Conspiracy Theory Dictionary: From QAnon to Gnostics

In half a decade we’ve gone from Jeb Bush making a serious run for president to Marjorie Taylor Greene running unopposed and winning a House seat in Georgia. QAnon came seemingly out of nowhere, but taps into a much deeper and older series of conspiracy theories that have surfaced, resurfaced, and been remixed throughout time.

Essentially, QAnon is a recycling of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion conspiracy theory that drove the Nazi ideology and led to the genocide of over 6 million Jews, gypsies, gays, and others who made Hitler mad. It’s wrapped in a bunch of other dangerous myths, paranoid delusions, and invented “alternative facts,” but shares its common DNA with the kind of conspiratorial paranoia that led to the deaths of over 75 million people in World War II.

The spread of the QAnon conspiracy theory greatly benefits from this long historical memory, by getting a generous marketing boost from piggybacking on sheer familiarity. It also benefits from an authoritarian mentality growing louder in America, with a predilection for magical thinking and a susceptibility to conspiratorial thinking.

Conspiracy theories have been around much longer even than the Protocols — stretching back about as long as recorded history itself. In an increasingly complex world brimming with real-time communication capabilities, the cognitive appeal of easy answers may be stronger than ever before.

TermDefinitionNotes
4chan
8kun
9/11 truthers
alien abduction
American carnageEvocative of "immense loss" in the Nazi mythology
Antifa
Anti-Semitism
birtherism
Black Lives Matter
blood libel
child trafficking
Christian Identity
The Confederacy
Crossing the Rubicon
deep state
fake news
GamerGate
George Soros
Hollywood
Illuminati
InfoWars
JFK assassination
John Birch SocietyThe QAnon of its day (circa 1960s), this extreme right-wing group was theoretically about anti-communist ideals but espoused a host of conspiracy theories and outlandish beliefs
lamestream media
micro-propaganda machineMPMthe “micro-propaganda machine” — an influence network that can tailor people’s opinions, emotional reactions, and create “viral” sharing (��LOL/haha/��RAGE) episodes around what should be serious or contemplative issues
motivated reasoning
New World Order
One World Government
PizzaGate
post-truth
PR
propaganda
Protocols of the Elders of Zion
PsyOps
QAnon
Q Drops
reactionary modernism
Reichstag fire
Rothschilds
"Stand back and stand by"
The Storm
WikiLeaks
ZOGZionist ---- Government

cult

A cult is a social group, usually insular, defined by unorthodox beliefs and/or practices. The cult usually shares religious, philosophical, or ideological values and goals.

The term cult is usually taken as a pejorative, for its connotation of excessive devotion to a charismatic leader with a shady past, or blind devotion to questionable practices and unusual precepts. Believers might say they are following a spiritual quest, while their estranged family and friends would say that are being exploited by unscrupulous conmen.

Cults employ various recruitment techniques to grow membership as well as to cement the new belief system into their minds over time. Brainwashing, isolation, sleep and food deprivation, and other tactics help erode the resolve and individuality of recruits until they fully adopt the new way of being the cult leader would prefer for them.

The destructive cult

There have been hundreds and even thousands of relatively innocuous cults throughout human history, but the most famous by far are the destructive cults. A cult of this type involves members physically harming or killing themselves, other members of the group, or other people.

A subset of the destructive cult, a Doomsday cult commits violence inwardly or outwardly due to adoption of an apocalyptic or millenarian belief system whose rules require anything from murder to mass suicide. These groups foretell disaster and catastrophe preceding a massive transformation, or potentially the destruction of the entire world. In the case of millenarian conspiracy theories, their cataclysmic predictions include a period of utopia following the upheaval.

Millenarianism

Common themes among millenarian beliefs include claims that contemporary society and its leaders are corrupt, and will soon be destroyed by a more powerful force. The inherent evil of the status quo cannot be purged without this dramatic upheaval of society.

Within millenarianism there are finer groups still, including the easily linguistically confused Millennialism. Millennial movements are a type of Christian millenarianism in which the period of utopia following the apocalypse is expect to last 1000 years.

Famous cults

  • The Peoples Temple — Jim Jones and the Jonestown mass suicide
  • The Manson Family
  • The Unification Church
  • The LaRouche Movement
  • Ku Klux Klan
  • Sullivanians
  • Branch Davidians
  • Children of God
  • Heaven’s Gate
  • Al-Qaida
  • Aum Shinrikyo
  • ISIL
  • Dominionists

30 Common Psychological Biases

Two psychologists ended up unlocking important keys to both the mind and to economics. Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman created the field of behavioral economics and revolutionized cognitive psychology with the discovery of cognitive biases that affect our decision-making abilities.

