Category: Worldview and Ideology

BULLSHIT DETECTION 101

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Warning, this post will use the word “bullshit” a lot. Like, a lot!

 

At this point, it doesn’t really matter which of the various tips and tricks you use to prevent yourself from passively believing bullshit as long as you do something and start now. The Internet, and social media in particular, have made the old ways of avoiding cranks and crack pots nearly impossible. Rather than seeing them screaming on the streets or in front of you at Wendy’s reciting the Magna Carta to the manager they are online explaining their demon alien 9/11 conspiracy theory on YouTube with flashy graphics and/or an oddly compelling one-sided argument. So now, rather than crossing the street, averting your eyes, or quietly praying that the crank will get out of line so you can order your meal, you watch and listen to unmitigated nonsense in the comfort of your own home, thinking “hmm, maybe Monster energy drinks are from Satan or evil demon aliens did 9/11 to distract America from Obama being the secret gay muslim Antichrist.” Oh, just in case you think I am making up the above example …

 

Here ya go! Not that flashy or compelling, but one example among many.

Well, say you never fell that far down the rabbit-hole, but every day the line between what’s real and what is ideological twaddle is growing more and more blurry. Though the causes are many and various, the solutions are as well. Pick from as many as you can, both here and in the list of external links at the bottom, but make this be the year you that you stop letting bullshit infect your brain.

I call myself a “recovering conspiracy theorist,” it’s somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but it does describe my past acceptance of various ideologically driven hypothetical bullshit and rejection of cold-hard facts that disagreed with my point-of-view. This meant that I accepted the premise of an elite establishment covertly holding the reigns of global power while puppet regimes conduct what appeared to be a legitimate system of governance … but only when my side wasn’t in power. This internal bias blinded me to facts that made my political stances inconvenient. I quickly accepted, and vigorously argued for, any kernel of semi-plausible concept that could insulate me from those less-than-palletable facts. In essence, I was able to see the world in simpler ideological terms due to a thick layer of bullshit as insulation.

I use myself as an example because, once I realized I was operating within a system of unmitigated hyperbole and baseless hypotheticals that support my opinions but are not supported by facts, I had to make a decision. I had to decide if the truth mattered. That is the question most people don’t realize they have to ask themselves every time they spread a rumor or forward a link or meme that seems believable and is either for their ideology or vilifies someone in the opposition … every time, they have to ask themselves “Do I want to be honest and thoughtful in what I put out in the world, or am I okay being full of shit?”

Bullshit Detection 101

Part 1: Know thy Self, and thine own bullshit

Being full of shit is easy. Being honest, truthful, and thoughtful is hard. I should know, I was a well-renowned bullshit artist in my day (which is a separate thing altogether from being a conspiracy theorist, believe me). I had more than a few people call me on my bullshit, that’s because they had adequate levels of bullshit detection, still more had no ability to sniff out the BS and fell victim. Just because I spewed out a lot of bullshit didn’t mean I was immune to putting my foot in it. That old phrase “You can’t bullshit a bullshitter” is, in my opinion, total bullshit. Luckily, there are tools at our collective disposal.

The first step in bullshit detection, working hard to not being full of shit yourself.

The internal sources of bullshit may be the hardest to detect. The most important thing to remember is that everyone has biases. The bias a person has may come from early childhood experience,  the biases of family members or significant others, or developed over a period of months or years. Even though everyone has some biases, that doesn’t mean that everyone lets their biases go unchecked. The best way of checking internal bias is to know what those biases are and take regular effort to challenge those biased assumptions with factual information and strive to be honest with one’s self. When you take an honest inventory of your beliefs, where they come from and the effects they have on you or others, it is possible to take steps towards improvement and, thus, a better bullshit detector (yes, this sounds a bit like a 12-step program, but the only Higher Power I am promoting here is the Truth).

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Here’s a quote from a dead guy, but it’s really just an opinion.

 

Being honest with yourself may be hard to accomplish, but it’s worth it.

 

Part 2: Discerning Between Information, Misinformation, and Disinformation.

Yes, there are different types of bullshit.

First off, it is important to describe factual information before we talk about what is not factual. Briefly, a fact-based claim is any claim backed by factual evidence that is not skewed to mislead.

No matter what the source is, disinformation is the deliberate misrepresentation to mislead others. Russian dezinformatsiya (disinformation) took misleading stories to an art form. Dezinformatsiya was artful propaganda meant to delude the general public into believing what was not true. Regardless of the source, with the recent increase in awareness that fake news stories can have to influence the public, a deeper understanding of this type of bullshit is needed. One thing that is extremely important to understand is that disinformation is not a one-to-one exchange; it’s spread through various channels, many of whom having no inkling of the falsity of the claims they are promoting. Unwitting news agencies, friends, neighbors, and colleagues could all be spreading bullshit unbeknownst to you and to them. Even before it gets to word-of-mouth (or social media post), there’s layers to the shit.

