8/21 Open Thread: Conspiracy Theories Redux
The image above is a stature of Giordano Bruno, a martyr to free thought, persecuted, tortured and murdered by the Church of Rome for the unforgivable heresy of daring to think for himself. Like him, we are too often too greatly told to abjure thinking for ourselves, but to simply adopt some preferred, often official, narrative, often without any evidence in its behalf. Though we like to prattle about "free speech" we are quick to also point out that it means only that the government may not, by legislation, exercise prior restraint on the content of speech, though they, in fact, can and often do by administrative fiat and can and will also severely punish those who say or publish that which they wish not to see published. In addition, we too are quick to censor as well as abjure all types of heresies, generally supporting only such free speech and thought as is in agreement with our own beliefs and prejudices.
Back on August 11, 2019, user Cant Stop the Macedonian Signal (hereinafter CSTMS) in her Sunday Open thread Outside the Asylum at caucus99percent took on conspiracy theories, or, more accurately, the idea of a conspiracy theory. ( https://caucus99percent.com/content/outside-asylum )Suffice it to say that she emphatically disapproves, as do I. She presented the following two definitions of "Conspiracy Theory" and proceeded to dismantle, disparage, denigrate and quite properly criticize them as to content and application.
This is Wikipedia's definition:
A conspiracy theory is an explanation of an event or situation that invokes a conspiracy by sinister and powerful actors, often political in motivation, when other explanations are more probable.
And here is the definition from Dictionary.com:
[A conspiracy theory is] a theory that rejects the standard explanation for an event and instead credits a covert group or organization with carrying out a secret plot:
She continued to assert, correctly, IMHO, that:
The truth is that there is no such thing as a conspiracy theory. There are only different kinds of hypotheses. These hypotheses can be good or bad, probable or improbable, rest on discoverable evidence or on faith alone. We find out which kind of hypothesis it is through discussion and debate, or through investigation and research, if more data is needed.
She stated in conclusion that she objects to the term because it rests upon false assumptions and because it is a:
"conversation stopper." Its purpose is to bring an end to the discussion. Rather than trusting the community and its use of rational thought to arrive, however long it may take, at a sound conclusion, the term "conspiracy theory" cuts that process off before it can truly start.
(my emphasis) That function of conversation stopper, btw, is cheap sophistry and serves to highlight the weakness of whatever putative "standard" or "accepted" hypothesis it is being used in defence of. Were such hypothesis of sufficient merit as to be obviously the only likely hypothesis, then there would be no need to cut off debate and discussion. In agreement with her, I posted the following comment:
Our history has meandered from Mughals (Moghuls) to moguls, Generalissimos to captains of industry and finance, Royalty to Crown Corporations like the East India Tea Company; we have been ruled, manipulated and had our affairs directed by emperors, khans and popes and their minions and surrogates, warlords and their minions, wealthy white landowning "founding fathers", and coalitions of robber barons and openly corrupt politicians and lawmen; dictators, directorates and boards of directors; Mussolini's corporates to corporations and the governments and regulatory agencies they have captured.
Would somebody be so kind as to provide me with the specific date at which our affairs ceased to be determined by cabals and conspiracies of sinister and powerful actors, inherently political in nature, working in concert to achieve some one or more self-serving purposes? When, exactly, did it stop?
On August 19, 1953, the fledgling CIA overthrew the elected government of Iran/Persia in the form of Mohammad Mosaddegh. That established the organizational culture and operational paradigm of that institution, which has become cemented over the years. Just as you cannot have a little randomness or a little police or government corruption, you cannot have, or at least cannot hope to prove you have, only a little amount of sinister conspiracies by powerful political cabals. We have one sitting at the heart of the US government and must therefore assume that it is but the tip of the iceberg.