These systematic errors in our thinking and logic affect our everyday choices, behaviors, and evaluations of others.

Psychological biasExplanationExample
action biasBelief that when we're faced with an ambiguous situation or challenge, that we must take some action vs. doing nothing, whether doing something is a good idea or not (and often quickly, without taking the time to fully examine the problem); also known as "naive interventionism"sports enthusiasts rooting for their favorite teams are notorious for the superstitious rituals they are in psychological anguish if not able to perform, despite the objective fact that they have no ability whatsoever to affect the outcome (in pop culture, Robert DeNiro's character in Silver Linings Playbook exemplifies this)
adjustment heuristicTendency to start from an implicitly suggested reference point when assessing probabilities (the "anchor") and making adjustments to that reference point to reach an estimate
affect heuristicWe tend to underestimate the role of feelings of liking & disliking in our judgments and decision-makingInstead of considering risks and benefits independently, individuals with a negative attitude towards nuclear power may consider its benefits as low and risks as high, thereby leading to a more negative risk-benefit correlation than would be evident under conditions without time pressure (Finucane, Alhakami, Slovic, & Johnson, 2000)
anchoring effectFixating on a value or # that gets compared to everything else, b/c we tend to compare/contrast limited sets of items (aka “relativity trap”) — store sale items take advantage of this (so we compare the new value to the old, but not the old value on its own as a measure of worth)
availability heuristicTendency to make quick "intuitive" judgments about the size of given categories by the ease with which particular instances/examples of the class come to mind
bandwagon effectSimilar to groupthink, arising from our built-in desire to fit in and conform, we tend to "go along with the trend" when it becomes apparent to us
contagion heuristicTendency to avoid contact with people or objects viewed as "contaminated" by previous contact with someone or something else viewed as "bad"Related to/inclusive of magical thinking — believing a person's sweater still carries their "essence," e.g.
confirmation biasWe tend to agree w/those who agree with us & avoid associating with those who don't, to avoid the discomfort of cognitive dissonance (the Internet has sadly made this worse)
conjunction fallacyA formal fallacy that occurs when one believes a specific condition is more probable than a general one
current moment biasPreference to experience pleasure now, & put off the “pain” til later; lack of ability to imagine ourselves in the future & altering today's behaviors accordingly
disjunction fallacyMisjudging that the disjunction of two events must be as likely as either of the events individually (as definitionally, via probability theory)
false consensus effectPeople tend to overestimate the degree to which the general public shares their beliefs and opinionspotentially related to the availability heuristic, the self-serving bias, and naive realism
focusing illusionPlacing too much emphasis on one aspect of an event, outweighing its importance and causing error in judgment
Gambler's fallacyPutting a tremendous amount of weight on previous events, believing they will influence future outcomes (even when outcome is random)also frequently a logical fallacy
Identifiable Victim EffectTendency for people to care deeply about a single, specific tragedy but seem disinterested in vast atrocities affecting thousands or millions of peoplemore broadly, abstract concepts motivate us less than individual cases (especially when given visual evidence)
ingroup biasOverestimating abilities and values of our immediate group & underestimating that of outgroups (oxytocin plays a role)
naive realismThe belief that each one of us sees the world objectively, while the people who disagree with us must be either uninformed or irrational"Everyone is influenced by ideology and self-interest. Except for me. I see things as they are."
negativity biasWe pay more attention to bad news
neglecting probabilityReason we're afraid to fly even though it's statistically far more likely to be in a car accident (same way we fear terrorism but not more mundane accidents that are far more likely)
observational selection biasSuddenly noticing things we didn't notice before & assuming frequency has increased (also contributes to feeling appearance of certain things or events can't be coincidence)
optimism biasTendency to believe that good things happen more often than bad things
planning fallacySystematic tendency toward unrealistic optimism about the time it takes to comple
positive expectation biasSense that our luck has to change for the better
post-purchase rationalizationMaking ourselves feel better after we make crappy decisions (aka Buyer's Stockholm Syndrome)
projection biasAssumption that most people think just like us (false consensus bias is related: thinking that others agree with us)
resemblance biasTendency to ignore statistical facts and use resemblance as a simplifying heuristic to make difficult judgments
self-serving biasTendency to evaluate ambiguous or complex information in a way that is beneficial to the speaker's interests, as well as to claim responsibility for successes and attribute failures to others or to uncontrollable external factors
shifting baseline syndromeWe tend to use very recent data points in our research (even when more data is available) and thus can miss picking up on some long-term trends
status-quo biasWe fear change, so tend to make choices that guarantee things remain the same (& by extension, assume that any other choice will be inferior, or make things worse)
treadmill effectOur desire for the new version of a product or service is acute, even if upgrades are minor & incremental; but the pleasure we get from the new object wears off quickly to leave us back at the original satisfaction baseline

