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Thinking It Through: Conspiracy Theory Self-Defense

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"Conspiracy" means "breathing together". People out conspiracies when their respirations go out of phase with the conspirators'. An urgently uncomfortable experience for people of integrity. For such individuals, the body doesn't die, but it becomes untenable until integrity is restored.

The Edward Snowdens and Chelsea Mannings of this world are not resigned and cynical; they just refuse to sell out their integrity in exchange for a comfortable life. For them, notoriety is not a reward, and it's probably a punishment; otherwise they'd have chosen a different line of work.

I have had the honor to know more than one such individual personally, and can report that the experience is typically traumatic. Whistle-blowers get one shot at The Right Thing, and then kiss their familiar life goodbye. Actual conspiracies are outed by such courageous people; individuals who do not see humanity as hopelessly corrupt, even as they learn more than they might wish to know about the depths to which some of us sink.

Real conspiracies such as the Ukraine Affair or the many banking scandals (Wells Fargo, hello?) have the characteristic of being carefully concealed, and only come out because most people (even Republican policy-wonks, who knew?) are actually doing their best to make the world work for all of us. (Wells Fargo!? Jeeez Louise! as Madam Jane says.) As we all know, many such scandals are completely unaffected by exposure. Some are even legitimatized and perpetuated and turned into policy in the aftermath. Outrage often goes unaddressed. Unless, as with the recent death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody, the outrage transcends spectacle and becomes action.

Most of the people who circulate the other stories do not have direct knowledge of facts. They may cite a lot of sources, which sources may or may not have direct knowledge, assuming they are even human beings. I don't mean reputable journalists. A reputation is something serious. Some people who claim to know make living by claiming to know. But the ones who really know don't usually get to make a career out of conspiracy-busting.

If somebody with no personal or professional connection to the story claims to know the nefarious plottings of real nefarious plotters, that calls the competence of said nefarious plotters into serious question. Maybe we should take a moment and consider their intelligence too, and in both senses of that word, their sources and their sagacity: if conspiracy theorists want to feel smarter than other people, it's always possible to find examples. But in that case they should at least pick a nefarious plot that could work in the first place. There have been law-enforcement sting operations without which shabby entrapments no plot is even contemplated.

Then, there's the following a story seems to have. A conspiracy that's so blatantly obvious that a crowed of internet-conspiracy theory fans latch onto it does not thereby acquire cred. If for instance Bill Gates is really up to no good, I mean besides having cursed us all with %*@! ®Windows, it's going to be difficult for him to keep that under wraps. And being misguided is not the same thing as being evil even if it has dreadful ripple effects. And being evil is not evidence of a theory's validity.

In addition to the serious whistleblowers I've known, there are conspiracy theorists who got caught up in the game, looking for nefarious plots to expose. The trouble with that approach was that they found some nefarious plotters, and vice-versa. If you are not one yourself, or one of the aforementioned pros, you probably don't want to go there.

There are clearly a lot more conspiracy theories and rumors than actual nefarious plots; but their real impacts continue disproportionately to infest our world. Whether proven or not, because sensation has so completely supplanted fact-based reporting in the media markets, the uses to which a conspiracy theory can be put while it's only hypothetical are more nefarious than most of the purported plots. But that's just a byproduct of how extremely lucrative they can be.

In this time of Surveillance Capitalism and AI-driven screen addiction, these stories are irresistible bait, chum, blood in the water. People who respond are treated as a demographic. And such demographics are bot-fodder. Ripe for algorithmic persuasion. And lest this be seen as a conspiracy theory, please note that it's been the subject of rigorous scholarly analysis for many years now. It was a big problem in the 2016 election, as some of us are still learning.

There's another reason to let these stories pass by un-clicked and unread: they resonate with our resignation and cynicism. And we've all got some of that these days. It's being weaponized continually by the President and the financial industry and everyone in between, and this is having toxic impacts on real life. People who are resigned to a dismal future of mediocrity are an asset, not a problem, to the people Caitlin Johnstone so aptly calls "the Bastards" in her wonderful, poetic, prophetic book, "Woke," which everybody should buy immediately and give to all their friends. And enemies; you never know.

***

Ok, you may well be asking, where can we get a grip? What can we do, when it's like we were tilting the chair back, and suddenly we're flailing our arms trying not to go over backwards, knowing it's too late anyway?

Here's the thing: resignation is a worldview. Like any worldview it colors every aspect of life. This one emphasizes hopelessness, apathy and victimhood, with a dollop of self-righteousness thrown in for flavor.

Our eyes are a point of view, from which only the visible is visible. But our minds can fly to any viewpoint we can imagine. The POV we're concerned with here is the mental one. It's tricky: it's the go-to version of our realities. What we imagine is closely tied to our expectations. The word, expectation, refers to our "outside view" of life: what we're looking to see. Expectation is little else but imagination.

A view is whatever you see from a certain point. A worldview does not involve an actual point in space-time: Only what we call "here". We are always "here". There is no "here" without "there". There is no "there" without "here". This relation is a function of brain activity as automatic as breathing. We have some control of breathing. And we have some control of what we say. Breathing will start up again before we die from holding our breath. What we tell ourselves runs on and on and on continuously without pausing for breath.

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I'm an old Pogo fan. For some unknown reason I persist in outrage at Feudalism, as if human beings can do much better than this. Our old ways of life are obsolete and are killing us. Will the human race wake up in time? Stay tuned...

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