Showing posts with label conspiracy theories. Show all posts
Showing posts with label conspiracy theories. Show all posts

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Paranoid Politics

 Conspiracy theories are not new – far from it. But with the arrival of the internet offering easy dissemination and access to them conspiracy theories have proliferated and taken hold even amongst those who claim to be sophisticated and well-educated. Conspiracy theorists gain plausibility by taking established fact and embellishing it, so that one can’t tell where truth ends and fiction begins.

Major events cannot, in the popular mind, have trivial causes, because our world-view cannot allow it. Believing ourselves to be rational creatures in a supposedly ordered and rational universe, we shy away from the hideous tyranny of randomness, that force of Nature which defies our control and thus denies us our sense of meaning and “place” in the world. Thus, JFK, who ninety percent of Americans believe could not possibly have been killed by one lone fantasist with a rifle and some personal issues but with rather good eyesight and some luck. Princess Diana didn’t die because a driver got drunk, it was all a vast conspiracy involving the top echelons of power. Ditto John Lennon that the blame is again placed upon the "lone nutter" who had been receiving treatment for paranoid schizophrenia for his entire life since childhood but rather Chapman was being used as a "Manchuran Candidate" by Richard Nixon. Ditto 9/11, which clearly couldn’t have been simply the work of a few terrorists who got very, very lucky.

Conspiracy theorists take the view that the modern world must be controlled from the top – someone, somewhere must be pulling the strings, somehow. The conspiracy theorists interpret every event (even contradictory ones) as being evidence that everything is under some group’s secret control. The stock-in-trade of the conspiracy writers is rumour, innuendo, guilt-by-association and half-knowledge passed off as fact and a re-iteration of the inter-connection of some sections of the capitalists class (the Rothschilds, being an example).

The conspiratorial world-view is certainly not promoting an understanding of society. Those unfamiliar with the analysis of Marxian economics are yet to realise that at the heart of the capitalist economy is a genuine “anarchy of production”. Conspiracy theorists' assertions that a complex, technologically advanced society like capitalism cannot be at root “anarchic” in many of its operations, are misplaced. There are conspiracies all the time. Big ones tend to spring leaks however, and rarely last without being "outed". The capitalist class is not a conspiracy, not because it is democratic and transparent in its dealings which it very clearly isn’t but because it is not united, as the Illuminati presumably are. Because of the anarchic, competitive and contradictory nature of capitalism a conflict-free “New World Order” is practically impossible.

Scientific issues can be vulnerable to misinformation campaigns. Many people still believe that vaccines cause autism and that human-caused climate change is a hoax. Science has thoroughly debunked these myths, but the misinformation persists in the face of overwhelming evidence. Efforts to combat conspiracies can often backfire.

"You have to be careful when you correct misinformation that you don't inadvertently strengthen it. If the issues go to the heart of people's deeply held world views, they become more entrenched in their opinions if you try to update their thinking." says Stephan Lewandowsky, a psychologist at the University of Western Australia.

Psychologists call this reaction “belief perseverance” - maintaining your original opinions in the face of overwhelming data that contradicts your beliefs. Everyone does it to a certain extent , but we are especially vulnerable when invalidated beliefs form a key part of how we understand and live our lives. Researchers have found that religious faiths  are especially vulnerable to belief perseverance but also how we view ourselves. A  study  found that people are more likely to continue believing incorrect information if it makes them look good by enhancing ones self-image.

For example, if an individual has become known in her community for purporting that vaccines cause autism, she might build her self-identity as someone who helps prevent autism by campaigning for parents to avoid vaccination. Admitting that the studies  linking autism to the MMR vaccine were mistaken would diminish her self-respect. In this circumstance, it is easier to continue believing that autism and vaccines are linked, according to Dartmouth College political science researcher Brendan Nyhan. "It's threatening to admit that you're wrong," he says. "It's threatening to your self-concept and your world-view."

We are more likely to believe a statement if it confirms our preexisting beliefs, a phenomenon known as confirmation bias. Accepting a statement also requires less cognitive effort than rejecting it. Even simple traits such as language can affect acceptance: Studies have found that the way a statement is printed or voiced (or even the accent) can make those statements more believable. Also hence the debate on how the question in the up-coming Scottish independence referendum should be exactly phrased.

Correcting misinformation, however, isn't as simple as presenting people with true facts. When someone reads views from the other side, they will create counter-arguments that support their initial viewpoint, bolstering their belief of the misinformation. Retracting information does not appear to be very effective either. Some researchers have published retractions, and at best, halved the number of individuals who believed misinformation.

But it is not all bad news. There is now near-universal agreement that smoking is addictive and can cause cancer. In the 1950s smoking was considered a largely safe lifestyle choice—so safe that it was allowed almost everywhere and physicians appeared in ads to promote it. The tobacco industry carried out a misinformation campaign for decades, reassuring smokers that it was okay to light up, offering biased scientific reports and suppressing research while discrediting whistle-blowers. Over time opinions began to shift as overwhelming evidence of ill effects was made public by more and more scientists and health administrators. Smokers could now personally understand and have the association of their individual hacking cough confirmed with its cause.

 The Food and Agriculture Organisation is convinced there is sufficient global capacity to produce enough food to adequately feed the world’s seven billion people and many more besides. But globally a billion people go to sleep every night without eating dinner, and extreme poverty, 1.2 billion people live on less than 1.25 dollars a day. A child dies every 10 seconds from malnutrition – not because their parents are reckless, stupid or lazy – but because they were unlucky enough to be born at a time and place where tragically,  people cannot afford to buy the food that is available. This is a known but socialists must break through the conspiracy that declares it an unavoidable condition and an inevitable situation.