Freedom is a liberal idea

The right wing is full of contradictions — a defining trait, almost. Chief among them is this bit of cognitive dissonance:

  • hatred of liberals
  • love of “freedom”

You can’t have this both ways, philosophically speaking. The entire concept of individual liberty (hint: it’s right there in the name!) is a core insight of the Enlightenment.

The Enlightenment Inspired the United States

This 18th century philosophical movement grew large in Europe, predating the French Revolution of 1789 and influencing heavily the American Revolution. Resting on the then recent revolutions in science, math, and philosophy including the works of Descartes, Galileo, Kepler, and Leibniz, The Enlightenment has its roots in 1680s England with the political philosophy of John Locke.

Locke argued that human beings are capable of self-improvement via rational thought and accumulated experience. His philosophy was a break with traditional assumptions that knowledge came only from authorities, and that truth was opaque and unknowable. Working in the same era as Isaac Newton, Locke’s ideas about human nature were highly informed by the Scientific Revolution well underway by this time. The two strains of philosophy have a common commitment to reason and empiricism at their core.

Political ideas of The Enlightenment

You can appreciate why any number of authorities would find the radical ideas of the Enlightenment philosophers potentially threatening — their age-old power structures were in jeopardy. It represented the democratization of knowledge, removing a dependency of the less powerful upon the powerful as a singular source of truth. The church, monarchy, and aristocracy were all on the chopping block — sometimes literally — during this age of philosophical and political revolutions.

The following philosophical and political ideals emerged from The Enlightenment:

  • Reason is the primary source of authority and legitimacy. Phenomena can be examined in the real world to understand more about how things work and what is true. Everything should be subject to critical examination, versus simply being taken on faith.
  • People have natural rights, and prime among them is liberty — or freedom to pursue the kind of life they so choose, without infringing upon the natural rights of others.
  • Equality is the concept that all members of a nation or society are equal members and have equal standing in terms of their political influence and power. These are expressed in the American concept of equality before the law (14th Amendment), free speech, and one person/one vote.
  • Progress as the collective project and meaningful unifying force for a nation or group. The goal is to create better societies and better people by discarding outmoded traditions and embracing rationalism.
  • Religious tolerance as a rational way to prevent civil unrest. Appears in the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen (1789) and in the First Amendment of the US Constitution.
  • Consent of the governed is one of several foundations of liberal thought from philosopher Thomas Hobbes, who stated that to be legitimate, political power must be representative and agreed to by the people bound by it.
  • The social contract is a foundational concept from both John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, extending the consent of the governed and placing it as the true basis for governmental authority.
  • Constitutional government has its underpinnings in a 1748 work by French judge and political philosopher Montesquieu, The Spirit of Law. This tome is the principle source for the concept of separation of powers in government as a system of healthy checks and balances to protect political liberty.
  • Fraternity in a philosophical sense is concerned with an ethical relationship between people, based on love and solidarity as the foundation for how individuals in society should treat each other.
  • Separation of church and state is a logical outgrowth of freedom of religion. The idea is older, but its introduction to the United Sates is attributed to Thomas Jefferson who declared the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause to be about building a “wall of separation between church and state.”
  • Property rights as a natural outgrowth of natural rights and labor (Locke).

Freedom is self-determination, but is not unlimited

The history of political philosophy reveals the evolution of Enlightenment thinking over the course of centuries, and how the ideas underpinning our government have deep roots. Freedom isn’t a new idea, and it does come with some caveats.

The first caveat is that freedom cannot be unlimited if we are to have a civil society. As Hobbes put it, if men are left to their natural state our lives will be “nasty, brutish, and short.” Also, we cannot preserve equal rights for all citizens if some members of society are allowed to trample on the rights of others.

That’s why the concept of liberty is so important. It’s important to our democracy, and it’s important to our day to day lives and how we treat each other. Freedom and liberty are similar and we often use these words interchangeably, but there is a very important distinction between them.

Liberty flows from equal rights

Liberty means that I have freedom, but only insofar as I don’t intrude upon your freedom. I must respect your rights and not invade your sovereign boundaries of life and property. For all persons are created equal, and the rights of one another shall not be infringed.