 

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This is all before it hits your uncle’s Facebook page.

 

Now, the unwitting carriers of bullshit are obviously not intentionally trying to mislead you. Far from it. They heard or saw some article of news or gossip and are repeating it as fact. The unfortunate thing here is that the skills you practice as a good detector of bullshit may put you in conflict with your friendly bullshit carriers. It’s not your job to tell your friend that what they are saying is bullshit, at least not until you have made absolutely sure whether the thing they are saying is true or false.

Here’s how to proceed.

 

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Be nice to the kitteh and tell us where you heard it!

 

When a person makes a wildly sensational claim, the first thing you should do is ask where this information came from. If they cite there source as “a friend of a friend,” then you should deem the claim non-verifiable and, since you can’t prove it to be true, disregard.

If their source is a news story, then it is normally a good idea to actually find that news story and read it, don’t just believe it out of hand. See what sources that news story use. If they are claiming that, for instance Obama is a secret muslim (a popular one for the last few years), and the news article cites a few sketchy memes, a rambling YouTube video, and/or another article with no credible sources; it is probably time to disregard.

 

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I can’t just take your word for it. That’s not how we do things anymore.

 

 

Okay, say you saw what you thought was pretty good evidence. The memes and YouTube vids were pretty convincing! Well, you may well be believing a one-sided skewed view of a subject. If you seek truth and not just reassurance, it is necessary to try to disprove a claim, not simply to reinforce it. Most memes are one-sided. All conspiracy YouTube videos are one-sided, even though they pretend to be “just asking questions” (eg. “Is Queen Elizabeth an immortal shapeshifter and the inspiration for Lewis Carroll’s The Jabberwocky?”). The problem is a lack of falsifiability, or ability for a claim to be proven false. The use of cherry-picked coincidences, loose-associations, numerology and magical thinking or coincidental timing as “proof” leaves anyone to make any claim and use any means they choose to “prove” that claim. In this world, nothing is real, all fantasy is just as “true” as the fundamental laws of nature. In that case, why take a plane when you can teleport?

If a claim of any magnitude cannot be either proven with evidence, or made falsifiable with evidence, it should most likely be disregarded. Just because a person is misinformed, or heard a hypothetical that they believed wholeheartedly, doesn’t mean that they are stupid. We all have the capacity to believe bullshit from time to time, and should treat each other with respect. If a claim is made that you know to be wrong, it may be appropriate to tell the person making the claim of your awareness, but that doesn’t mean that they will listen.

 

Part 3: WTF Internet?

All of the above examples can happen in real interactions and online. The massive disinformation and conspiracy theories are remarkably similar to small town gossip or rumors. A lie can spread faster than the truth. This is not something the Internet created. The Internet, especially with the advent of social media, just made the process go a lot further and faster.

Before the telephone and telegraph, people had to meet in person or write letters to spread rumors. Books and broadsides promoted conspiracy theories, but at a much slower pace than we have today. Before television, it was generally text or still images used to add depth to a sensational story. Before the Internet, however, people still were very able to promote propaganda, sow the seeds of scapegoating and witch hunts. It isn’t as if echo-chambers were invented by Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg. Now, a flashy combination of text and image, spoken word and videos with swift transitions and slash-cut edits can dazzle the subconscious while slyly persuading the reader and/or viewer. It is more than human consciousness has ever had to contend with before.

That’s not to say that the Internet is not also the source of immense new tools for bullshit detection. Google Scholar allows for up-to-date scientific fact-checking materials, some of it beyond the pay-wall but not all. Basic science facts are available through trustworthy websites.

Efforts are being made now to expose fake news purveyors, but that will never really be enough. Everyone needs to strive for greater information literacy and critical discernment. In other words, knowing when more information is required and when something is complete bullshit.

Good Luck.

 

External Resources:

Scott Berkun’s blog “How to Detect Bullshit.

Baloney Detection Kit” adapted from Carl Sagan’s The Demon Haunted World.

YOUR BALONEY DETECTION KIT SUCKS” is a vital and modern rebuttal to Sagan’s “Baloney Detection Kit” (using some of the best hyperbole there is, but still a relevant refutation). Remember, logical fallacies are only relevant when dealing with rational arguments, or arguing people.

On the reception and detection of pseudo-profound bullshit” by Pennycook, Cheyne, et al. 2015.

An anonymously created public Google Doc giving a list of fake and hoax news sites.

