Tag Archives: conspiracy theories

Conspiracy in Southern Manitoba

 

Hundreds of Manitoba gathered in Steinbach recently to protest the imposition of government restrictions on their personal freedom in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. It is interesting that they chose Steinbach, because at the time it had the highest per capita rate of active Covid-19 cases in all of Canada. At the same time our hospital was completely filled. Basically people brought to the hospital could not be taken in because there was no room for them until someone died. Some patients were sent  to a major hospital in Winnipeg. Others  had to helicoptered to Brandon a city about 3 &1/2 hours by car.

Yet, in violation of Manitoba Heath orders, a large crowd gathered at Steinbach’s A.D. Penner Park and most of them, by a wide majority, did not wear masks nor maintain social distance from each other. As a result some of them were ticketed for violating provincial health orders. Meanwhile loudspeakers played hymns and Christian songs, proving once again that you don’t need science or health orders if you are on the side of the angels and can read conspiracy theories on the Internet. The event was covered by national media.

Here is what CTV News reported one of those in attendance saying,

“Each person here in this country is so incredibly important, and I have nothing but compassion for everybody here, regardless of what side you are on, regardless of your beliefs,” said Kayla, one of the attendees at the rally.

“What we’re seeing here is people gathering from all different races, nationalities, backgrounds, careers and they all just want one thing, and that is freedom.”

 

For some reason the protesters believe being required to wear a mask so that other people are protected is a horrendous infringement on their freedom. Why do they not oppose the law that prevents them from driving 90km in a School zone? Don’t they have a God-given right to drive any speed they want? How about the law that prevents them from walking into other people’s homes and stealing their money? How about the law that requires food to be checked for safety before it is sold to the public? These are all laws that prevent us from doing whatever we want. No one in Canada has the right to do whatever they want.

Some of the protesters heaped abuse on Health officials trying to enforce health orders. Some suggested the officials go to the devil. Conservative Christians were photographed holding up signs demanding religious freedom.

Lewis Weiss the Reeve from the nearby Rural Municipality of Labroquerie made another comment that demonstrated he has learned about conspiracies  when he commented,

“It seems very strange that our loved ones are being allowed to die when there are medicines available that very quickly and easily can cure this.”

 Clearly, he is another political leader who is closely tethered to conspiracy theories rather than science or just plain truth. I guess we are just as good at this as our American neighbours.

The Conspirator-in-Chief

John Oliver had a good theory about Trump’s conspiracy theories. He treats conspiracy theories like adult children. He launches them into the world and then takes no responsibility for them. That is why some now call him the “Conspiracy theorist-in-Chief.” Whether they are true or not is unimportant. What matters is whether or not Trump thinks they will help him. Everything else is irrelevant.

This is all part of Trump’s complete disregard for truth. He does not only lie. He does plenty of that, but he also just does not care about whether or not statements he makes are true. He just cares about whether or not those statements help his cause. And often he thinks conspiracy theories might help his cause, because they have done so in the past. For example, conspiracy theories helped him to get elected in 2016 and any theory that might help him get re-elected in 2020 is fine with him.

A Conservative radio talk show host, listened to by millions, understood Trump better than most. He pointed out how clever Trump was in re-tweeting messages without saying he agreed with them. As  Rush Limbaugh said,

“Trump is just pouring gas onto a fire and having fun watching the flames.” The problem of course, is that those flames can hurt people. As John Oliver said, “but during a pandemic is a very bad time to throw gasoline onto a fire because people are going to get burned, making those flames not quite as much  fun to watch, because make no mistake here, people who have been convinced that Covid-19 was overblown have sometimes paid a steep price.”

Lately he has passed on a weird conspiracy theory—without evidence of course—that Obama and Biden faked the death of Osama bin Laden and then arranged for the American soldiers who helped fake it to be killed to hide the truth. Once again, I am sure many Americans believe it. Only because they want to believe it.

One could easily multiply the statements. As Fareed Zakaria pointed out, “Trump’s conspiracy theories resonate deeply with his voters, and that is the most troubling aspect of this story.” That is a very important point. The American people–or a least a very large portion of them–not only live in Fantasyland. They want to be there. That is where they feel most at home. Those people will keep voting for such leaders. I don’t think there is anything anybody can do about it either. Even if Trump is defeated in this upcoming election they will believe the next person who uses the same approach. Think of that.

The defeat of Trump, if it happens, won’t resuscitate truth. It won’t be reborn any time soon. We are in trouble. Maybe we are doomed.

