Saturday, June 10, 2017

The Left-Wing Twitter Conspiracy Theorists

The New Republic has a darn good deep-dive into the left-wing Conspiracy Theory voices sprouting on Twitter. It nicely sums up the various actors, their pet theories, and gives some insight into how they came to prominence in the Era of Trump.

This is the takeaway:
Conventional wisdom has long held that there would never be a left-wing rival to Glenn Beck or Alex Jones, because liberals are just too damn smart to fall for that kind of stuff.We believe in subtlety,” Mario Cuomo once explained. “We believe in telling the whole truth. We don’t want to exaggerate. Look, they write their message with crayons. We use fine-point quills.”
As it turns out, though, the left wasn’t smarter than the right; it simply wasn’t terrified enough. Waking up to a country run by a man who openly boasts of sexual assault, who has systematically targeted immigrants and Muslims for deportation, whose every utterance seems to bespeak some form of mental instability, liberals suddenly find themselves adrift in a world they never imagined possible. In a landscape this dystopian, conspiracy offers a salve. It promises an order behind the madness, some sort of rational explanation for the seeming chaos. It validates your paranoia, which paradoxically confirms you’re not paranoid. And most dangerous of all, it affirms your sense that things are hopeless, while absolving you from having to do anything about it. Conspiracy theories may temporarily allay our fear, but they ultimately exacerbate the very conditions that created that fear in the first place.
This is all very, very important. To wit:

  1. Conspiracy theories never solve anything--they are just ever-louder calls for a real investigation by a truly neutral party (no matter what is done, this never materializes--any evidence to the contrary is, of course, faked)
  2. Conspiracy theories are "for losers." Research shows that parties that have lost are the ones caught up in conspiracy theory.
  3. Conspiracy theories prey on human-weakness. Intelligence is not a defense. Methodologies are not a defense: the calls are coming from inside the house (your brain).

So Are Liberals As Sucked In To Conspiracy As Conservatives?

There's some (current) good news. The main part is that there still isn't a Glenn Beck or Alex Jones of the Left. Lousie Mensch doesn't count. Neither does Eric Garland or anyone else on that list. Why not? Well, it's simple: Beck at his height reached millions of elderly viewers every night. These guys have like 100k followers who likely miss most of their tweets.

Secondly, Beck, Hannity, Limbaugh, etc. all grossly monetized their gigs. Beck and Hannity sold dodgy gold to old people with conspiracy theories that got them into legal trouble (Hannity at least). They were immensely profitable for their platforms (Fox) and for themselves--based on selling a never materializing economic apocalypse.

If, say, Rachel Maddow starts hawking gold-certificates,  you can start to worry.

Secondly, the root of their conspiracy theories is either hopeful (FISA has issued an arrest warrant for Trump or whatever) or, more compassionately, Trump / his controllers have a grand plan. The good news is that neither of these are designed to provoke the same kind of behavior in their believers.

Right-wing conspiracies were apocalypse porn: government camps, economic and oil collapse, even foreign invasion (The UN coming through Canada and tunnels under Walmart), etc. They had specific boogeymen: Islamists (who were working, of course with Obama), black-terrorists (funded, of course, by George Soros), and so on. 

Right now liberals do not believe that there is either a hillbilly army or the regular one ready to put Democrats in camps. They may believe that Trump is totally, completely in cahoots with Putin--but they're not preparing for a Red Dawn scenario.

There, right now, isn't a liberal equivalent of the Jade Helm scenario where military training is a sneak-takeover of Texas.

Finally, there is a lack of traction of these conspiracy theories among the Democratic electorate. We don't (yet) see too many candidates running on the theories (although there have been some that were repeated). 

This is mostly because they don't have to: Trump's health care plan is legitimately less popular than Obamacare--but it hasn't passed yet. Trump has sunk Dodd-Frank, which thrills the 1% (Trust the Omnivore)--but most people don't even know what that is.

If a congressman alludes to Trump's collusion with Russia? Well, that's an exaggeration--sure--but if they talk about the Trump Campaign's collusion with Russia? That's currently under like three different very serious investigations. In other words, the root concerns about Trump--that he is a blundering, lying authoritarian--that he is way, way too friendly with Russia, that he would like to silence his enemies in inappropriate ways (such as firing Comey or trying to arrest journalists) are all well established.

Trump is doing enough out in the open that for the broad strokes, the conspiracy is no longer a theory.

What Does This Mean?

A few things.
  1. Never believe anything you read on Twitter. Even from someone solid, wait for the journalistic process to work.
  2. If you hate Trump, The Omnivore is sorry to tell you this: you're going to have to be patient. If you want him impeached, control the House and Senate in 2018 and then give it a go. Before then? Noop. Not gonna happen.
  3. If you think that the mainstream media is suppressing stories about Trump (such as a sealed warrant) or that 'someone' [ Mensch ] 'has been proven right about a lot of stuff in the past' you need to re-calibrate your sensors. (A) it's not actually true and (B) if you spew a bunch of bullshit, eventually you can spin some of it to say you were right. Don't be credulous.
A final thought here is that the GOP, despite utterly destroying its moral core (and it did--oh boy did it--it doubled down on what the lefty-critics were saying and proved them all agonizingly right in the nomination and then election of Trump)--did pretty well politically. They managed to block Obama on a lot of things and they control pretty much the whole government right now. 

Conspiracy theory is a disease. It has bilked a lot of GOP voters out of a lot of money (every penny sent to Ben Carson, for example). It has inflamed the worst instincts in millions of people--largely older, white people. It has elected a disastrous president and a congress that cannot agree productively on anything and may yet result in something both avoidable and really bad such as blowing the Debt Ceiling--but it did win elections.

A lot of them.

So, you know, maybe just sit back with the popcorn and wait for the lights to go out.

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