Neil Postman’s “Bullshit and the Art of Crap-Detection

The Bla Bla Meter” helps you take a good look at your own writing (and the writing of others) and see how much bullshit filler and nonsense is in it.

Here is a plugin for several browsers that helps warn of questionable sources.

… And a CBC news story on the creator of the plugin.

When all else fails, including all the advice above, revisit the Golden Sentences of Democrates. A few examples include:

It is beautiful to impede an unjust man; but, if this be not possible, it is beautiful not to act in conjunction with him.

It is necessary to be a speaker of the truth, and not to be loquacious.

Fools frequently become wise under the pressure of misfortunes.

Camera Obscura: Ontology and Media — Lens and Frame

The allusion made by Plato’s Allegory of the Cave is roughly the same made in the collected works of Symbolic Interactionists (such as Goffman’s Frame Analysis or Cooley’s theory of the  “looking-glass self“). That which we may collectively call “the real” is mainly shadows, echos, reflections and images framed so that they may fit the viewer’s expectations.

A more modern version of Plato’s cave is the camera obscura. Imagine living inside a camera, the real world being projected upside down from a lens (the only source of light). The truth inherent in this metaphor relates to any and all media; though it illuminates all you see, the reality is inverted.

To include still more metaphor into a highly metaphorical conversation, the Jungian “shadow” comes to mind. The dark side; of a person, a society, or of life itself, is true but largely ignored. To stand in front of the the pinhole lens of the camera obscura, to cover some aspect of the inverted reality with an obstruction in one’s own image, is to cancel one’s self (bias) from the inverted image.

Now, with every new media outlet there is a new lens producing light and inverting the image in its own manner. This is almost too obvious to require a metaphor, right? The FoxNews Channell, for example, largely frames the world one way, MSNBC frames things another way. I tend to agree with one frame and disagree with another. My shadow obscures me from my bias.

What happens when we consider that, rather than one or two pinhole lenses (cameras obscura) we remember that there are many. Some we see and some we don’t see. Every medium works differently, some so powerful that they can drive the right eye or ear to see or hear the world to an extreme. Many light sources create the illusion that there is not a camera obscura but, rather, a reality; one that can be “seen” and “known.” Should all of my light sources be from behind me, my shadow allows me to see only light; truth; reality. I can see the light from those other sources as well, but I can see their source! They are a fraud! They are not real! Who can fall for that camera obscura?

I am lucky, I surmise, that I may see what is real while others believe the parallax view of an obscured inversion of truth! I am awake!

Or so it would seem.

I am only falling for my own parallax view. If I can view the scene from above, removing my shadow from the equation, now I realize my folly.

What is media?

Any symbol, image, code, or referent. A look, a gesture, a word; these are all as much a medium as cinema, television, radio, or theater. The editorial power of a raised eyebrow, in the proper context, can change history.

Now, more than ever, we each add to the noisy image that is the media camera obscura. Every post, tweet snap, etc. is media.

Media is politics.

Media is paradigm reinforcement and shift and conflict.

Media is meaning making, something we are always doing all the time.

The illusion laid bare, all perception is conjecture and every “truth” now housed in fresh quotation marks. Even certainty of knowledge is lost in brackets. What, now, are we to believe?

Know the illusion. Know now that there is truth in the awareness of obscured view. That everyone omits there shadow, save the few that seek it out (and even then they only neglect to forget it). Such is the case when hoping to know, that awareness of what is unknown is often the closest thing to knowledge at the time that may be had.

via Camera Obscura: Ontology and Media — Lens and Frame

Originally Posted on December 8, 2014

The Golden Age of Bullshit

150709211727-trump-on-obama-birthplace-sot-cooper-ac-00001004-large-169Here’s some Bullshit.

This is a wonderful time for Bullshit in America. All manner of Bullshit. Political Bullshit. Bullshit Medicine. Bullshit Science. Bullshit Advice. Bullshit History. Even, and this may come as a surprise, Bullshit Media and News Coverage. What does all this mean for you? Who knows, probably nothing, but I can make some Bullshit up so you think that it’s the most important thing you will read about and you will either love me or hate me for it. It all depends, does my Bullshit align with yours?

So, is 2016 the Year of Bullshit?  Sure, why not?  Pictured above, Donald Trump is making a constipated face that he believes approximates a garish lack of concern, he is also running for President of the United States of America. He has become an ersatz Bullshit Messiah, both the epicenter of American Political Bullshit as well as a ‘Bullshit Creator’ in his own right. He epitomizes the desire for political outsiders among Tea Party Republicans while showing that they still don’t want a Presidential candidate with a clear grasp of reality, much less one who is willing to be honest.