 

Liars and Bullshitters

I still remember the first time I ever saw Donald Trump on television. I had heard of him before but I had never paid any attention to him. I believe, this was some time after his unsuccessful attempt to win the Republican nomination for president. He appeared on a national television talk show and told the audience that he had absolute proof that President Obama was born outside the United States, thus making his recent elections illegitimate. He claimed to have proof and said he would reveal it soon. I was quite surprised, never really have paid attention to what I later learned was the birther conspiracy theory.

Because, at the time I knew so little about Trump I took his claims seriously. I wondered what would happen when Trump revealed the truth. After all, Obama was already president.

Of course Trump never appeared with the truth. He promised that the day of revelation would come soon. Of course, that day, like the day he promised to reveal his income tax returns, also never arrived.

By then I realized Trump was not a liar he was a bullshitter.  By that I mean someone who did not just fail to tell the truth (that’s a liar). He didn’t care about the truth at all. Whether a statement he made was true or false never makes any difference to him. All that matters is whether or not a statement is convenient to him at the time. He is truly indifferent to the truth. That is a bullshitter.

 

Truth and Conspiracy Theories

 

I have a theory about conspiracy theories.

America is so filled with conspiracy theories it is difficult to decide where to start and where to end. They are ubiquitous. They are literally everywhere.

I have been trying to explain why in my opinion that is so. I believe it is because of their particular devotion to believing without evidence. That devotion has been around so long many don’t even see. Many people think it is normal to believe wild theories without evidence.

Here is a theory I endorse: the more unlikely a statement, the stronger the evidence we should demand before we believe it. The weaker the evidence in support of a theory the more suspect we should be about it. For example, if someone says Barack Obama was born outside the United States that is a statement that is hard to believe, but it is not so outrageous that it could not be true. I would require some evidence though, because it is not obviously true. If you say that Barack Obama is part of an international conspiracy of elite pedophiles that are attacking very young children to kill them and drink their blood that is a pretty wild statement. Such a statement requires deep evidence to be believed. Nothing else will do.

Yet to a lot of people such a statement about Obama is made and it is believed. It does not matter how outrageous it is, if it sort of fits in with their own world-view they believe it without any evidence at all. These believers live in a world of conspiracy theories and they find the current world very congenial. They fit in. Increasingly, those who demand evidence don’t belong in this new world. Increasingly, the new world is a world of make-believe or FantasyLand. According to a recent study, 25% of Americans believe Qanon theories while another 24% are not sure about them! What is there to be unsure of?

Believing crazy theories without evidence is good evidence of not cherishing truth. A country that is soaked in conspiracy theories without evidence is a country that does not respect the truth. That is a country where truth is dying.

What is Conspiracy Theory?

A conspiracy is the activity of a group of people acting in concert to accomplish a heinous act. Bad things happen. They always will. Sometimes they come about because of a conspiracy of bad actors to bring them about. Sometimes one person does it alone. Then there is no conspiracy. I am not talking about such a conspiracy.

For example, in the 2016 federal election for president in the United States there was a conspiracy, spear-headed by President Vladimir Putin of Russia and those who worked with him to interfere, illegally and immorally in the American presidential election to discredit Hillary Clinton and favor Donald Trump. They conspired in secret but the evidence is overwhelming. The Mueller inquiry clearly and unequivocally determined this to be the case. A joint non-partisan intelligence report reached the same conclusion.

This is not the type of conspiracy I am talking about. The reason this is not what I am talking about is that the belief in the conspiracy was reasonable and backed up by a mountain of evidence.

 

The type of conspiracy theory I am talking about now is the paranoid or unreasonable belief in a conspiracy. The key is the lack of reasons to support the belief. In such a case, the evidence does not support the belief in the conspiracy. The belief in the conspiracy is thus not justified. It is a paranoid belief in other words because it is based on an unreasonable fear.

Fears are important. Fears can be bad and they can be good. If a fear is based on evidence it is a justified fear and we should pay attention to it. Reasonable fears should not be ignored. For example, when scientific evidence is overwhelming that the climate will change dramatically unless we change our ways, we should follow the evidence. When 97% of the scientists or more say that irreparable damage to the environment and our society will result from our failure to act, we should pay attention unless we have an even better reason to do otherwise.

Reasonable fears can protect us from harm. Unreasonable fears can cause us harm. We need to know how to distinguish them. That is not always easy to do. For a while, that was hard to do with evidence about climate change. For a long time now the evidence has mounted to such an extent that it is no longer reasonable to ignore. Reasonable fears can lead us out of danger. These are good fears. Unreasonable fears can lead us into danger.

Unreasonable fears should be ditched. The sooner the better. Sometimes that is hard to do. I have an unreasonable fear of heights. That is a called a phobia because it is unreasonable. All of us know that when we are in high places where we might fall down, we must be careful. That is a reasonable fear. Sometimes the fear is above and beyond all the evidence. That is the type I have. That is a phobia. I am not proud of it, but there is nothing I can do about. I know when I am in a glass elevator there is nothing to fear, but I can’t stop being afraid. My fear is not based on reasons. That is why I can’t reason my way out of it. I wish I could. That fear sometimes is debilitating.