Political liberty has its foundations in Greek philosophy and was closely linked with the concept of democracy. Aristotle and Plato among others planted the seeds that would later be picked up by Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Montesquieu, and John Stuart Mill — giving us our modern concept of liberty today.

Hyper Partisanship: How to understand American politics today

Buckle up, we’re in for a wild ride. Many of the serious scholars of political history and authoritarian regimes are sounding the alarm bells that, although it is a very very good thing we are getting rid of the Trump crime family soon, it is still a very very bad thing for America to have so rapidly tilted towards authoritarianism. How did we get here?! How has hyper partisanship escalated to the point of an attempted coup by 126 sitting Republican House Representatives?

These are some of the resources that helped me grapple with that question, and with the rapidly shifting landscape of information warfare. This outline is a work in progress, and I’m planning to keep adding to this list as the tape keeps rolling.

Right-Wing Authoritarianism

  • Karen Stenner — Australian political psychologist Karen Stenner found that approximately 1/3 of populations are authoritarian, or have authoritarian tendencies.
  • Hannah Arendt — The Origins of Totalitarianism
  • Derrida — the logic of the unconscious; performativity in the act of lying
  • ketman — Ketman is the psychological concept of concealing one’s true aims, akin to doublethink in Orwell’s 1984, that served as a central theme to Polish dissident Czesław Miłosz‘s book The Captive Mind about intellectual life under totalitarianism during the Communist post-WWII occupation.
  • Erich Fromm — coined the term “malignant narcissism” to describe the psychological character of the Nazis
  • Fascism — elevation of the id as the source of truth; enthusiasm for political violence
    • Jason Stanley — How Fascism Works
    • Robert O. Paxton — The Anatomy of Fascism
    • Tim Snyder — On Tyranny
    • Federico Finchelstein — A Brief History of Fascist Lies
  • Tyrants
  • John Dean — 3 types of authoritarian personality:
    • social dominators
    • authoritarian followers
    • double highs — social dominators who can “switch” to become followers in certain circumstances
  • Loyalty; hero worship
    • Freud = deeply distrustful of hero worship and worried that it indulged people’s needs for vertical authority. He found the archetype of the authoritarian primal father very troubling.
  • Ayn Rand — The Fountainhead
  • Richard Hofstadter — The Paranoid Style
  • Lakoff — moral framing; strict father morality
  • Neil Postman — Entertaining Ourselves to Death
  • Anti-Intellectualism
  • Can be disguised as hyper-rationalism (Communism)