Donald Trump is not the only source of Bullshit, in 2016 or otherwise. Really, 2016 may be the Year of Bullshit because, for one, we can now talk about Bullshit in a realistic manner. Since the 2005 reformatting of an earlier (1986) essay, Harry G. Frankfurt’s On Bullshit is a philosophical look into the subject of Bullshit, several academic articles have been written regarding the study of Bullshit. This line of academic seems to have crystallized into meaningful and actionable study with the November 2015 publish of On the Reception and Detection of Pseudo-Profound Bullshit, in which authors (credited in link) tested individuals’ ‘Bullshit Receptivity’ and found that participants often failed to detect Bullshit and ‘Pseudo-Profound Bullshit’ correlated negatively with conspiracist ideation (meaning they didn’t buy that type of bullshit as often) and positively with belief in the paranormal and with previous knowledge of Deepak Chopra (whose Twitter posts researchers approximated and asked participants to rate in terms of level of profundity). The conclusions drawn help explain how 2016 may be the Year of Bullshit:

Bullshit is a consequential aspect of the human condition. Indeed, with the rise of communication technology, people are likely encountering more bullshit in their everyday lives than ever before. Profundity ratings for statements containing a random collection of buzzwords were very strongly correlated with a selective collection of actual “Tweets” from Deepak Chopra’s “Twitter” feed (r’s = .88–89). At the time of this writing, Chopra has over 2.5 million followers on “Twitter” and has written more than twenty New York Times bestsellers. Bullshit is not only common; it is popular.

Now, if you happen to be a fan of Deepak Chopra, you may feel like some Ivory Tower academic mucky-mucks are taking a cheap shot at something that they do not understand. First, remember, these particular academics generated some of the psuedo-profound statements attributed to Chopra as part of an experiment. If that does not quell your rage, perhaps catching academics falling for some bullshit would make you happy. Well, they have.

The Sokal Hoax or Sokal Affair has become the stuff of Academic Infamy, and Legendary Bullshit. In 1996, NYU physicist Alan Sokol submitted an article to the academic journal Social Text that was comprised of 100% self-aware pseudo-academic bullshit, Social Text published the article without comment. Sokal later announced the nature of the article, entitled Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity, as part-parody and part-test but most of all an aggressive rebuke of a Plea to Academic Authority (he was a physicist, after all) rather than the careful consideration and assessment of the content.

One characteristic of the emerging postmodern science is its stress on nonlinearity and discontinuity: this is evident, for example, in chaos theory and the theory of phase transitions as well as in quantum gravity. At the same time, feminist thinkers have pointed out the need for an adequate analysis of fluidity, in particular turbulent fluidity

From Sokal’s Transgressing the Boundaries, which was Bullshit.

Did you know that Homeopathy is Bullshit? The idea that the more you dilute an active ingredient, the stronger it becomes is not only nonsensical, it is nonsense. And yet, Homeopathy has fans, is not illegal (despite its occasionally causing the death of those who would have otherwise sought real medical attention) and even a petition to be covered by Medicare. Deepak Chopra may get a bad wrap for being pseudo-profound, but at least he hasn’t caused anyone’s death (to my knowledge).

Homeopathy is part of a larger wave of Bullshit in the area of people’s health. Anti-Vaccine Bullshit, raging due to Pseudo-Science Bullshit about Autism has led to very real resurgences of diseases that had been all but wiped out. Measles, Mumps, Rubella and approximately 149,000 preventable illnesses and over 9,000 preventable deaths, all due to a significant amount of cognitive biases, fear and, of course, Bullshit. That was, at least, the case until a group of Anti-Vaxxers (the people who think that vaccines are bad) funded a study that actually showed that there is no link between vaccines and Autism. Denial is a definite factor.

Here are two videos regarding Measles and vaccines. Can you tell which one is Bullshit?

So, did you figure out which of these two videos were Bullshit? No you didn’t. What you did was decide which worldview you agree with and decided one was true and one was lying. Well, thankfully, it is possible to verify the information in the second video (using trustworthy sources such as CDC.gov) and to debunk claims made by the first video (but if you did not do either of these fact-checking steps then you did not prevent yourself from falling for any number of potential cognitive biases, the stuff Bullshit thrives on.

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And, again, this guy. If anyone has become synonymous with Bullshit, it is Donald Trump. He unabashedly uses monosyllabic taunts, mockery, empty bluster, and dismissive facial gestures to distract from his lack of substantial policy proposals, leadership skills, tact, or oration. His main reason for being a billionaire is that he was born one, and his main reason for being the GOP’s current Presidential frontrunner is that all of the attributes you see above are actually appealing to an increasing number of voters. He actually has mass-appeal! That’s Bullshit on a whole other level.

