I love conspiracy theories. I wrote a novella centered on the conspiracy theories and political machinations. (Not to spoil it, but it involves a takeover of the United States government by an insane dictator. But that’s another story.) The point is, I’ve spent a lot of time reading popular conspiracy theories.
Lately, a lot of attention has been paid to so-called “fake news” on social media, and the role they played in the recent U.S. Election.
People who listen to the radio frequently are familiar with these things. A lot of strange ideas have been floated over the air on shows like Coast to Coast AMfor decades now. It’s not new.
I think what is new is the politicization of conspiracy theories. In the old days, conspiracies were about the Illuminati or Extraterrestrial life, and those are never on the ballot. But now, the conspiracy theories are deliberately meant to certain political factions.
It may have started with the 9/11 conspiracy theories, which were inevitably explicitly political in nature. Or it might have just been that political strategists realized they could take advantage of people’s love for conspiracies in order to advance their aims. (Good strategists are always looking for any edge they can get.)
But I’m curious about is why the term “fake news” (which evokes something more like satirical sites on the order ofThe Onion) seems to have supplanted the term “conspiracy theory”. What reasons could there be for this?
It’s worth asking. It was a very close election, and so a little careful cheating could have changed the outcome.
The experts seem to take it for granted that the election couldn’t possibly have been stolen. But the experts also took it for granted that Trump couldn’t possibly beat Clinton.
I’ve always assumed that in a country as big as the USA, there is bound to be some cheating in national elections, but that it is on a small scale, and people from both sides do it, so it more or less evens out.
There is, however, reason to think 2016 was particularly ripe for cheating, due to two facts:
I am not saying that the Russians hacked the election in order to ensure their preferred candidate won. I am just saying that if that did happen, it would look exactly like what has happened.
Trump and his staff kept saying throughout the campaign that the polls were wrong, and they had secret supporters in the Rust Belt. And sure enough, that is exactly the way it appeared to play out on election night, with Trump narrowly pulling upsets in states like Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin.
Maybe Trump is an instinctive political genius who could intuitively sense what the professional analysts were all missing. Or… maybe those secret Trump supporters were really deep cover. As in, perhaps they only existed as lines of binary code.
Again, I’m not saying I think this is the case. To my mind, the election results match up perfectly with what the charisma theory would predict. That seems like the most likely explanation.
But because the Press got their predictions of how it would play out so wrong, it seems to me they should at least look into whether it might have been stolen, rather than simply assuming it wasn’t–just as they previously had assumed Clinton couldn’t lose.
But because most polls said otherwise, and because most experts thought it was impossible, and because of all the appalling things Trump has done and said, I went with the conventional wisdom and assumed the charisma theory wouldn’t apply.
Instead, it was vindicated.
I had the following exchange on Twitter with Paul Graham, the entrepreneur and venture capitalist who wrote the original essay that introduced me to the charisma theory of politics:
I know I’ve said it a million times, but read Graham’s essay. Parts of it are prescient:
The charisma theory may also explain why Democrats tend to lose presidential elections. The core of the Democrats’ ideology seems to be a belief in government. Perhaps this tends to attract people who are earnest, but dull. Dukakis, Gore, and Kerry were so similar in that respect that they might have been brothers. Good thing for the Democrats that their screen lets through an occasional Clinton, even if some scandal results.
The blind loyalty felt by the devotees to their political messiahs is something which fundamentally alters the nature of the political conflict. And it is this, I believe, which drives the oft-bemoaned lack of “civility” and “moderation” in today’s discourse. Cults are not rational, but emotional.
What makes this all the more troubling is not that it is a corruption of the democratic system, but rather that it seems to be the logical conclusion of it. The average voter, after all, cannot really be expected to keep up with the nuances of the issues. To do so requires too much time…
…So I think we must resign ourselves to the fact that charisma–and the resultant cults of personality–are going to be the driving energy of our political system for the foreseeable future. The best we can hope for, at this point, is probably that our elected leaders will not abuse their charisma. Given the corrupting influence of power however, that seems unlikely.
The point here is that even people like me and Graham, who had devoted a lot of time and thought to how this sort of thing could happen, failed to realize it even as it was happening.
Of everything I’ve written about politics, I suppose this post was the most explicitly relevant:
The only charismatic Republican I can think of is too undisciplined and arrogant to organize an intelligent campaign. The reason they are always going on about Reagan is because even after all these years, they have never found anybody half as charismatic as him to sell their contradictory policies.
But all the same, if they do manage to scare up somebody half-way likeable, the former Senator and Secretary of State will have a hard time winning. Especially since history suggests people will be reluctant to elect another person from the same party that has controlled the White House for the previous eight years.
