from the world's big
An information war is being waged.
- Fans of the conspiracy video, "Plandemic," are exhibiting patterns similar to cult worshippers.
- Conspiracy theories increase during times of social uncertainty and trauma.
- One researcher says conspiracists are more likely to assess nonsensical statements as "profound."
How skepticism can fight radicalism, conspiracy theorists, and Holocaust deniers | Michael Shermer<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="b3e5baeb61e3efbd5b2bc98fc3b29e56"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/houCSgBZoMg?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>To better understand this mindset we should consider cult worship. My first regular writing beat was as the religion columnist for The Daily Targum. While studying for a degree in religion in the nineties, I interviewed clergy, professors, and students from various faith organizations on the Rutgers campuses. I was struck by how adamantly many believed their position to be <em>right</em>. On rare occasions some expressed humility. Certainty is more likely to gain followers.</p><p>These interviews led to my fascination with cults. As with conspiracists, cult worshippers suspend disbelief even when not in their best interest. Their buy-in depends upon a counter-narrative promulgated by a leader: <em>Out there the powers that be are trying to hurt you. You're safe here. <a href="https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/07/trump-rnc-speech-alone-fix-it/492557/" target="_blank">Only I can fix this</a>.</em></p><p>Cult leaders exploit anxiety around a shadowy "other" out to get you. While not required, sometimes this other has a form. Ambiguity is a key feature of indoctrination. Diana Alstad and Joel Kramer break this down in their 1993 book, <em><a href="https://www.amazon.com/dp/B007WL0JHE/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1" target="_blank">The Guru Papers: Makes of Authoritarian Power</a></em>. </p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"What really matters is not so much the specific content of a religion, but how sure one is of its worldview. That is, it's not nearly as important how true or false a belief is as how certain one is of it. All religious certainty is similar in that the beliefs one is certain of coat and comfort fear." </p><p>Replace "religion" with "anti-vaccination agenda." </p><p>While "Plandemic" seemed to explode out of nowhere, a <a href="https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/k7qqyn/an-ex-google-employee-turned-whistleblower-and-qanon-fan-made-plandemic-go-viral?fbclid=IwAR1DMFRa_RlzYK3JaerNGHvXWX4rnf44ja3Gv9mINrOIa7lHPOY3Ko9Xjok" target="_blank">sophisticated social media campaign</a> created by a QAnon promoter elevated the video. Ambiguity also played a key role, as an <a href="https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/movies/story/2020-05-13/plandemic-coronavirus-documentary-director-mikki-willis-mikovits" target="_blank"><em>LA Times</em> interview</a> with filmmaker Mikki Willis suggests. </p>
Faithful prays for their religious leader Naason Joaquin Garcia, arrested in California, US, facing charges for 26 suspected felonies including human trafficking, rape of minor and child pornography, at the international headquarters of the Church 'La Luz Del Mundo' (Light of the World) in Guadalajara, Jalisco State, Mexico on June 9, 2019.
Photo by Ulises Ruiz / AFP via Getty Images<p><span style="background-color: initial;">After Willis admits "Plandemic" is intentionally "conspirational and shocking," the reporter presses him to validate Judy Mikovits's claims. Willis admits leaving in unsubstantiated claims "that could be true, but science hasn't proven it yet"—an effectively </span><span style="background-color: initial;">meaningless statement. Anything <em>could</em> be true. Science is the process of discovering whether or not a claim holds up.</span></p><p>Truth was never the point. The reporter goes on, "as [Willis] sees it, he is simply offering a necessary alternative to what he calls 'the mainstream narrative.'" Willis himself <a href="https://www.propublica.org/article/im-an-investigative-journalist-these-are-the-questions-i-asked-about-the-viral-plandemic-video" target="_blank">admitted to another reporter</a> that "Plandemic" is propaganda. </p><p>Which narrative? Irrelevant. Suspicion has been expressed. Ambiguity is power. </p><p>Matthew Remski specializes in cult dynamics and trauma, predominantly in yoga and Buddhist communities. In his <a href="http://matthewremski.com/wordpress/the-plandemic-spectacle-a-viral-loop-of-emotional-control/" target="_blank">excellent summation</a> of Willis's response, which the filmmaker recorded after "Plandemic" went viral, Remski points out that Willis failed to address his video's content. Instead, he used time-tested cult techniques to sway the observer to his "side." </p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"In my research on charismatic leadership, many interview subjects report the paradoxical phenomena of the speaker speaking to countless people, while seeming to forge a private connection. Some of this is amplified by the webcam medium, but it's also played up with direct 2nd-person address. As the sermon finds its ultimate/totalistic theme, the diction shifts to first-person plural. The viewer is invited to merge with the speaker. The sermon is about something ultimately important, communicated in close intimacy."