Tag Archives: conspiracy theories

The Sinister Urge

Vox had a pretty good explainer breaking down Louis “I literally claimed to have fried my brain” Mensch, John “Srebrenica never happened BTW here’s a photo of my dick” Schindler, and some other shlub I’ve thankfully never heard of. If fate has been merciful to you and you are not familiar with these internet personalities, I’ll give you the gist. Basically ever since the election of Orange Man, certain people have made a career out of not only claiming that the Russians collude with Trump or that they interfered with the election (both claims with some evidence), but that Trump’s election was in fact the result of a secret Russian operation which, according to some “woke” Twitter pundits, may have spanned decades, all the way back to the late Soviet era.

Being Vox, they naturally had to include a large portion detailing a psychology experiment that would supposedly help explain why people, even super-smart liberals, would fall for conspiracy theories. I’m not disputing the experiment, of course, but I think there’s a much simpler explanation and it’s not one most liberals would like to admit. I strongly suspect that many liberals have long held an urge to immerse themselves in the conspiratorial thinking that was once largely the domain of the right. Maintaining the veneer of rationality is in some way discomforting to them.

I remind the reader that in a recent post, I pointed out how most people don’t have a coherent, consistent political worldview and don’t care whether or not they do. The same goes for a lot of self-identified liberals. Liberals have always had a few conspiracy theories to their name. Bring up Monsanto and you’ll often see what I mean. Bill Maher, a liberal’s liberal, is anti-vaccine because “Big Pharma!” For many liberals, I suspect that the appearance of being rational is more important, and it’s not hard to appear rational when your opponents often sound like random word generators spitting out an incoherent stream of “Where’s the birth certificate?!” and “Benghazi!!!

But liberals have a huge problem- despite the fact that their values are largely more popular (based on surveys), the fact that their views largely dominate pop culture, and the “fact” that they are so much smarter than those hordes of ignorant rednecks who didn’t even go to college (I know, right?! LOL!), liberals have basically been losing on every front for the past eight years. As some talented observers have noted, eight years of Obama didn’t really bring much meaningful change. The most significant change was increasingly right wing Republicans virtually dominating the federal government and state governments as well. This wasn’t supposed to happen! The data failed!

Nothing serves as a premise for an overarching conspiracy theory like a good back-stab legend. When you’re too afraid to be honest with yourself and you’re convinced that you’re more intelligent and savvy yet you still lose again and again, you become vulnerable to conspiracy narratives. Losing the 2016 election to an elderly sociopath with the mental capacity of a toddler should have been a sobering moment for the Democratic Party. Plenty of supporters have been telling them exactly that. However they are repeatedly being dismissed for their disloyalty to the Eternal First Female President and their apostasy from the true faith of the Holy Data and the Holy Model. Naturally, many who keep the true faith are more than happy to latch onto a soothing, yet implicitly frightening explanation- that Russia is manipulating US politics from afar. Like any conspiracy theory it is paranoid, but the world of fear it offers is preferable to admitting one’s ignorance or one’s mistakes.

If the “Zionist Occupied Government” explains why the superior vanguard of “the White race” largely consists of petty criminals, con-men, perverts, and people who can’t maintain a relationship, the Russian Trump operation explains why those super savvy liberals just can’t stop failing. Funny though- Russian election meddling, at most, only explains the presidential election. I’ve yet to see these geniuses explain Democrat losses in the house and at the state level. But what would I know, I was probably added to the roster of “Team Deza” long ago.

And speaking of “Team Deza,” there are a couple more factors that make conspiracies very attractive to some Democrats. One is the new jargon. Kompromat! Dezinformatsiya! Chekist! Game theory! Nothing makes some liberals happier than dropping jargon and factoids at parties to sound like they actually know what they’re talking about: “So like, yeah, like, Vladimir Putin is a Chekist, which is like a type of Chechen Russian that kills LGBT people. And, like, he got kompromat on Trump and Flynn, so they have to keep putting out Kremlin dezinformatsiya, which is like information that’s like, not real, like disinformation, so like we’re basically living under this…Cyrillic autocracy controlled by Vladimir Putin! Might as well cover the White House in Kremlin minarets, right? This cheesecake, by the way, is literally amazing!

If it’s not the jargon, then it’s the same thrill some people apparently get from role-playing online. Long ago in discussion forums I learned that some conspiracy theorists aren’t there to just share and discuss their theories and other views. They are online to actually live out the conspiracy. If they encounter someone who questions their theories or whom they just don’t like, they will allege that this person is some kind of “disinfo agent” working for the Mossad, CIA, or whomever. Now savvy liberals can sound smart as they engage in the same behavior, accusing people of being “Kremlin trolls.” We can’t forget that much like many conservatives, plenty of liberals live dull, pointless late-capitalist lives and thus may be starving for excitement. Imaging you’re unraveling a Russian intel op can be a cheap alternative to video games, and unlike with video games, this makes you look like a mature, politically-minded adult.

So while psychological research on conspiracy theories is interesting and explanatory, I think the best shorthand answer as to why so many Democrats are “falling for fake news about Russia” is, apart from simple partisanship, a strong desire to let go and indulge in the comfort of conspiracy theories. For some people it’s more comforting to imagine that the world is controlled by shadowy forces who always win than to admit their own failings. Moreover, the conspiracy exempts the believer from any concrete actions. There is no point if the puppet masters are in control the whole time. There are clearly significant numbers of liberals who want their own Alex Jones, and now they have it in the form of Louise Mensch. Simple as that.

 

 

Jones Justice

It’s really hard to avoid Schadenfreude over the recent legal travails of conspiracy con-man Alex Jones. For those of you who have haven’t been following the news, Jones is in the middle of a serious custody dispute with his ex-wife, and she’s alleging that he is mentally unfit to care for their children. Her evidence? Well for starters…

 

Jones’ now-famous defense is that he is “playing a character” on his show, which he likens to “performance art.” Essentially his wife had him forked, to use a chess analogy- if he sticks by his beliefs, he could be labeled insane or mentally unstable at best, but in order to defend himself against such allegations he has to basically admit that he has been totally full of shit for years. Of course he immediately made a b-line for the latter because this time, his personal interests were on the line, and given the money he’s made hawking bullshit products over the years, it’s clear that personal material interests trump everything else for Jones.

