Browsing the blog archivesfor the day Monday, December 10th, 2018.


Wackjobs In the News

Trump Maladministration

Here are a couple of news stories about conspiracy theories to read together.

David Atkins writes that the Q-Anon conspiracy theory is still going strong and destroying families:

When Reddit banned the subreddits dedicated to the conspiracy theory, much of the online activity shifted to other forums such as Voat, a website that imitates Reddit’s structure and has become a festering hotbed of racism, anti-semitism, and sexism after earning a reputation as a refuge for all those with far-right views too repellent even for Reddit.

Even a quick look at the Q-Anon community on Voat is enough to paint a portrait of families torn apart, relationships destroyed and people spiraling into mental illness.

This is followed by selections from a Q-Anon thread in which proselytizing of the Q-Anon cause is referred to as “red-pilling.” People describe trying to “red pill” their children, their parents, their spouses. Most of the time it doesn’t appear to be going well. Q-Anon believers also tend to be anti-vaxxers who think that flu shots can kill you, and in fact reducing the population is their real purpose.

At Rolling Stone, Andy Kroll writes about the aftermath of Pizzagate. It’s a wonder no one has been killed in that one.

Two years ago this month, Pizzagate reached its grim apex when a 28-year-old man stormed into Comet Ping Pong with a revolver and an AR-15 on a mission to save the “children.” Edgar Maddison Welch had binge-watched YouTube videos about Pizzagate and tried to recruit friends for his rescue mission. “Raiding a pedo ring, possibly sacraficing [sic] the lives of a few for the lives of many,” he texted one friend a few days before he got in his Prius and drove from his home in North Carolina to Washington. Customers and employees fled the restaurant as Welch fired several rounds into a locked closet full of computer gear, searching for the infamous child sex dungeon in Comet’s basement, which he never found — not least because the pizzeria doesn’t even have a basement. No one was hurt, and Welch surrendered to the police, hands on his head, in broad daylight in the street outside of Comet. He was later sentenced to four years in federal prison.

Even after the arrest, Pizzagate lived on. The day after Welch stalked into Comet, Michael Flynn, Jr., the son of Trump’s first national security adviser, tweeted: “Until #Pizzagate proven to be false, it’ll remain a story.” An Economist/YouGov poll in late December 2016 found that 46 percent of Trump voters and 17 percent of Clinton voters thought Pizzagate was real. A few months later, a small rally of Pizzagate believers took place outside the White House. Protesters have stood outside Comet carrying blown-up photos of Alefantis’ [Comet Ping Pong owner] god-daughter taken from his social media accounts. Strangers online have threatened to torture, rape and kill him.

I’ve read a lot of articles in popular magazines about why people cling to conspiracy theories, and I don’t think any explain it. Note that I’m not talking about the guy who thinks that there was a lone gunman on the grassy knoll because all his friends say so, but who has never really thought about it much. We all believe at least some things that aren’t true without it doing any harm. I’m talking about the hard-core fanatics who are obsessed with a particular theory and can’t let go of it even in the face of big-time debunking.

For example, this was in Psychology Today:

FFor one thing, conspiracy theories help us cope with distressing events and make sense out of them. Conspiracies assure us that bad things don’t just happen randomly. Conspiracies tell us that someone out there is accountable, however unwittingly or secretly or incomprehensibly, so it’s possible to stop these people and punish them and in due course let everyone else re-establish control over their own lives. Conspiracies also remind us that we shouldn’t blame ourselves for our predicaments; it’s not our fault, it’s them! In these ways, believing in conspiracies serves many of the same self-protective functions as scapegoating.

Okay, but that explaination doesn’t satisfactorily account for this:

It [Pizzagate] appears to have begun with a 2008 email included in the WikiLeaks dump in which Alefantis asked Podesta if he would give a speech at an Obama fundraiser at Comet. From there, the trolls began mining every detail they could find about Alefantis and Comet, quickly concocting a parallel theory that said Alefantis, Podesta and Clinton ran a child sex-trafficking ring. Self-styled investigators claimed that symbols on Comet’s iconic sign (which had previously been used by a D.C. liquor store that had since closed) were linked to satanic rituals. They said a photo of an empty walk-in refrigerator was evidence of a secret kill room.

The above paragraph is not describing a reasonably common if irrational cognitive defense mechanism against the bad, scary world. That shit above is just plain crazy.

Crawling into some academic sites that let you read abstracts but keep full articles behind a paywall, I take it some recent research has linked “schizotypy” with conspiracy theorizing. Here’s a blog post written by some guy who had access to the full articles.

Schizotypy is associated with the belief in conspiracy theories, according to new research published in the journal Psychiatry Research.

“My main research interest is in schizotypy. Schizotypy is a personality organisation that can be seen as risk factor for schizophrenia-spectrum disorders,” explained study author David Barron of  Perdana University. “However, with the concept of schizophrenia breaking down, psychologists, such as myself, are increasingly investigating schizotypy.”

“Schizotypic traits have a similar pattern to that of schizophrenia; that is, deficits in cognition, socio-emotional function, and behaviour. While these tend not meet the clinical threshold, and at some level represent a healthy personality make-up, they can be rather extreme and become a severe problem.” …

… The researchers found that there was a direct link between facets of schizotypy and belief in conspiracy theories. Those who scored high on measures of “Odd Beliefs and Magical Thinking” and “Ideas of Reference” were more likely to believe in conspiracy theories, such as the theory that U.S. agencies intentionally created the AIDS epidemic.

Magical Thinking refers to seeing causal relationships between events where none exists, while Ideas of Reference refers to interpreting innocuous events as highly personally significant.

Of course, it isn’t just that someone struggles with logic. For someone to be an obsessed and unshakable QAnon or Pizzagate or anti-vaxx or 911 Truth believer, one would have to harbor a huge, aching, deep-seated psychological need to believe such things. It would be like walking around with a hole in your psyche the size of the Grand Canyon that can only be filled with Crazy. And, IMO, that ought to meet some kind of clinical threshold, seems to me.

Social media, I fear, enables positive feedback loops that reinforce such wackjobbery and sucks susceptible people into the Crazy, deeper and deeper. And I have no idea what to do about that.

Elsewhere: The stock market people are nervous.

Stocks on Wall Street clawed their way back from losses Monday, in another volatile session that highlighted investors’ unease about the global economy and corporate profits.

The S&P 500 ended 0.18 percent higher, after having dropped more than 1.5 percent. Markets in Europe and Asia ended their trading sessions lower.

Sometimes I think there must be very wealthy people who throw money at the S&P 500 to prop it up when it looks like it’s about to spiral down a hole. But maybe I’m imaginging things.

Accused Russian spy Maria Butina appears to have reached a deal with federal prosecutors to dish on the National Rifle Association, but that isn’t certain yet.

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