Quotulatiousness

August 22, 2014

Broad, bipartisan support for … conspiracy theories?

Filed under: Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 08:04

In the Washington Post, Alfred Moore, Joseph Parent and Joseph Uscinski show that it’s not just fringe activists on either side of the divide that indulge in conspiracy theorizing: it really is just as common on the left as it is on the right.

Krugman makes a fair point: in moderation conspiracy theories may show healthy skepticism, but in excess they can erode the trust needed for states to fulfill their basic functions and warp the respect for evidence necessary for sound decision making.

Yet Krugman is mostly wrong that nuttiness is found mainly among conservatives, and his misperception actually reveals a great deal about U.S. politics. People of all political persuasions believe their views are objectively right and others hold positions that are arbitrary and asinine. Daniel Kahan finds that partisan commitments make people look for evidence to justify their conclusions. Even when, say, liberals come up with a correct answer, it may not have been because of their high esteem for evidence. They just got lucky. The implication is that people use data like drunks use lampposts: more for support than illumination. Columnist Ezra Klein concurs with Kahan, although he points out the large numbers of Republicans who refuse to accept climate science and wonders whether there is a liberal equivalent to climate change denial.

[...]

In our survey, we also measured respondents’ underlying propensity to believe in conspiracy theories — that is, the general mindset that leads people to accept or reject conspiracy theories. We asked respondents whether they agreed with four statements:

  • “Much of our lives are being controlled by plots hatched in secret places,”
  • “Even though we live in a democracy, a few people will always run things anyway,”
  • “The people who really ‘run’ the country are not known to the voters.”
  • “Big events like wars, the current recession, and the outcomes of elections are controlled by small groups of people who are working in secret against the rest of us.”

We combined these questions into one summary measure. This graph shows the percentage of Democrats, Republicans, and independents that showed a strong or medium disposition towards thinking conspiratorially.
Conspiracy theories on the left and the right
The upshot: near symmetry between left and right.

If Republicans and Democrats are equally prone to believing in conspiracy theories, where then is the liberal equivalent of climate change denial? An obvious possibility is the belief that Big Oil conspires to marginalize unfavorable findings or block alternative energies. Our survey, for example, shows that 52 percent of Democrats believe corporations are conspiring against us.

July 30, 2014

Another view of the Endarkenment – “a treasure trove of top-shelf heterdox samizdaty badness”

Filed under: Media, Politics — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 13:12

Andrea Castillo tries to outline the “Dark Enlightenment” (or “neoreaction”) for libertarians and other as-yet-unenlightened readers:

A puckish new brand of right-wing radical subverts the postmodern power machine each day over Twitter and RSS for fun and praxis. It’s a real hoot to watch. These rudely triggering firebrands are denounced by the people who matter as wrong-thinking zealots of the most problematic variety — to the masochistic vindication (and occasional sacking) of our impish dissidents. Their freakish messages seem almost tailored to demand attention in our outrage-driven world of social media signaling. Libertarians, meet the neoreaction.

Where to begin? We might think our post-scarcity anarcho-capitalist sex-positive brunch-laden anti-war techno-utopian open borders global activism is pretty avant garde, but these guys have moved on to fashion intellectual foundations for the glorious reinstatement of the rightful House of Stuart (among other anachronisms). They’ve been blowing up the extended artisanal blogosphere in a big way. We’re going to get lumped in with this crew more and more as they gain exposure (they’re not happy about it either), so you should probably know what we’re up against.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m vaguely aware of some of the leading lights (or should that be “leading darks”) of this movement, but with one or two exceptions, I’m not aware of the details of their beliefs. I’m still not convinced they’re as “big bad” as they and their detractors seem to think they are.

Maybe we’re getting ahead of ourselves. This motley band of techno-futurists, traditionalists, seduction artists, funnymen, reluctant Sedevacantists, inconvenient ethnonationalists, monarchists, communitarians, general heretics, homebrewed evolutionists, and one dedicated Jacobite to guide them all is perhaps easier for libertarians to initially understand through what they commonly oppose than for what they separately advocate. It’s simpler than you might think.

You could say that these cats take Carlyle, Hobbes, and Darwin pretty seriously. They, like our premier techno-libertarian emissary, do not believe that freedom and democracy are compatible. They reject egalitarianism to a consistency that would have impressed even our old grizzly Bard. Some of them out-Hayek Hayek on social justice, too. Like Mises, they intuit and repudiate the anti-bourgeois mentality of political and cultural Marxism. According to the neoreactionary narrative, these false gods beguile and confuse the masses of unwitting postmoderns into worship of the Cathedral.