Having nothing else in mind to write for today, and needing to stockpile something because I will be camped out along the Mendocino coast helping my wife celebrate her birthday, I have decided to amplify, clarify and expand a bit on that. As I write this, I see that it is turning largely into a compilation, but that too is well and good and appropriate to our times. First I'd like to call attention to two words: "statesman" and "philanthropist". These are very special words and the former is almost never used anymore and was always rarely used. Why? It denotes a politician who places the interests of the nation or the people above his or her own and/or that of his or her backers and supporters. A rare bird indeed. The second is one upon whom a spotlight is shown because they choose to share the spoils of family or personal piracy with the hoi polloi, or at least some museum or university. A less rare but nonetheless odd bird. They and those denoted by words such as "selfless" are far from common, it is, if anything, their antithesis that is common and "normal", the self-serving, self-interested, corruptible and corrupted alike.
I would also like to call everybody's attention to the article at the following link: ( https://theconversation.com/in-defence-of-conspiracy-theories-and-why-th... ) It is a short, wonderful article written by one David Coady, Senior Lecturer in Philosophy, University of Tasmania, and is free to republish under creative commons. (many should go ahead and republish it in many places, IMHO) He, quite tellingly, points out the following:
conspiracy theories have had a bad reputation. To characterize a belief as a conspiracy theory is to imply it’s false. More than that, it implies people who accept that belief, or want to investigate whether it’s true, are irrational.
On the face of it, this is hard to understand. After all, people do conspire. That is, they engage in secretive or deceptive behaviour that is illegal or morally dubious.
Conspiracy is a common form of human behaviour across all cultures throughout recorded time, and it has always been particularly widespread in politics.
Virtually all of us conspire some of the time, and some people (such as spies) conspire virtually all of the time. Given people conspire, there can’t be anything wrong with believing they conspire. Hence there can’t be anything wrong with believing conspiracy theories or being a conspiracy theorist.
He further sees the current usage and application of the term "conspiracy theory" as being highly similar to the usage and application of the term "heresy" in medieval times and wonders if we are not slouching toward a new inquisition.
Caitlin too has weighed in from a land down under. This is the web page linked to by the title of the article in my e-mail. It appears to be pretty much the same but with more and better graphics than what's in my in-box. ( https://caitlinjohnstone.com/2019/08/12/everyones-a-conspiracy-theorist-... ) The title says a ton about us and our willingness to conspire and acknowledge conspiracies while still using the nefarious pejorative "conspiracy theory" to censor and shut down that which we do not wish to hear. Of course, it is mostly used on our behalf by our betters, but we are, in general, far too willing to buy into that outrageous restraint upon our thoughts, speech and behavior. Her excellent column, generally in the context of the recent suicide of one Mr. Epstein, in part focuses on the growing need of anybody and everybody to preface anything and everything with "I am not a
heretic conspiracy theorist, but ...". She does this, in part, by quoting others doing exactly that.
"I’m not a conspiracy theorist but there are an awful lot of very powerful people who would like to see this Epstein thing go away. Is anyone investigating the guard on duty?" tweeted actor Patricia Heaton.
"I am not into conspiracy theories. But Epstein had destructive information on an extraordinary number of extraordinarily powerful people. It is not easy to commit suicide in prison. Especially after being placed on suicide watch. Especially after already allegedly trying," tweeted public defender Scott Hechinger.
Journalist Abi Wilkinson summed up the silliness of this widespread preface very nicely, tweeting, "'"I'm not a conspiracy theorist' is such a weird assertion when you think about it, the idea there's a binary between believing all conspiracies and flat out rejecting the very concept of conspiracy in all circumstances."
