory’ Category


April 9, 2018 Leave a comment

Friday night I met Lucien Grieves, the founder of the Satanic Temple, at the CFI Headquarters in Buffalo. The Satanic Temple is a non-theistic religious group (meaning they are defined by law as a religious group) that has a couple of goals. The first is helping to maintain the separation of church and state by suing over laws that favor one religion over another or that privilege religion over non-religion. The second was the purpose of the talk on Friday night: to expose an ongoing pseudo-scientific strain that has infected the study of psychology since the “Satanic Panic” of the 1980s and 90s.

Their focus has primarily been on the International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation (ISSTD). This is a group that focuses on dissociative identity disorder (what we used to call multiple personality disorder) and the relation between that condition and abuse related trauma. On the surface it seems like this is actually science or at least a proto-science that they are seeking to gain credibility with. I’m not a psychologist so I can’t speak of the truth of DID only to say that the general consensus amongst experts is that it is a real condition but it is controversial as to what the condition actually is. The problem lies in whether the alternate personalities (alters in the literature) are socially constructed or a direct result of the trauma itself. In either case, again, I’m not qualified to weigh on this part of the debate.

What I am qualified to speak about is where it comes from or where it doesn’t in actuality. How DID manifests is a difficult issue, but we know one thing: that Satanic mind control, Illuminati training, and witch rituals aren’t the origin. This is what the Grieves spoke about: that this otherwise normally sounding organization, the ISSTD, looks on the surface to be tackling a legitimate subject just below the surface are the panic mongers instilling fear of groups which do not exist who have powers beyond the scope of the normal world.

This is all related to the Satanic Panic. The allegations during the panic where that children could be psychologically abused in such a way that the abuser could force their minds to forget the abuse and to create an alternate personality that would shield their true self from the memory. The members of the ISSTD, medical professionals, all believe that this is true. In 2014 Rachel Thomas presented on patients being abused by lizard aliens, which I suppose is one step above David Icke’s theory since they at least live in this dimension.

The general problem is not whether DID exists, it is not research into childhood trauma, it is in where that trauma originates. Aliens, Lizard Aliens, Satanic Cults, and Witch Covens do not kidnap children for these purposes because these groups do not exist in this fashion. The hysteria over it does, and a culture that believes in these things will treat them as though they are real. ISSTD presenter Neil Brick, claims that he was a programmed psychic assassin by a joint operation of the Illuminati and Freemasons (because why not check all the boxes in my conspiracy bingo card). None of this is happening, it isn’t now and it wasn’t in the 80s.

I remember that the original panic well. I followed it on the news because it was weird and to be honest I can’t honestly say that I was doubtful about it. When people those days said something on television, I didn’t have my skepticism/cynicism that I have today. I do remember the church that I attended taking it much more seriously than they should have. However given the current Pope’s endorsement of the exorcists I guess nothing has really changed. They gave us a work sheet full of Satanic symbols, lectured us on the necessity of being aware of Satanists in our neghborhoods, and then brought a local cop out to inform us about the legal ramifications. I will note that the cop was not buying it but she said we should look out for drug use and vandalism.

The biggest mystery of the panic to me is where it came from and why it took hold. My research has it starting with the book “Michelle Remembers” by Lawrence Pazder and his former patient/future wife Michelle Smith about her experiences of being a sexual abuse victim in a Satanic cult. The book has been thoroughly disproven not only by the incredibleness of the claims but the impossibility of them as well (Events in the book could not be corroborated  by outside sources but also it would require Michelle to have been in two places at the same time given the 61 day ritual described in the book). Fiction is usually the place to look, and with the popularity of The Exorcist a few years prior that seems likely, just as reports of alien abduction immediately followed the success of Close Encounters of the Third Kind (similarly fear of nuclear power following the movie The China Syndrome which just preceded the Three Mile Island accident [of which the latter harmed no one]).