Understanding Moldbug’s Cathedral is key to understanding this Dark Enlightenment. Think of it as a public-private partnership that promotes and protects the entrenched secular Puritan paradigm (long story) that neoreactionaries believe runs the world. Or, in the parlance, it’s a cosmos sprung from a taxis that justifies the progressive right of the International Community. Take that rascally State we all rail against and add its cultural allies. Voilà: you have #realpolitik.

July 8, 2014

Understatement of the day – “Britain in the Seventies was a very weird place”

Filed under: Britain, Law, Media — Tags: , , , , , , — Nicholas @ 08:42

In the Telegraph, Iain Martin tries to put this summer’s British media hysteria/witch hunt into a bit of perspective:

Anyone who expresses astonishment about the wave of recent revelations and allegations centred on the conduct of assorted entertainers and celebrities from the Seventies must have been lacking access to a television set, if they are genuinely shocked. In that decade, and on into the Eighties, even the most successful and least funny comedy programme rested mainly on one joke, which involved a man in a raincoat chasing around bikini-clad young women. Back then the work of Benny Hill was regarded as family entertainment, and groping, sexual incontinence and jokes about the corruption of innocence were the staples of countless other comedians. It would be surprising – really, wouldn’t it? – if a minority of twisted, power-crazed people working in “entertainment” intent on sexual abuse hadn’t exploited the opportunity to do terrible harm.

Britain in the Seventies was a very weird place. The sexual revolution (largely an elite project of the Sixties, which did not go mainstream until later) had produced a bizarre popular culture hybrid. In the Seventies, the British saucy postcard tradition, always darker than it looked, featuring cheeky innuendo, collided with a crazed mood of supposed sexual liberation. The message pushed out in some sitcoms and other forms of popular entertainment was that everyone was permanently at “it” and that any woman resisting “it” was a prude or a relic of a bygone era. Questions of license, consent and desirability became hopelessly confused. This was the dark flip side of the numerous benefits which came with the abandonment of the old, stifling constraints imposed on both sexes.

To make matters even more hazardous, Britain in the Seventies was a country wobbling on the verge of a transition. The population’s over-reliance on deference and a blind faith in the virtues of authority had already been tested in the Suez disaster and in the Profumo scandal of 1963, although it had not collapsed entirely. Parents still operated on the assumption that fellow adults in positions of power were likely to be trustworthy, and the majority were. But thanks to scandals revealed since involving schools, churches, children’s homes, the BBC, the Scouts and so on, we know that some individuals and networks of paedophiles exploited that trust, again to do terrible harm.

The hound pack of the media is in full cry, and that urge to convict before trial is overwhelming common sense and propriety.

But increasingly we seem less interested in due process – as a protection against miscarriage of justice or to prevent a bad precedent being established – than we do in the excitement of the moment and urgent demands for a government “inquiry” which must usually be “over-arching”. These inquiries are now an industry in themselves, although curiously the one area that probably deserved it (the banking collapse presided over by the political class which triggered the worst downturn in 80 years) was not given a proper inquiry. Funny that.

On Westminster child abuse, the risk was identified by Claire Fox speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme earlier. She said that rumour is already becoming confused with evidence. All manner of claims are now being aired and reported as though they are fact. “Twenty members of the Establishment,” “ministers” and unnamed “leading figures” are accused of dark and sinister deeds. Alongside those making genuine allegations, anyone with a claim will get on air at the moment, any crank or fantasist who wants to attract attention or settle scores will cry that they are being ignored or suppressed if the broadcasters will not give them a platform immediately. It would be a brave BBC producer who would decline right now.

June 19, 2014

The NFL conspiracy theorist

Filed under: Football, Humour, Sports — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 00:01

“Draw Play” Dave Rappoccio is running a series of cartoons on the various sub-groups of NFL fans. This week’s subject is the Conspiracy Theorist:

Draw Play - The Conspiracy Theorist
Click to see full cartoon.

He also talks about the mentality of the conspiracy theorist fan in some detail:

A part of me struggles to accept that people this deluded actually exist, but they do. I’ve heard stories, and I’ve seen the occasional online post about it. These people are few, but not fictional. There are actually people who think the NFL is scripted.