Recently Republican supporters had a garden party at the White House to meet and greet the Republican nominated candidate for the Supreme Court. It was held outdoors, but the attendees did not practice social distancing and most of them did not wear masks. A significant number of those in attendance contracted Covid-19 after that event. The event may have been a super spreader event of the Covid-19 virus. That was dangerous and unwise on the part of the reckless attendees. It may have caused president Trump or others to get the coronavirus. A reasonable fear of the disease could have led a number of those in attendance to take reasonable precautions.

A current conspiracy theory is being promulgated by QAnon, and others, that Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Tom Hanks, George Soros, and other elite liberals are all part of a cabal of Satan-worshipping pedophiles that drink the blood of babies. They also believe that Donald Trump is the saviour who will protect the innocent children from this conspiracy. This theory is about as absurd as a theory can get, but many people believe it entirely without evidence. This is the type of conspiracy theory I want to talk about.

When it comes to conspiracies we need to be able to detect the reasonable theories from the unreasonable ones. That means we have to carefully analyze and sift through the evidence in support of theories or that might contradict the theories. To do that we must exercise our critical thinking or reason. That is our best tool for this purpose. Not faith in the promulgator of the theory. We are entitled to take into consideration the reputation of the proponents of a theory, but only to a limited extent. Even experts can be wrong. It is much more important to look at the evidence and the analysis and reach a conclusion. Sometimes we can’t do that. Then we should look at all the evidence we can and consult as many experts as possible and reach a tentative decision about the theory, and be prepared to discard or amend it as soon as the evidence leads us to do so.

 

Foundational Conspiracy

 

We have all noticed by now that the world is filled with conspiracies. It really is scary and strange out there. I have been trying to figure out why that is the case.

Anna Merlan in her book, Republic of Lies: American conspiracy theorists and their surprising rise to power reminds us, that conspiracies, particularly in the United States have been around forever. Particularly they have been around since the United States was founded. This is what she said,

The Trump era has merely focused our attention back on to something that has reappeared with reliable persistence: the conspiratorial thinking and dark suspicions that have never fully left us.”

I didn’t realize this but there were conspiracies among white settlers of North America who speculated that North American Indians, as they were mistakenly called, were literally in league with the devil. They thought the natives were conspiring with the devil in order to enlist demons to help them drive out these invaders.  It was a crazy theory.

Now Native Americans one the other hand had good reason to be desperate for help, but enlisting the devil was unlikely to be very helpful. They are the ones who would have rational fears about the invaders. Mysterious diseases accompanied them and indigenous people around North America were dying in incredible numbers. To the inhabitants it was incomprehensible. But it was the invaders that had the most conspiracy theories.

I have actually thought that fear has been one of the driving aspects of conspiracies. Richard Hofstadter in his book The Paranoid Style in American Politics said that paranoia was the foundation of conspiracy. Those are unreasonable fears. A good friend of mine, who actually knows some history, warned me to be careful about Hofstadter even though he won 2 Pulitzer prizes. He said his books have been challenged by historians for their lack of accuracy. But I believe Hofstadter is right on this point at least. Paranoia is an unreasonable fear. Sometimes it springs from a guilty conscience.

According to Merlan,

“The elements of suspicion were present long before the 2016 election, quietly shaping the way large numbers of people see the government, the media and the nature of what’s true and trustworthy.

And for all of our bogus suspicions, there are those that have been given credence by the government itself. We have seen a sizeable number of real conspiracies revealed over the past half century, from Watergate to recently declassified evidence of secret CIA programmes, to the fact that elements within the Russian government really did conspire to interfere with US elections. There is a perpetual tug between conspiracy theorists and actual conspiracies, between things that are genuinely not believable and truths that are so outlandish they can be hard, at first, to believe.”

 

I don’t have data to support this theory, but I think, the United States has been particularly susceptible to conspiracy theories. Right now we see them all around us, each one weirder than the one before. Whether that is true or not I wonder why so many conspiracy theories flourish in that country. What is there about that country, even more than many other countries, that leads them to believe crazy stuff? Why are they so eager to embrace conspiracy theories?

I have a theory too. (I just admit I have no data to support it) I think it is because they have a guilty conscience. After all genocide of Native American Indians, as they call them, and slavery, both lie at the foundation of that country. That is enough to generate a lot guilt and fear. Those are two pretty good bases for conspiracies. Don’t you think? Maybe that is why they have such a devotion to wild theories .