Cognitive and psychological data

  • conservative minds don’t accept new information coming in
    • vs. Bayesian logic
    • vs. Thomas Kuhn scientific revolutions
  • Psychological biases
    • Status quo bias
  • The Asch Experiment — more than 60% of the time, people bow to social pressure
  • Stanley Milgram 1974 — we will submit to the demands of authority to a far greater extent than we might expect
    • it absolves us of responsibility
    • a “loophole” to quickly route around our conscience, making “normal” persons susceptible to the appeals of psychopaths
  • The Marshmallow Experiment — drive towards instant gratification
  • Edward Bernays — Propaganda
  • Narcissism and Sadism | The Dark Triad — difficult personalities
    • narcissism = seeing oneself “above”
    • Christopher Lasch — Culture of Narcissism (1979). Idea that narcissism is a defense mechanism against social change and instability in the modern world. It’s a method of psychological self-preservation in a hostile, threatening world; a cynical ethic.
    • Tom Wolfe — The Me Decade
    • Jerrold Post — authoritarian parenting
    • The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump
    • Mary Trump — Too Much and Not Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man
    • narcissistic injury
    • narcissistic rage
    • aggrieved entitlement — elevated expectations combined with resentment at society for not meeting them (Michael Kimmel, 2013)
    • dehumanization of the Others
    • splitting; black and white thinking
    • object permanence
    • magical thinking — relation to Norman Vincent Peale and prosperity gospel
    • Political ponerology — the nature of evil; interaction of difficult personalities with power and politics
      • pathocracy — Andrew Łobaczewski (2007)
      • sadopopulism — Tim Snyder
    • Narcissistic collusion — the interplay of the grandiose expectations of the tyrant and his followers. It gives him power as a meshing of mutually compatible needs.
    • Narcissism of small differences — Freud 1991
    • Scapegoating
    • Psychological decompensation
    • Psychopath World
      • The Upside Down — up is down, black is white
      • No conscience
      • No empathy
      • The ultimate narcissist
      • Obsession with power, dominance, and hierarchy
      • Primitive goals, relentlessly pursued
      • Rigidity; inflexibility
      • No access to higher human ideals
      • Performative; mask-wearing
      • See people as objects for their use
      • Control issues
      • Cruel and sadistic
      • Empty and thrill-seeking
      • Enjoy breaking rules
      • Inauthentic; insincere
      • Projectivity
      • Destructiveness; recklessness
      • Conspiracy-minded
      • Cold and inaccessible
      • Reptilian
    • Terminology: ASPD and the shifting umbrella of personality disorder and Cluster B
    • Malignant narcissism as a historical conception of this group of personality traits
  • Paranoia
  • Abuse culture
    • Bullies
    • Emotional abuse
    • psychological abuse
    • physical abuse
    • financial abuse
    • legal abuse
    • abuse of power
    • Alice Miller — Her work identified the psychological impact of childhood neglect and abuse, not just at the individual level but at the societal level — where it has a tendency to produce a hierarchical worldview characterized by the need to control the environment.
    • One-sided development — Dąbrowski (1996)
  • Cults
  • “Big Cults” — rise to the level of nation-state and even beyond
  • Psychological warfare
    • Propaganda
      • Bernays –> Goebbels
      • Michiko Kakutani — The Death of Truth
    • Emotional abuse
    • Interrogation techniques
    • Disinformation
      • Conspiracy theories
      • Fake news
        • “Flood the channel” strategy
        • Overwhelm and drown out the truth
        • Deep fakes
      • Lying with statistics
    • Bot networks and cyborg botnets
      • agents
        • distraction
        • confusion
        • probing
        • persuasion
        • conversion
        • neutralization
      • flying monkeys
      • automated response
      • timed response
    • Extortion
    • Doxxing
  • Religious extremism
    • Evangelicals
    • Dominionism and extremist religious circles believing literally in the End Times and the rapture coming soon (Tim LaHaye et al), including at the highest levels of government (Pompeo, Pence, etc.)
    • Calvinism
    • Prosperity gospel
  • Living on Fantasy Island
    • Norman Vincent Peale — the power of positive thinking (1952)
    • Ernest Becker — The Denial of Death & the basis for fundamental self-deception
    • Buddhist / Shambhala conceptions of “The Cocoon” — a mental place of safety we construct for ourselves to remain shielded from Real Reality
    • Republican Denial Bubbles: climate change, trickle-down economics, “no one is racist,” birtherism, covid is a hoax, everything is hunky dory, you are getting very sleepy…
    • It Was All a Lie — Stuart Stevens, former GOP strategist and co-founding member of the Lincoln Project, spills the beans on the Republican capture of civic discourse with a set of false narratives all spinning out from the white supremacist backlash to the civil rights movement of the 60s.

HISTORY

  • Capitol Riots and Putsch — insurrectionists storm the Capitol
  • Raffensperger extortion call
  • Georgia runoffs
  • Biden elected + Big Lie begins (continues, really)
  • George Floyd murder and summer of protest
    • long struggle with police brutality and “driving while Black”
  • Votings Rights Act gutted
  • Citizens United
  • Growing nationalization of politics parallels the demise of local news

Hyper Partisanship in Congress: The Gingrich Years

  • Newt Gingrich and the Contract on America — Steve Kornacki, Julian Zelizer
  • Rise of Evangelicals and the deals with the devils (Paul Weyrich, Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, prosperity gospel, etc)
    • ALEC
    • abortion as a 180-degree turn for use as a wedge issue
    • Brown v. Board of Education & the fight over segregated Christian private schools
  • White nationalism’s reputational laundering
    • David Duke popped back up in both the 90s and the 2010s
    • Some Vietnam vets nurtured their own “stabbed in the back” culture after the war
    • Rise of the militia movement
      • Many returning soldiers saw the fringe left Communist movement in the US as an “enemy at home”
      • Greensboro, NC massacre
      • The Order
      • KKK & KKKK
    • Paramilitary operations in El Salvador, Nicaragua, Dominica, the Dominican Republic, and elsewhere in Latin America to “bring the war home”
    • After the fall of Communism, the movement needed a new enemy. During the immediate post-Vietnam era they claimed to be working on behalf of the state, but towards the end of the 80s they did a 180-degree turn to a hard anti-government stance
    • Survivalist fringe
      • Timothy McVeigh and the Oklahoma City bombing
      • Waco
      • Ruby Ridge
      • Unabomber / Ted Kaczynski
    • Intersection of militia movement with NRA
      • Intersection of NRA with Russian active measures

Post-Soviet Capital Flight and the Rise of Russian Organized Crime

Rise of Dark Money

The explosion of Super PACs and other seemingly endless vehicles for anonymous money lending to political campaigns exploded after the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling in 2010. The hyper partisanship tilted even further when the GOP quietly began accepting far more foreign contributions than many people realized.