The Republican I was thinking of was Palin. Trump wasn’t even on the radar at that point.
And, as it turned out, being undisciplined and arrogant was no hindrance to running a successful campaign.
That said, the truly arrogant ones here were political analysts–including myself–who refused to believe in what we were seeing; who stubbornly clung to the notion that a candidate as obnoxious and scandal-plagued as Trump could not win, even after he proved us wrong once.
If I had simply been honest with myself about how Trump’s campaign corresponded to everything I knew about how politics works, maybe I would have been more vocal about the surprisingly high probability he would win. And that might have motivated more people on my side to do things differently.
Paradoxically, if more people had believed he could win, his chance of actually winning probably would have declined.
I remember when I was 15 years old reading in a book of military history about how, at the Battle of Waterloo, Napoleon ignored some of his own long-standing tactical rules, leading to his defeat. At the time, I made a mental note that ignoring one’s own beliefs was usually a bad idea.
The warfare analogy is pretty apt in a larger sense, too. Trump’s campaign resembled a lot of successful military campaigns throughout history, in the sense that it won by being smaller and more able to change and adapt quickly than its larger, better-funded, but also more conventional opponent. (This is also the same logic that leads to small startups defeating big corporations.)
Finally, the Trump campaign won by challenging conventional wisdom and proving it wrong. Nearly all professional political strategists took for granted that you couldn’t win by appealing to nationalist sentiments. Trump’s campaign challenged that idea, and proved it incorrect.
I’ll have much more later. This is going to require a lot of work.
In the Breitbart worldview, the mainstream media is just as agenda-driven and prone to bias and falsehoods as right-wing media — it’s just that the mainstream media doesn’t acknowledge it.
“This is a group of people serving the same agenda,” [Breitbart News Editor-in-Chief Alex] Marlow said.
Trump echoed those remarks in Thursday’s speech: “The establishment and their media enablers wield control over this nation through means that are very well known,” he said.
That agenda, Bannon and Breitbart’s fiercest partisans believe, is the advancement of open borders, free trade and progressive poliicies at the expense of American sovereignty. “Liberal vs. Conservative” no longer adequately describes the partisan divisions at play in American politics today, Marlow said. The real battle is between populists and globalists.
As my readers know, I have been sayingpractically the samething for years now. I use the word “cosmopolitan” instead of “globalist” and “nationalist” instead of “populist”, but it amounts to the same thing. Marlow even uses the word nationalist later in the same article, saying:
“It’s less about the left-right dichotomy, and more along the lines of globalists and elitists versus populists and nationalists.”
I could see myself saying that, to be honest.
So, does that mean I think that the Breitbart/Trump crowd has the right idea? No; not at all.
The saying “even a broken clock is right twice a day” is apt here. The Trump supporters (the so-called “alt-right”) have stumbled on to a fact about American politics that most political scientists, analysts and commentators overlooked. In fact, they might even be the cause of the phenomenon, since all of them take the nationalist side.
However, despite the fact that they are aware of this dichotomy, very few of them seem to understand any of the historical, political or economic reasons for it. They simply happened to notice this state of political affairs, and rather than try to understand it, they simply chalk it all up to a sinister conspiracy. This makes for a good story, but it’s not how the world works.
Globalism is popular because it works very well with ideas espoused by both the Democrats and the Republicans. It fulfills goals of diversity and multiculturalism that the Democrats historically support, and free trade, which the Republicans historically support.
The nationalists often disparage the “global elite” but it is not necessarily a bad thing that successful, well-educated people from different nations tend to find common cause and work together. This increases the probability that disputes between nations can be solved through negotiation or trade deals, rather than through wars.
This brings me to one of the reasons that nationalism is so unpopular nowadays, which is that it is considered responsible for two World Wars. As a consequence, it fell out of favor as a governing philosophy.
I’m not saying that massive wars are the inevitable result of nationalism, or that wanting to protect national sovereignty is inherently bad. I’m just saying that nationalists need to explain why it won’t cause any giant wars, since that has happened before.
There is no doubt that there are drawbacks to globalization. It is possible that its adherents have not considered these, or that they have overreached in the pursuit of globalization, or that globalism is not the best governing philosophy for the current moment in history. All these are topics worth discussing.
The problem is, almost no one on the nationalist side is interested in discussing things. They have simply decided that globalism is an evil conspiracy invented by bad people. They do not have, and do not appear to want, any context or understanding of its origins or the reasons it exists.