The why question is more mysterious though, why did this take hold at the time that it did rather than any other time before or after? The majority of Americans seem to recognize the crazy now. People are getting smarter, but before the 80s this didn’t happen either. A couple of sources I’ve read point to the rise in television evangelism, but that seems to be a symptom rather than the cause. What drove the profitability of television evangelism to the point where they could push a paranoid view of a world where Satanic cults kidnap and murder children? Why was it accepted? These are the important questions as we ponder how this incredible phenomenon still has ripples that affect the world today.


Uprooting a Belief

October 16, 2017 Leave a comment

I’ve just finished writing my presentation for the CFI (Center for Inquiry) that I’m going to give on Friday on conspiracy theories. I close with advise on what a person can do to prevent themselves from turning into a conspiracy theorist: think logically, apply Occam’s razor, and generalize the theory to the world at large. It’s not a full proof system, but it’s at least a start. I do not go into how to uproot the theories in other people, that’s a much more difficult process considering the number of psychological guards that every person has against finding out something they believe is wrong.

First, our brain regularly shuts out this kind of proof. Especially when we attach our beliefs to our individual sense of identity. With these kinds beliefs it’s not merely something that we believe it is something that we are. The deeper a person is in conspiracy thinking the more that it is a defining aspect of their personality. In order to take a person out of it, you would have to convince them not that their idea was wrong but that their personality was wrong. This is, I think, obviously going to be difficult.

What’s the solution then? Is it merely hopeless?

No, it just has to be understood that tossing counter-evidence at a person isn’t going to work. In a perfect world, it should. I believe the Earth is flat, someone shows me a globe, and then I drop the belief entirely. However, that’s not the usual exchange. The person doesn’t believe in flat earth, they are a flat earther. While the change in language is very slight, it is an important change. Everything that props up the flat earth theory also props up their idea of who they are.

The same can be applied to religious thinking as well. Let’s take Mormonism. A person doesn’t believe the book of Mormon or the related teachings. They are Mormon and everything else is part of that. You can toss a number of things at the individual, the life of Joseph Smith (the conman), the absurdity of the story of the origin of the book, the book itself being full of contradictions and anachronistic impossibilities, the belief system with its absurdities, etc. None of this will matter to a person who isn’t already doubting, they will merely double down on their belief system and then probably pray for your soul while secretly planning on baptizing you after death.

The strategy against the true believer is to get them to arrive at their own conclusion by asking subtle and directed questions that will lead them to such doubt. If you know a woman that is a Mormon and into women’s rights, it might work to ask about the passages in the book of Mormon that discuss women. Or point out the famous 2 Timothy passage in the Bible that says a woman shall have no authority over a man and shall suffer in silence. That may lead them to the position that, yes, perhaps my identity is wrapped up in a system that will always judge me to be inferior.

It’s a difficult process to understand but the truth is always more difficult to understand than a comforting lie. I see this problem with the newly deconverted, they just discovered Hitchens and think that a long sustained barrage of facts is going to deconvert everyone around them. The problem here is that it’s new to that person, they realize, ‘holy shit the bible is full of self-contradictory passages that totally make the entire thing pointless. I need to share it.’

What they forget is the long mental process where they arrived at a place that they could begin to question their holy text in the first place.  Perhaps it was a contradiction that first made that individual realize there were problems with their beliefs, but something else preceded it. It might have been as inane as just being bored, or perhaps really paying attention to the lyrics of a song, but it’s a process by which I have yet to find a shortcut through.

A 9/11 truther who likes to scream the mantra “jet fuel doesn’t burn that hot” doesn’t want to be told the science about why it doesn’t have to burn that hot. Short answer: steel loses structural integrity about half way to its melting point, which along with uneven heating of the I-beams caused them to warp and buckle. They want to scream, “I know a secret thing that I figured out and the rest of the people have not.” Conspiracists believe they are special in that they believe the conspiracy.