  • Citizens United
  • Koch Brothers / Kochtopus
  • offshore tax havens
  • unregistered FARA agents (Flynn, Manafort, Elliott Broidy, etc)
  • Jane Mayer
  • Panama Papers — biggest offshore data leak in history
  • FinCEN files

Rise of Russian Hybrid Warfare

  • Gerasimov Doctrine
  • Vladislav Surkhov’s surrealistic war theater
    • Fifth World War: all against all
  • Cheka –> KGB –> FSB / GRU
  • Psychological warfare
  • Cyber warfare
    • energy grid
    • US Treasury
    • election infrastructure
    • nuclear weaponry
  • Information warfare
    • Disinformation
    • Cyborg bot networks
    • IRA & Robert Mueller indictments
    • Cambridge Analytica, data theft, and microtargeting
    • Astroturfing, fake activism, paid crisis actors
  • Financial warfare
    • Magnitsky Act
      • Bill Browder
      • Natalia Veselnitskaya
      • Trump Tower meeting June 9, 2016
    • Campaign funding
      • Marie Le Pen (France)
      • Viktor Orban (Hungary)
      • Brexit (UK)
      • Trump / GOP (US)
      • Law and Justice (Poland)
    • Corruption — organized crime, money laundering, bribery, human trafficking, drugs, arms, fraud, racketeering, etc.
  • Proxy warfare
    • Private security forces and arms’ length deniability
      • Yevgeny Prigozhin
      • Erik Prince
    • Ukraine
    • Belarus
    • Syria

Role of Facebook, Google, and Big Tech

Silicon Valley played its part in enabling — and profiteering from — hyper partisanship not just in the U.S., but around the world. Facebook in particular has a reputation for being callously cheap about moderating content from hate speech to live mass shooting video, including arguably playing a significant role in the Rohingya genocide in Myanmar.

  • Facebook as a rogue nation state with almost 3 billion non-voting citizen-serfs
    • Reluctant moderators require regulating
    • Questionable ethics
      • Moral hazard in political leanings
      • Paid propaganda machine for dictators and authoritarian regimes around the world
      • Allow disinformation to “skirt around” the rules too often, or fail to police bad actors at all
      • Fail to live up to their own moderating standards repeatedly
      • Refuse responsibility for arguably essential roles in geopolitical disasters including the Rohingya massacre in Myanmar and
      • A business model that fundamentally benefits from human conflict
      • Cambridge Analytica
      • Traumatic conditions of the Facebook moderation team, in the US and abroad
  • Google’s capture of the web
    • monopoly powers
    • surveillance powers
    • AI powers
    • collapse of online advertising market
    • collapse of local journalism
    • Youtube radicalization
  • Surveillance capitalism
  • Data as the new oil

Economic insecurity and staggering inequality

  • Piketty
  • Gilded Age
  • Progressive Era
  • Anti-Trust
  • Herbert Hoover –> FDR
  • Great Depression –> New Deal prosperity
  • Keynesian economics
  • Hillbilly elegy
    • Bowling Alone
    • The Big Sort
  • Globalization
  • Opioid crisis

Republican Myths

As further enabled by the rise of the PR-state

  • White supremacy and the myth of American innocence
  • Trickle down economics –> Reagan
  • Powell Memo –> Think Tanks
  • McCarthyism; John Birch Society
  • America as a Judeo-Christian nation
  • Immigration is bad
  • Climate change denialism
  • Smoking is good for you

