“Illusion is always based on reality, for its strength depends upon its fit with the desires, fears and experiences of countless humans.” — John P. Grier
“Illusion is the first of all pleasures.” — Voltaire, La Pucelle d’Orléans, 1756 Edition Epilogue
In part one, we demonstrated how even a man as intelligent as Einstein could be duped by conspiracy theories. Alvarism opposes the common academic assertions that “low intelligence” is a correlated feature of conspiracy theorists. We maintain that the erroneous claim is only based on sampling bias and methodological error. The handful of assertive researchers behind that idea, simply do not correctly identify prevalent conspiracy theories. For instance, they would label Branch Davidians as conspiracy theorists, but exclude BLM, class warfare, or Trump-Russia collusion advocates. If they correctly identified conspiracy theories, then legions of lawyers, politicians, journalists, entertainers, professors would be rightly-labeled “conspiracy theorists.”
How can we correct their error? Fully understanding conspiracy theories would be a wise approach. A conspiracy theory is a hypothesized conspiracy with specific features:
The events are caused by conspiring sinister, self-interested groups, often politically motivated
Other explanations are more probable
Based upon speculation that cannot be justified by the totality of evidence
Faith masquerading as analysis — conspiracy theories pretend to be analytical, but they end up being crusades of faith in this way: they resist falsification and are reinforced by circular reasoning. Both evidence against and the absence of evidence is considered evidence for the truth, such as:
“Look at how many people oppose us, and take the side of the sinister conspirators. That is proof that they really are so powerful and have done this!“
”Where is the smoking gun? We can’t find it because the conspirators have covered it up.”
The major contributors to conspiracy theories are:
Illusions (as opposed to reality)
MDM (Misinformation, Disinformation, Malinformation) and Fake News
Propaganda & Fallacy
Psychological and cultural vulnerability to crippled epistemology
Information Warfare & Influence Operations (IW/IO)
Illusions vs. Reality
In the most generalized sense, conspiracy theories are specializations of a parent concept: illusions. Reality is the complete set of universal truths in all of material, spiritual, energetic existence, free from all misperceptions, error, and falsehoods, including all things that still evade the perception and understanding of all sentient beings. Reality persists without the need for human beings to perceive it accurately, nor fully. Illusions distort our perceptions of reality. They trick us into believing something that is not real. An effective way of divorcing the maximum amount of people from reality is to promote relativism and nominalism. Relativism can apply to social organization, art, morals, historical interpretation, and any other humanistic concept. It asserts that there is no universal truth, and that all beliefs and perceptions are “relative” to the person, their culture, their nation, and even their “race.”
Nominalism is a related concept which says that there are no universals in reality, and that all ideas and universals are just names. Adherents believe that only particular, unique objects exist, and their properties (size, shape, color, tensile strength) are just a way of perceiving them.
It is easy to see how corrupt religious indoctrinators would find nominalism appealing. If they can convince their flock to reject universal truth and analytical perceptions, they will be much more compliant in accepting mystical claims and suggestions, which conveys obedience, power, and wealth to the “gurus” and mystics without challenge and question. If you were a genius with a superior command of the religious doctrine, it would not matter. Did blood spontaneously erupt from your hands like the stigmata mystics? Did venomous snakes bite you all over without killing you? Then who cares about you? The flock wants the emotion of the mystic. Only they have the “spiritual power” to lead believers. I am being sarcastic, of course.
So it should not be surprising the anti-human, mind-wiping concept of nominalism was dreamt up by Medieval Catholic monk, William of Occam, more broadly known for “Occam’s Razor.” But there is nothing that medieval Christians did that can hold a candle to the present-day adaptations of nominalism and relativism. Godless people of modernity have used it for fascist and communist democide, oppression, genocide, and warfare. Anarchists, and Frankfurt School democratic socialists have used it to create social chaos and degenerate moral corruption that multiplied misery and suffering in early 20th century France, Weimar Germany, and present-day Western libertine cultural enclaves.
This corrupt philosophy is so pervasive that it has been insinuated into our children’s education and entertainment with pop culture vernacular. They say things like “I want to hear your truth, and then I will tell you my truth.” The correct term is “opinion,” but by replacing “opinion” with “truth,” they tacitly insist that truth is relative.
