Thursday, August 18, 2016

The Evolution of Conspiracy Theorism

Roberts: a stage in the evolution of conspiracy theorism. 

The above video has being doing the rounds of late. It shows Prof Brian Cox's clash with right wing Australia senator Malcolm Roberts over climate change.  Cox presents some climate data but Roberts simply rejects it as data manipulated by NASA.  The shortened Guardian version of the clash appeared on Facebook. I shared it and added my comment as follows:

Poor old Cox is reckoning without the conspiracy theorist's mindset: conspiracy theorism allows the fanciful multiplication of any number of entities and Machiavellian players who, it claims, are systematically distorting the truth. Presenting science to conspiracy theorists doesn't work because science depends on institutions and according to the conspiracy theorist those institutions are systematically corrupt.. Christian fundamentalists are of a similar ilk.

However, I don't think Roberts is a fully-blown conspiracy theorist himself, but he has the necessary precursors - deep suspicion of the motives of a scientific institution and the public funded scientific enterprise in general. There is probably a continuum here from a fairly undeveloped prototypical form of conspiracy theorism to the fully blown version we see in David Ike for instance. I interpreted Cox's vain attempts to teach Roberts about the need for theoretical modelling as a sign that Roberts doesn't have a well formed notion about the scientific dialogue between theory and observation; my guess is that he thinks modelling is non-empirical; this modelling may be too far removed from the obvious to register as empirical in Roberts mind. I've seen a similar mistrust of the academic community's orientation toward deeply theoretical narratives among flat earth theorists who would declare that the Earth is manifestly and empirically flat. The unfortunate fact is that academia has become in the eyes of the right-wing an ivory tower elite who speak a cryptic language beyond the average true hearted citizen whose common sense engagement with the truly empirical is the measure truth - well that's how the right-wing are liable to spin it if they can - in fact watch out for Donald Trump because this is the sort of thing you might hear from his mouth. If he becomes president it could become a time of danger and persecution for the academic community. 

This episode is also an indication of how far NASA has fallen since the glory days of the Moon landings. Roberts is part of the general drift toward suspicion and conspiracy theorism with its dread of government, even Western democratic government. I'm not quite sure of the reason for this overall drift; but at least two possible reasons occur to me; 

1. In the 1980s Marxism lost the argument with free market laissez-faire economics and its concomitant individualism. We are now seeing the outworking of this free market individualism in its more libertarian extreme. This is particularly so in America where its whiggish historical traditions were helped along by the over-interference of the British government with its colony, Those otherwise good American traditions have sprung into life and have been mythologized by paranoiac right-wingers as a government vs. the individual scifi romance. 

2. Secondly, the demise of Christianity: Christianity has become increasingly intellectually marginalized (expelled even!) in the West particularly in the public academic institutions which ironically had their origins in the Western church. Christianity's all embracing world view has been replaced by...... nothing. There have been some attempts to argue that atheism is a religion in its own right, but that is not convincing except in cases where Marxism or another atheist philosophy acquires a mystical eschatological status thereby resembling religion with its sense of destiny. Otherwise atheism is more naturally described as an ideological vacuum which fails to satisfy the soul of many. Possible outcomes of this are that either the ideological vacuum grows to envelope the whole of life in a hopeless dark cloud of nihilism. or that the vacuum gets filled with the most horrible ideological demons such as some version of fundamentalism. Like parts of Islam Christianity is reacting adversely and fanatically to intellectual marginalization and in consequence finds that it naturally identifies with the "libertarian" cause and its hatred of institutionalized public funded learning.  I say this as a Christian myself; my closeness to the Christian cause may have given me an advantageous perspective on the  malaise suffered by some contemporary Christians. 


I have recently learnt of another crackpot theory that is doing the rounds, namely, the  belief that Earth's mountains are the remains of what was at one time huge silicon trees which reached the clouds. (Devil's mountain, which vaguely resembles a large cut-down tree stump, is quoted as evidence  - I wonder where the chainsaw is that cut it down!). This theory isn't worth evaluating. but it goes to show that there is a contingent of people out there who so distrust scientific institutions that they would prefer to fill their minds with weird and wonderful fantasies propagated on the internet. They no longer believe in modernist progress and the theoretical narratives that have been painstakingly put together over the course of centuries in order to be consistent with observation. This is the new protest tradition of "throw it all out and start again!". That the established scientific community could be so systematically wrong about such gross aspects of our world invites systematic theories about intentional, clandestine and deceptive error. This context is fertile ground for conspiracy theorism. 

Stuff decades of geological research! Those flat topped mountains are obviously and empirically tree stumps!

Addendum 15/9/16:

It is basic. The sun warms the earth’s surface. The surface, by contact, warms the moving, circulating atmosphere. That means the atmosphere cools the surface. How then can the atmosphere warm it? It cannot. That is why their computer models are wrong.

I think that speaks for itself. I need say no more.

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