It might even be more difficult with them because more often than not they chose to be conspiracy theorists. Unlike a religious person who was born into a religion based on location and family, the conspiracist had to find their information on their own. They had to look at historical event or fact of the world, and then find the alternative explanation/fact, then assent to it. They have the mental feeling of accomplishment backing up their belief. I would liken it to those who believe they were “born again.”

Though, most conspiracy theories don’t traffic in immortal souls. So there’s the problem of infinity to tackle with here. That would mean the effective strategy would be to instill a doubt in eternal punishment, then hope that leads to the further questioning of the rest of the edifice of belief.

The similarities between the two are rather compelling. They are both non-scientific, non-fact, worldviews based on belief and a rejection of experts. They are both incredibly hard to remove from the individual. Both groups are quite vocal when criticized and more aggressive in social media. And they’ll both ridicule the other except when it overlaps. In each case it takes patience and subtlety to deal with them.

The September 23rd ridiculousness

September 18, 2017 Leave a comment

Did you know that the world was going to end on Friday the 23rd of September? It isn’t, but there enough people that think it will that garnered an article on Fox News “Science” page. My first question is: how many apocalypses have I lived through? Is it five, it feels like five. It’s been at least two in the last three years, and then there was the 2012 bullshit. I definitely remember one having to deal with a red heifer. It’s hard to keep track of all these things. This is only counting the ones that made the news. I’m sure the world is supposed to end every day according to someone.

The prophecy is the usual mess of cherry picking quotes from whatever text fits. In this case it’s Luke 21:25-26 and Revelation 21:1-2. The latter reads: “And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of 12 stars. She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pains and the agony of giving birth.”

The break down of this is: John, the author of the Revelation, was clearly in the midst of a fever dream. Setting that aside, the interpretation has to with numerology and astrology. The backbone of every bronze age religion that is still kicking. The passage is cited because on September 23rd, the astrological sign Venus, will contain the sun, moon, as well as the planet Jupiter. Get it? The sun will be in the constellation (though not really because the sun would have to be a lot further away in order to be “in” the constellation) metaphorically “clothing” it. The constellation will be over the moon’s position, so there’s that. Also three planets and nine stars will be above it. Except that literally billions of stars are going to be both above and below the constellation. This interpretation just concentrates on the nine stars so there you go, really that’s all I could get out of the Revelation passages. Our first question is how did we arrive at the date?

Well remember the Eclipse? That was on August 21st, and September 23rd is 33 days from that. Jesus lived on Earth for 33 years, simple addition and boom! Apocalypse. Yes, like the ancient world that thought an eclipse was a portent of doom, we’ve apparently not advanced passed this superstition in the last couple millenia. Also the whole thing also revolves around the mysterious Earth shattering planetoid/planet/meteor Nibiru–which doesn’t exist, but if non-existence were a barrier to belief I wouldn’t need to write this blog.

This leaves us with the aforementioned Luke passages 21:25-26 “There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. People will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. 26: Men’s hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth: for the powers of heaven shall be shaken.'”

How did we arrive here. Again refer back to the Eclipse on the 21st, the Hurricane hit Texas on the 25th and then the flooding on the 26th. Yeah, that’s it. Here we can see the obvious cherry picking because there’s nothing to indicate why it would be Luke and not any of the other three gospel writers…or perhaps any other book in the Bible, in Exodus we just miss the “eye for an eye” speech. Perhaps that’s why it gets tossed out.

This is obvious bullshit, but it shows the arbitrariness of numerology. Just pick one day, something significant, and then find everything that fits the pre-ordained conclusion. What’s more interesting is this article, in which the author tries to explain how “No True Christian” would believe this. The first thing he does is argue that there is no such thing as a Christian Numerologist, and then deftly explains why these bible code prophecies are prima facie false. On the latter part I agree, but on the former: afraid not buddy.