Remember what researchers learned about Pseudo-Profound Bullshit? The same can be said about Pseudo-Political Bullshit. When 41% of Trump supporters said they would favor bombing Agrabah and only 9% opposed the action, the polster failed to mention that Agrabah was the fictional country from Disney’s Aladdin. When this came out in December 2015 the headlines mocked Trump supporters’ for their ignorance, ignoring that 19% of Democrat’s surveyed also supported bombing a cartoon country. If Democratic Presidential Candidate Martin O’Malley had anywhere near the polling numbers Donald Trump has, the fact that 39% of his supporters also supported bombing a fictional country would have raised eyebrows as well.

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This is not just about the claims Trump has made, or the apparent gullibility of his supporters, but something deeper. Wait, something less deep. Think shallow! Trump is the very epitome of Bullshit because he can and has bullshit his way through life. He may have been born with more money than most small towns collectively make in a decade, but he has made even more money than that, and lost still more, several times over; all the while just as obliviously confident and self-assured as you please. It is this blissful ignorance to consequence that is the Trump persona. Trump is Bullshit incarnate, a walking, talking, tweeting, steaming pile.

What’s more important than Trump’s persona in the race for the 2016 GOP Presidential nomination is the absolute media frenzy that started the moment Donald Trump announced his candidacy. It was ratings gold, even Donald Trump said so, even when he was announcing his candidacy. He’s that much of a self-assured ass, but he was right. The news media collectively climaxed and prepared for what, they seemed to believe, a few random gaffes from Trump followed by his eventual disappearance. Unlike the other times Donald Trump announced his candidacy, Trump continued onward in his bid for the GOP nomination. At some point, it seems, the American news media became to oversexed by Trump’s daily gaffes, refusal to apologize, ascent into the top echelon among as many as seventeen GOP candidates. The Donald broke the Liberal Media (which, in case you didn’t know, apparently includes FoxNews).

So, is 2016 the Year of Bullshit?

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Well, not really. If you looked at the title “The Golden Age of Bullshit” you may have thought about some of the Historical time periods that were considerably more lacking in a scientifically derived narrative to combat whatever was being said by the ruling elites of their day.Perhaps you considered The Gilded Age or Late Antiquity in Europe, Soviet Russia and its era of extreme propaganda. Maybe you, just now, said “Hey, what about McCarthy and America during the Cold War” after I mentioned the Soviets. Any number of eras could have been argued as the Golden Age of Bullshit because Bullshit has been around as long as humans have had language and reason to ask questions but not the intellectual honesty to say “I dunno.”

What can be said is that there is an overwhelming amount of information available to people today. Not all of this information, however, is based in fact. A great deal of the information that is said, heard, read, written, posted, re-posted, quoted, posted via blogs and social media or becomes a meme is, unfortunately, Bullshit.

Here’s a stark realization then, you believe at least some Bullshit. Sadly, I say that with some assurance, because so do I. When a friend, neighbor, loved one or stranger calls me on my Bullshit, I try to own it, but it’s hard! The thing is, there is so much information (maybe a better way of phrasing it would be something like ‘info-noise’) out there that much of it goes unchecked and becomes a thing we think we know. Worse yet, having the awareness that somethings are Bullshit makes some of us think we can tell, instinctively, what is real and what is Bullshit. That is, among other things, how I came to be among the many who could be collectively referred to as the 911-Truth Movement. My lacking science knowledge at that time did not seem to exclude me from having theories regarding the melting point of steel of the nature of falling buildings, theories that I actually overheard and adopted as my own, sans fact checking of any kind.

The powerful realization that so much ‘info-noise’ being produced so regularly is utter nonsense, but that we cannot necessarily know what is real and what is not is harrowing. Luckily, there are ways of dealing with this. One strong suggestion would be to try and disprove any belief you have before making a claim of Belief: once you tell another person you believe something, it tends to become harder on your self-image to let go of that belief and, thus, be ‘wrong.’ Instead, entertain the notions, but consider the counterpoint. The next big suggestion being, investigate your assumptions often: the very ideas that may make you feel you know the world could be the ones could be the ones you use to unwittingly fool yourself.

The last idea is, of course, laugh. Knowing you were wrong isn’t nearly as bad when you can laugh at yourself. Although I don’t think it is actually healthy to mock others for their deeply held beliefs, it can be a source of relief to consider your old beliefs with an openness to the humor therein. At least I think that could help, that’s my opinion anyway, it may just be bullshit. Of course, the important thing is that we talk about the bullshit, so as to avoid believing the bullshit.