Americana and Hyper Partisanship through the ages

  • 2020 election
  • 2016 election
  • Obama years
  • 2008-09 financial crash
  • 9/11, WMD delusions, Iraq War, Islamic terrorism
  • 2000 Bush v. Gore
  • Welfare queens
  • Clinton and the Crime Bill
  • Reagan years
  • Watergate
  • Spiro Agnew
  • Nixon’s war on drugs as a proxy for the war on 60s counterculture
  • White militia movement
  • Civil rights & Vietnam
  • Cold War
  • The Holocaust; Stalin’s Great Terror; Mao’s famine
  • WWII & fascism
  • New Deal
  • Great Depression
  • WWI
  • Gilded Age
  • Snake oil
  • PT Barnum
  • Great Awakening preachers George Whitefield & Jonathan Edwards
    • they argued that church authorities should not own people’s direct relationship with God
  • KKK
  • Jim Crow
  • Reconstruction
  • Civil War & Confederacy — the ur-Hyper Partisanship.
  • States’ Rights
  • Anti-Intellectualism
  • Slavery
  • Racism, Misogyny
  • Federalism vs. Decentralization
  • The Constitution and the Rule of Law
  • Democracy overthrows monarchy
  • Spirit of the Laws — Montesquieu
  • Social contract; consent of the governed
  • Puritans
  • Religious freedom
  • Liberty vs. freedom
  • The Enlightenment
  • Magna Carta
  • The Bible

The Authoritarian Personality: Deference to a higher power

Sociologist Theodor Adorno created the “F scale” in a 1950 seminal work entitled The Authoritarian Personality — to rank the level of predilection to fascism in an individual, which became desirable both during and shortly after World War II.

In authoritarian personality theory, the defining traits of the Platonic fascist (or the ur-Fascist as Umberto Eco would later call them) include the following:

  • conventionalism — following the rules; “this is how we’ve always done things”; fundamentalist thinking; dogmatic philosophy; intolerance of ambiguity (and intolerance in general)
  • authoritarian submission — follow the Ruler; the Ruler is always right, no matter how obvious the lie or big the myth. only ingroup authority figures matter, though.
  • authoritarian aggression — “send in the troops,” “when the looting starts the shooting starts,” “dominate the streets”
  • anti-intellectualism — distrust of experts; paranoid politics; intellectualism is unmasculine
  • anti-intraception — a dislike of subjectivity and imagination: “the fact is…”; black and white thinking; dislike of flamboyant self-expression; monoculture
  • superstition — conspiracy theory; anti-vaxxers; QAnon
  • stereotypy — racism, sexism, classism, ageism, all the isms; homophobia, Islamophobia, transphobia, all the phobias
  • power and “toughness” — obsessed with dominance and submission; rigidly pro-hierarchy; solves problems with violence; values physical strength
  • destructiveness — dismantle the Federal government; remove environmental regulations; pull out of international alliances; weakening America’s place in the world, abandoning the EU, and kowtowing to dictators around the world
  • cynicism — “both sides do it,” whataboutism, all politicians are bad, conscience (non)voters
  • projectivity — everything is Obama’s fault, almost literally; claims Biden is corrupt; Hillary’s email server (though they all used and continue to use private email servers, every single one of them); claim that the Clinton campaign started the birther controversy; accuse everyone else of lying
  • exaggerated concerns over sex — anti-abortion; homophobia; excessive taboos; excessive shame

We are seeing all of these traits today. We see the rise of authoritarianism — we see it in our leadership, we see it in our communities, and we see it surging around the world.

We see it in a much larger percentage of our populace than many of us might have imagined. People of good character far outnumber the Right-Wing Authoritarians, but they can be subjugated, emotionally manipulated, strong-armed, abused, intimidated, made cynical by the RWAs. And the RWA personality is driven to actively hate outgroups in many outrageously twisted and depraved ways, from pettiness to genocide.

Right-Wing Authoritarianism

Refined by professor of psychology Bob Altemeyer (The Authoritarians, et al) in 1981, the Right-Wing Authoritarianism scale (RWA) addresses some of the limitations of the F scale and exhibits more predictive power in identifying individuals exhibiting authoritarian personality.

The RWA personality is associated with all of the following traits, beliefs, actions, patterns, and signs of authoritarianism:

  • extreme obedience
  • unquestioning respect for and submission to a chosen authority
  • forceful insistence on hierarchy
  • striving for dominance in social hierarchies
  • supremacy
  • wolves vs. sheep worldview
  • Manichaean struggle
  • punitiveness; vengefulness; malignant envy
  • destructiveness
  • extremism
  • subordination to the collective
  • tribalism
  • cult of personality
  • cults
  • traditionalism
  • conservatism
  • fundamentalism
  • less openness to experience
  • aggression towards minority groups
  • resistance to change
  • justification(s) for social inequality
  • Libertarianism
  • police brutality
  • psychological abuse
  • hypocrisy
  • projection
  • magical thinking
  • disciplinarian
  • control freak
  • mass surveillance
  • repression
  • a primary drive to achieve relief from uncertainty, even at the cost of individual freedom

Democracy vs. Authoritarianism

Maybe we could offer up the RWA test as a “good faith” gesture, if one is interested in participating in civic discourse with credibility and authenticity. It would help us identify those individuals who are going to be unlikely to play by the rules of the game or have no intention of behaving fairly. It would help us draw authoritarianism and totalitarianism out of the proverbial closet and into public discourse so we can refute it vehemently in a proper forum.

