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Old 11-05-2019, 06:26 PM   #1
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The Danger Is Real: Why We’re All Wired for ‘Constructive Conspiracism’

An article that many frequent posters here should read.

It's written by Michael Shermer of Skeptic Magazine.

Those keeping score at home, will note that his terms "patternicity" and "agenticity" are essentially the same points I've described in the past regarding how humans are "hard wired" to think certain ways, and that's why they reach certain "conclusions".

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I once met a politician who told me that he believes water fluoridation is the greatest scam ever perpetrated on the public. I have been confronted by “truthers” who insist the 9/11 attacks were an “inside job” engineered by the Bush administration. Others have regaled me for hours with theories about who really killed JFK and Princess Diana—not to mention the nefarious goings-on of the New World Order, the Trilateral Commission, the Council on Foreign Relations, the Knights Templar, the Freemasons, the Illuminati, the Bilderberg Group, the Rothschilds, the Rockefellers, and the Zionist Occupation Government (ZOG) that secretly runs the United States. In the course of researching a 2012 BBC documentary, I spent a day in Las Vegas with a cohort of British conspiracists during their journey around the southwestern United States in search of UFOs and aliens, and the government facilities where their existence supposedly was covered up. One woman told me about the orange balls of energy hovering around her car on Interstate 405 in Los Angeles. (Fortunately, they were chased away by Black Ops helicopters, she added.) A man challenged me to explain the source of a green laser beam that followed him around the British countryside. I confessed that I had no explanation.

While I’ve been writing about conspiracy theories in Skeptic and Scientific American for decades, it’s only recently that I’ve had occasion to summarize all of this research for a downloadable course called Conspiracies and Conspiracy Theories, produced in conjunction with Audible and The Teaching Company’s Great Courses. This exercise gave me an opportunity to catalog the common characteristics shared by all conspiracy theories—including the fact that almost all forms of conspiracism have a negative valence. Rarely do people believe that there’s a conspiracy afoot to make the world a better or safer place. Conspiracy theories invariably feature nefarious agents seeking to do bad things. This quality is embedded in the definition of a “conspiracy” that I provide to listeners: “two or more people plotting or acting in secret to gain an advantage or to harm others immorally or illegally.”

In recent years, psychologists and political scientists have identified several factors that influence conspiratorial thinking, such as political orientation, race and power (or the lack thereof). These are proximate causes of conspiracism. But lying beyond this, I propose, is a deeper cause rooted in evolutionary pressures that have shaped our brains, disposing us to the pessimism and negative assumptions that are the hallmarks of conspiracy theories.

My friend and colleague Jared Diamond, the UCLA geographer and Pulitzer-Prize winning author of Guns, Germs, and Steel, has identified what he calls “constructive paranoia,” or “the importance of being attentive to hazards that carry a low risk each time but are encountered frequently.” While out in the rain forest with local colleagues in Papua New Guinea one night, Diamond proposed that that they pitch their tents under a big tree. “To my surprise,” wrote Diamond, “my New Guinea friends absolutely refused. They explained that the tree was dead and might fall on us.”

At first, Diamond thought them paranoid. Over the years, however, he formed a different opinion: “I came to realize that every night that I camped in a New Guinea forest, I heard a tree falling. And when I did a frequency/risk calculation, I understood their point of view.” If the odds of a tree falling on you any given night are only one in 1,000, but you sleep under trees every night, “you’ll be dead within a few years.”

I would like to adapt Diamond’s idea to what I call constructive conspiracism: Sometimes “they” really are out to get you, so it pays to be careful.

We all are prone to a psychological force called “negativity bias”—a concept captured by the title of a 2001 paper co-authored by psychologist Roy Baumeister, Bad is Stronger than Good. Hundreds of studies reveal the pervasiveness of this bias in human life. In investing, for example, behavioral economists have identified a phenomenon by which investors experience a financial loss with twice the countervailing emotional force they experience from a gain of equivalent magnitude. (That is, losses hurt twice as much as gains feel good.) Tennis superstar Jimmy Connors once said, “I hate losing more than I love winning”—a sentiment echoed by banned cyclist Lance Armstrong, who once explained that “I like to win, but more than anything, I can’t stand this idea of losing.”