They use tautophrases — tautological phrases that are meaningless, circular, self-referential statements, like “you do you,” and “it is what it is,” and “today is today.” When a person infects their mind’s self-dialogue and contemplation with this vernacular, they begin thinking like nominalists. And once they do that, they become more prone to illusions, MDM and fake news, propaganda and fallacy, false narratives, and corrupt epistemology, and consequently conspiracy theories.
MDM and Fake News
Misinformation is simply false or wrongly interpreted information that does not intend to cause harm. Disinformation seeks to manipulate, cause damage, guide people, institutions, countries, and organizations in the wrong direction, or overwhelm the public attention with noise so that they cannot focus on meaningful events. Where “noise” is false information and “signal” is accurate information about meaningful events that need attention, the goal of disinformation is to increase the noise-to-signal ratio. Malinformation is derived from the truth, but misleads and causes potential harm. Fake news is a combination of one or more of those three categories of information.
Some guidelines for detecting MDM:
Does it provoke an emotional response?
Does it make a bold statement on a controversial issue?
Is it an extraordinary claim?
Does it contain clickbait?
Does it have topical information that is within context?
Does it use small pieces of valid information that are exaggerated or distorted?
Has it spread virally on unvetted or loosely vetted platforms?
Propaganda is a communication that seeks to persuade people to further an agenda, take predetermined actions, and evoke an emotional response that will circumvent their analytical and rational faculties. The medium for propaganda can be articles, books, advertisements, paintings, cartoons, posters, pamphlets, films, radio shows, TV shows, websites, apps, memes, or social media posts. Journalists, government employees, advertisers, entertainers, educators, and activists make propaganda to build social consensus with manipulated consent.
Edward Bernays‘ Propaganda is on Alvarism’s recommended books list. In it, he summarizes the importance of the topic:
“The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in 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 are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of.”
A deep study of propaganda techniques will empower an individual to “know it when they see it.” The propaganda techniques are closely related to informal fallacies. Often, they have different names for the same concept, such as “black-and-white propaganda technique” and “false dichotomy fallacy.” Understanding fallacies will also inoculate the mind against MDM and conspiracy theories.
False narratives are simply fallacious interpretations of events that are not justified by the evidence. They can contain MDM and often use propaganda techniques.
Epistemology is the process of distinguishing justified true belief (knowledge) from opinion. A crippled epistemology prevents people from becoming knowledgeable, and it is built upon an array of memorized MDM, habitual propagandistic thinking, and false narratives. Think of it as if a person’s mind was a computer data storage drive. A crippled epistemology in their mind has many corrupted data files, and they use the bad files to further corrupt attempts to acquire new knowledge. A person kissing their finger and then tapping their visor “for luck in finding a parking space,” has an element of crippled epistemology made from superstition and magic thinking. Rather than change their habits to arrive early, or investigate parking routines and alternatives, they’ll keep kissing their fingers. They might even make new superstitions, and continue to wander away from the truth. Again with the computer data storage analogy, in a crippled epistemology, there is also a short circuit that corrupts the process of data writing and retrieval. The short circuit in the brain of our kissie-finger parking scout is their superstition and magic thinking. In this way, a crippled epistemology has a snowballing effect, increasingly divorcing a person from accurate perceptions of reality and knowledge.
Psychological and cultural vulnerability to crippled epistemology
There are institutions and influencers that impel crippled epistemology: incompetent or immoral schools, journalists, businesses, politicians, nonprofits, entertainers, activists, imams, clergy, and pastors.
But what makes a person vulnerable to a crippled epistemology? Psychological and cultural factors are the drivers: not intelligence.
Psychiatry vs. Heterodox Scholarship
In 2010, The British Psychological Society published one of the best treatments of the psychology of conspiracy theorists. Not all conspiracy theorists are driven by the same things. There are some driven by psychopathology: extreme paranoia resulting from uncommonly angry minds, distorted judgment, delusional ideation, anomie, narcissism, and a habit of hostile attribution bias related to their paranoia. But conspiracy theories are much more common than psychopathology, so a pathological driver is an incomplete explanation.
