Guardian

Conspiracy Theories and Comment is Free – Part 2


A guest post by Mitnaged

This article is meant to complement Adam Levick’s and to supplement my previous account of a conference I attended in London about conspiracy theories.   It focuses on some of the below the line comments from those who I think show signs of being drawn to conspiracy theories, particularly about Israel and Jews, in their own words.

In my previous account I summarised the main entrenched beliefs of those who are likely to fall for conspiracy theories, namely that:

Everything is evil – there is invariably an assumption of malign intent (whereas, commonsensically, some conspiracy theories may be benign);

They reach far beyond the everyday – they are invariably over the top.

They evidence indiscriminate distrust – of the government, of other allegedly powerful groups

Every official explanation is a lie – “That’s what they want us to believe” and theorists do not believe evidence-based consensus. 

Everything is intended – there is the  assumption of hyper-competence on the part of conspirators who are perceived to be all-powerful – and that nothing happens by accident.

Everything is significant – inherent grandiosity of any theory.  (Real conspiracies are, by contrast, limited in scope)

Heroic strivings to seek out evidence – in the absence of positive objective proof

Small anomalies are imbued with crucial significance.

They are self-insulating and therefore very resistant to change, and are sealed off from impartial examination of the evidence, and they arise even before the full facts are known.

My focus is on the below the line comments to Jon Ronson’s articles on CiF about the internet  There is necessarily a small selection of the comments (I could, as they say, have gone on and on collecting more but am limited by space here) which evidence their writers’ lack of insight and critical thinking, the tendency to confuse thoughts and opinions with facts and to overgeneralise from the particular – all of which leave them wide open to be ensnared by conspiracy theories if they are not ensnared already.  Levick has already pointed up the role of CiF in cranking up the fears of these people and readers are cordially invited, if they feel so inclined, to play “spot the conspiracy theorist” below the line throughout CiF and to share their findings here.

Having said all that, readers should note how glad I am to have been able to include here some comments which evidence that their writers are capable of questioning and critical thought.

Dealing first with Part 1 of Esc Control on CiF:

Opportunities for paranoia begin in the first video – Ronson wants to make a film not to see whether people are trying to control the internet – his hypothesis is that they are trying to control it.  Note the buzz words –  “Clash of ideologies”,   “secret ways to control the internet”  but at least he admits that that point of view may be paranoid.

Nevertheless he plays on insecure people’s profound discomfort with “not knowing”, their lack of basic trust, their sense of powerlessness, their having an external locus of control, all of which can set vulnerable people up to see conspiracies where there are none.

And this first article succeeds in doing all that below the line, although this poster later asks Ronson for more information too:

these 

(Note that this person says he/she is not being paranoid, but note also the extreme language – that the internet has been “disabled” (but doesn’t say how) in order to “stop communication” (but doesn’t give examples).

The following may well not be from a conspiracy theorist  – it’s tempting to believe that he may have a point, not least because of the lack of rant and that his assumptions are precisely that – very importantly he does not claim that they are facts:


The next is a classic illustration of how CiF article has provided the fertile ground which attracts those unhealthily inclined to swallow conspiracy theories whole.   Note the reference to the ubiquitous “they” without mentioning who “they” are and how he knows that there is a “they”.  Note also “Wait till it happens to you…..” without describing what exactly happened to him:


The following seems a very sane and pertinent point, in contrast to jockyscot’s.   Note the wording – he wants to “explore” this “apparent” abuse of power (ie he is willing to admit doubt); and again he recognises that his is a hypothesis/supposition rather than a fact:


In the following example the poster suggests that we are all watching each other.  Not strictly within the realms of conspiracy theory perhaps but this person should be careful not to let imagination become fact without proof:

Later on, however, in answer to SamsonBadcock who is, evidently, something of a literal thinker:


Moving on, what do people make of this person?  He seems to be a fully paid up member of the conspiracy theory club, judging by the link at the end of his message (and has the moniker been chosen randomly??):

I am not sure whether the following is on the borderline or whether this person is genuinely asking questions to which he wants answers.   Whichever, you can bet that those questions are bound to chime with those below the line who are far too ready to believe in such things as “is their (sic) an overarching goal?”   (There is always an “overarching goal” for conspiracy theorists):


It really wouldn’t be CiF without the usual tropes about Zionist conspiracies and power.  However, this sort of paranoia may be well-founded.  After all, look at the damage Stuxnet did:

MarshallMcLoon 5 October 2011 2:51PM

It is absolutely brilliant how Mark Ronson who is a Jew is able to uncover these Zionist mindbenders.

It shows that criticism of Israel is not antisemitism and that Jews are actually much better off when they attack Zionism and expose it for what it is.

I am sure now Mark Ronson will be called a so-called “self-hating-jew” and will be subjected to precisely the same treatment as Gilad Atzmon. Don’t worry Mark! There are many of us who support you!

And, this:

MarshallMcLoon 5 October 2011 3:25PM

angelinterceptor

I look forward to Jon’s investigation on China too, keep up the good work.I take it this is part of a series?

Nice try, changing the subject to China. Are you aware that per capita Israel has more human rights abuses than China, which is a very large country?