This really comes as no shock. Many of Jones’ fans, and many Americans who aren’t, pull the same routine all the time. I’ve often written about how so many conspiracy theorists will talk your ear off about the coming catastrophe or impending martial law and then piss off to Wal-Mart to pick up snacks for the big game on Sunday. People go out to the shooting range to practice for the “WTSHTF” (When-the-Shit-hit-the-Fan) event, and then they spend the rest of their time playing video games, posting shit on Facebook, and going to the Church potluck. Jones just did the same thing here- he immediately jettisoned his beliefs when it became necessary. And this isn’t even the first time.

As everyone knows, Jones went full-Trump supporter this election. Prior to Trump’s run, Jones has often claimed that elections in the US are decided in advance and president’s are “chosen” by the elite. You’d think a man so skeptical of power as Jones would call out Trump’s populism as just another Bilderberg/NWO plot. But no, for all his talk about “liberty” Jones likes Trump, so there’s no way he could be just another slick-talking reptilian shapeshifter! How quickly he went from “the government’s trying to kill you with fluoride” to “all hail President Trump!”

We see a similar thing in Russia- lately several Ukrainians have asked me if Russians really believe the things they see about Ukraine on their television channels. I tell them that they basically believe and don’t believe at the same time. It’s the acceptance of key talking points while rejecting the level of belief that demands action. Sure, they’ll readily accept all the stories about how Ukraine is a failed state, but marauding neo-Nazis slaughtering poor Russian-speaking children? Very doubtful. Were that the case, Russia would have far more volunteers going to fight in the Donbas without having to offer them cash incentives which may be three times higher than their normal monthly salary.

The same goes for Russian approval for Putin. It’s really easy to tell a pollster that you approve of Putin and his policies, but one can’t help but notice how many people shirk their patriotic duty by engaging in petty corruption rather than sucking it up and enduring even poorer living conditions for the sake of the Motherland. It’s also telling that all these pro-Putin rallies and projects always require money from the government. How much can someone really support Putin if they can’t bring themselves to attend a rally without the promise of 350 rubles after 40 minutes? The Russian-speaking internet is filled with photographs showing stacks of protest signs that were immediately discarded by paid attendees who had fulfilled their part of the bargain.

Back to Jones, I’m not sure if there’s even a good reason to suppress the Schadenfreude. I mean divorce and custody battles are always messy, but we’re talking about a man who said than the parents of kids who died at Sandy Hook were basically lying, and that their kids were fine. If Jones truly, sincerely, deeply believed that the US government is trying to implement the kind of tyranny and genocide he preached about for years on a daily basis, then that almost, ever so slightly mitigates what he said about the Sandy Hook parents, among other victims of tragedies labeled false flags by Jones in the past. After all, if you lived in 16th-17th century Europe and everyone truly believed that witches cause crop failures and the death of children in infancy, how could you justify not burning witches?

But the fact is that Jones didn’t really believe any of that and he has now tacitly admitted- nay, he insists– that he didn’t. And since he’ll never be made to give back the untold wealth he has gained by fleecing the naive and ignorant, maybe losing contact with his kids is the closest to justice we’ll ever see. At least when his kids turn 18 they’ll have the option of contacting and visiting their dad (assuming Obama doesn’t order his deep state operatives to take him out with a high-altitude particle-beam drone, of course), unlike some other parents.

 

 

 

The New Opiate for the Masses

Occasionally pop culture has played with the idea that conspiracy theories are actually propagated by the elites in order to cover up real conspiracies. In one famous example, South Park played with the idea that the Bush administration was actually behind the 9/11 “Truth” movement because it made them seem smarter and more competent than they actually were. Of course in reality, we typically don’t see governments propagating conspiracy theories implicating themselves, unless you count Trump’s recent wiretapping rants. Generally governments, if they propagate conspiracy theories at all, direct them at their geopolitical rivals.

But when we look at the proliferation of conspiratorial thinking the world over, it seems as though governments could seriously benefit from propagating conspiracy theories about themselves. After all, as Ivan Krastev points out in a piece for The New York Times, conspiracy theories typically don’t create dissidents. On the contrary, the more radical the conspiracy theory, the more depoliticized and docile its adherents tend to be.

At first glance this may seem very counter-intuitive. After all, many conspiracy theorists seem quite vocal. In many cases they protest, and often loudly. But what ever becomes of their protests? What changes actually occur? It’s very possible to engage in a lot of activism without actually having any real or lasting impact. You can really see what I mean if you ask yourself which famous conspiracy theory has ever been actually resolved or at least concretely proven. Pearl Harbor foreknowledge? No. The Kennedy assassination?  Nope. Moon landing hoax? Nope. Alternate Oklahoma City Bombing theories? Nope. September 11th? Are you starting to see a pattern here?

gwbush

The US government is allegedly full of people who would happily organize the murder of thousands of American citizens, but nearly two decades later no individual or faction has considered using this inside knowledge to seize near total power in Washington while simultaneously becoming the biggest heroes in modern American history. Curious.

Seriously the behavior of people who believe in such theories is both contradictory and confusing at times. I can remember when I was about 9 or 10 I watched a video called The Clinton Chronicles. See in those days, even though Bill Clinton had just taken office, some folks that some people in my family took quite seriously were convinced that he was the literal anti-Christ. Things like sexual harassment allegations or marijuana use weren’t enough for these people; in their mind Bill Clinton was a murderous drug trafficker, and they supposedly had documentation of all this.