</p><p>This is Willis's first public message after his video (marketed <em>during the interview </em>as scientific fact) was viewed over eight million times. Mikovits's claims are not presented as speculation. She repeatedly contradicts herself. She <a href="https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2020/05/fact-checking-judy-mikovits-controversial-virologist-attacking-anthony-fauci-viral?fbclid=IwAR09b3OIwqkkRukSbRQ1aLNKD8ngW7RpKmcRFScVxKBu_Pnezcdk8KZTwZs" target="_blank">probably makes false statements</a>. Doesn't matter. This technique has precedent, having been perfected by our current president over the course of decades: State an absurd or inflammatory idea as possible, let it escalate in the public imagination, then step back and claim no responsibility. Birtherism was a litmus test. </p><p>While Mikovits has been <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F6B96XoBboc&feature=youtu.be" target="_blank">doubling</a> and <a href="https://londonreal.tv/is-coronavirus-a-plandemic-exposing-the-truth-behind-americas-covid-19-strategy-dr-judy-mikovits/" target="_blank">tripling down</a> on her false claims, Willis <a href="https://www.facebook.com/mikki.willis/posts/2677500375694237" target="_blank">calls himself an investigative journalist</a>. Releasing an interview with an unvetted subject without researching her claims is the opposite of journalism. "Plandemic" is propaganda masquerading as investigation. The film is perfect fodder for the conspiracist ethos.</p>
Why conspiratorial thinking is peaking in America | Sarah Rose Cavanagh | Big Think<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="86b7a1d0a81cb123bf55dbee0916566a"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/OmVJrCN_agM?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p><span style="background-color: initial;">Conspiracy theories are <a href="https://bigthink.com/personal-growth/mistakes-learning" target="_self">low-beta transmissions</a>—simplistic messages designed to satisfy an answer in search of a question. Tragically, they distract us from real conspiracies, which Lewandowsky says are "</span><span style="background-color: initial;">usually uncovered by journalists, whistleblowers, document dumps from a corporation or government, or it's discovered by a government agency." Hard work when the public's <a href="https://www.cnn.com/2020/05/16/politics/donald-trump-media-reporters/index.html" target="_blank">default response</a> is to yell out "fake news" when their beliefs are challenged. A transmission right from the cult leader's mouth.</span><br></p><p>"Plandemic" exploits a particular style of paranoid thinking rampant in divergent cultures: Far-right conspiracy theorists like QAnon, anti-vaxxers, and leftist "wellness" advocates. A new cult is forming right before our eyes. While an agenda is not yet clear, identifying leaders is the first step in creating one. </p><p>Tara Haelle, senior contributor to Forbes, does <a href="https://www.forbes.com/sites/tarahaelle/2020/05/08/why-its-important-to-push-back-on-plandemic-and-how-to-do-it/#1c5d85395fa3" target="_blank">an exceptional job</a> explaining how to push back against conspiracy theories like "Plandemic." A comprehensive list of articles debunking the many "facts" presented during the interview is included at the end of the linked post. </p><p>Every article I've read about combating conspiracy theories advises to focus your attention on the uninitiated, which is most likely true. Explaining basic vaccine science to a QAnon member likely won't get you far. It's not impossible, however. For a deep dive into saving cult members, check out Steve Hassan's 1988 book, "<a href="https://www.amazon.com/Combating-Cult-Mind-Control-Destructive-ebook/dp/B00V9DU340" target="_blank">Combating Cult Mind Control</a>" (it was updated in 2015). </p><p>Having been indoctrinated himself, Hassan says that presentation of contradictory evidence often "made me feel more committed to the group." That doesn't make the attempt hopeless, however. Understanding the indoctrination process helps you combat it. Hassan continues, </p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Deception is the biggest tool of information control, because it robs people of the ability to make informed decisions. Outright lying, withholding information and distorting information all become essential strategies, especially when recruiting new members." </p><p>For the first time in a century, Americans are grappling with a public health crisis involving every citizen. An <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-020-2281-1" target="_blank">information war</a> is being waged. This is not the time to be a "<a href="https://twitter.com/realdonaldtrump/status/1261126114799468549" target="_blank">keyboard warrior</a>." We have to take a critical but honest look at experts who have devoted their lives to public health. And we need to listen. </p><p><span></span>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a> and <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank">Facebook</a>. His next book is</em> "Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."</p>
A U.S. government intelligence agency develops cutting-edge tech to predict future events.