It is the Zionists who try to control the internet in a sneaky way that is based on subterfuge and trickery. This does not compare to China at all, in any way, which has a quite open policy about what it will and will not block.

pretzelberg

In a series about “controlling the Internet” you yet again focus on Israel??…The author is desperately looking for a dastardly conspiracy that simply isn’t there.

What you mean is that he has not found it. But he has found evidence of the conspiracy.

As the brave Israel poster istultus points out, all you have to do is to follow the Zionist capital.

Also:

MarshallMcLoon 5 October 2011 3:19PM

istultus

A lot of capital is being spent by private right-wing organisations to create “pro-Israeli” propaganda.

Too right. Whenever Zionism is pushed, you can always find a lot of capital!

These right-winger are sadly deluded into thinking that the only thing wrong with Israel is our public image abroad.

Israel has a simple option. There must be a referendum across the Middle East to decide if this experiment should continue.

As Ben White has pointed out the so-called two-state solution is dead!

Soon … the only ones left talking about a Palestinian state will be those trying to preserve a regime of Jewish ethno-religious exclusivity.

Can I assume, istultus, that you are an Israeli from what you say (i.e. “our Foreign Office”?). I am glad that you have the courage to accept these terrible Zionist crimes and are working for a better country.

Roundly disagreed with by:

pretzelberg 5 October 2011 3:57PM

MarshallMcLoon

It is the Zionists who try to control the internet in a sneaky way that is based on subterfuge and trickery.

Oh dear. What do you sound like?

And “Zionism mindbenders”? Good God.

NOTE:  If readers believe that MarshallMcLoon is too perfect an example of the usual CiF below the line mindless anti-Israel dingbat, they are absolutely correct.   CiF Watch has been reliably informed that MarshallMcLoon is someone who wanted to push the envelope and see how far he/she could spew the usual Israel hatred on CiF before he/she got deleted or banned.   It took some time for the mods to delete all but one of MarshallMcLoon’s posts, and (surprise, surprise!) the only one remaining on 9 Oct 2011 is one which regurgitates all the usual half-baked arguments and tropes which underpin the GWV.  And he/she hasn’t been banned so far as CiF Watch is aware:

 

Turning now to Ronson’s article about another fertile breeding place for conspiracy theories to those far too inclined to believe that people have time to engage in them – that of astroturfing:

Is KingLudd overly inclined to buy into the conspiracy theory mindset?   The third paragraph of his post gives us a clue – anyone who mentions the Bilderbergs, or “global-led conspiracy”-type nonsense as if it is fact is paid up believer.   He also seems not to realise that cconspiracies are necessarily secret.  If these really existed how come this poor soul or any of his like-afflicted chums ever got to know about them?  No, we are resoundingly in the realm of thoughts (and distinctly bizarre thoughts at that) as facts now:


Moving on, the following are from the Esc and Ctrl: Jon Ronson in Tel Aviv – video

It’s all the fault of Israel for this one:

downwiththewall  5 October 2011 6:16PM

Why is it wrong to show the truth behind all of this peculiar victim-sensationalism that is going on? We all understand that there is a lot of astro-turfing and that it is a heavy load of reporting behind all the deleting, banning and premodding of friends of Israel.

And again this is classic

downwiththewall  5 October 2011 6:21PM

It is not unusual that any thread concerning Israel/Palestine in the end contains more or less only comments from the usual gang of posters like Jubilation, pretzelberg and Keo saying hello to each other and commending each other’s comments. It looks very weird, in particular when you know how many well written, on topic, non-offensive and well-informed comments that have been deleted.

It is easy to go back and check.

Note that it doesn’t answer Jubilation’s question put politely earlier in the CiF thread.  This is behaviour typical of the classic conspiracy theorist “Well if you don’t know already I’m not going to tell you” which not only evidences not only their incapability of articulating the perceived plotted threat but also their inability to provide proof of it:


He’s only just got started.  Below we have proof of this poster’s unshakeable belief in the hypercompetence of CiFWatch, (“Oh they are so clever those CiF watchers”) whose existence, he believes, is focused only on undermining him, as well as his belief that “they” are chuckling all the time, and (horrors!) that the moderators are part of the conspiracy!

downwiththewall  5 October 2011 9:22PM

Moderators have not removed your post saying:

Bukharin

5 October 2011 7:09PM

@downwiththewall

Oh, for the love of God! I’m the son of a shrink, FFS. I’m sorry if I offended anyone her who’s suffered problems with mental health. But, after you write this:

It is not unusual that any thread concerning Israel/Palestine in the end contains more or less only comments from the usual gang of posters like Jubilation, pretzelberg and Keo saying hello to each other and commending each other’s comments. It looks very weird, in particular when you know how many well written, on topic, non-offensive and well-informed comments that have been deleted.

It’s not that far a stretch to, in clear jest, suggest a little colloquial paranoia.

If you dig behind that comment, what I was actually saying was two things: 1. that people are not (I believe) after you, as you seemed to me to imply; 2.that Jews are often a bit paranoid and that feeling like that is not that bad. Yet those subtleties went past the mods and whoever found it offensive.