I was raised Catholic, which is one of the more scientifically literate versions of Christianity, and I was taught the numbers thing. I was taught that the numbers 3, 7, 8, 12, 40, and 1,000 were significant which is why the bible uses those numbers so often. Revelations uses 3 a significant number of times. This makes sense given the time it was written and the impact of Pythagorean philosophy on Greek culture. The “thousand” is an interesting concept because, again in ancient Greek, there are no numbers above a thousand. Anything beyond that was considered “innumerable” such as the number of atoms in the universe. This sometimes gets confused with “infinite” and I take umbrage with some of those interpretations (looking at you Aristotle).

Claiming that there are no Christian numerologists is a claim you can only make if you’re falling into the “Scotsman” fallacy and make the terms “Numerologist” and “Christian” mutually exclusive. As I just said in the previous example, and setting my religious education aside–you can’t make this claim. You can minimize the impact of numerology by saying it’s an old superstition, but that leads to a dark road where you have to begin admitting that prophecies based on numbers (the entire book of Revelation) are irrelevant. Though, to be fair, this too can be dismissed reasonably but that leads to the splitting of hairs so that only a certain type of belief is permissible. Which then gets us back into the differences of sects and what it means to be an actual Christian. We probably don’t want that…again.

*I neglected to link the actual prophecy page on purpose. It will become irrelevant in a few days anyway.

The Flat Earth

July 10, 2017 Leave a comment

For the last month I’ve been working on a companion blog to the course I teach entitled “Conspiracy Theories, Skepticism, and Critical Thinking.” I’ve set it up over at Blogger, for the particular reasons that when I clicked on the link “set up blog” it sent me there. I imagine it’s somehow easier because it will then be linked on the course dashboard, so it saves the students the trouble of having to tap twice.

This post is not an advertisement for the other blog (although you can click the link above if you are so inclined), it’s a different tone in writing and is designed for students taking the course. I provide sources and citations when it becomes necessary, there’s also a lot more editing done. This blog is more personal and I do not share personal stories with my students. Thus far the posts have been methodology, with a couple of historical conspiracies thrown in. Yesterday though, after finishing the historical-factual conspiracies it was time to delve into one actual conspiracy theory to just give an example of how everything works. That theory, the one I always start with, is the Flat Earth Theory.

Briefly, flat Earth theory is the idea that the earth is flat, and a huge conspiracy exists that covers this up. The weird thing is, and this has been the story of my class, I started covering it as a goof. An example of something no one seriously believed except a few die hards on the internet, but then it started making the news. Rapper BoB got in a fight with Neil Degrasse Tyson (whom I’m supposed to hate because I’m in Philosophy but I don’t, he makes a good point), then a bunch of NBA players jumped on board as well. Now there are billboards claiming “Research Flat Earth” which, is the exact wrong thing they want to recommend.

We’re not here for the conspiracy, we’re here for the atheism. The first question I ask is why anyone would believe this, and the first answer is religious literalism. When I say this: I mean Ken Ham style the bible is literally true, every word, every sentence, no metaphor. Though I don’t know if Ken Ham is a flat earther, but he should be.

The Old Testament of the Bible describes the Earth like it would a modern indoor sport’s stadium. There’s a dome, a foundation, of which the Earth is in-between. References to this include, but are not limited to: Psalm 19:1, Isaiah 45:12, Daniel 4:10-11. There’s other references that explain in more detail the “firmament” where the water is held before the flood, and some others of more ambiguous quality. The New Testament doesn’t escape this either, the famous temptation of Jesus in the desert (Matthew 4:8) has Satan tempting Jesus by taking him to high place and showing him all the kingdoms of the Earth. This is only possible if the Earth is flat, given the kingdoms in China and the Americas at the time (to name a few that are blocked by the curvature of the Earth). It also refers to the “four corners of the Earth” at 1:7 and 7:1. Part 3 of the Middle Eastern trilogy doesn’t escape either as Surahs 15:19, 18:47, 20:53, for example explain that the Earth has been rolled out like a mat or shaped like a bed.