Investigations have shown conspiracy theorists are likely to feel powerless, disadvantaged, or voiceless when they experience catastrophe. Consider Einstein’s belief in the socialist class warfare conspiracy theory. He had just witnessed decades of global economic depressions and two world wars. And no doubt, even if he was celebrated in his field, he shared the fate of many STEM gurus: irrelevance and no influence in political, military, or economic decision making. The disaffected STEM guru has to watch people much less intelligent than them make decisions for nations, entire industries, and military conflict. The neglect and ostracism at the hands of intellectual inferiors adds a Sisyphean mockery on top of the isolation. I would wager that the majority of STEM conspiracy theorists are influenced by a similar psychological dynamic.
Whether within their field or external to it, conspiracy theorists are often people who are unable to attain their goals, and they shore up low self-esteem by believing in something that makes them “enlightened” beyond the professionals and experts, in their own minds. Perhaps Einstein rejected economic legends like F.A. Hayek and Ludwig von Mises because of something deeper than confirmation bias. It may have given him a sense of false superiority that compensated for his powerlessness.
Nevertheless, it’s important to remember that no expert is beyond reproach. To be sure, heterodox scholarship is not synonymous with conspiracy theory, and orthodox “experts” have been wrong as much as they’ve been right about controversies of economics, political power, warfare, and medical science (COVID response, Ignaz Semmelweis, and Lysenkoism to name a few). But what distinguishes a valid heterodox scholar from a conspiracy theorist is a matter of methodology and epistemology. A heterodox scholar like Ignaz Semmelweis is comfortable with uncertainty, nuance, and complexity. He does not confuse pragmatic powerful people and organizations for an “evil” power that purposefully seeks to do bad things. He realizes that no conspiracy is necessary when the dovetailing special interests of powerful entities yield systemic results.
With that in mind, we must never stain heterodox scholars with a “conspiracy theory” pejorative. Heterodox scholarship like Alvarism‘s work is the tip-of-the-spear for innovation, remediation, and correctives. In short, a conspiracy theorist’s frustrations might be a result of psychopathologies, but could simply be habitual psychological tendencies of many different sorts. Incapable of translating their frustrations into effective social or political action, they may engage defeatist conspiracy theories, and isolate themselves from the mainstream as “chosen“ and “enlightened“ ones. They may use conspiracy theories to reassert their individualism, or to cope with persecution.
All of the psychological drivers have a common thread: conspiracy theories are a rational attempt to understand complex events and shore up feelings of powerlessness.
Cultural vulnerability to cripple epistemology
We have already discussed illusion, nominalism, and relativism. Those are strong contributors to an illusion-vulnerable culture. Exclusive, insulated, cult-like communities breed distrust of “outsiders” and encourage some of the psychological drivers of conspiracy theory. Those can be professional communities (such as Hollywood’s distrust for STEM geniuses), religious communities, activist organizations, nonprofits, or school communities.
Standards of education that insist knowledge is defined by experience, peer consensus, emotional reaction (Social Emotional Learning), and willpower are root causes of crippled epistemology. It just so happens that people like Maria Montessori, John Dewey, and George S. Counts are responsible for mainstreaming these crippled epistemologies within public education. The counter to their corruption is to ensure that school boards, teachers colleges, and principals have extirpated these educational tactics from their schools and replace them with classical education, empiricism, rationalism, and perennialism.
Cultures that normalize neurotic behavior, paranoia, psychological projection, indifference to morality, manipulativeness (clever rather than smart), and callousness will encourage conspiracy theories. Other contributors:
Celebrating ignorance (such as setting unintelligent celebrities as role models, and expecting the boss to not be the smartest)
Celebrating irrational emotional histrionics (such as covering news stories of emotional people rather than the informative facts and concepts)
Disparaging intelligence (such as insulting “nerds, dorks, geeks”)
Disparaging analytical thinking
Coming up in Part 3:
Now that we understand what conspiracy theories are, and what contributes to them, we can discern real conspiracies from conspiracy theories, and learn details about the profession devoted to this topic: information warfare/information operations (IW/IO) agents. We will also review common conspiracy theories and consider what should be done to help prevent the damage that they can cause, while bolstering the good that they can do. That’s right! If you thought that conspiracy theories are all-bad, all-the-time? You’re in for a surprise.