As a kid hearing these conspiracy theories on AM radio and religious TV got frustrating. The evidence is all there! The liberal media must be deliberately ignoring it because they’re in league with the Clintons! Such was my thought process at that young age, but it was basically the same thing the adults around me were saying. And yet, for people who believed that drug-dealer/mass murderer Clinton was just one inciting incident away from unleashing the BATF and possibly foreign UN troops on us for being white, heterosexual Christians, we didn’t really act accordingly. Hell, most of the time we were discussing these things while on the way to the Saturday morning swap-meet or at Sunday brunch. These just aren’t the sort of things you do if you sincerely believe that the president is about to unleash full-scale terror to establish himself as undisputed dictator.

Now to be fair, all those family members were Republicans, and one thing is for sure- Republicans vote. They may believe Obama is a Kenyan Marxo-Islamo-Fascist who plans to confiscate their children and teach their guns about how to choose their gender (I think that’s how it’s supposed to work), but for some unknown reason they also believe they can stop this Communist takeover by voting. Apparently Soros keeps forgetting about elections. I’m sure he was behind those 3 million illegal votes in the last election, but still he forgot to get about 77,000 of them in three key states so as to actually win.  But I digress.

The more people tumble down the rabbit hole of conspiracy theories, the less they actually get involved in politics. Sure, we saw Alex Jones throwing his weight behind Trump, but let’s face it- Trump was a very unusual candidate who actually pandered to the conspiracy idiot demographic. That and he was running against Hillary, which many conspiracy theorists on the right have hated with a passion since she was first lady. I’m pretty sure if Cruz or Rubio had won the nomination, they would have been portrayed as a continuation of the “neocon globalist establishment” or whatever the morons are calling it these days.

I’m not going to exempt the left from this either. For one thing, even moderate leftists don’t seem to vote much. That’s a bit irritating because as much as I loathed the Democratic candidate this year, I made it a point to actually vote just so I could say I did the mature thing if only to stop Trump. As it turns out, it may be safe to say that a good portion of those people posting Trump = Hitler all over the internet didn’t actually go out and try to stop Trump in the easiest way possible.

 

Second, I’ve noticed a trend of leftists buying more and more bullshit conspiracy theories, and it’s no longer just about GMOs. One Bernie Sanders supporter found himself banned from a Bernie site just because he tried to alert its members about how they were sharing fake news stories from conspiracy sites. Think about that for a second. A guy warns them that they’re being lied to, provides concrete proof, and the reaction of the supposedly more rational liberal or leftist community is to ban him.

It’s not hard to understand why these conspiracy theories are so popular. They reduced complicated issues down to simple black and white ones. They require no actual research or understanding of any topic. They make you feel like you’re the protagonist of your own movie- a rebel standing up to the system. But in reality these people aren’t really rebels at all. They may make some noise, but the powers that be may rest soundly at night knowing that far more Americans are watching conspiracy videos on Youtube than actually digging into the finer points of campaign finance or laws regulating offshore tax havens. And those that do probably aren’t actually planning to contact any representatives or party officials to discuss their concerns.

Truly conspiracy theories are the new opiate of the masses. The more “woke” someone says they are, the deader they are to the world around them. As such, it’s unlikely that politicians will take any serious measures to counter-act them. Doing so would entail teaching critical thinking and media awareness at younger ages, and that would endanger their actual business. Far better to let people slumber in their own fantasy world.

 

RT and Sputnik commentators may be replaced by homeless men due to budget cuts

MOSCOW- Ronald B. Wallace, once a homeless man in his native Baltimore, finally has a roof over his head. Thousands of miles away in a residential district of Moscow, Wallace has been provided with a room in a small flat that also doubles as a studio for his own news talk show. Pacing back and forth across the old Soviet parquet floor and muttering to himself, he is mentally preparing to “go live” and begin a new career in TV journalism.

“You see people, it’s all there,” Wallace says at one point, going over his own script that he wrote in a coffee-stained spiral notebook. “They’ve had this planned out since 1776, maybe longer. The New World Order is here, I’m telling you. Open your eyes.”

Wallace is one of several dozen homeless Americans lured, some say kidnapped, to Moscow as part of a new pilot program of the state-run media. Because Russia’s foreign language media such as RT (Russia Today) and Sputnik News often require foreign staff and operate outside of Russia, their operational costs are considerably high, and worse still- numbered in hard currency such as dollars or euros. Faced with budget cuts in the wake of Russia’s worsening economic situation, some enterprising officials in the presidential administration believe they have found the solution. Vladimir Frolov, one of the Kremlin’s so-called “political technologists,” is one of those.

“Basically the problem is this- we need to maintain Russia’s soft power throughout the globe, but with the collapse of the ruble and the economic downturn it’s difficult to justify the huge operating costs that go with such efforts,” Frolov explained.

“I was tasked with evaluating the content of outlets such as RT and Sputnik, and suddenly it hit me. Why are we paying these foreigners such ridiculous salaries when I knew for a fact that we could find other foreigners, even native English speakers, who will do the same job for far less money and no noticeable decline in quality?”

An idea made in the USA

Frolov’s found his inspiration while on his annual family vacation in Miami, where he owns a luxury condominium.

“I was waiting for my Uber ride near a bus stop, and there was this dirty homeless man waving a tattered book in one hand and ranting at anyone who passed by. I heard him talking about the NWO, secret plans to rule the world, and he was constantly referencing the CIA and NSA. That’s when it dawned on me- this guy sounded just like one of our pundits! I offered him dinner at a nearby fast food establishment and the rest was history.”

Frolov took several additional weeks off to do research at bus stations, libraries, and public parks up and down the East coast. When he’d finally seen enough, he pitched his new idea to his kopeck-pinching superiors.

“Why pay some useless long-term expat 200,000 or 300,000 rubles a month to write long, incoherent rambling op-eds full of 9/11 conspiracy theories, alleged CIA plots, and lavish praise of Putin as a defender against the global hegemonic Anglo-American-Zionist imperialist NWO, when I can just stick some of these homeless guys in an apartment and hook them up with some booze and hot food from the nearest McDonald’s or KFC? What’s even better, about half these guys don’t even realize they’re in another country,” Frolov explained.

Escape from the CIA

Wallace was chosen for the project back in April and said that he initially had some misgivings about the project.