Trump himself, the de facto nationalist candidate, has even less interest in the merits of globalism vs. nationalism. His decision to promote nationalist policies is purely pragmatic. He adopted it when he discovered it would enable him to win the Republican nomination. I think that the only reason he won’t abandon it now is because, for a host of reasons, only ardent nationalists will support him at this point. If he drops nationalism, he is left with nothing.
What’s funny about this is that there is a tiny, tiny, infinitesimally small kernel of truth behind all this nonsense:
We know Intelligence was running all sorts of secret operations in the 1960’s. Many of them have since been partially de-classified, like Operation Mockingbird, Operation Bluebird, Operation Chaos, MKULTRA, and many many more. But there appears to have been an even larger, more fundamental Operation beneath all of them. This was Operation Rolling Stone. It was the promotion of change in all forms. To what end? The promotion of trade.
He’s right that it’s not a coincidence that the 1960s social upheaval and the work of liberals, like Dylan, did lead to the promotion of trade. It’s ironic because many of the liberals were not in favor of capitalism, yet they ended up promoting it. Both the Democrats and Republicans have become way more amenable to the idea of free trade post-’60s.
But it wasn’t a conspiracy by U.S. intelligence, or the Illuminati, or the Elders of Zion, or the Freemasons, or the Esoteric Order of Dagon. It just happened. I think it’s because the social values of ’60s liberals are quite compatible with laissez-faire trade–values like not discriminating against people based on skin color, or gender, or religion etc. It doesn’t require an elaborate conspiracy where Bob secretly sets the stage for Jim who twenty years down the road will secretly say something to Dan that will motivate him conspire with Harry to fundamentally alter the culture of the United States.
So, I guess, he did identify a correlation between to phenomena. I think it’s even true that there is a causal relationship there. Where he goes completely off track is in attributing it to some conscious conspiracy by a bunch of people, most whom would be dead long before any of their efforts came to anything.
That said, he does go a little overboard in asserting how much trade has accelerated in the last half-century, saying:
Gentlemen in the early 19th century looked down on trade, as we see from reading Dickens or Austen, or watching Downton Abbey. The English aristocracy mocked American wealth, since it came from trade.
Where does he think the English aristocracy’s wealth came from? Ever heard of the East India Company?
Is it a joke, or is it for real? The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind.
You’ve all heard various conspiracy theories about “the Illuminati”, right? When you love reading conspiracies as much as I do, you see the Illuminati crop up all the time. But for all the times I’ve heard about them, I never bothered to visit their Wikipedia page and ask: “just who are these guys?”
Well, turns out there was a historical group called ‘the Illuminati“. They were an offshoot of the Freemasons founded in Bavaria in the 1700s by this guy Adam Weishaupt. But they came into conflict with the Church and were disbanded in 1785.
And just wait till you hear what diabolical schemes these scumbags had in mind! Are you ready to hear what the legendary, mystery-shrouded, secret society wanted? Wikipedia gives the grisly details of their nefarious doctrine:
So… the famed secret society… the group whose name has formed the basis of all kinds of conspiracy theories… were a bunch of liberaltarians?
It’s a bit underwhelming to go looking for a sinister cabal of super-powerful malevolent cultists, and instead find the blog section at The Daily Beast.
Now, I do want to point out that in the 229 years since the society dissolved, considerable progress has been made towards almost all of the Illuminati’s goals throughout the world, and especially in the United States and Europe. And, truth be told, I think that’s a good thing.
To a conspiracy theorist, this makes it look as if the Illuminati weresecretly controlling events behind the scenes. After all, how could their goals enjoy such success without the hidden hand that holds the world manipulating things? Pr-etty conve-e-enient, eh?
On the other hand, it could just be that Weishaupt and his friends foresaw that societal trends were going in that direction anyway, and were just ahead of their time.
But I haven’t gotten to the best part yet. The best part is that in 1799, a guy named Augustin Barruel wrote a book called Memoirs Illustrating the History of Jacobinism that claimed the Illuminati were behind the French Revolution. And you probably thought the John Birch society was who came up with blaming them for everything. Quoth the Wikipedia synopsis:
Barruel defines the three forms of conspiracy as the “conspiracy of impiety” against God and Christianity, the “conspiracy of rebellion” against kings and monarchs, and “the conspiracy of anarchy” against society in general. He sees the end of the 18th century as “one continuous chain of cunning, art, and seduction” intended to bring about the “overthrow of the altar, the ruin of the throne, and the dissolution of all civil society”
More than anything else, Barruel’s writing reminds me of Peter Hitchens whenever he gets on the subject of what he calls the “cultural revolution” in the 1960s. He too sees cultural change and social upheaval as a conscious effort secretly advanced by important people in society. And who can say for sure if that’s wrong? Heck, Edmund Burke attested to the existence of a conspiracy as described by Barruel.