So what gives here? Was the Earth flat until the end of the Quran where god changed the shape of it like in Tolkien? Or did the writers of these works of religious sanctimony get it wrong? If god wrote the books, or inspired their words, then they ought to be free from such egregious error. This isn’t like the claim in the Old Testament, where bats are listed as unclean birds. I mean, that’s pretty bad, but I suppose to the author a flying creature is a flying creature; this is a fundamental error on the shape of the planet that the creator designed (and then wrote the description of the design).

Apologists will argue that this is metaphor. That of course the Earth does not literally live underneath a firmamental dome and no one really thought so, just as “Homer” didn’t actually believe that that the sky was “vaulted.” The story of the temptation is just a story, and probably metaphorical (Satan give what he doesn’t own anyway). The Quran is just stating that the world is unfurled before the servant of god like one rolls out a carpet. It’s metaphor plain and simple. Right, sure, I agree. Those stories are just stories and certainly not accurate descriptions of the world, nature, or places that probably didn’t exist.

However, that’s not who this post is directed against. It’s directed against those that take the words literally. The people that define the world as being 6000 years old because that’s what the genealogy of the Bible would put it as. The ones which sue to remove Evolution from science classes because it contradicts what it says in Genesis (remember the Quran adopts wholesale the account of creation and most of Genesis and Exodus, I’m not just picking on the Christians, Creationism is also a problem in Muslim countries as well).

They have to adopt the flat earth model as well. They can’t escape what the words actually say and any attempt to do so, as I have done above, would be to renounce the literalism that they feel is such an imperative that they go to court to suppress any opposition. What I would like to understand, is their justification for rejecting the flat earth cosmogony that their books recommend. If their justification is that the flat earth is ridiculous that says a lot about their literalism as well.


The Interview

June 19, 2017 Leave a comment

A little break from the atheism to talk about the insanity of Alex Jones and the Megyn Kelly interview from last night.

Which I didn’t watch.

I didn’t watch it because I already know what’s about to happen, and he’s quite unbearable if you’re familiar with his shtick. I’m old enough to remember Pauly Shore, and it took halfway through the second movie before I thought, “Alright enough, it’s not funny anymore.” Jones is like that…minus anything that could pass for intentional comedy.

I didn’t boycott the interview, nor did I sign a petition, email an ad buyer, or put a long winded diatribe on facebook/twitter in which I chastised NBC or Kelly for airing the interview. In fact, this is what I wrote when I learned of the interview, “Alex Jones is an opportunistic piece of shit, but he tends to self-destruct when interviewed. Yes, he’s a Sandy Hook denier, but he’s also a total nutter. The interview might just expose him for being that.”

The boycott that erupted in response to the interview was an understandable one. Though I was mystified by it’s sole focus: the Sandy Hook denial. It’s horrible, it’s absurd, but it’s nothing more than he does on a daily basis. It’s also not the only thing he denies happened. I have a joke in my skepticism classes that every single time a shooting occurs it takes 24 hours, at the most, before Jones will either deny it happened or call it a false flag. I’m rarely wrong with that prediction (the baseball shooting was a remarkable exception).

We should be clear about what he’s saying with the Sandy Hook massacre. He’s not saying that the lone gunman didn’t do it, and that it was a coordinated attack by the deep state, or whoever his boogey man was at the time. He was saying that it didn’t happen. Everything from the dead bodies, the grieving parents, and the school was staged. I’ve looked into this theory, it is part of my job, and it’s just bad. I don’t buy into any conspiracy theory, maybe the Taylor Swift/Katy Perry feud is just marketing, maybe Ali’s first championship fight was a thrown fight (not on his behalf though, the theory is that his opponent was heavily in debt), maybe Michael Jordan’s foray into baseball was a secret suspension due to his gambling problems, but those are all theories that require few people and a low amount of moving parts to accomplish.

The 9/11 Conspiracy theory, in it’s absolute vastness, did raise some questions that I had to look up. I never once doubted the actual story, but there were some weird anomalies (which is all that theory relies on: anomaly hunting) that made the conspiracists somewhat reasonable, i.e. jet fuel and I-beams; but all of that is easily explainable.  I say reasonable because it’s a theory based on incomplete information filled in by a hack screenwriter and a rather decently produced “documentary” that was started as a teaser for an X-Files type movie.