“I was on the street corner telling the truth, the truth that those in power don’t want you to hear, that which remains untold, and suddenly these guys come out of the bushes and grab me,” Wallace said,staring at the floor as he spoke. “I screamed that I was being taken by the CIA. I’d been waiting for this moment. I was sure they were the CIA Conein division; those are the guys that do all the black ops and wet work. I kept screaming this but nobody came to my aid. They are sheep, still trapped in the Matrix.”

Eventually the Russian operatives were able to convince Wallace that they were not, in fact, CIA agents, and Wallace agreed to be taken to their “secret arctic underground base,” where he was assured that he would be kept safe from what he dubbed the “Conein division.”

“You’ve got to understand, the CIA Conein division has been after me for years- decades even,” Wallace explained. “So when these men told me that they work for Vladimir Putin, the only man in the world who would know how to stop them, I naturally agreed. For once I can sleep soundly at night.”

Showtime

During the pilot, Wallace sits behind an IKEA desk with a green sheet draped behind him. To the viewer the broadcast would appear not far removed from a typical program on RT. The producer gives a signal, and Wallace begins his program without the aid of a teleprompter.

“Good evening and welcome to The Hunt for the Truth,” Wallace stares into the camera with laser-like focus, still clutching his ragged notebook in one hand.

“I’m your Paul Revere. I’m Prometheus. I’m Morpheus. I’m here to tell the untold, the knowledge they don’t want you to have. The CIA Conein division boys have been hunting me for years because they know what I know- I know all about the population control, the mainstream media Matrix, the chemicals they’ve been adding to our food and water to make us mindless, dull consumers who can’t care about anything but reality TV and professional sports. But thanks to Vladimir Putin, the NWO’s number one most hated opponent, I can broadcast the truth into your homes and none of their micro-jamming satellites can block the signal!”

Throughout the broadcast, Wallace dazzles his audience with complex diagrams explaining what he calls the “Luciferian New Genesis Agenda,” a conspiracy which has allegedly been in progress for centuries, if not millennia.

“Most experts, almost all of whom have been assassinated throughout history, acknowledge that this conspiracy goes back at least 300 years,” Wallace says, standing in front of a white board which he uses to map out the various connections between world events and leader involved in the alleged plot. “But it may go back even further, to the times of ancient Egypt or even earlier. There’s evidence to suggest that the Biblical Lucifer was in fact a man, and the legend about him being cast out of heaven was actually allegorical. Since then, Lucifer and his followers have been attempting to create their own ‘Garden of Eden.’ That Eden is the NWO- the New World Order.”

Winners and Losers

Not everyone is pleased with Frolov’s new cost-cutting measures. Some Western expats who work for the state media see the writing on the wall. Adam Tudesky, a frequent guest commentator on the Kremlin’s international satellite network, had dreamed of getting his own talk show but now says that he’s “in the sights of the cost-cutters.”

“I have always been an admirer of Putin’s style of rule and leaving the decaying, degenerate third world America for a resurgent Russia was the best decision I ever made,” said the 25-year-old political analyst, who moved to Russia in the summer of 2014 after leaving graduating college with a degree in Russian studies.

“I started talking to some people about NATO aggression against Russia, the fascist CIA coup in Ukraine, and color revolutions- all these things I’d heard about on RT. Two months later I’m a geopolitical expert and a little later I become a board member of the Institute of Eurasian Geopolitics and Hybrid Warfare, a prestigious Russian think tank.”

But Frolov’s new project has got Tudesky worried.

“I mean who are these guys, really? Are they real patriots? Could the CIA slip one of their agents in here as a homeless guy and start a color revolution? What if one of them says something on the air which casts doubt on Putin and his brilliant foreign policy? What then?”

Apart from concerns about the quality of the broadcasting, Tudesky admits he has his own personal interests as well.

“I’m not going to lie. I feel threatened by this move. If they go through with this my choices are teaching English to little kids or doing the unthinkable- moving back to the US and trying to figure out how I’m going to survive when the dollar collapses. Hopefully when that happens I can use my speaking skills to assist Putin in creating a Russian enclave on the continental US, but I don’t know what I’m going to do in the meantime.”

The next generation

Wallace admits he feels sorry for expats whom he might replace if the project get the go ahead, if only because they will, according to him, “no longer be safe from the Conein division.” But he also said this wouldn’t stop him from performing what he considers a “duty to wake people up.”

“People need to know the truth. They need to wake up and break free of the Matrix. When the UN troops show up on your doorstep to drag you off to the FEMA population control camps it’ll be too late. That’s why I do what I do. I’m sounding the alarm.”

A Putin for everyone

One of the most bizarre aspects of the Putin cult is how flexible his image is, especially in the West. Vladimir Putin can basically be whomever you want. If you’re a leftist who hates the IMF and “neo-liberal” economics, Putin’s a quasi-socialist who stands up to imperialism, US hegemony, and fascism. Of course Putin presides over a state with one of the most staggering rates of wealth inequality in the industrialized world, the minimum wage is roughly 80 euros a month, and the state promotes, organizes, and supports far-right wing neo-fascist movements at home and abroad. On the other hand if you’re a far-right wing conservative who sees Putin as a defender of the Christian faith and Western values, you might be very dismayed to walk the streets of Moscow in some neighborhoods, while Kurban bayram will make you shit bricks of rage. Of course when you do, be sure Kadyrov and his friends don’t find out about it.

These days, the molding and manipulation of Putin in the minds of Westerners goes beyond simple left-right dichotomies. Now it seems whatever you hate, Putin hates, and what’s more he’s doing something about it. As it turns out, while real Putin is pulling out of Syria, Fantasy Putin is waging a new war- against vaccines. No seriously, vaccines. Check it out.

I don’t really need to think I need to thoroughly debunk something this insanely stupid, particularly since none of the quotes are properly sourced and the information supposedly comes from an “insider” in the Russian health ministry. Still, there are some really funny bits like this:

“Russian president Vladimir Putin says that Western governments are enslaving humanity through vaccines.

