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Wednesday, August 01, 2018

Once again: CONSPIRACY!

A small health scare kept me away from the keyboard yesterday, and I had hoped to malinger for another day or so. But this crap deserves a response. The QAnon fanatics are coming out of the woodwork.
In the black hole of conspiracy in which “Q” has plunged its followers, Trump only feigned collusion to create a pretense for the hiring of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, who is actually working as a “white hat,” or hero, to expose the Democrats. Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and George Soros are planning a coup — and traffic children in their spare time. J.P. Morgan, the American financier, sank the Titanic.

In the world in which QAnon believers live, Trump’s detractors, such as Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona and Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin, wear ankle monitors that track their whereabouts. Press reports are dismissed as “Operation Mockingbird,” the name given to the alleged midcentury infiltration of the American media by the CIA. The Illuminati looms large in QAnon, as do the Rothschilds, a wealthy Jewish family vilified by the conspiracy theorists as the leaders of a satanic cult. Among the world leaders wise to satanic influences, the theory holds, is Russian President Vladimir Putin.

QAnon flirts with eschatology, fascist philosophy and the filmmaking of Francis Ford Coppola. Adherents believe a “Great Awakening” will precede the final storm foretold by Trump. Once they make sense of the information drip-fed to them by “Q,” they will usher in a Christian revival presaging total victory.
For more about the QAnon Qult, go here.

My response begins with a graphic prepared by a Q promoter calling himself Atruthsoldier. Eyes right.

It is infuriating to see these deceptive fiends latch onto the word "truth." Look at that alleged "quote" attributed to John Kennedy. If you are older than 30 and possess an IQ over 75, you know that Kennedy never said a word of it. Jack Ruby was still alive when I decided, as a child, to make a serious study of the assassination. I've read a lot since then, and I can assure you that this "quote" is a complete concoction. No JFK biographer will disagree.

This example of False Quotation Syndrome is an extreme example of the deception tactic pioneered by this video (the first version of which hit the internet during the Dubya administration). The video features part of a speech in which JFK decried Russian communism. In the right-wing imagination, these words have morphed into a warning about the Illuminati or the Freemasons or whatever the right-wing bogeyman du jour happens to be.

The John Birchers despised JFK while he was alive. Their descendants now use him as a propaganda puppet. 

Too many well-meaning, middle-class intellectuals and academics make the foolish mistake of framing this problem in deceptive terms. The issue is not conspiracy theorists vs. rationalists. You've no doubt seen that smug, self-congratulatory framing in article after article -- articles which are often illustrated by stills from Oliver Stone's JFK. This reductio ad absurdum approach is almost as foolish as the nonsense spewed by Alex Jones and the QAnon Qrazies.

Giuliani is (technically) right about one thing: "Collusion" is not a crime. Conspiracy is a crime.

What Mueller is investigating is a conspiracy. What this important article (which I soon hope to discuss at length) discloses is a conspiracy. What this important article addresses is a conspiracy. What Senator Merkley recently decried is a conspiracy. On June 16, 2016, when I became the first blogger to suggest in public that Putin and Trump were working together, I posited a conspiracy.

If you hit the above links and say "Very intriguing, but we still don't have a full picture. We need further investigation and courtroom-quality evidence" -- then guess what? You are now a conspiracy theorist.

So was the first detective to suggest that there was more than one Hillside Strangler (and yes, that idea circulated before Bianchi and Buono were caught). So is any cop or prosecutor who argues that more than one person was involved in any given unsolved crime.

So, too, were the investigators of the leading Nazis who stood trial at Nuremburg. The record of that inquiry is officially titled Nazi Conspiracy and Aggression.

The existence of real conspiracies does not mean that all conspiracy theories are created equal. The Nazis propelled themselves into power by spreading false and ridiculous conspiracy theories -- theories in which Jews were the primary devils, though not the only ones. Yet the Nazis demonstrably practiced conspiracy.

We can no longer tolerate a "conspiracy theorists vs. rationalists" formulation. That schema is worse than wrongheaded; it's harmful. Like it or not, we're in a world of conspiracy theory vs. conspiracy theory.

Either Mueller is on to something or he's a tool of the soi-disant "Deep State": Either way, we're talking conspiracy. Sorry, but there is no non-conspiratorial Option Three.

We on the left must summon up the courage to tell those on the right: "My conspiracy theories, though perhaps flawed, are based on logic and evidence. Your conspiracy theories are based on outlandish claims, false quotations, fallacious reasoning, appeals to bigotry and the kind of supernaturalistic horsepuckey that appeals to insecure lumpenproles."

How to tell good from bad in the world of conspiracy theory?

Rule 1: Eschew the supernatural. Any reference to Jesus or Satan should set off the bullshit alarms.

Rule 2. Humility is a virtue; pride is a sin. I have been called a left-wing conspiracy theorist, but no reasonable person would classify me as an Alex Jonesian blowhard macho "Right Man." At least, I hope not. Over the years, some of my theories have proven on-the-mark, and some -- too many -- have turned out to be terribly wrong. Many of my older posts make me cringe. (Linking to examples is a job best left to an enemy.)