Like most conspiracy theories it sounds absolutely stupid at first, then part of you might go “well, I guess that was kinda perfect that it happened just that way”, then you think about it a little more and you realize that yup, it’s still stupid and the logic falls apart. But some people don’t get past that second stage. I can’t figure out why. The best guess I can muster is that most of the fans are somehow bitter about the way their team loses or something.

[...]

But some people legit think it’s scripted like pro wrestling. These people are…I can’t defend them. They are deluded. For everything that sounds like it might make some sense, lots of other things just make it feel so forced. The NFL has been around for a long time, and started as a small time game. It has grown into the giant it is not overnight, but over decades. There has never, ever, been any evidence that has come out to suggest it’s scripted. No retired referees, no disgruntled employees, nothing. Over decades. Come on. There are so many people covering the league now, so many media members, so many pundits, so many sources. The NFL being scripted would be a huge story, but none of them have ever investigated it? Nothing? No player, current or former, EVER, in all this time, has come out and said things weren’t right. None have even suggested it. You think in a league with players treated as poorly as they are in medical coverage that one wouldn’t want to blow the lid off the biggest sports story ever? There is no evidence of scripted play, and if you think it is, you are dumb. We are not sheeple, you are gullible & trying to find deeper issues where they don’t exist.

I forwarded the link to a friend of mine who is emphatically not a sports fan, but who has floated the occasional theory about “the fix” being in in all professional sports in one way or another. His response was entertaining:

As for the article, I’m not entirely sure of his point. Is he arguing that pro sports cannot possibly be fixed because the key games are often so boring? The author so wants to believe in his fantasy land where men wearing shiny tight pants can bum-pat and hug each other without feeling a little bit weird about it that he’s willing to overlook any possibility of there being corruption in the game. [...]

Football gives the illusion of one team being better than another through its very short season. With just 16 games, you just do not have a very large sample size to gauge performance. It’s like me typing 16 words without an error: I must therefore be the world’s best typist. If the NFL season dragged on as long as the insufferable NHL season, I bet we’d see all of the teams finish much closer together in their win-loss-tie figures. With a larger sample, we’d likely see that all the teams are likely pretty much the same.

But pro sports fans really want to believe in heart and giving a-hundred-and-ten-per-cent and playing a good psychological game and putting the biscuit in the basket and all of that other crap. Even if refs and players came forward and admitted to throwing games I suspect that the fans would not want to believe them. Look how the fans keep coming back even after players’ strikes — these are people so desperate for a fix that they will put almost anything in their veins.

June 5, 2014

Conspiracy theorist’s festival day

Filed under: History, Middle East, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 08:58

Matt Welch on the last few decades that paved the way for a re-expansionist Russia:

On September 10, 1990, U.S. President George Bush and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev issued a simple and remarkable joint statement. “We are united in the belief that Iraq’s aggression must not be tolerated,” the former Cold War opponents declared after a seven-hour meeting in Helsinki to discuss Saddam Hussein’s annexation of Kuwait. “No peaceful international order is possible if larger states can devour their smaller neighbors.”

Observers understood immediately the historical significance of two previously antagonistic superpowers agreeing on the principle that countries cannot swallow one another. What was less obvious at the time is that the moment would look like science fiction from the perspective of the future as well.

President Bush — we did not need to differentiate him as “H.W.” back then — was so giddy about the prospects of rules-based global cooperation that on the not-yet-portentous date of September 11, 1990, he gave an unfortunate name to the concept during an address to a joint session of Congress: new world order.

“Most countries share our concern for principle,” he asserted. “A new partnership of nations has begun, and we stand today at a unique and extraordinary moment. The crisis in the Persian Gulf, as grave as it is, also offers a rare opportunity to move toward an historic period of cooperation. Out of these troubled times, our fifth objective — a new world order — can emerge: a new era-freer from the threat of terror, stronger in the pursuit of justice and more secure in the quest for peace. An era in which the nations of the world, east and west, north and south, can prosper and live in harmony. [...] A world where the rule of law supplants the rule of the jungle. A world in which nations recognize the shared responsibility for freedom and justice. A world where the strong respect the rights of the weak.”

Because “new world order” sounded creepy and was already a phrase used by conspiracists worried about one-world government, Bush’s larger point got washed away in the ensuing brouhaha. But terminology aside, the creation of an international taboo against subsuming weaker countries was a worthwhile endeavor.