‘When your children are barely human, psychologically-altered bots, their nerve cells and synapses failing to connect, and their neurodevelopmental processes dulled to the point of restricting them to sub-human level repetitive grunts and gormless stares, what are you going to do then?’”

Here’s a little tip- Russia has certainly been sliding in the science department as of late, but they vaccinate children. Thank God, Allah, Carl Sagan, or whomever that Russia, as stressed as its health care system has become, vaccinates kids. Putin shut down foreign adoptions and food imports practically on a whim, so if he ever really said that the West was enslaving humanity via vaccines, he could just as easily shut that down. Hell, he’s very slowly shutting the healthcare system down via cuts and poor spending decisions. But in this case the latter doesn’t matter because RUSSIA VACCINATES ITS CHILDREN!

Now that second bit is supposed to be a direct quote from Putin. No. Just no. Putin never said that. Putin never said anything like that. Mark your calendar. Remember this day. This is the day I actually got genuinely offended on behalf of Vladimir Putin simply by the implication that he would say something so monstrously ridiculous. I know from personal experience that Putin often says stupid, delusional things, and yet this is beneath him. Far beneath him.

Whoever came up with that (I’m guessing the author of the piece) must really hate children. I mean is that what modern children look like to you? Are they anywhere close to being restricted to “sub-human level repetitive grunts and gormless stares?” This is approaching Nazi eugenics theory in its depravity.

Given the kind of disinformation put out by the Kremlin via seemingly independent blogs and websites, I know what some of you might be thinking: “OH GOD NO! PUTIN IS WEAPONIZING ANTI-VACCINE CONSPIRACIES!” I wouldn’t venture that far just yet though. Global Research, a conspiracy site often cited by the Kremlin press, does traffic in anti-vaccine nonsense. Still, I don’t think the source is from the Russian media. Were that the case, we’d probably see more anti-vaccine bullshit in Russia. I suspect these people are attracted to conspiracy theory clearing houses like Global Research because the latter is happy to promote any anti-Western government claim.

No, I think what we have here is an example of a phenomenon that actually pre-dates the Russian information offensive in 2014 and in fact pre-dates the existence of networks like RT.  Global Research, for example, was founded in 2001, only a year after Putin became president and roughly four years before the debut of RT, which in those days was actually about Russia. Unfortunately these days many of our Western pundits like to pretend that Putin and his propaganda bullhorn are reaching out and creating legions of useful idiots in the West, when in fact long ago many of these people were working their way toward Putin and not the other way around.

nondisparagement

“Did somebody say propaganda bullhorn?!”

For many people in the West, there’s a very simple way to explain world politics. If you don’t like your own government, see who they criticize, and see who criticizes them back. Whoever that happens to be is your “ally.” For those who believe in various conspiracy theories, it’s very easy to imagine that the real reason the West criticizes Putin is because he must be doing something “right.” The neo-Nazis believe that Putin is preserving a “white” nation, that he “kicked out the Jewish oligarchs,” and that he preserves “traditional values.” I remember some more mainstream conservatives admired Putin because they thought he had a no-nonsense approach to the war on terror, and that he was not beholden to political correctness when dealing with Islamic terrorism. Now these neo-hippies have apparently decided that Putin is an enemy of vaccines, Big Pharma, and he loves organic farming. No doubt we’ll soon see a new article claiming that he has personally endorsed daily coffee enemas.

It’s not that the recent information offensive by the Kremlin hasn’t exacerbated this sort of thing. They certainly figured out long ago that many Americans and other Westerners are susceptible to this sort of thing, but sometimes the image of Putin these people have is, as in this case, truly bizarre. That and I’ve never seen a confirmed example of genuine pro-Kremlin media totally fabricated quotes by Putin. It seems like the kind of rare thing that could get someone fired.

Realizing that people can and indeed do concoct their own imaginary Putin hero-avatars, it makes you wonder what Fantasy Putin might do next. Maybe he’ll be a radical feminist who calls out another politician for their “problematic” comments and dismissive attitude toward others’ lived experience. On the flip side, maybe he’ll publicly lament how feminists are destroying video games and thus hammering the nail in the coffin of masculinity. Maybe he’ll announce that his health is due to his all-organic kale diet. In spite of his, shall we say, cold family situation, perhaps we’ll find out he has some really strong opinions about home-birthing, if not child-rearing in general. Then again, he may say something along the lines of that statement he made to the State Duma a couple weeks ago:

“True, at first I didn’t like Russia Without BS. But then it grew on me because it’s become increasingly clear that I cannot rely on my advisers to be anything but batshit insane. Look where that got me! Look where it got us! And would somebody for the love of God please tell me what’s on my spokesman’s head? What am I even doing here? I just wanted to do judo and try out some of these so-called video games everyone’s been talking about! God bless that Jim Kovpak, who has not only made me see Ukraine’s point of view, but also reality itself. As for all of you guys, you can go eat the world’s biggest bag of dicks. They’ll be served to you with snow shovels. Now I’m going to hold this microphone out in front of me and drop it in a nonchalant fashion.”    -Vladimir Putin

Selective skepticism

Facebook has a weird “related” stories function when people share news stories. While the original story your “friend” shared might be from a reputable source, the recommended links almost always seem to be from conspiracy nut sites. Recently I saw what looked like a rather idiotic link and clicked on it.

The article is basically a conspiracy theory about a car bomb attack in Syria which apparently left some Russian military personnel dead. Apparently some folks are saying the Russian KIA were generals, but I doubt it. In any case, the conspiracy article claims that “dozens of Russian generals” were killed by a US missile. It also claims, with no evidence whatsoever, that Putin was “supposed to be” at this base, which is reminiscent of the initial MH17 conspiracy theory that Ukraine shot the airliner down believing it to be Putin’s plane.

What evidence do they provide? Well this is from the ridiculously short “article:”

” Even though camera footage made it appear like a car bomb, it’s suspicious because how could a huge bomb like that get into a secured Russian Base without it being noticed?”