Here's the thing: I admit to fallibility. My quaint little scenarios often come with qualifying phrases like "I could be wrong" (or similar words).

I had a Catholic mother and a Jewish stepfather; if there's one thing I know about, it's guilt. When Apollo 13 broke down, my first reaction was to apologize. Guilt is good. Guilt makes one humble.

I humbly suggest that you should heed the conspiracy theorist who has had humility injected into his bones at an early age. He is not necessarily right, but at least he won't pretend to be right when the facts go against him. He can apologize quickly without feeling any threat to his masculinity. The ready apology is the grease that makes the wheels of civilization turn.

Rule 3. K.I.S.S. Conspiracy theories involving secret societies and occult rites and centuries-long schemes are invariably bogus. The Illuminati was real once, briefly, but is now a myth -- and during its brief period of existence, it was more well-meaning than malefic. The Freemasons and the "Deep State" are similarly mythical. Satanists do not rule the world, even though hillbilly "Christians" love to pretend otherwise. (My reading indicates that most wealthy people do not believe in a supernatural realm.)

When positing a theory, keep the number of actors to a believable minimum. Avoid speaking of an amorphous They. Talk about human beings who have addresses and phone numbers and kids and dogs and crusty underwear and all the rest.

Rule 4. Maintain sensible standards of evidence.  Learn to appreciate the level of footnoting that goes into academic works. (The better JFK assassination researchers offer that kind of footnoting.) Learn about the different kinds of evidence required by courts, police departments, prosecutors, journalists, historians, scientists, scholars and professional intelligence analysts. When you have only 50 pieces of a 500 piece jigsaw puzzle, make that admission candidly.

It's not enough to seek out fellow fear-junkies as you all inject paranoia-dope into your veins. Maybe it feels good to get high in that fashion, but there's a difference between getting high and getting at the truth. Always force yourself to work toward a bullet-proof argument -- the kind of argument which will compel an ideological opponent to admit that you're on to something. As a test of intellectual honesty, continually search out the weaknesses of your own argument.

Rule 5: Avoid deliberate liars, even when they tell you what you want to hear. I'm talking about out-and-out fabrications on important matters, not disagreements or biases. I'm talking about False Quotation Syndrome, as exemplified by the bogus JFK quote shown above.

In my extensive experience, left-wing conspiracy buffs often get things wrong. They -- we -- are human. Like all humans, they (we) (I) jump to conclusions and believe dubious informants and commit cognate sins. But they do not concoct quotations. There is a huge moral difference between a blunder and a deliberate lie.

This classic book documents the long history of right-wing False Quotation Syndrome. For a quarter century, I've recommended that work to everyone beginning a serious study of conspiracy theories.

Lefties do not create elaborate fakes like this or this or this. True, the spirit of Puck may impel a lefty to yank legs, as this person did, not to mention this scoundrel. But these leg-pulls are pranks, not serious attempts to deceive. The writer of the Protocols and the asshole who cobbled together that fake JFK quote were no mere pranksters.  

Rule 5. Left good; right bad. That is to say: Theories offered by left-wingers are more likely to be proven correct (or at least partially correct) than are theories offered by right-wingers.

This final rule will strike many people -- including many on the left -- as unfair. Yes, it does convey the reek of petitio principii. And no, I am not claiming that left-wing theories are always on the money. Far from it!

Nevertheless, when it comes to conspiracy theories, the lefty record is more impressive, or at least less embarrassing, than is the rightist record. To illustrate the point, I offer a partial republication of a 2004 Cannonfire post:

* *  *

Some conspiratorial notions are neither right nor left but off the map. For example, the once-popular Roswell silliness escapes easy political classification. The same can be said for many of the more outrageous allegations to come out of the World Trade Center disaster, or for the speculations in The Da Vinci Code.

In most cases, however, the “right/left” filing system really does work. Let’s look at some popular scenarios on both sides and see how they have stood the test of time. Yes, I fully admit that my selection is subjective and biased. I look forward to perusing any alternative lists readers might wish to offer.

Ten theories by Right-wingers:

1. The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion. The classic anti-Semitic canard was cobbled together by Matheiu Golovinski, a right-wing émigré in Paris operating under the direction of the Tsar’s political police. It has been debunked many times.

2. The Satanic Panic. Is a worldwide cabal of Satanists raping and eating our children? Hell no!

3. “The Soviets are coming!” As late as 1995 – 1995! –reactionaries were telling lecture audiences that Soviet troops were massing along the U.S./Mexican border, just waiting for the “go” signal to come streaming in.

4. Whitewater. The scandal that wasn’t.

5. The Illuminati controls the world! Actually, the Illuminati was an anti-royalist society in Bavaria, squelched by the same Emperor played by Jeffrey Jones in Amadeus.

6. Was the Holocaust a hoax? In a word: No.

7. The Catholic Church assassinated Lincoln! This one dates back to a book of buncombe flung together by one Charles Chiniquy, an unstable defrocked priest with a grudge against his former church. Many fundamentalist Protestants still recommend his text.