June 2, 2014

Six “red flags” to identify medical quackery

Filed under: Health, Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 10:01

Dr. Amy Tuteur shares six things to watch for in health or medical reporting, as they usually indicate quackery:

Americans tend to be pretty savvy about advertising. Put a box around claims, annotate them with the words “paid advertisement” or “sponsored content” and most people approach those claims warily. Unfortunately, the same people who are dubious about advertising claims are remarkably gullible when it comes to quackery.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that it is surprisingly easy to tell quackery apart from real medical information. Quack claims are typically decorated with red flags … if you know what to look for. What follows is a list of some of those red flags.

1. The secret knowledge flag: When someone implies they are sharing secret medical knowledge with you, run in the opposite direction. There is no such thing as secret medical knowledge. In an age where there are literally thousands of competing medical journals, tremendous pressure on researchers to publish papers, and instantaneous dissemination of results on the Internet, nothing about medicine could possibly be secret.

2. The giant conspiracy flag: In the entire history of modern medicine, there has NEVER been a conspiracy to hide lifesaving information among professionals. Sure, an individual company may hide information in order to get a jump on competitors, or to deny harmful effects of their products, but there can never be a large conspiracy because every aspect of the healthcare industry is filled with competitors. Vast conspiracies, encompassing doctors, scientists and public health officials exist only in the minds of quacks.

[...]

4. The toxin flag: I’ve written before that toxins are the new evil humors. Toxins serve the same explanatory purpose as evil humours did in the Middle Ages. They are invisible, but all around us. They constantly threaten people, often people who unaware of their very existence. They are no longer viewed as evil in themselves, but it is axiomatic that they have be released into our environment by “evil” corporations. There’s just one problem. “Toxins” are a figment of the imagination, in the exact same way that evil humours and miasmas were figments of the imagination.

May 30, 2014

New book exposes the Koch brothers

Filed under: Liberty, Media, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 08:27

Nick Gillespie in the Daily Beast, recommending that everyone read the new exposé by Mother Jones senior editor Daniel Schulman. But not for the reasons you’d expect:

Clark-Koch LP 1980 election buttonAs a libertarian, I’m always slow to tell people what they should do. But if you care about politics and the ultimately far more powerful cultural direction of these United States, the new book by Daniel Schulman, Sons of Wichita: How the Koch Brothers Became America’s Most Powerful and Private Dynasty is mandatory reading.

Written by a senior editor for the lefty magazine Mother Jones, the book is hugely revelatory, though not in a way that will please or flatter the conspiracy theories of Democrats, liberals, and progressives who vilify the Kansas-raised billionaires Charles and David Koch for fun and profit. Sons of Wichita chronicles the post-World War II transformation of a mid-size oil-and-ranching family business into the second-largest privately held company in the United States. From a straight business angle, it’s riveting and illuminating not just about how Koch Industries — makers of “energy, food, building and agricultural materials…and…products [that] intersect every day with the lives of every American” — evolved over the past 60 years but also how the larger U.S. economy changed and globalized.

But what’s far more interesting — and important to contemporary America — is the way in which Schulman documents the absolute seriousness with which Charles and David have always taken specifically libertarian ideas and their signal role in helping to create a “freedom movement” to counter what they have long seen as a more effective mix of educational, activist, and intellectual groups on the broadly defined left. By treating the Koch brothers’ activities in critical but fair terms, Sons of Wichita points to what I like to think of as Libertarianism 3.0, a political and cultural development that, if successful, will not only frustrate the left but fundamentally alter the right by creating fusion between forces of social tolerance and fiscal responsibility.

April 29, 2014

International pedophile rings – “a Bilderberg of diaper snipers”

Filed under: Britain, Law, Media — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 08:07

For some reason, every decade or so a new moral panic sweeps the land (in this case, it’s showing up in multiple Western countries). Everyone gets their collective knickers in a twist over some horrible outrage which requires, nay, demands that something must be done. The panic de jour is organized gangs of pedophiles (it’s been the panic de jour several times in the last forty years). Kathy Shaidle looks at the most recent eruption of out-of-control morality:

One particularly distasteful breed of conspiracy theory that stubbornly refuses to die, however, is that which posits the existence of local, national, or even international pedophile rings.