The Sandy Hook theory was pure fiction. It wasn’t based on incomplete information, it was based on a fetish-like need to protect guns. There is very little anomaly hunting (home value listings were dropped to zero shortly after the shooting but then were fixed by the new year) and the “if you squint and want to believe it” idea that there existed crisis actors. Jones was the lead propagator of this theory. Even going on CNN at the time to claim conspiracy, though not going far enough on air to spout the “it didn’t happen” theory.

Any major event, again minus the baseball shooting, he’s on the radio in between hocking bullshit “nutritional” supplements and gold, claiming that it was a plot by the government. I get why the boycott groups focus on this theory of his: it was horrific even by mass shooting standards, the parents of the deceased children received hate mail and death threats. Yet everything from the Pulse Night Club shooting to the Boston Marathon bombing was fair game as well.

I have no issue with the boycott. Don’t want to watch it, don’t. Don’t frequent companies that sponsor the show, even write asking them to stop sponsorship. Those are fine.

However, that’s also the rub. The people, like me, who are familiar with him don’t want to watch him, but there’s a lot of people that aren’t and I have to agree with Bill Maher with people like this: they die in sunlight, with one important difference. The difference between someone like Jones and Yiannopolis is that Yiannopolis is a professional troll. His whole thing is pissing people off by being such a flagrant asshole (I mean pearls? C’mon, this isn’t the 1930s) giving him light doesn’t matter. Jones on the other hand, is regarded by a certain aspect of conservatism as a fringe guy that some people believe. Yet no one looks too hard at him.

Giving him this type of interview exposes his belief. William F. Buckley Jr. threw the John Birch society out of the GOP in 1962 for their outrageous claims regarding water fluoridation, and that then president Eisenhower was a Soviet sympathizer (or at worst, a Soviet Agent). While the Birch society has started as just a conservative group it quickly, under the operation of its founder Robert Welch, turned into the kind of nuttery that we see in Alex Jones today. This is important because the president has not only appeared on Jones’ Infowars, but endorsed his views, and given them press access.

This is a guy who talks about “life extension technology” and began screaming about “inhuman intelligence” on his show. He’s probably the biggest driving force behind the pizzagate attack and I doubt many people were aware of who he is or what kind of things he says. They probably regarded him only as another right wing pundit who is a little more extreme than the rest of them. Now however, he can’t be merely regarded as that, but instead as the insanity spouting conspiracy nut that he is. Hopefully this will encourage more people to denounce his views, maybe even the president.



Rigged Election

October 19, 2016 1 comment

From time to time I stray away from thoughts on religion and indulge myself with a post on my skepticism. For new people to the blog (as I’m happily gaining followers) I teach a course on Skepticism with a focus on conspiracy theories. It’s an interesting topic because almost every conspiracy theory falls into the same traps, and to list a few (and this list is by no means comprehensive): they have no evidence, they rely on coincidence, and they would collapse under their own weight if they were true.

The last one is a subtle accusation and one that most people would deny. Sure it’s possible that all of these theories could be true, but that’s “possible” in the strictly logical sense of the word, as in there is inherent impossibility that these ideas possess. Whether or not they are plausible is a completely different story, and they are not. There are very few conspiracy theories that have even the remotest inkling of plausibility. Simply because of the numbers. Italian philosopher, politician, playwright, and guy who tries to steal a river (with Leonardo Da Vinci): Niccolo Machiavelli wrote that people cannot keep secrets. If a person needs to tell a person they need to tell no more than one person because the secrets get out otherwise. For almost every conspiracy theory to be true they require a vast amount of people acting in perfect concert and with a 100% success rate of secrecy.