She herself points out that:
The word "conspire" is defined by Merriam-Webster as "to join in a secret agreement to do an unlawful or wrongful act or an act which becomes unlawful as a result of the secret agreement". No sane person would deny that this is a thing that happens, nor that this is likely a thing that happens to some extent among the powerful in their own nation. This by itself is a theory about conspiracy per definition, and it accurately applies to pretty much everyone. Since it applies to pretty much everyone, the label is essentially meaningless, either as a pejorative or as anything else.
and notes, disapprovingly, that the real problem is the use of the term as a pejorative, and the fact that the ever improperly vigilant Feebs are starting to babble about the threat of conspiracy theories in almost the same breath as they babble about the need for domestic terrorism legislation and regulation. She foreshadowed part of that with a most telling quote concerning the Feeble Feeby b.s. as follows:
Recently, FBI comes out with absurd notion that conspiracy theories are threats to national security & Esptein is found dead in his cell. But like when Garry Webb who uncovered intelligence collusion in crack cocaine epidemic shot himself in the head - twice! Don't ask questions
— Ajamu Baraka (@ajamubaraka) August 10, 2019
The column, like that of CSTMS and that of David Coady is definitely worth not merely a read, but very serious consideration. Are our respective countries really founded on the idea that a people, given access to information, knowledge, and facts can reason out sufficient awareness and cognizance of the realities of daily life and political affairs to govern themselves, or are we really hapless dotards who need to be told what to think and when? If so, by whom? How is it we find so many MBAs and so few true savants at the apex of the information chain? How is it that so many rabid war mongers with no skill set beyond a ravenous blood lust and a flair for propagandizing have so much command over the national narratives?
I would like to toss a couple of other thoughts into the discussion. Any and every use of the term "conspiracy theory" presupposes, supports and reinforces some putatively "accepted", "approved", "standard", and/or "official" narrative and implicitly asserts that, through being such, this narrative is authoritative and must be considered to be superior to any other argument. In essence, this putative accepted or standard narrative becomes the authoritative position and simply pointing to its existence is deemed sufficient to quash and override any and every other hypothesis. This is a convoluted self-reinforcing variation of the fallacy known as argumentum verecundiam. In fact, in a great many cases, the putative authoritative position owes its pseudo-authoritative nature directly to a specific instance of argumentum ad verecundiam and as such is simply straight up invalid. Furthermore, articulation of the rhetorical war cry of "conspiracy theory" is also an instance (or a pair of simultaneous instances) of the genetic fallacy, the unstated authoritative position is to be accepted not on its merits but because it is authoritative and comes from "appropriate sources" of some sort; while the alleged "conspiracy theory" is to be rejected, not on its merits, but because it can be, correctly or incorrectly, asserted to be a mere conspiracy theory and hence improperly sourced and ergo wrong or invalid regardless of its merits. I say correctly or incorrectly because the term "conspiracy theory" has devolved into the equivalent of simply shrieking "bullshit" or "idiocy", and need not even contain the elements that allegedly constitute a "conspiracy theory". I have seem it applied to hypotheses where no conspiracy has been alleged in the hypothesis or by its presenter, as well as to some where there is no widely accepted authoritative position that it could be deviating from.
Since Edward Bernays, numerous persons, groups and organizations have devoted great amounts of time, effort, money and research into advertising-PR-propaganda, and they have become quite proficient at it. Many of them practice it pretty constantly, and they are not all in advertising. We once had laws preventing some of the propagandizing arms of the government from using it here at home, though they were, in a sense, unenforceable. Communication went global before much of anything else, ya know. That's moot now because they have been weakened and more or less repealed. For decades, revolving doors between certain industries and the agencies that they have captured have been noted and the relationship between the bankster-brokers and government has been positively incestuous for decades. The real question is and ever should be "What role, if any, did which cabal(s) play in the particular event at hand?", and not "do cabals really exist?" True, there are things that simply happen, great numbers of them, including some relatively momentous events, but it should never be blithely assumed that pure coincidence is the norm or even the most probable cause of anything. That is simply not supportable by the evidence. And therein lies a big part of the problem, we now live is a post-evidence society and reality. With respect to far, far too much and far, far too many things we are never presented with any evidence worthy of the name whatsoever, but, instead, our betters simply tell us what is true and to trust them. That way lies madness.
Image is Bruno5, author's own, 2011, Campo de' Fiori
Its an open thread so have at it. The floor is yours
I won't be here to participate but please don't, as the candidate said, "prefer truth to FACTS"