Those of us who experience the same bias in the course of normal life might be inclined to agree with the following generalizations:
  • Criticism and negative feedback hurt more than praise and positive feedback feel good.
  • Losing friends has a greater impact than gaining friends.
  • Bad impressions and negative stereotypes form faster, and are more resistant to change, than positive impressions and stereotypes.
  • Bad everyday events have a greater impact than good; for example, having a good day does not necessarily lead to a good mood the next day, whereas a bad day often does carry over its consequences into the next day.
  • Traumatic events leave traces in mood and memory longer than good events; e.g., a single childhood traumatic event such as sexual molestation can erase years of positive experiences.
  • Morally bad actions far outweigh morally good actions when it comes to our evaluation of others—a lifetime of positive public service can be erased with a single moral failing.

Psychologists Paul Rozin and Edward Royzman were the ones who originally coined the term negativity bias to describe this asymmetry. “Negative events are more salient, potent, dominant in combinations, and generally efficacious than positive events,” the authors explained, noting additional examples:
  • Negative events lead us to seek out root causes more than do positive events. Wars, for example, generate endless analyses, whereas peace literature is paltry by comparison. Everyone asks, “Why is there war?” Almost no one asks, “Why is there peace?”
  • Negative stimuli command more attention than positive stimuli. In rats, for example, negative tastes elicit stronger responses than do positive tastes. And in taste-aversion experiments, a one-time exposure to noxious food or drink can cause lasting avoidance, but there is no corresponding reaction to palatable food or drink.
  • We have more words to describe the qualities of physical pain than we have to describe physical pleasure.
  • There are more cognitive categories for, and descriptive terms of, negative emotions than positive emotions.
  • Evil contaminates good more than good purifies evil. As the old Russian proverb says, “A spoonful of tar can spoil a barrel of honey, but a spoonful of honey does nothing for a barrel of tar.”
  • An evolutionary component to the negativity bias may be observed in the emotion of disgust, which evolved to drive organisms away from noxious stimuli—because noxiousness is an informational cue that such stimuli could harm you through poisoning or disease.

In both societies as a whole and human lives in isolation, progress usually is earned in small steps (a farmer waking up early for months to tend his crops), whereas regress can come about in an instant (a single weather event or flock of locusts that destroys everything). In any complex mechanical, biological or sociological system, all parts must work reliably to keep the thing going. If one part or sub-system fails, it can be catastrophic to all others. And so such systems must be run in a way that allows maximum attention to be devoted to problems and threats, while everything else is pushed to the background.

In his 2018 book Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress, Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker argued that, in our ancestral environment, the cost of overreacting to a threat was less than the cost of underreacting, so we have become programmed to err on the side of overreaction. I.e., we expect the worst.

Pinker traces the blame for our evolved constructive paranoia all the way back to the Second Law of Thermodynamics, which states that the total entropy (or disorder) of a closed system (one not losing or gaining mass or energy, such as through human intervention) cannot decrease over time. It can only remain constant or increase. Systems tend to move from order to disorder, from organization to disorganization, from structured to unstructured. Absent outside intervention, metal rusts; wood rots; weeds overwhelm gardens; bedrooms get cluttered; and social, political and economic systems fall apart. Which is to say, the very nature of science dictates that it is far easier for things to go bad than good (except in regard to those few tasks that leverage entropy to human advantage, such as the passive evacuation of heat from a rolled metal ingot or forged object). As Pinker puts it, “the Second Law defines the ultimate purpose of life, mind, and human striving: to deploy energy and information to fight back the tide of entropy and carve out refuges of beneficial order.”