Does pedophilia exist? Sure. However, it doesn’t follow that perverts have semiorganized themselves into some kind of parody of Freemasonry, a Bilderberg of diaper snipers.

For whatever reason — a quirk of the collective unconscious; individual shame and guilt; profound resentment of the ruling elite — the modern mind wants to believe in these vast pederast conspiracies, even though, again and again, investigations into their existence come up embarrassingly empty.

Yes, we can argue that this is because “the authorities” are members of the ring, too, but lots of “authorities” were in on Mafia and KKK malfeasance; this made prosecution difficult, but certainly not impossible. There are museums packed with primary source evidence of the Klan’s existence, and the Mob’s; contrast that with this utterly bizarre example of what can only be described as anti-journalism that appeared in the UK’s Islington Tribune earlier this month:

    Despite recognition that a huge paedophile ring preyed on Islington children’s homes in the 1970s and 1980s no one has ever been prosecuted and all the records of the homes and the names of the children who went to them have been “lost.”

Behold: After the longest and most expensive trial in American history, all charges were dropped in the McMartin Preschool child abuse case, during which an archeologist testified to the existence of “secret tunnels” on the school’s grounds, and children claimed they’d been raped at orgies at car washes.

Here in Canada, a $53 million inquiry failed to uncover a widely rumored pedophile ring in Cornwall, Ontario. (The Ontario Provincial Police had already reached the same conclusion eight years earlier.) At the end of the day — or, rather, the decade and counting — only one individual was ever convicted of any crime.

Theodore Dalrymple observed a decade ago that the people most likely to express outrage about pedophiles are actually those whose own kids tend to be neglected:

On no subject is the British public more fickle and more prone to attacks of intense but shallow emotion than childhood. Not long ago, for example, a pediatrician’s house in South Wales was attacked by a mob unable to distinguish a pediatrician from a pedophile. The attackers, of course, came from precisely the social milieu in which every kind of child abuse and neglect flourishes, in which the age of consent has been de facto abolished, and in which adults are afraid of their own offspring once they reach the age of violence. The upbringing of children in much of Britain is a witches’ brew of sentimentality, brutality, and neglect, in which overindulgence in the latest fashions, toys, or clothes, and a television in the bedroom are regarded as the highest — indeed only — manifestations of tender concern for a child’s welfare.

An earlier example happened in my home town in the late 1980s, although fortunately for Middlesbrough’s reputation the name of the county was the usual label for the moral panic: the Cleveland child abuse scandal.

The Cleveland child abuse scandal occurred in Cleveland, England in 1987, where 121 cases of suspected child sexual abuse were diagnosed by Dr Marietta Higgs and Dr Geoffrey Wyatt, paediatricians at a Middlesbrough hospital (in the now abolished county of Cleveland). The children were subject to place of safety orders, and some were removed from their parents’ care permanently. While in foster care, the children continued to be regularly examined by Dr. Higgs who subsequently accused foster parents of further abuse leading to them too being arrested.

After a number of court trials, cases involving 96 of the 121 children alleged to be victims of sexual abuse were dismissed by the courts, and 26 cases, involving children from twelve families, were found by judges to have been incorrectly diagnosed.

Despite the judicial results, the bureaucrats believed (and apparently still do believe) that the sexual abuse of all those children really did occur and that even that large number was less than a tenth of the actual problem.

February 20, 2014

ESR examines the “Dark Enlightenment”

Filed under: Media, Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 10:10

Remember that “Dark Enlightenment” we’re all supposed to be terrified about? ESR is looking at the phenomenon (it’s not really a movement, or at least, it isn’t a single movement):

The Dark Enlightenment is, as I have previously noted, a large and messy phenomenon. It appears to me in part to be a granfalloon invented by Nick Land and certain others to make their own piece of it (the neoreactionaries) look larger and more influential than it actually is. The most detailed critiques of the DE so far (notably Scott Alexander’s Reactionary Philosophy in an Enormous, Planet-Sized Nutshell and Anti-Reactionary FAQ nod in the direction of other cliques on the map I reproduced but focus pretty strongly on the neoreactionaries.

This is the map ESR is referring to:

Scharlach's affinity diagram of the Dark Enlightenment movement, grouped according to their major themes

Scharlach’s affinity diagram of the Dark Enlightenment movement, grouped according to their major themes

Nevertheless, after we peel away clear outliers like the Techno-Commercial Futurists and the Christian Traditionalists, there remains a “core” Dark Enlightenment which shares a discernibly common set of complaints and concerns. In this post I’m going to enumerate these rather than dive deep into any of them. Development of and commentary on individual premises will be deferred to later blog posts.

