Conspiracies


I told Camp about a recent conversation I had at the post office the other day with a woman I’ve known for years but never really had any interaction with. We were both waiting in line. I said something about Biden shooting down the Chinese balloon, trying to make small talk. I was not ready for the unusual response. It went something like this: ‘You do know that Biden is dead and the guy you see in the news and on TV is an actor, put there by the deep state.’

            I didn’t know how to respond to that. ‘Where did you get that information?’

            ‘I do my own research since the media cannot be trusted.’

            ‘Research? Like scientific, peer reviewed and fact checked?’

            ‘Don’t tell me you’re sucked into that science crap. You know it’s all mumbo jumbo to hide their real agenda.’

            ‘Which is?

            ‘Taking over the world and making us all into obedient slaves without any personal freedoms.’

            I tried to humour her and said: ‘Like making us believe the earth is flat and the cosmos does not exist.’

            ‘Exactly,’ she said in a conspiratorial tone with her eyes darting around like looking for enemies in the jungle, except we were in the post office.

            I thought I had made a joke but it was obviously more serious than that, telling by her haughty look. ‘Ok, but you are aware that we are all here on our own free will, say, read and watch what we want, move about and go where and when we like,’ I said.

            At that point it was her turn at the counter which was the end of the conversation. After she was done, she marched out, without another word.

            ‘Lucky you,’ Camp said.  ‘At least she left.

Let me tell you about a recent book by Nancy L. Rosenblum of Harvard University and Russell Muirhead of Dartmouth College: ‘A Lot of People Are Saying’ analysing how popular new conspiracies without theory have infected institutions like a malignant virus from the highest public offices to social media platforms and even mainstream media. Here are some excerpts of a recent interview with the Economist:

‘The new conspiracism obliterates nuance and judgment and replaces it with a distorted unreality in which some things are wholly good and others (say, Hillary Clinton) wholly evil. This is its appeal. It’s proponents dispense with evidence and explanations and something with such political force will be taken up everywhere by those who seek to abandon regular processes and disrupt established institutions, and especially by those who reject the idea of a “loyal opposition.” 

The counter-force comes from the authority of knowledge-producing institutions (that is, courts, expert-staffed agencies, research universities) on one side, and democratic common sense on the other. Wherever conspiracism is reshaping public life, two preventatives are vital: to defend the integrity of knowledge-producing institutions and bolster confidence in the ballast of common sense.

Conspiracism comes with a claim to own reality. That’s the scenario we worry about most, one that obliterates a common world of facts and public reasoning. Today anyone can say anything to everyone in the world instantly and for free. And because validation of conspiracy claims takes the form of repetition and assent, even the most casual “likes” and “retweets” give authority to senseless, destructive charges.’

‘The two authors expect that most citizens will fight the disorientation of conspiracist unreality and stand by the common-sense world of reliable facts and arguments. It is the only basis for translating political pluralism into vigorous disagreement that makes democracy possible,’ Camp said.

‘You two are serious today,’ Vicky said, ‘not enough laughs.’

‘You’re right,’ Camp said, ‘I heard the price of beer is going down.’

‘Now that’s funny,’ Vicky said. ‘You do still have your humour.’

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