The ne plus ultra explanation for entropy can be found on that ubiquitous bumper sticker, “Shit Happens.” So-called “misfortunes,” like accidents, disease and famine, typically have no purposeful agency behind them—no gods, demons or witches, intending us evil—just entropy taking its course. But people do tend to seek out hidden sources of agency as a means to explain the presence of misfortune in our lives (for reasons described in the paragraphs below), which is why we attribute many of life’s outcomes to far-fetched conspiracies. While a totalizing immersion in conspiracism can destroy one’s perspective and rational faculties, our susceptibility to conspiracy theories isn’t some stray programming bug that infects our cognition. It’s a systematic habit rooted directly in mental reflexes that served us well in our ancestral environment.

In my 2011 book The Believing Brain: From Ghosts and Gods to Politics and Conspiracies—How We Construct Beliefs and Reinforce Them as Truths, I discussed a quality we all share called patternicity, which is the tendency to find meaningful patterns in data that might well be completely random.

To explain why we evolved this feature in our thinking, let’s start with a thought experiment: Imagine you lived three million years ago on the plains of Africa as a tiny small-brained bipedal primate that was highly vulnerable to the region’s many terrifying predators. You hear a rustle in the grass. Is it just the wind or is it a dangerous animal? If you assume that the rustle in the grass is a dangerous predator, but it turns out that it’s just the wind, you have generated a “false positive”—believing something is real when it isn’t. There’s no harm, though: You simply move away and become more alert and cautious. But if you assume that the rustle in the grass is just the wind, and it turns out to be a dangerous predator, you have generated a “false negative,” while the predator has gained a meal. Over the course of many such meals, those primates susceptible to false negatives will enter the fossil record before they can reproduce.

The problem is that assessing the difference between a false negative and false positive is hard—especially in a split-second, life-and-death context. So the default position is to assume that most patterns are real. We are the descendants of those who were most successful at reading augurs of danger into the patterns around us, even if that danger wasn’t always real.

This is what I mean by constructive conspiracism: If it turns out there is no danger, no harm is done and little energy is expended in indulging these momentary spasms of paranoia. If it turns out that there is danger, on the other hand, being constructively paranoid pays off.

But there’s more to it than that—because when we dwell on the dangers around us, we don’t just tend to think of falling branches from dead trees and stray beasts. We tend to focus on the constellation of threats as signifying some systematic program aimed at doing us harm. This is a manifestation of what I call “agenticity”—our tendency to infuse patterns (especially patterns of threat or harm) with meaning intention and agency. And so we imagine that disconnected misfortunes are commonly directed by intentional agents, sometimes operating invisibly. Souls, spirits, ghosts, gods, demons, angels, aliens, governments, religious officials and big corporations all have played this role in conspiracist lore (and, in the case of the latter three entries, real life, too, it must be conceded). Taken together, patternicity and agenticity form the cognitive basis of conspiratorial cognition.

While some readers may accuse me of connecting a lot of dots here, I should say that there is some empirical evidence for the broad claims on offer. In a 2018 paper, for example, psychologists Josh Hart and Molly Graether found that people who were more likely to believe in conspiracy theories “were also more likely to say that nonhuman objects—triangle shapes moving around on a computer screen—were acting intentionally, as though they were capable of having thoughts and goals they were trying to accomplish. In other words, they inferred meaning and motive where others did not.” That’s patternicity and agenticity at work.

Examples of how these mental reflexes project themselves onto grand narratives abound. And in all cases, they involved the historical equivalent of grass rustling—a princess who died in a Paris car crash; a man opening up an umbrella on a sunny day in Dallas; a BBC newscaster announcing the fall of a World Trade Center building before it actually fell. Conspiracy theorists have dedicated their lives to searching the long grass for the still-hidden creatures that supposedly engineered these tragedies. They’ll never find them because they don’t exist. But given all the very real predators that have tried to devour us over the eons, you can’t blame them for looking.
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Old 11-05-2019, 06:38 PM   #2
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Lmao...the propaganda is thick with this BS.
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Old 11-05-2019, 07:03 PM   #3
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Lmao...the propaganda is thick with this BS.
I'll take "I never would have guessed he'd say that" for $200 Alex.
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Old 11-05-2019, 07:46 PM   #4
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"The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in a democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country.