More Bullshit Below:

Why Your Detox is Bullshit

 

Social Construction of the Illuminati

Illuminati 1

The social construction of reality is the process of conceptualizing observations and experiences into a system of understanding, the resulting social construct is then adopted as a system of interpretation. Its a way of looking at our social world that is not inherent but rather the result of human decisions and judgment that is treated as real. In discussing  “the social construction of” there is often a considerable debate between essentialists in one camp or another who do believe in what can be called the “inherent self-evidence of” a given concept.

The Illuminati is one such concept. To view the constant echo-chamber of the internet on the subject of the Illuminati, this secret organization absolutely must be real. To my mind, the idea that elites would unify and form a cabal to control and manipulate sounds perfectly reasonable. Whether it seems likely, reasonable, or self-evident, the Illuminati is a social construct.

The first argument anyone could give against the social construction of the Illuminati is that the Illuminati exists in history.  Adam Weishaupt founded the Illuminati, a secret society in 1776 in Germany with the stated goal of using the “human foible” of secret societies for the “benefit of people.” After the society was banned in Bavaria, Weishaupt fled and the Illuminati was disbanded. This is the historical account (an abbreviated one). A few present day so-called secret societies (secret in name only) have adopted the term Illuminati to bolster their mystical credibility or otherwise promote themselves as older than they truly are. Several mock / parody websites have enjoyed the relative ease of appearing to be “the real Illuminati” and, as such, have been mistaken for or accused of being the real thing and cited as proof to the existence of the elite conspiracy. The transition from parody to truth in promoting the Illuminati is a theme that has existed since the modern belief in the group began.

The distrust in secret societies, whether with or without merit, is the subject of debate and is another subject that is socially constructed. Whether the historic Illuminati was egalitarian or not, the Illuminati became a construct that linked all secret societies, presumed a goal of elite control and manipulation, and is often suspected of being anti-religion (among a litany of other suspicions). The Illuminati also received a “historic totalization,” using the history of European secret societies to insinuate the Illuminati as being at least as old as the Knights Templar (some theorizing an ancient Egyptian origin). The Illuminati is also projected into the future through the fears and suspicions of those who hold that the group is currently in control of most (if not all) world government and intends to keep it that way.

One interesting aspect that this specific social construction has is that it is emergent. Unlike the social construction of race (a construct that has existed for millennia), the Illuminati has only recently been constructed. The history of belief in the Illuminati as a  real and modern entity starts in the Vietnam War Era and picks up right around the birth of the Internet and has had several concomitant social and pop culture forces combine to strengthen this social construct.

In some respects, the Illuminati is the joke that no one got. Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea wrote The Illuminatus Trilogy in the 1970s. Part sci-fi, part humor, part psychedelia, the book was understood as satire and stood as a seminal work of “conspiracy fiction.” This does not, however, mean that it was taken as fiction by all who read the book, or skimmed it, or heard about some of the contents of the book in certain contexts. The social climate in America had become highly skeptical of authority following the assassinations of JFK, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and Robert Kennedy. The Vietnam War continued on after years of protests, placing a rift between supporters of the war and the antiwar movement. Conspiracy theories that began to surround the JFK assassination began to snowball, picking up new connections with events. Suddenly, the possibility that Lee Harvey Oswald did not act alone or that James Earl Ray was not the true killer of MLK began to morph into a generalized set of conspiracies that may have been J. Edgar Hoover, or the Mafia, or Lyndon B. Johnson’s doing (to name a few among dozens). The erosion of faith in central authority that was felt among those in the Anti-Vietnam War movement also bled into the social structure in many ways, reaching an apex upon the resignation of President Richard Nixon (and subsequent pardon). Was it all connected? This question was the one that The Illuminatus Trilogy thumbed its literary nose at. “Yes, there are conspiracies, but they are often initiated by men who are shortsighted and end up shooting themselves in the foot, so drop some acid and worship Satan” (rough approximation of The Illuminatus Trilogy‘s throughline). With time, and the 1980s economic boom and social conservative revival, the conspiracy theories went somewhat dormant. In the meantime, Robert Anton Wilson went on to write books and make speaking engagements that were largely comedic and his and Robert Shea’s book would go on to be read by a variety of readers, many of whom did not necessarily get the joke.

A 1990 speech by President George H, W. Bush perked the ears of those long dormant conspiracy theorists, including readers of The Illuminatus Trilogy for its use of the phrase “a New World Order.” The phrase sounded to many to be the totalitarian one world government feared by anti-government right-wing conservatives and Fundamentalist Christians, the former thought the “New World Order” as the ultimate goal of “Big Government” and the latter believing it the power from which the Antichrist would rise. The 1990s saw disparate groups coming to similar conclusions; Anti-war liberals, libertarians, Fundamentalist Christians, conservatives and anyone who feared or distrusted global governing entities (such as the United Nations) were all put on high alert.