- The Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA), a research arm of the U.S. government intelligence community, is focused on predicting the future.
- The organization uses teams of human non-experts and AI machine learning to forecast future events.
- IARPA also conducts advanced research in numerous other fields, funding rotating programs.
"Minority report" pre-cog
Dreamworks/20th Century Fox<p>In the interest of national security, IARPA wants to identify major world events before they happen, looking for terrorists, hackers or any perceived enemies of the United States. Wouldn't you rather stop a crime before it happens?</p><p>Of course, that's when we get into tricky political and sci-fi territory. Much of the research done by IARPA is actually out in the open, utilizing the public and experts in advancing technologies. It is available for "open solicitations," forecasting tournaments, and has <a href="https://www.iarpa.gov/index.php/working-with-iarpa/prize-challenges" target="_blank">prize challenges</a> for the public. You can pretty much <a href="https://www.iarpa.gov/index.php/working-with-iarpa/open-solicitations" target="_blank">send your idea in</a> right now. But what happens to the R&D once it leaves the lab is, of course, often for only the NSA and the CIA to know. </p><p><span style="background-color: initial;">The National Security Agency expert <strong>James Bamford</strong> wrote that the agency is ultimately looking to create a system where huge amounts of data about people's lives would be mined in real-time, for the purpose of preventing actions detrimental to the nation. In his <a href="https://www.post-gazette.com/opinion/2017/06/11/The-Department-of-Knowing-All-About-You/stories/201706110131" target="_blank">article for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette</a>, Bamford wrote that IARPA's goal is to create very powerful automated computer systems, managed through artificial intelligence, which would be "</span><span style="background-color: initial;">capable of cataloging the lives of everyone everywhere, 24/ 7." Such programs would be able to instantaneously access data streams belonging to citizens, whether from social media or anywhere else. As Bamford writes, being able to analyze "every Facebook post, tweet and YouTube video; every tollbooth tag number; every GPS download, web search and news feed; every street camera video; every restaurant reservation on Open Table — largely eliminates surprise from the intelligence equation." </span><span style="background-color: initial;"></span></p><p>Of course, one would suspect much of this is going on already. IARPA's <a href="https://www.iarpa.gov/index.php/research-programs/mercury" target="_blank">Mercury program,</a> for example, concentrates on data mining millions of private overseas communications that are gathered by the National Security Agency. While it can certainly be argued that such a program is a national security necessity, working to spot terrorists and elements that can lead to social unrest, the potential for misuse and infringement on privacy rights has alerted observers.</p>
Being evenhanded with evil ideas is "ridiculous," argues Martin Amis.
- Every piece of writing has a political bent, says Amis. Thus, in his view, neutrality is a chimera — a "mythical creature."
- Some things are so "unshirkably ill-advised" — such as white supremacy — that Amis believes treating such views "evenhandedly," as an alternative perspective of equal moral standing to others, is ridiculous.
- Amis says that he doesn't have it in him to be respectful toward people who harass the bereaved parents of Sandy Hook or Parkland, Florida.
We're finally here! We've been counting down the 10 most popular videos of 2018. This is #1...
- Hey flat Earthers, it's time to put your theory to bed once and for all! "There are so many proofs that the Earth is round, it's difficult to know where to start. And it's not okay to think that the Earth is flat; this is not a viable argument," says NASA astronomer Michelle Thaller.
- Thaller explains three observable proofs that instantly debunk flat-Earth theory with irrefutable evidence of the Earth's round, curvaceous, gloriously spherical shape.
- The ancient Greeks figured out we were living on a sphere over 2,000 years ago, and there are things you can do to prove that the Earth is indeed round—just go to a body of water and look at ships or boats on the horizon with binoculars. Watch the video for the details!
- You can follow Michelle Thaller on Twitter at @mlthaller.
Why have some conspiracy theories been pushed back into the public? Because when you try to force them out of the mainstream, they'll find a wider audience on the fringes.
Liberal college students have taken to shouting down certain right-leaning speakers on campus that they don't agree with. Michael Shermer, the publisher of Skeptic Magazine, thinks that is the worst thing you can do. He posits that all you do when you prevent someone from speaking is make certain people want to hear them more. This has led to the rise of the conspiracy theorists and why fringe ideas—from something as silly as flat-earth believers to something as morally reprehensible as Nazism and Holocaust deniers—have been pushed back into the mainstream. Michael's new book is Heavens on Earth: The Scientific Search for the Afterlife, Immortality, and Utopia.