We are governed, our minds molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of. This is a logical result of the way in which our democratic society is organized. Vast number of human beings must cooperate in this manner if they are to live together as a smoothly functioning society.

…Whatever attitude one chooses toward this condition, it remains a fact that in almost every act of our daily lives, whether in the sphere of politics or business, in our social conduct or our ethical thinking, we are dominated by the relatively small number of persons… who understand the mental processes and social patterns of the masses. It is they who pull the wires which control the public mind, who harness old social forces and contrive new ways to bind and guide the world.

… In theory, every citizen makes up his mind on public questions and matters of private conduct. In practice, if all men had to study for themselves the abstruse economic, political, and ethical data involved in every question, they would find it impossible to come to a conclusion without anything. We have voluntarily agreed to let an invisible government sift the data and high-spot the outstanding issue so that our field of choice shall be narrowed to practical proportions."

Edward Bernays (father of propaganda)

----

There are two classes of people in society. There are the common folk, who are too stupid to know what’s best for them, and the “invisible government,” who are a small group of really smart people who are responsible for steering the masses in the right direction.

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Old 11-06-2019, 12:58 AM   #5
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So for me it used to be Don't Worry, Be Happy. worked great.
As I get older it's more like How Long (has this been going on). this sucks.

But I am one of the masses.

I have an Uneasy Feeling.
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Old 11-06-2019, 01:16 AM   #6
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<iframe width="560" height="315" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/VJDJs9dumZI" frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen></iframe>
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Old 11-06-2019, 05:04 AM   #7
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I would suggest this article as a counterpoint.

It's too long to post here.

https://newideal.aynrand.org/an-alte...ish-illusions/
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Old 11-06-2019, 11:09 AM   #8
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First thing...

I've read this before. Have you posted this before on this forum?

Second thing...

The reason conspiracy theories are promulgating, is because access to information and communication amongst people is no longer controlled by gatekeepers.

Third thing...many of the bigger conspiracy theories turn out to be true....far too many of them, actually.

A list of examples;


The U.S. Government poisoned alcohol during the prohibition.


There was a "gaydar" machine developed by the Canadian government.

The U.S. government used dead body parts of infants and children for radioactive testing without permission. (Project Sunshine)

The CIA secretly gave LSD to unsuspecting individuals to test mind control.

The Gulf of Tonkin attack never happened.

Twenty-eight black men died of (treatable) syphilis in the name of science. (Tuskegee)

Tobacco companies hid evidence that smoking is deadly.

The world's richest and most powerful men have a retreat every year. (Bohemian Grove)

The FBI spied on John Lennon.

The U.S. Government employed Nazi scientists after World War II.

The CIA developed a heart attack gun.

The CIA spied on and controlled the American media. ( at past tense)

The Dalai Lama was a CIA agent.

The U.S. government is watching your internet use.

Contaminated polio vaccines spread a cancer-causing virus.

The U.S. government can manipulate the weather.

The U.S. government planned to commit domestic terrorism and blame Cuba. (Operation North Woods)

Nayirah's testimony leading up to the Gulf War was false.

https://bestlifeonline.com/true-conspiracy-theories/

Operation Cointelpro

Operation MK Ultra

<a href="https://www.criminaljusticedegreehub.com/conspiracy-theories/"><img src="data:image/svg+xml,%3Csvg%20xmlns='http://www.w3.org/2000/svg'%20viewBox='0%200%20500%200'%3E%3C/svg%3E" alt="Conspiracy Theories" width="500" border="0" data-lazy-src="https://criminaljusticedegreehub.azureedge.net/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/conspiracy-theories.jpg" /><noscript><img src="https://criminaljusticedegreehub.azureedge.net/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/conspiracy-theories.jpg" alt="Conspiracy Theories" width="500" border="0" /></noscript></a><br />Source: <a href="https://www.criminaljusticedegreehub.com/">CriminalJusticeDegreeHub.com</a>

An article I would find interesting, for a change, is why there are people who are incapable of asking or entertaining any questions, and dismissing all evidence, that does not conform with the Voice of Authority narrative. It's like a kind of phobia. It's like a fear of discovery, or a fear of acknowledging that the Voice of Authority may not be telling the truth 100% of the time.