Conspiracy theorist logic at its finest, folks. Confronted with actual video evidence, they say that the footage “made it appear like a car bomb.”  And it’s suspicious because the author, arguing from ignorance, cannot figure out how they could get the bomb into the Russian base. Then it’s followed up with a video rant from a man who would make an excellent “political analyst” on RT.

Obviously the story is bullshit. There are stories online about “US missiles” killing Russian military personnel, but this is about front-line action involving US-made TOW missiles. So why am I highlighting it at all?

Well you see, Russian state media loves conspiracy theories. Ukraine supposedly shot down MH17 with a Buk, an Su-25, and Su-27, and they had a bomb on board just for good measure. They were using American mercenaries, then Polish mercenaries, then African mercenaries, and finally, they started using Turkish mercenaries, conveniently right after Turkey shot down an Su-24 over Syria. And of course the bloodthirsty Nazi junta army is slaughtering civilians left and right in the Donbas, even shelling people on their own side! Ever notice anything missing though?

In the Kremlin narrative, “NATO” legions always inflict civilian casualties, even against their own populations in “false flag” attacks. But what you don’t see are defeats inflicted on the Russian military or its proxies. Instead their successes are always inflated, often to laughable extremes. ISIS was devastated in 24 hours. Ukraine lost 3,000 armored vehicles in the Debaltseve (this is more than the entire Ukrainian army had at the time, and keep in mind the rebels claim all their armor was captured from Ukrainian motor pools), an Su-24 unleashed some kind of EMP on a US ship and shut down its electronics. Of course in real life things are a bit different. For one thing, when American made technology met the Su-24 it blew the latter out of the sky. Russian technology has proven just as vulnerable on the battlefield as any other nation’s arms.

So when I saw this story I began to wonder if the Russian state media or sites like Fort Russ and Russia Insider would cover it. I mean sure, it’s a great conspiracy theory if you want to claim the US is deliberately trying to sabotage Russia, right? Well no. The story tells us that the US can wipe out a dozen Russian generals in “their” base, in a hostile country, and basically get away with it since Putin didn’t have a word to say about it in spite of supposedly being a target for assassination.

For those reasons, you can be the pro-Kremlin expats and staff writers will suddenly turn into critically thinking skeptics. They may point out that the base in question was actually under Syrian control, whether that was actually the case or not. They could suggest that cars enter and exit the base all the time, and the security staff are too overworked to thoroughly search each car. They might claim the rebels found a turncoat on the inside. Whatever the excuse, I doubt there’s any pro-Kremlin hack out there who wants to openly suggest that the US can wipe out dozens of Russian generals at a time without any repercussions whatsoever. Alright, to be fair, you can no doubt find plenty of such people who insist that the CIA/SBU/Praviy Sektor was able to assassinate a Russian political figure on a bridge just outside the Kremlin and totally get away with it, but this only points to the total incompetence of a number of Russian security agencies. You can do that, but you mustn’t ever suggest the same about Russia’s military.

Of course this wouldn’t be the only conspiracy theory that turns pro-Kremlin people into temporary skeptics. The 1999 apartment bombings give us another such example (to be sure, I’ve never been really convinced about the false flag explanation myself). They’d probably even attack this more detailed explanation, which apparently saddles Yeltsin and Berezovsky with a lot of the blame for masterminding the attacks. There was also a false flag theory about MH17 that said the Russians deliberately shot it down thinking it was an Aeroflot flight to Larnaka, Cyrpus. How much you want to bet you can turn the usual 9/11 truthers into rational thinkers on a dime with that little theory?

In truth this is a funny thing about all conspiracy theorists. There are so many conspiracy theories often backing different narratives. I’ve often noticed that backers of a particular theory tend not to argue against one another regardless of political alignment, the alleged culprit (e.g. Zionists vs. Illuminati), or even differing explanations (e.g. bombs planted in towers before 9/11 vs. towers built with explosives pre-planted). Generally you can choose any theory you like so long as it’s not “the official story.”

Of course conflict is inevitable at some point, because people who adhere to such theories typically have their own political agenda. The neo-Nazis and fellow travelers who believe these conspiracies are aimed at advancing the Zionist, Cultural Marxist agenda will inevitably clash with the vulgar left-wing populists who believe in hidden Nazi conspiracies that go back to Operation Paperclip. A Ukrainian, Baltic, or Polish conspiracy theorists may buy into the same Western conspiracy theories about Cultural Marxists, but they’re going to be more inclined to believe anti-Russian conspiracy theories rather than pro-Kremlin ones.

Unfortunately I don’t see much progress in the direction of critical thinking and combating conspiracy theories. If anything it seems things are moving in the opposite direction. A lot of think tank types like to blame this on the Russian media offensive, but in reality even America alone is so adept at producing conspiratorial bullshit that a lot of the Russian media, both foreign and Russian-language, relies on Western sources for many of their conspiracy ideas. The subject of this post is an example of a home-grown conspiracy theory that the Russians probably won’t touch.

As for solutions? Well I’ve said before that teaching critical thinking makes a lot of people nervous, because the same logic you can use to take down a conspiracy theory can also take down more “respectable,” mainstream theories on economics, society, crime, and politics. Some people actually explicitly oppose the teaching of critical thinking.

One thing I can recommend is for people to stop referring to conspiratorial thinking as “crazy.” Yes, it is true that there are many conspiracy adherents who are actually certifiably mentally ill, but if this kind of thinking were limited to such people it would never be so prevalent in mainstream society. These theories are in fact simple explanations for complicated issues, they smooth over contradictions that are hard comprehend and fill in the gaps left by ignorance about the world. On the latter point, better history education would be a major step forward. More education on how the government works would be useful too.

Another possible solution is to take some advice from Cracked.com and examine the influence of pop culture on our perceptions. Movies influence behavior, and movies where heroes explore vast conspiracies and attain esoteric knowledge have a major impact. Most readers have probably heard something about the so-called “Red Pill” community, but in fact The Matrix was inspiring conspiracy theory peddlers almost from the time of the theatrical release. Using the movie as an analogy, con-men like David Icke and Alex Jones offer their marks a way to feel like a real-life Neo, taking the red pill, waking up in the real world, and then reentering “the Matrix” with superior knowledge than that of the mindless drones around them.