This quits you of responding as an adult, doesn’t it? With arguments and reason. You are just a kid, eh? Instead you have turned it into a question of my mental health. And moderators have played along all the time. 

And then downwiththewall loses contact with any semblance of reason, and we get this little pearl, proof positive of paranoia and typical of the conspiracy theory mindset, carefully and deliberately stoked up by CiF:

perhaps they are just chuckling all the time: Oh. that crazy Palestineite! Haha, that’s so funny! Haha, how clever That Bukharin is. All that clever psychobabble!

Oh, they are so clever those CIF watchers.

Q.E.D., I think.

7 replies »

  1. Fascinating analysis. And I have to say I did wonder whether MarshallMcLoon was not all what they appeared to be. As well as being OTT they seemed suspiciously literate.

  2. Mitnaged: interesting article. Thank you.

    You mention the ‘self-insulating’ and ‘resistant to change’ aspects – which I would agree with. It seems to me that those who swallow the conspiracy theories whole derive a curious comfort from them.

    In some cases the comfort seems to arise from a feeling of superiority; a kind of “we’re more astute than the ordinary fool on the street”, but there seem to be other, diverse comforts to be found.

    There are quite extreme forums where all manner of bizarre beliefs are held and on occasion, you find people who want to prove their ‘open-minded’ credentials – unfortunately, to the extent that their brains fall out. Nevertheless I found this willingness to engage with bizarre theories in order to demonstrate a ‘no prejudice’ mindset interesting.

    • I believe that the sense of comfort you mention is similar to that experienced by members of extremist religious sects, who also believe themselves to be superior to and more astute than the rest of us.

      The single-mindedness and obsessional nature of these beliefs might well mean that their holders are isolated from the wide variety of experience which a normal social life (which involves encountering others with different beliefs and ideas) offers. The conspiracy theorist’s single-minded preoccupation with whatever is the theory of the moment will drive others who are not like-minded away. I would say, therefore, that the comfort you refer to derives not only from the false sense of certainty that they are right and the rest of us are wrong, but also because they mix predominantly with others who support their distorted world views.

      A psychologist colleague of mine suggested that it may also be simply because these people have far too much time on their hands which, coupled with the obsessive’s tendency to overthink and ruminate results in the belief in bizarre theories.

  3. Mitnaged,

    My ambling around these forums can hardly be seen as a ‘study’ but I would say there are several contributing factors, not all of which are to do with lifestyle and/or personality traits. I think we have to look at the wider environment in which these theories are taking root. The ‘nature/nurture’ thing if you like!

    I looked at different forums, some of which make the 9/11 conspiracy theories appear tame! (although that is always a constant wherever you go)There is never just one theory on the boil either, but several; some of which fade away, others that remain as overarching systems to which new developments can be added so as to form a kind of serial drama with increasingly diverse plots and characters.

    To support almost all theories their authors will, to some degree, include New Age beliefs, quantum theory and the type of ‘science’ that belongs on Dr Who or Star Trek (still resting on a ‘nothing is impossible’ take on quantum theory)

    New Age sprituality is of the ‘anything goes’ type – there’s no single creed to follow and organised religion of any stripe is considered controlling and archaic. Because ‘anything goes’, no offering made on the forums is derided. All are respected because the philosophical view that there is no such thing as ‘truth’ is upheld amongst some NA-ers. We each have our own ‘truth’. We see what we see and so fairies and alien beings become as valid as humans.

    Quantum mechanics is the type of science that you need only know a little about in order to sound quite clever to anyone not inclined towards the scientific. As mentioned, quantum theory is so incredible as to fit in with this ‘anything goes’ system of belief. The most relied upon quantum theory on these forums is the type that gave rise to ‘The Secret’: You can make something happen simply by turning your attention on it.

    The last century has been crammed with huge leaps made in science, technology, medicine and societal structure – and those changes are still coming thick and fast. Things my grandmother thought impossible are everyday events now. Her generation seldom went beyond their own town or city, now we can travel to the other end of the world in 24hrs. We have put men on the moon, satellites into orbit and have manned space stations

    Added to these scientific and technological strides, we’ve also been ethnically mixed up, culturally relativised, politically corrected, had our minds instructed to open – and we have, quite literally, a world of information at our fingertips than any previous generation. Our technology enables everyone to see – and see through – government and other institutions. Many of these developments involve some trust – the most fragile of human emotions which is hard to build and easy to destroy. Our technology is also the medium that brings us doom-laden programs of all genres – real and imagined.

    In a way, there is some grounds to see how and why conspiracy theories can breed in this fertile ‘anything goes’ world. Maybe the critical factor is exposure – not to the everyday use we make of science and technology – but to the type of stretching of the imagination possible via forums and conspiracy-type information. I do feel one way forward is to ensure our children are well-schooled in critical thinking.

    As an aside, these forums are almost always anti-Zionist, anti-Western, anti-institution. The NA movement is as damning as any you could name. I don’t mean the majority who are interested in crystals, cards, alternative therapies and so on, but those further up the tree are worrying!

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