Pop culture began to spread the brand of the New World Order; giving it name recognition if nothing else. One of the most unlikely sources of unintentional promotion of conspiracy theory, World Championship Wrestling (WCW) debuted the New World Order (nWo) wrestling group in 1996. Ministry’s 1992 industrial song New World Order sampled Bush’s speech in the intro and was states as being anti-Bush but was also had a more general lyrical message against complacency toward totalitarian hegemony.The Illuminati also received increasing notice in popular culture, in Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons, in Umberto Eco’s book Foucault’s Pendulum, Marvel Comics’ Illuminati, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, and Disney’s Gargoyles all have Illuminati characters and plot elements. The History Channel became one of the most prolific super-spreader of the Illuminati narrative in popular culture through the television show Brad Meltzer’s Decoded. Former wrestling star and former Governor of Minnesota, Jesse Ventura used his notoriety and public position to further the belief in an Illuminati that seeks global dominion via a New World Order, later parlaying this into a reality television show Conspiracy Theory with Jesse Ventura.

The Internet is the site in which the current incarnations of Illuminati narratives live an grow. I use plurals because there are several “Illuminati narratives” at work, all of them socially constructed. From the Fundamentalist Christians predominantly comes the Satanic Illuminati and its various bloodlines betraying dark occult roots. The largely agnostic anti-government camp promotes the One World Government Illuminati that uses fear to create an ever greater web of control; abolishing freedom, and creating false flag disasters to allow for ever greater governmental controls. There is a third Extraterrestial/Reptilian Illuminati is self-explanatory; controlling all humanity are non-human entities that often pose as heads of state or other important figures. Though these are different Illuminati narratives, they often interact and share interpretations on current events and Illuminati tactics. Almost all news stories are fictitious or covering up the true intentions of the shadowy overlords controlling who-knows-what.

The Illuminati narrative becomes a clearinghouse for all things that lie outside of an individual’s ideology. To a liberal or libertarian Illuminati believer, George W. Bush was the symbol of the Illuminati during his presidency. The election of Obama meant a swap of ideological focus on the Illuminati; now conservatives, Fundamentalist Christians and the like were on guard. The Catholic papacy is often implicated by nearly everyone who believes in the Illuminati. Any time a social demographic ceases to be subjugated and pushed to the periphery, that group is implicated in the conspiracy of the Illuminati. If you view all of the above hyperlinks and try to combine them all into one singular “Illuminati narrative” you would have to call the Illuminati a jewish, muslim group run by the Catholic Pope that controls a wide variety of leaders including Barack Obama and George W. Bush and is not only satanic and atheistic but homosexual to boot! This, of course, is not how any individual views the Illuminati, but they instead take what parts fit their ideological view of the world and their political concerns and chuck the rest, calling any contradictory information a simple misunderstanding or the Illuminati’s own trickery meant to implicate the true patriot, true Christian, or “only honest man in politics.”

As the social construction of the Illuminati is ongoing, but totalizing, all media must fit into the “Illuminati Agenda.” The concept that includes narrative fiction movies and science fiction is the belief that the Illuminati must hide their plots “in plane site.” As a point of honor, the Illuminati are required to tell the world of their plans before they can follow through. This is why any famous musician is taken at face value when they may say that they “sold their soul to the devil” and the Arther C. Clarke book 2010 is believed to outline an Illuminati plot to turn Saturn into a second sun. These ideas are spread online and in person, the arguments that seem to validate these claims only compound upon one another, and disconfirmation is a non-issue since failure to complete presumed plots in the (often numerologically derived) allotted timeline are concluded to be a successful exposé of Illuminati by internet “researchers.”

Still, within the conspiracy theory worldview, another plot always lie in wait and the next current event becomes the next Illuminati abomination. The 2014 ALS Ice Bucket Challenge and every Superbowl Halftime Show are actually satanic rituals of Illuminati power. The Illuminati suffer the conspiracy theorists because they actually become central to the pursuit of “one world government.”

The social construction of the Illuminati also gives prescriptive advice to prevent the success of the Satanic or Secular or Reptilian Illuminati and they are as bleak and nihilistic as anything that could ever be imagined. The following is taken entirely from henrymakow.com (the website states that it was formerly savethemales.ca) and was written under the pen name Oiseau Bleu:

Find hope “beyond” information.  Information is a stepping-stone with some benefits and usefulness, but it will never set you free.