It reality of course, this is bullshit. In virtually every debate with a conspiracy theorist I’ve found that they actually possess less knowledge, sometimes no knowledge, about the subject they’re discussing. If it’s 9/11 they’ll incorrectly quote “the official story,” getting the most basic details wrong. Maidan conspiracy theorists don’t seem to know when Maidan started, nor do they know anything about the parties involved or the internal conflicts within the movement. Basic chronology tends to be a major problem.

What can be done about that? Well I think that burden falls on the media. Unfortunately very few people seem to have any idea how the news is made. What is more, they don’t seem to know why the news looks the way it does. Lastly, a lot of news coverage is oversimplified, and it also wouldn’t hurt if news outlets stuck with a story a bit longer, so that people get the most basic details about a story.

I also know from personal experience how difficult journalism can be, but it also might be helpful for journalists to cover angles of major stories that aren’t getting a lot of attention. This way it would be harder to make allegations of a deliberate cover-up, or at least those allegations would look that much more stupid. In this era of “information war,” failure to cover certain topics effectively cedes the battlefield to other actors, who fill in those gaps with their own narratives.

Of course there’s one thing we cannot help, and we may just have to basically evolve as a species in order to overcome this obstacle. Here I’m referring to the deluge of information we face on a daily basis. It’s quite possible that the prevalence of conspiratorial narratives is in some part a natural reaction to being overwhelmed by information our ancestors never had access to. Not only are we hearing about global news stories, but we’re hearing about them constantly, from the TV, the radio, newspapers, magazines, and our mobile phones. When millions of otherwise educated people have zero experience in the Middle East (or anywhere outside their country in many cases), and have never read any serious examination of the politics of radical Islamic terrorism, how are they to understand that Al Qaeda and ISIS are mortal enemies? With their poor historical knowledge about the history of US involvement in Afghanistan and a righteous distaste for US policy in Iraq, is it not a lot easier to believe that the US created both groups and lump this into a larger conspiracy theory?

That’s what it’s all about- what is easier. Make the truth easier to comprehend than the convoluted conspiracy theories, and it will probably go a long way toward putting con men like Alex Jones out of business.

The Science of Bullshit

So I had a decision to make- I could collect another half dozen recent stories in Russia that demonstrate the maddening hypocrisy of this corrupt government, or I could not waste my time since there will probably be another half dozen such stories by the end of the week. What can I say? Some days I’m just not in the mood.

In compensation I’d like to look at the broader topic of critical thinking, starting with a story that has been making the rounds lately. Apparently an academic study found that people with lower cognitive abilities (i.e. intelligence) were more susceptible for falling for pseudo-profound, intellectual-sounding bullshit. Yes, they used the word bullshit in the study, 200 times in fact.

What do they mean by “pseudo-profound” and “intellectual sounding?” Well basically it seems they’re talking about the sort of thing people tend to share on their Facebook walls. For example you’ll see a photograph of someone doing yoga on a pristine beach and superimposed on this you see text reading: “Hidden meaning transforms unparalleled abstract beauty.”

That particular example comes out of the study. Judging from other such statements quoted by the media, it would seem that the study focused on “hippy”-like statements, the kind of thing you’d expect from Deepak Chopra. I can do one now: “The only tragedy greater than a full life not lived is the unrealized dream of an empty life lived alone.” Or how about: “Spirituality isn’t found inside of an ancient tome written in archaic language, but in the subtle interplay of the elements that make up our daily surroundings.” It’s pretty easy.

But this got me thinking, and the implications are quite scary. For one thing, Silicon Valley and the tech industry is similarly laden with statements that are little more than buzzwords arranged in different ways. “Innovation makes it possible to leverage the platform’s scalability exponentially, making it ultimately more disruptive.” I know from experience with such bullshit that this kind of empty nonsense is being used to woo people out of millions and in some cases, billions of dollars. Sure, these people are in most cases investing in highly profitable corporations which may indeed possess the key to disrupting entire markets and industries. On the other hand, we could be in for another dot com bubble brought on by idiots with money throwing cash at things they don’t understand because it was “innovative.”

There’s another aspect of this phenomenon that is far more interesting to me, and this is how this pseudo-intellectual bullshit is used in politics. I regret that I cannot dig up the exact post, but Ed at Gin & Tacos once referred to certain conservative rhetoric as (I’m paraphrasing here): shit that sounds intelligent to smart people. This is an interesting concept and I think it is very much related to this susceptibility for “pseudo-profound” statements. If someone can read a collection of random words about life, happiness, balance, and spirituality and come away with a feeling that this was profound and enlightening, it’s not too far fetched to suggest that posts containing random historical facts or complex political terminology could leave some with the impression that they are astute and politically savvy. Actually I think this kind of tactic is more dangerous in the world of politics.

I think this explains how, for example, people can fall so easily for endless regurgitation of Russian geopolitical theories. People who rarely really think about economic policy and who don’t have much experience in the world can easily be wowed by “sober” analysis about the BRICS alternative, trading in local currencies, the BRICS development bank, etc. Of course there are usually prerequisites that cause them to tumble down the rabbit hole. For example, they’re upset at their government and want to believe there’s some kind of powerful alternative bloc out there keeping their own leaders in line. But if that person is not sufficiently informed, they can easily fall for this sort of rhetoric.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not only aiming at the pro-Kremlin people here. Plenty of foreign Ukraine supporters jumped on the bandwagon of Maidan and Ukraine’s war effort without really fully understanding Ukraine’s history or its relationship with Russia. “European Ukraine” and “democracy” can be just as persuasive to the same sort of people as “NATO encirclement.”

The problem with all this is that in the case of politics, it’s not often a matter of cognitive ability. Sure, maybe it is with certain ideologies that require a major lapse in critical thinking, but it’s actually quite easy to fall for pseudo-intellectual bullshit in politics because oftentimes we have a severe lack of information.