I mean...let's just look at page 3 here;

https://www.skeptic.com/downloads/co...hy-and-how.pdf

Please read "The Top 10 Ways to Test Conspiracy Theories", and keep in mind, for example, Jeffrey Epstein, and the Manhattan Project.

Both of those "conspiracy theories" would not pass that test, would they?

...so what does that say about the author's expertise?

It's OK, we all know the answer. We can just make it "our secret"...

Obviously, the Manhattan Project and the Epstein Child Sex Ring are both impossible conspiracy theories.
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Who is this self-important instigating douche-bag, anyway?
Dude, Baron has been a valued member of this forum for quite some time.
Peace, Prosperity, Liberty, Human Rights, Natural Rights, Civil Rights, Property Rights, Sound Money, Free Markets, Sovereignty, the Constitution, the Republic.

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Old 11-06-2019, 01:29 PM   #9
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Zero interest in epistemology these days.


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the eyes of the dead, nor feed on the spectres in books,
You shall not look through my eyes either, nor take things from me,
You shall listen to all sides and filter them from your self. " Walt Whitman, Song of Myself
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Old 11-06-2019, 01:59 PM   #10
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e·pis·te·mol·o·gy

/əˌpistəˈmäləjē/

noun PHILOSOPHY

the theory of knowledge, especially with regard to its methods, validity, and scope. Epistemology is the investigation of what distinguishes justified belief from opinion.


I dunno, seems like a pretty necessary subject. It provides the answers for one of the 2 most basic axioms of philosophy (how does one know?) that touches everything a human does. Philosophy is inescapable for a person whether they have chosen one consciously or not and most have not and the see the results all around us. It's a pretty fundamental subject.

Ideas move the world.

Last edited by johnlocke; 11-06-2019 at 02:03 PM..
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Old 11-06-2019, 03:30 PM   #11
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I do enjoy the irony of quoting Pinkerton in the article, though.

It occurs to me when thinking about Pinkerton, though, that debunkers often think about conspiracies all wrong...like some grand and detailed plan orchestrated by an orchestra of players to perfection....that's not how it works. It's just a different kind of economics, where enlightened self interest creates spontaneous order and coordination, and fluidity to maintain their interests.

Last edited by Baron Samedi; 11-06-2019 at 03:45 PM..
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Old 11-06-2019, 05:28 PM   #12
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Epsteinmology? Is that a thing?
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Old 11-06-2019, 06:20 PM   #13
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I would suggest this article as a counterpoint.

It's too long to post here.

https://newideal.aynrand.org/an-alte...ish-illusions/
Not sure I'd characterize that article as a "counterpoint", at least the stronger definition of that term.

For me, the key aspect of Shermer's article was his discussion of the "hardwiring" of human's to be predisposed to develop and believe conspiracy theories.

I've mentioned many of these concepts in the past in discussions on these topics, the nature of pattern recognition, how humans inherently try to 'connect the dots", etc. all lead to people seeing connections where there really are none.

This is likely why The baron thought I had posted this article before. I haven't.

Your article does not really address this idea, but describes an intellectual response to conspiracy theories.

So my article is more of an "origin" discussion and your's is more of a "response" discussion.

---------- Post added at 06:20 PM ---------- Previous post was at 06:16 PM ----------

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Old 11-06-2019, 06:32 PM   #14
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Fair enough.

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Old 11-06-2019, 07:36 PM   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Baron Samedi View Post
I do enjoy the irony of quoting Pinkerton in the article, though.

It occurs to me when thinking about Pinkerton, though, that debunkers often think about conspiracies all wrong...like some grand and detailed plan orchestrated by an orchestra of players to perfection....that's not how it works. It's just a different kind of economics, where enlightened self interest creates spontaneous order and coordination, and fluidity to maintain their interests.


Pinker .
That’s Steven Pinker. MIT/Harvard linguistic psychologist.


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