(I will note the possibility that I may in summarizing the DE premises be inadvertently doing what Scott Alexander marvelously labels “steelmanning” – that is, reverse-strawmanning by representing them as more logical and coherent than they actually are. Readers should be cautious and check primary sources if in doubt.)

Complaint the first: We are all being lied to – massively, constantly, systematically – by an establishment that many DE writers call “the Cathedral”. Its power is maintained by inculcation in the masses of what a Marxist (but nobody in the DE, ever, except ironically) would call “false consciousness”. The Cathedral’s lies go far deeper than what most people think of as normal tactical political falsehoods or even conspiracy theories, down to the level of some of the core premises of post-Enlightenment civilization and widely cherished beliefs about the sustainability of racial equality, sexual equality, and democracy.

[...]

Complaint the second: “All men are created equal” is a pernicious lie. Human beings are created unequal, both as individuals and as breeding populations. Innate individual and group differences matter a lot. Denying this is one of the Cathedral’s largest and most damaging lies. The bad policies that proceed from it are corrosive of civilization and the cause of vast and needless misery.

[...]

Complaint the Third: Democracy is a failure. It has produced a race to the bottom in which politicians grow ever more venal, narrow interest groups ever more grasping, the function of government increasingly degenerates into subsidizing parasites at the expense of producers, and in general politics exhibits all the symptoms of what I have elsewhere called an accelerating Olsonian collapse (after Mancur Olson’s analysis in The Logic Of Collective Action).

January 20, 2014

Sounding the alarm over the endarkenment

Filed under: Media, Politics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 08:55

I must not have been paying attention, but according to Jamie Bartlett, we should be terrified of a “dark enlightenment” that is sweeping the internet:

Since 2012 a sophisticated but bizarre online neo-fascist movement has been growing fast. It’s called “The Dark Enlightenment”. Its modus operandi is well suited to today’s world. Supporters are dotted all over the world, connected via a handful of blogs and chat rooms. Its adherents are clever, angry white men patiently awaiting the collapse of civilisation, and a return to some kind of futuristic, ethno-centric feudalism.

It started, suitably enough, with two blogs. Mencius Moldbug, a prolific blogger and computer whizz from San Francisco, and Nick Land, an eccentric British philosopher (previously co-founder of Warwick University’s Cybernetic Culture Research Unit) who in 2012 wrote the eponymous “The Dark Enlightenment”, as a series of posts on his site. You can find them all here.

The philosophy, difficult to pin down exactly, is a loose collection of neo-reactionary ideas, meaning a rejection of most modern thinking: democracy, liberty, and equality. Particular contempt is reserved for democracy, which Land believes “systematically consolidate[s] and exacerbate[es] private vices, resentments, and deficiencies until they reach the level of collective criminality and comprehensive social corruption.”

So, according to this report, we should be terrified of a bunch of basement-dwelling maladjusted would-be techno-feudalists. The question that immediately springs to mind is “why?” We’re told that they’re “neo-reactionary”, “racist”, and “sexist”. We need to be afraid of them because they have the power to … well, nothing. He’s sounding the tocsin of alarm because he’s discovered that there are people who are wrong on the internet!

Update, 3 February: Scharlach created an affinity diagram of the Dark Enlightenment movement, grouped according to their major themes.

Click to see the original post.

Click to see the original post.

Update, 4 February: ESR‘s take on the affinity diagram linked above.

Just looking at the map, someone unfamiliar with the players would be justified in wondering if there’s really any coherence there at all. And that’s a fair question. Some of the people the map sweeps in don’t think of themselves as “Dark Enlightenment” at all. This is notably true of the light green cluster marked “Techno-Commercialists/Futurists” at the top, and the “Economists” connected to it in yellow.

If I belonged on this map, that’s where I’d be. I know Eliezer Yudkowsky; the idea that he and the Less Wrong crowd and Robin Hanson feel significant affinity with most of the rest of that map is pretty ludicrous.

Note, however, that one of only two links to the rest is “Nick Land”. This is a clue, because Nick Land is probably the single most successful booster of the “Dark Enlightenment” meme. It’s in his interest to make the movement look as big and various as he can manage, and I think this map is partly in the nature of a successful con job or dezinformatsiya.