Right now, GOP-ish candidate for US president is complaining that the election is rigged against him. This is an odd claim for someone to make before the election happens, and especially odd with three weeks to go, but nonetheless he’s attempting to delegitimize the election process so that he can go along in his happy little world never having to admit that it was him a majority of Americans are happily rejecting. Further he’s trying to claim that something called “the media” is against him as well. This claim is so pervasive that journalists who are assigned to cover his campaign are now assigned security to protect them against perceived threats from his supporters. Again, it’s the fault that he’s a simpleton whose appeal does not extend beyond a strain of nationalism that was, and I repeat was, lying underneath the mainstream American culture–no, it’s because the media is out to get him. Their methodology is apparently repeating the things that he’s said.

Let’s assume that he’s right and there is a conspiracy between the election process (in his own party as well) and the media. The simple question to ask is this: how many people would it take to conduct it? Machiavelli’s point about conspiracies is that they fail because too many people talk and eventually the authorities find out. The example I use in class is Gunpowder plot in England. It failed, not only because Guy Fawkes literally fell asleep at the match of gunpowder he was supposed to ignite, but also because someone who knew told Lord Monteagle to not show up to Parliament that day. Lord Monteagle expressed concern about the number of fellow Catholics that would have died in the explosion (although one analysis shows that there would have been no bang as the gunpowder had gotten wet due to the damp weather in London that year) and turned the letter in.

So back the question how many journalists? Given that most news media in the United States are at least sending a person to cover the election in person it’s a lot of people. That number increases when you consider in studio personnel that offer analysis from the field, moderators of the debates, newspaper editors, interns, owners of the newspapers, television editors, online media writers, editors, and support staff. Even at a conservative number we are talking thousands of individuals. I’ve tried to check on just one station but the numbers aren’t readily available.

You have to think about this because it doesn’t stand up to any kind of scrutiny. It’s simply way too many people for no one to have spilled the secret. What’s more important is that we realize that journalists are in the job of spilling secrets. They decided to get into a profession that literally is about telling people things and have decided to remain quiet about what would undoubtedly be the biggest story in American politics. Even if some of them said no, for this conspiracy to be true, it means they turned down whatever offer they were given because of integrity and then decided they wouldn’t talk about it anyway. Of course, the average conspiracist, is going to say that it’s because the editors are the ones in control. That type of argument may have worked in the past, but now with the internet it no longer holds any water. Sure, my editor can say no but then I can just go online and post the video/audio of being told not to talk about it, or I can just hop on any number of free hosting site (like and write about it.

Finally, there isn’t a “the media” to begin with. “The media” is a collective noun we use to refer to a large group made up of individual news agencies. Everything from CNN to the BBC is “the media” and these are, in the United States at least, in competition with each other. This conspiracy, if it were true, is assuming that there is this one huge story that any number of these individuals could report on but all are collectively agreeing to keep it shut. A news report with actual proof that there is this agreement would garner not only a huge number of viewers/listeners but also the kind of media trust of Walter Cronkite levels that would guarantee it a loyal viewership in the far future. CNN’s moment came during the 1991 Gulf War and they are still trading on that reputation.

Rigging the election would require even more secrecy by a greater number of people. This in light of the fact that rigging any election is a federal crime. A whistle blower would be a hero if any of these accusations were true. Perhaps this type of crime would finally excise –gate from everything and we could call crimes and scandals something else for once. Too many people are required to pull this thing off.

All of that said, there is one part of the election that is rigged: the population of America are ill disposed to elect someone like Trump and that is what the system should do.

It’s Because of Emotion

September 8, 2016 2 comments

One of things I’ve mentioned over the course of this blog is that for the last five semesters (2.5 years) is that I teach a class titled, “Conspiracy Theories, Critical Thinking, and Skepticism.” I try and impart to the students the ability to discern a conspiracy theory from a historical fact, from an actual hypothesis about what is going on, and how to identify the beginning of a conspiracy theory before the person finishes speaking. There are many “tells.” For the most part the class runs pretty well, I used to be a conspiracy theorist back in the 90s (when you had to go to the library for information) and my personal experience informs a great deal of my psychological insight into the phenomenon.

