Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Lunatic Fringe

What makes people believe in conspiracy theories and other fringe political beliefs?  Mostly, it is a form of mental illness.  Mostly, it is depression.

A friend recently asked me what I thought about all this "Jade Helm" nonsense.  And I replied that I hate to even legitimize that sort of nonsense by discussing it.
Snopes had an interesting discussion about conspiracy theories and how to create and fester them.  It went something like this:
1.  Look for inconsistencies in any story (and there always tons of them) and start harping on them, even if they mean nothing. Make ominous comments about "unexplained inconsistencies."
2.  Disregard overwhelming evidence that disagrees with the conspiracy theory, or argue that it is alleged or unproven.  Shift the burden of proof to the other side (you need only make an allegation, they have to prove you are wrong!).
3.  Just make shit up.  If someone tries to discredit it, then argue they are part of the conspiracy as well.  This is a very convenient tactic, as the more people argue you are wrong, the more you can say that this is proof you are right!  The very action of debunking a conspiracy theory is proof the conspiracy is real!
4.  Wash.  Rinse.  Repeat.
It isn't hard to do, whether it is space aliens building the pyramids, the Kennedy assassination, the moon landing, or whatever.   And people will go along with this nonsense as well.   Because people don't like to think, they'd rather feel sorry for themselves and wallow in self-pity.

As I have noted time and time again, conspiracy theories are the ultimate time-wasters and wasters of emotional energy.  If you believe in them, they do nothing for you, personally (although I suppose the real conspiracy is the person who puts these theories out there - designed to get you all depressed and angry and to vote a certain way).

What is scary to me, today, is that conspiracy theories are no longer the outliers of wacko fringe thinking, but pretty much the mainstream of what used to be the "Grand Old Party" as evidenced by the goings on with the Texas governor - clearly pandering to the lunatics in his party.   How sad!

So who believes in this shit?  Mentally ill people, mostly.  Mild or wild, you can spot a nutter from 100 yards away by his spouting of conspiracy theory nonsense.   It is the ultimate form of externalizing as it puts the onus of all their problems onto someone else.

For example, on one discussion group, the premise was that the "imaginary economy" (you know, banks, money, stocks, real estate, jobs, products, stores, etc. - it all looks frighteningly real, don't it?) is going to collapse any day now.  The "real economy" - bartering chickens and canned goods for gold and ammo - is what really matters.

To these folks, saving for retirement or buying a house is a sucker's game, which is a really handy thing for them to say, as they haven't saved a dime of their own money, but rather "invested" it in gold bars (that lost 1/3 of their value) and boxes of moldering ammunition in their bunker.    So they are not being lazy or stupid by failing to hold a job or save a nickel, they are being smart for investing in the end times!   You can see how this bootstraps itself.  People believe what they want to believe and usually what they want to believe is that what they are doing is right and that this hat looks good on them.

Politically, these folks are all over the map.  One way you can tell all this "FEMA Detention Camps" nonsense is nonsense is that the exact same theories were being bandied about by leftist crazies when Bush was President.   I kid you not, some lefty friends of mine were convinced that Bush was going to round them all up, put them in detention camps, and then declare himself dictator for life.   Some of these folks actually left the country to avoid the supposed round-up.

Now, eight years later, the same stories and YouTube videos are being spread, but this time, it is Obama that is the malefactor.   Of course, this is nonsense.  If there is anyone who wants to leave the White House, it is Obama, who is looking forward to retirement and $300,000 speeches, like Billy Clinton did.

And Bush?  He was weary of the job as well - particularly with the economy collapsing during his last year on the job.  Oh, right, that never happened.  Sorry, what was I thinking?

That is a problem with the conspiracy theorist - truth is something very elastic.   Names and dates get mixed up and problems associated with one party or President get morphed to another.  I met the other day, a couple from the Carolinas, who you would think were very liberal people.  He was an aging Vietnam Vet.  He had marched in the civil rights movement and was proud to say that he shook Dr. Martin Luther King's hand.

But in the next breath, his wife chimes in that "President Obama took all the jobs away" which is why they left the Carolinas.   Never mind that Obama inherited a wrecked economy and high unemployment, and since he took office (which coincided with nadir of the stock market) the economy has been on a tear for six years now, with the stock market steadily climbing, and unemployment steadily decreasing, all while inflation and interest rates remain at record lows.  By any other measure, this would be considered a successful Presidency.

But that is the nature of these sort of theories.   They are not designed to get most people to believe in them, but rather as part of a background noise - a Greek chorus if you will - of chanting discontentment and unhappiness.  Because, if you can keep people depressed, anxious, nervous, and passive, it is far easier to manipulate them.

To put them in detention camps?  Hell, no.  To put them into a 72 month car loan and a toxic mortgage on a mini-mansion and a new cell phone plan.   To get them to spend every last nickel they make and then get them to believe that this is a normal condition and that "you can't get ahead so why bother trying?"

People in detention camps are not profitable.   Making a detention camp out of a Wal-Mart makes no sense.  An operating Wal-Mart superstore is a license to print money, which is why I own stock in this "imaginary economy" company.

The real conspiracy theory is right out there for anyone to see - it is the actions of the marketers and the marketplace to get you to make poor financial choices and oftentimes - most of the time - these "conspirators" win, because they have a strong ally in your weaknesses.  You desire the mini-mansion, the flashy new car, the latest smart phone (the entire smart phone thing being one of their greatest accomplishments - enslaving a generation to little glass-and-metal boxes).

On the other hand, if you eschew the noise and the madness of the world and embrace reality - real reality, not "reality TeeVee" reality, you can make money like a bandit in the United States.   All you have to do is put $5 a day into savings, rather than into a designer coffee or a smart phone or cable TV or a leased car, and within your lifetime, you could end up with anywhere from $250,000 to a million dollars.

Sadly, most folks think that being "rational" is to believe everything the television says, or that whatever their neighbors are doing is a good idea.   It is not.   Most people in this country are on economic self-destruct, most of the time.  For some, it is just human weakness - the desire to "have it all now" and then "blame someone else later".  For others, it is just mental illness - that makes them believe that some wild conspiracy theory is true, but that investing for the future is a con.