In this, Land is abetted by people outside the movement who are well served by making it look like the Dark Enlightenment is as big and scary as possible. Some of those people lump in the techno-futurist/economist group out of dislike for that group’s broadly libertarian politics – which though very different from the reactionary ideas of the core Dark Enlightenment, is also in revolt against conventional wisdom. Others lump them in out of sheer ignorance.

So, my first contention is that Nick Land has pulled a fast one. That said, I think there is a core Dark Enlightenment – mostly identifiable with the purple “Political Philosophy” group, but with some crossover into HBD and Masculinity and (possibly) the other groups at the bottom of the map.

For the record, I don’t think I’ve got a dog in this fight … I only recognize the names of nine of the linked sites, and most of those are of the recognize-the-name sense, not the familiar-with-the-content sense.

November 30, 2013

Need a new conspiracy theory?

Filed under: Humour, Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 09:34

A couple of my friends posted links to this rather useful flowchart to help you find the conspiracy theory that’s right for you:

[Click to see full-size flowchart]

[Click to see full-size flowchart]

H/T to Jessica Brisbane and John McCluskey for the link.

November 22, 2013

“…you wonder why it took so long for somebody to shoot the swinish bastard”

Filed under: History, Media, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 17:28

Colby Cosh makes no friends among the over-60 Kennedy worshipping community:

The myth of Kennedy as a uniquely admirable knight-errant has finally, I think, been wiped out by the accumulation of ugly details about his sexual conduct and family life. For a while it was still possible to regard JFK’s tomcatting as the inevitable concomitant of super-masculine greatness. By now it is pretty clear that he was just an abusive, spoiled creep. There are scenes in White House intern Mimi Alford’s 2012 memoir that make you wonder why it took so long for somebody to shoot the swinish bastard.

As for the assassination itself, the experience of seeing conspiracy theories bloom like a toxic meadow after 9/11 has hardened us all against the nonsense that was still popular in the 1990s. Most adults, I think, now understand that Oliver Stone’s JFK was a buffet of tripe. It is no coincidence that Stephen King’s 2011 time-travel book about JFK’s slaying, written after decades of fairly deep research, stuck close to the orthodox Warren commission narrative.

The new favourite themes in the 50th anniversary coverage dispense with grassy-knoll phantoms and disappearing-reappearing Oswalds. One new documentary has revived Howard Donahue’s idea that the final bullet that blasted Kennedy’s skull apart might have been fired accidentally by a Secret Service agent in one of the trailing cars. This would help explain the oddity of the Zapruder footage, and might also account for some awkwardly disappearing evidence — notably JFK’s brain — without requiring us to believe anything obviously outrageous.

[...]

In the early ’70s Lyndon Johnson made a cryptic remark about JFK possibly being killed because his administration had been “running a damn Murder Inc. in the Caribbean.” This offhand remark turned out to be quite specific; rumours of multiple CIA assassination attempts against Castro were true, as were wilder tales of literal Mafia involvement (confirmed when the CIA “Family Jewels” were declassified in 2007). Oswald would not exactly have been anyone’s first choice as an intelligence asset, and probably had no state sponsor. But notice that it’s 2013 and we still have to say “probably.”

October 11, 2013

The “truth” about the “Illuminati”

Filed under: History, Media — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 12:34

Jesse Walker is invited to free-associate on a series of words or phrases by the staff of TNB. One of the terms they just happened to mention was “Illuminati”:

The Bavarian Illuminati — the actual historical organization, not the all-powerful cabal of legend — were founded by Adam Weishaupt in 1776 and suppressed about a decade later. They weren’t the first group to call themselves Illuminati, and they weren’t the first Illuminati to appear in a New World conspiracy theory. In Chiapas in the 1580s, a bishop became convinced that some of the local Indians were “giving cult to the Devil and plotting against our Christian religion.” The secret sect’s beliefs, he added, resembled those of the Spanish heretics known as the Alumbrados, or Illuminati.