Tangible solutions for the truth movement –

#1. Recognize your vulnerability to mind-control techniques designed specifically for you.  Every person on planet Earth is subjected to an onslaught of satanic mind-control programming.  Understand that we are actually mind-controlled to further mind-control one another.  “Let’s go get a drink…” is just one simple example of that, though there are millions.

#2. Turn off your t.v.’s immediately and disconnect the cable service/connection.  This is obvious.

#3. Stop “enjoying” life (like the t.v. people), and replace that with genuine usefulness.  Worry when you are enjoying your-“Self” as just another consumer.

#4 Opt out of the System, instead of being beast-feeding busy.  Cancel credit cards/loans and stop paying taxes.  If done in mass, this would begin strangling the System.  Learning to Be calm, at peace, and passive is a prerequisite to effectiveness and harmful to the Beast.

#5 Watch the film “Revolver” (the rooftop scene – part 2 of 4  linked here) over and over till you’re certain you get this.

#6 Believe there will be no more chances after this one because God said so. This is final.

Live each moment knowing this, and act accordingly. The Fire is real and Satan is leading to it.

Don’t value information. Distrust others. Distrust your TV (but trust the Alternative news on the Internet). Resignation to, over enjoyment of, life. Don’t trust yourself: you are the enemy. There is only one option. Stay vigilant or be damned.

This is the end result of belief in the Illuminati.  A social construction that, when taken to its irrational extreme, prescribes absolute denial of all possible information outside of the belief in an absolute conspiracy. All conflicting information is to be regarded as deception. Apostasy is a death sentence. With this worldview, paranoia and fatalism are quite logical byproducts. The sad truth is that the several cases of individuals who believe in this socially constructed Illuminati who have killed themselves and/or others are immediately considered the casualties of their vigilance, marked for death by a secret cabal that knows all and sees all. There is no logic that can disprove the Illuminati. There is only the hope that the many susceptible individuals will go back to the work of Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea, The Illuminatus Trilogy, read it, read it again, and, hopefully, get the joke.

Total Conspiracy Theories

The apparent growth, in number and potency, of pervasive conspiracy theories and may be a byproduct of the internet or social media, and may also be affected by the growing anxiety caused by increased globalization and global risks. I tend to believe that these two social forces combine to create conditions that allow for anxiety, a belief that conditions are worse than ever before, and that some individual, group, or force is responsible.

To cope with the stress and anxiety of late modernity, ever more available conspiracy theories produce a much needed order to the world. A nefarious order, although fearful and disturbing, allows for the illusion of an ordered world, a world under someone’s control.

Rather than a low-level (i.e. law enforcement accepting bribes to ignore specific criminal behaviors), mid-level (consider the real conspiracy between executives at Enron), or high-level conspiracies (nearly every JFK conspiracy theory would fall into this category), a new order of conspiracy theory exists that encompasses all life, government, and every global (or universal) system by definition. This is the Total Conspiracy Theory.

A Total Conspiracy Theory works differently from other ranges of conspiracies. Such a theory may never be disproved because any falsification would be seen as part of the conspiracy system (disconfirmation confirms). All reality and every aspect of existence is thought to be hijacked in a complete system; other conspiracy theories are absorbed into the Total Conspiracy (absolute conspiracy paradigm). All those who disagree with the specific Total Conspiracy are either deceived and need education (call to proselytize) or a part of the conspiracy themselves and need to be stopped (adversarial mentality), this includes anyone who believes in a rival Total Conspiracy.

As it would happen, two Total Conspiracy Theories are currently fighting for dominance amid various conspiracy theory options. David Icke‘s assertion of that the world is controlled by shape-shifting reptilians (known as the Annunaki from Assyrian myth) runs counter a Judeo-Christian-based theory that all alien and extraterrestrial encounters, UFOs and the Annunaki are actually demons and part of a Great Deception from Satan himself. Both of these theories are supernatural in nature but (arguably) a third, secular and terrestrial Total Conspiracy Theory exists and counts Alex Jones as its primary mouthpiece. I now have to point out that these are just the three most common Total Conspiracies in America alone. Though these theories exist within several English language speaking countries, other regional, language, ideological and religious groupings have different Total Conspiracy Theories.

The implication of the growing numbers of increasingly strident adherents to a complete adversarial paradigm is that it will incite violence. Conflating non-believers with demons can also lead to violence. Belief in secular conspiracies has led to bloodshed recently as well. One case, the call to proselytize ended in the brutal murder of a fast food worker in China. As these types of conspiracy theories gain adherents and traction, the threat of violence increases. Past the threat of violence, there will likely be more reason to observe these Total Conspiracy Theories. As globalization and growing modern anxieties increase, these belief systems may become increasingly important in understanding individual opinions, group movements, and political concerns within the democratic electorate.