To give one example, I didn’t really pay much attention to the Syrian civil war until about 2013. By that time, the dichotomy of Assad vs. jihadists, at that time Al Nusra and not ISIS, was dominant. And no, it wasn’t just coming from the Russian press or alternative media. For example, when debating airstrikes against the regime in the wake of an apparent chemical weapons attack in August of 2013, one Pentagon official reported to Congress that such airstrikes would most likely benefit Al Qaeda. This plus a lack of information and the flaws of memory could lead anyone to buy the “Assad is the lesser of two evils” narrative, even without regularly consuming pro-Assad media.

Maidan was another example. In the beginning I hardly had any reason to care. Then the media, including the Western media, began portraying the protests as being all about Ukraine joining Europe. Russian media went right along with that. At the same time, I started seeing these UPA, OUN, and Svoboda flags and symbols popping up in the protests, and my initial reaction was negative specifically for that reason. Like most Ukrainians, I had always been opposed to the idea of Ukraine joining Russia’s Customs Union or the Eurasian pseudo-union. European integration was, for me, a non-issue. But rehabilitation of fascists and Nazi collaborators, in any country, is something I simply cannot abide. As I said back then, I had no fear at all that Ukraine would actually be taken over by fascists. What I was afraid of was nationalists getting into key positions where they could impose their revisionist historical narrative on the country with the help of the state, something they basically ended up doing.

There were some points about Maidan I always conceded. I naturally have more respect for people who resist poor treatment even if I despise their politics. But the real reason why I eventually took a pro-Maidan position, long after the fact, was that I actually started talking to people who were involved in the movement, and I also learned how both the Western and Russian media essentially collaborated to paint a picture of Maidan that was false from the start, even without Russia’s tall tales of a Nazi putsch.

What could have prevented my mistake? Well if I’d been paying close attention from the very beginning in November 2013, this might not have happened. But there lies another problem- in the beginning there was little reason for anyone outside of Ukraine to suddenly take notice and start paying attention. Speaking personally, there was even less reason for me to start closely following the details of the peaceful uprising in Syria before the civil war started. You can try following Twitter but the problem is that you’re not likely to know which stories are going to be mundane and quickly disappear from view and which are going to snowball into something much bigger and historically significant.

There’s another element to all this, which is that a person who is actively trying to sell you a certain narrative can take advantage of this in order to deceive you. All they have to do is spit out a series of “facts,” some real, some distorted, some entirely made up, assertively and confidently. That and some ideological hook designed to get you on the same “side” can be more than enough to get an otherwise reasonable, intelligent person to fall for political bullshit.

Want to see this in action? Try my little quiz. The following statements are bullshit, but you should think about what you would say in response, off the top of your head, without access to Google and the internet.

Situation #1: You’re discussing WWII history with a fellow at a gun show (bear with me). The topic of the Holocaust comes up, and he starts talking about how it was “grossly exaggerated.” He asks how it can be that 6 million Jews were gassed to death, yet not a single autopsy ever showed that a concentration camp victim died of poison gas. He points out that Zyklon B was a commercial delousing agent, and that there were delousing chambers at all concentration camps, including those which were never “death camps.” He says that it would be impossible to kill people with carbon monoxide using diesel engines, as diesel engines don’t generate enough CO. Lastly he tells you how the whole thing was Communist propaganda, and points out how the plaque at Auschwitz used to say four million Jews died there, only to later be revised to 1.2 million after the fall of the Polish Communist government.

Situation #2: You’re at the same gun show (you need to stop engaging gun show patrons in political discussions), and you meet a guy who says the US government had foreknowledge of the Pearl Harbor attacks. One of his strongest pieces of evidence is that the carriers which were based at Pearl Harbor were curiously missing on the day of the attack. According to him, this means that Roosevelt knew the attacks were coming and so he or the conspirators made sure that the war-winning carriers wouldn’t be in port when the attack came.

Situation #3: You’re online and a pro-Kremlin poster talks about how George Bush promised Gorbachev that NATO “wouldn’t expand one inch” if the Warsaw Pact broke up. Instead, NATO expanded, thus posing a threat to Russia, which is only responding to NATO’s encirclement.

Situation #4: You didn’t learn your lesson about talking to people at gunshows and this guy starts telling you that 9/11 was an inside job. He tells you that WTC property owner Larry Silverstein said in an interview with PBS that he made the decision to “pull” building 7, and “pull” is a demolitions industry term for taking down a building via controlled demolition.

Situation #5: A radical Ukrainian nationalist denies OUN involvement in Holocaust related crimes, claims that the OUN fought against the Nazis as well as the Soviets, and points out that Bandera was arrested by the Nazis and locked in a concentration camp in 1941.

What would you say if you were confronted with these claims, some of which are factual or at least half-factual, if you didn’t have the background knowledge on the specific topics, you didn’t have internet access at the moment, and the person is delivering them in a confident, assertive way, as though they know what they’re talking about? What if they try to pull credentials out on you? A history major, a former expat in Russia, a diesel engineer- would you be prepared to dispute them, especially in public? By all means try, put your answers in the comments here if you wish. 

I think what this little lesson demonstrates is how easy it is to sell bullshit when it comes to politics and history. Spiritual buzzwords and feelgood phrases might be more effective on people who are literally dumber, but technical jargon, info-dumps, and random historical facts can be used to dupe otherwise intelligent people into believing very stupid things.

The good news is that we have a toolkit against this, and it’s called critical thinking. What is more, once we have enough info, we can make a choice whether to be stupid or not. Many people who have stupid ideas about the world don’t fall for those ideas because they are stupid. They become stupid because they believe those ideas, and doing so requires you to be stupid by ignoring mountains of contradictory evidence. When it comes to important political and historical events, I think if you’re unable to catch them and follow them critically from day one, the best course of action when confronted with any ideological narrative is to go back to the beginning of the event and try to get all the basic facts from as many points of view as possible. In other words, before adopting someone’s “alternative theory,” you need to be sure you know the “official story.”