But the Bavarians were the biggies. Their alleged machinations set off a panic in Federalist circles at the end of the 1790s. The New England minister Jedidiah Morse sermonized that he had “an official, authenticated list of the names, ages, places of nativity, professions, &c. of the officers and members of a Society of *Illuminati* … consisting of *one hundred* members”; among other things, the plotters allegedly had a plan “to invade the southern states from [Haiti] with an army of blacks … to excite an insurrection among the negroes.” Another Federalist writer warned that Thomas Jefferson was an agent of the cabal. The order entered pop culture, too. In Sally Wood’s novel *Julia and the Illuminated Baron*, published in 1800 and set in prerevolutionary France, a lady Illuminatus describes their initiation ceremony: “disrobed of all coverings except a vest of silver gauze, I am to be exposed to the homage of all the society present upon a marble pedestal placed behind which sacrifices are to be offered.” She adds, “This sect increases daily. They will in a few years overturn Europe and lay France in ruins.”

In the 20th century the Illuminati became stock villains on the far right, appearing alternately as a revolutionary force and as the secret rulers of the world. In the 1960s they started cropping up in countercultural and leftist tales too, thanks partly to some pranksters who thought it would be fun to seed the underground press with stories about Illuminati activities. A couple of those pranksters wrote the cult novel Illuminatus! in the 1970s, and that helped re-inject the idea into mass culture. These days, of course, the Illuminati are everywhere. Er, I mean *stories about* the Illuminati are everywhere.

All of these theories are quite clearly mistaken or deliberately fraudulent … unlike the shadowy Council of 300!

September 22, 2013

The lasting influence of the Frankfurt School

Filed under: History, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 11:00

Lee Stranahan talks about the Frankfurt School’s continuing importance in modern liberal thought:

For a decade, the Southern Poverty Law Center and others on the left have been trying to hide and distract from one of the main origins of both radical academia and media hostility towards capitalism: the ideology of cultural Marxism and Critical Theory that arose from the Frankfurt School.

The SPLC and others dismiss the facts about the German think-tank and its subsequent influence in America as a conspiracy theory. Understanding these attacks is an object lesson in how the left creates self-sustaining mythology by demonizing the people who dare expose their ideology while misdirecting their own followers as to the real story behind liberal ideas.

Organizations on the institutional left such as the Southern Poverty Law Center didn’t just appear out of nowhere or in an ideological vacuum. The SPLC in particular has a specific role of designating organizations as ‘hate groups’, often smearing mainstream conservatism by falsely tying it to tiny, violent and racist organizations.

The SLPC’s designation of what does and doesn’t constitute a hate group has clear foundations in the world of academic political correctness and censoring of speech it considers ‘racist, sexist and homophobic’; all terms that it defines in leftist terms and very selectively. For example, in the wake of last year’s shooting at the headquarters of the Family Research Council, the SLPC went out of their way to double down on it’s claim that the FRC is a ‘hate group.’

Even political correctness, however, didn’t just suddenly pop up out of thin air; it has its basis in a group of academic Marxist philosophers that came together in Germany between World War I and World War II called the Frankfurt School. Their cultural Marxist approach would go on to have a profound influence in the United States after many in the Frankfurt school fled Germany and came to America in the 1930s.

September 7, 2013

Maybe the conspiracy theorists just aren’t paranoid enough

Filed under: Government, Media, Technology, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 09:49

Bruce Schneier on the destruction of public trust in government agencies:

I’ve recently seen two articles speculating on the NSA’s capability, and practice, of spying on members of Congress and other elected officials. The evidence is all circumstantial and smacks of conspiracy thinking — and I have no idea whether any of it is true or not — but it’s a good illustration of what happens when trust in a public institution fails.

The NSA has repeatedly lied about the extent of its spying program. James R. Clapper, the director of national intelligence, has lied about it to Congress. Top-secret documents provided by Edward Snowden, and reported on by the Guardian and other newspapers, repeatedly show that the NSA’s surveillance systems are monitoring the communications of American citizens. The DEA has used this information to apprehend drug smugglers, then lied about it in court. The IRS has used this information to find tax cheats, then lied about it. It’s even been used to arrest a copyright violator. It seems that every time there is an allegation against the NSA, no matter how outlandish, it turns out to be true.

Guardian reporter Glenn Greenwald has been playing this well, dribbling the information out one scandal at a time. It’s looking more and more as if the NSA doesn’t know what Snowden took. It’s hard for someone to lie convincingly if he doesn’t know what the opposition actually knows.

All of this denying and lying results in us not trusting anything the NSA says, anything the president says about the NSA, or anything companies say about their involvement with the NSA. We know secrecy corrupts, and we see that corruption. There’s simply no credibility, and — the real problem — no way for us to verify anything these people might say.

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