8. The China/Soviet split was a fraud! So, at least, ran a theory popular within certain CIA circles throughout the 1960s. The prime mover behind this idea was counterintelligence chieftain James Jesus Angleton, a patriotic paranoid who nearly destroyed the agency he had hoped to serve.

9. Hillary and/or Bill killed Vince Foster (not to mention dozens of other alleged “enemies”). Taxpayers spent tons of money investigating this allegation, and ended up with little more than a chemical analysis of baloney.

10. The Communist Party in the United States was a powerful entity which had subverted much of Hollywood. Some folks (Ann Coulter, for example) still want you to believe this drivel. The reality: The CPUSA never had any real power or influence, and might well have died out if not for the dues paid by FBI and police infiltrators.

Compare the above to this list of ten conspiracy theories offered by left-wingers:

1. The CIA aids -- or at least overlooks the activities of -- drug kingpins useful to the Agency. The CIA had always denied this claim until a few years ago, when the Inspector General released a report which (in its unheralded second half) confirmed some of our worst fears. For further reading: The Politics of Heroin by Alfred McCoy, Cocaine Politics by Peter Dale Scott, and Acid Dreams by Martin A. Lee.

2. Watergate. Would Dick Nixon use spooks and Cuban operatives to spy on rivals? At one time, only the most paranoid Democrats would have answered yes.

3. Were hard rightists within the intel community behind the assassinations of the 1960s (JFK, RFK, MLK)? There’s no way I can summarize here the many arguments that have gone back and forth on this topic.

4. The CIA’s mind control experiments. In the 1960s, this was a rumor few dared to credit. In the 1970s, a small flood of documents on Project MKULTRA proved the point.

5. October Surprise. Did key members of the Reagan campaign make a secret deal to keep the American hostages in Iranian hands until Carter lost the election? Establishment pundits cackled at this notion. We haven’t heard much cackling since the allegation was confirmed by French intelligence chieftain Alexandre de Marenches, Russian prime minister Sergei V. Stepashin, Israeli secret agent Ari Ben-Menashe, former Iranian president Abolhassan Bani-Sadr, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, and former Israeli prime minister Yitshak Shamir.

6. Was the Soviet military threat inflated? In the 1970s, left-wingers who made this suggestion were mocked. We now know that when the CIA’s main analysts provided data the hawks found insufficiently useful, George H.W. Bush assembled a “Team B” which churned out hyperbolic assessments of the USSR’s armaments.

7. Yamashita’s gold. Did the Japanese hide an astonishing cache of loot during World War II? And has that loot funded right-wing activities in more recent times? Don’t answer until you’ve read the books of Sterling Seagrave.

8. The CIA and the Nazis. Did the Agency rely on such unsavory characters as Hitler’s spy Reinhard Gehlen? Did Gehlen and company manipulate our view of the cold war? A number of books, including Christopher Simpson’s Blowback, have substantiated an idea once considered mere fable.

9. Did the Bush family do business with Nazis before, during and after the war? Yes – and the scandal goes far beyond what you will read in Kitty Kelley’s bestseller. John Buchanan has the documentation.

10. Did George W. Bush invade Iraq under false premises in order to grab dwindling oil resources? Most Americans deride this notion. Most Iraqis don’t.

I emphasize once again that the above lists represent nothing more than the first ten “right-wing” and “left-wing” theories that popped into my noggin.

Even so, I think most people would agree that list numero uno contains a greater number of outrageous and untrue notions than you’ll find on list number two. The left-wing theorists have a far from perfect batting average, but they often hit at least a double, while their reactionary counterparts rarely manage to get on base. More importantly, the left-wing theorists usually try to construct an argument based on evidence, while their rightist analogs tend to eschew footnotes in favor of high decibel levels and appeals to emotion.

Black helicopters? Post-mortum Elvis sightings? Those are red-state beliefs.

Theorists on both sides, alas, tend toward name-calling whenever any scoffer assails a much-beloved thesis. I would argue that the right-wingers are a little quicker to calumniate, and much nastier in their opprobrium. I will also admit that on both sides of the aisle, the conspiratorial viewpoint tends to transform adherents into creatures who are obsessed, insular, anti-social and just plain unpleasant.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: The key to any conspiracy theory is that there be some way to disprove it. If the conspiracy can explain any fact that is presented, then the theory is meaningless.
That's a good point. That jerk who made "Loose Change," the 9/11 conspiracy movie -- what's his name again? I just woke up and my head is a bit fuzzy -- anyways, he was asked if his theory was "falsifiable." He proudly said that it wasn't.

Is it really possible to get through high school nowadays without being exposed to the concept of falsifiability in science? Are they teaching these kids ANYTHING?
The one book what did it for me was The Bermuda Triangle Mystery: Solved. It was written by a Library Science Major curious about the "disappearance" of ships,airplanes, people, and Greyhound Buses in the area around Bermuda. Research using weather reports, maintenance records, and ship's logs debunked the supernatural component of things going missing.
The book's notoriety at the time of publishing earned it a TV special where the author shredded a leisure suit clad proponent of the Bermuda Triangle Legend.
I never did like the TV show The X-Files because of that book.
Naw. I don't think I'll say that.

Q-Anon based upon a 1999 Italian novel written by leftist anarchists.

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