Conspiracies or coincidence? They report, you decide. But I’ll leave you with this: maybe the pattern is real, but there are no century-spanning conspiracies–it’s just that the same things keep happening over and over. “Condemned to repeat it”, like the fella said.
This movie really surprised me. It was made in 1948, around the time of what is called the “Second Red Scare“, when concern about communist infiltration was very high. Given that, the content of the movie is astounding.
Fred Dobbs (Bogart) and Bob Curtin (Tim Holt) are unemployed guys looking for work. They convince an old prospector named Howard (Walter Huston) to help them on an expedition for gold in the Sierra Madre mountains. The first remarkable thing about the movie is a speech given by Howard in his first scene:
Howard: Say, answer me this one, will you? Why is gold worth some twenty bucks an ounce?
Flophouse Bum: I don’t know. Because it’s scarce.
Howard: A thousand men, say, go searchin’ for gold. After six months, one of them’s lucky: one out of a thousand. His find represents not only his own labor, but that of nine hundred and ninety-nine others to boot. That’s six thousand months, five hundred years, scramblin’ over a mountain, goin’ hungry and thirsty. An ounce of gold, mister, is worth what it is because of the human labor that went into the findin’ and the gettin’ of it.
Flophouse Bum: I never thought of it just like that.
Howard: Well, there’s no other explanation, mister. Gold itself ain’t good for nothing except making jewelry with and gold teeth.
What’s so remarkable about that, you wonder? Well, what Howard is describing there is what is known as a Labor Theory of Value–the value of something is determined by the labor put forth to get it. This is an economic idea that is commonly associated with a fellow named Karl Marx. And it’s a response to the claim that gold’s value derives from its scarcity–a major component of non-Marxian, liberal economics.
So, about twenty minutes into the movie, we have gotten a lecture on Marxian economics. This is all the more interesting because the rest of the movie is devoted to proving over and over that greed for wealth corrupts people–specifically, Dobbs. Howard repeatedly predicts that the gold will drive men to madness, and does it ever.
Dobbs’s inevitable corruption is fun to watch–that Bogart guy was a pretty good actor, you know that?–and Walter Huston is excellent, even though his role is fairly predictable. He is, essentially, an infallible sage, and normally those characters are pretty dull, but Huston imbues him with personality. What is not clear to me is why he bothered to come along, since he believes almost from the outset that the expedition will be a disaster, and it proves to be exactly that.
It was odd to me that the movie’s most famous, yet often mis-quoted, line: “Badges? We ain’t got no badges. We don’t need no badges. I don’t have to show you any stinking badges” was spoken by a rather poorly-acted, bandit character. I thought his character was pretty weak. In fact, I felt that the bandits had too big a role in the film, when all they really needed to do was show up at the end when Dobbs’s luck runs out.
I keep coming back to the economic “moral” of the movie, though. It’s a very socialist message, what with the capitalist who desires to earn for himself being depicted as either a monster or a buffoon, and the character who opens up describing the labor theory of value depicted as a wise and thoughtful figure.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking: “Well, this is it– Mysterious Man has finally gone completely crazy and is now seeing communist conspiracies everywhere. He must have been listening to Glenn Beck too much, and he just lost his tenuous grip on reality.”
To be clear, I’m not saying I think this movie was some kind of evil communist-Hollywood indoctrination plot. It was based on a book by a mysterious German called “B. Traven“, who was apparently a socialist. Well, when your movie is based on a book by a German socialist, you can’t be surprised if some German socialism creeps in. I doubt John Huston wanted to make Marxist propaganda; he just wanted to make a Western, and the book he adapted it from had some Marxist propaganda in it.
What surprises me is that, despite how popular accusing people in Hollywood of communism was at the time, the film wasn’t banned or censored, and John Huston wasn’t hauled up before the H.U.A.C. to explain himself. I’m not saying any of that should have happened, I’m just saying it’s weird that the film apparently got released without any censorship or controversy, which is kind of amazing given the zeitgeist.
I assume that it’s some sort of hoax, though it’s hard to see how he’s pulling it off.
On the other hand, if it isn’t a hoax and everyone learned how to do it, the decrease in demand for food would probably cripple the economy, so I figure the Indian government will probably hush it all up,send the guy somewhere secret, and hide all the relevant studies in a giant warehouse; like at the end of the movie Raiders of the Lost Ark.