However, in the 90s, there wasn’t social media. You had to write a letter to the editor in hopes of reaching a wide range of people, and then hope that it was printed in the paper. Barring that you had to consult the alt-media, the city free papers, and such. So there’s one facet of the conspiracy angle that I don’t understand but I may have had an insight into it purely by accident. I can tell you exactly who, on my friend’s list, is a Trump voter/Bernie voter/or ultra fundamentalist Christian. I can say who exactly believes there is a war on cops, a war on Christianity, a war on Christmas–and I can do this because they constantly post in their news feed about it. A study in Plos One by Bessi et. al (2012) reported that the more one believes in conspiracy theories the more aggressive they are on social media…by a long shot. If they are true believers they have to remind themselves and others repeatedly of the various things that they believe or have “discovered.” This is the thing that I don’t understand.

If you look at someone who believes in conspiracies involving GMOs, Big Pharma, or any pseudo-health claims, they constantly post. However if you don’t believe those things and rest your knowledge of health claims on what the accepted medical science believes (or biology) then you tend not to mention it. As a skeptic I’ll ocassionally post something crazy that I’ve read on the internet regarding acupuncture or raw milk because I think the beliefs are daffy. If I find a belief that is particularly dangerous, I’ll post a warning (don’t use black salve for instance). With the exception of posting refuting articles from Snopes, I tend to leave it alone. What’s the point really? I’m not going to constantly post things that are real and not based on opinion: that’s actually boring.

That leaves us with the having to assume the motives behind the aggressive posting. The first hypothesis is that they are trying to do the right thing. They discovered the truth and are trying to let everyone else know what it is. That’s the actual best case scenario. However, given that they often caption their posts with insults to those that don’t believe it we should throw that option out. If they are trying to warn us about the destruction of Christian America due to the influx of Muslim ISIS immigrants then why insult “libtards” for being stupid? This kind of behavior leads me to the second hypothesis.

This is that they want to feel superior to everyone else. They found out the truth, they are special, and the rest of us are morons for buying into the official story. It’s a unique dynamic in American political discourse with these people. It’s not that I, am just coming from a different perspective, it’s that I actually am un-American for not agreeing with them. It’s not that I support a different view of the country, but that in not supporting Trump I might as well join ISIS and blow up a building for voting for anyone else. They want to portray themselves as the Red Dawn Wolverines fighting the oncoming hordes of (Muslims, Atheists, Abortionists,…whoever). However these posts lack the type of smugness that is usually reserved for people that think they are correct. I admit that I post with some smugness when I post about the record levels of crime in this country (that record being low) because I have the facts on my side. Yet these people aren’t doing that either. This leads me to the third hypothesis.

They need constant reminding of their beliefs. The echo chamber cannot sustain itself by one voice, eventually that dies out. What the constant posting does is keep that echo going, it keeps reminding them, “the thing your saying is true, because it is being said.” If we assume the counter-factual, that Monsanto really is killing natural farmers and giving people GMOs so that they (insert whatever desired result here) then these people would be persecuted. Yet they aren’t, so they have to scream their opinions as loudly as possible so that when someone tells them to be quiet they can point as if to say “see, that person wants me to suppress my speech.” Otherwise it won’t happen.

Look at the “war on religion.” It’s not happening, there isn’t one church that the government has closed by virtue of being a church. President Obama hasn’t ordered the execution of Christians, people still celebrate Christmas, but to hear them tell it they have to hide the crosses they display on their necks, in their houses, and in front of their churches. The facts don’t fit their worldview. However, if they can shout down the facts, and get like minded people to shout down the facts, their anger and desire to be persecuted can continue to fester. Because all of it, all of the conspiracy beliefs, the religious persecution beliefs, it’s all an emotional creation. The objective world does not conform to it, and once their aggression subsides they will be forced to realize the truth: that none of these beliefs are real.