Although we have bot tests, we don’t really have great ways of measuring and identifying human beings with deceptive agendas. If we could screen people as authoritarians via “honorable challenge,” we could save so much time by not wasting it on the lost causes whose power trip runs so deep it can never be exposed. It could serve as a way to drag out into the light any number of intolerable, anti-democratic sentiments masquerading as “strict Constitutionalism.” We can pry open the doublespeak and arm ourselves with the secret decoder rings of understanding RWA dogwhistles.

And maybe we can finally change the conversation by more easily identifying friendlies from foes from the start, without having to wade through every minefield.

Just maybe.

Numerical superstitions: Our strange relationship with numbers

We have so many mental frames related to numbers, that have been handed down culturally for, in some cases, hundreds and even thousands of years. These numerical superstitions come from myths, some from science, some cultural and historic — and many are universal. They remind us that despite our differences across nations and across time, we human beings still have a lot more in common with one another than we have differences.

  • 1 is the loneliest number… but can also be unity, and the origin of all things
  • 2 is duality ☯️
  • 3’s a crowd
  • 4 is a square; representative of justice | Buddhist Four Noble Truths ⬛
  • 5 is alive
  • 6 is the first perfect number
  • 7 notes in the musical scale 🎼
  • 8 is paradise; lucky in Buddhism 🍀
  • 9 lives 😺
  • 10 is the most perfect number 🔟
  • 11 players in soccer & football ⚽
  • 12 is cosmological: zodiac symbols, stations of the Moon, stations of the Sun | 12 inches in a foot 📏
  • 13 lunar months in the year 🌙
  • 20 bucks 💵
  • 30 pieces of silver 💰
  • 40 days and 40 nights 🚣‍♂️
  • 50 ways to leave your lover | 50 shades of grey
  • 100 year centennial 💯
  • 1000 — millenarianism

I’ll keep adding to the list of numerical superstitions over time…!

War of the Worldviews: Hierarchy vs. Fairness

Hierarchy vs. Fairness is the dominant Manichaean struggle of our age, and perhaps every age before it: shall we structure our society with a strict hierarchical system of highs and lows, with power concentrated at the top? Or shall we have an egalitarian society where truth, justice, and fairness rule the day?

There are a lot of stories, myths, and narratives centered on this question: hierarchy or fairness? Cultural wars and actual wars have been waged — numerous times throughout history.

We are fighting a new incarnation of that war now in our nation, as civil unrest spreads following yet another extrajudicial murder by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin — who knelt on the neck of George Floyd for a jaw-dropping 8 minutes and 46 seconds: 2 minutes and 53 seconds beyond the point where Floyd lost consciousness and 1 minute and 54 seconds past the point fellow officers checked to confirm he had no pulse.

That is a staggeringly long time.

There is simply no credibility to the typical excuse that Chauvin somehow feared for his life — from an unarmed, handcuffed, prone, unconscious, and then lifeless George Floyd. Arrested over an allegedly counterfit $20 bill. Meanwhile Congress appropriates hundreds of billions and even trillions for big business and last I heard, no arrests had been made. Curious.

It starts in childhood

Psychologists like Alice Miller and Darcia Narvaez attribute this troubling mentality — this mentality that exhibits complete disregard for human life — as originating in our child-raising “techniques.” At one time corporal punishment for youth was the rule and not the exception; not uncoincidentally, the Hitler Youth of Germany had been largely raised under the “advice” of Daniel Gottlieb Moritz Shreber who advocated beating babies from a young age so the importance of obedience would be drilled into them early on.

It wasn’t until much later we learned that traumatized and neglected children display severe lesions affecting up to the 30 percent of the areas of the brain responsible for controlling emotions. In other words, “traditional” authoritarian child-rearing in the fundamentalist religion style of “spare the rod, spoil the child” produces emotionally crippled adults — who tend to enact the revenge fantasies of their internal repressed rage as adults later in life. They simply need be provided with an “authorized” scapegoat.

Denial ain’t just a river in Egypt

Miller goes on to suggest the psychological survival mechanism of denial employed by abused children to survive their situation leads them to develop the kind of emotional blindness in adulthood that will turn the other way when witnessing violations of another person’s humanity — or may even be induced to carry them out. We’re all familiar with Nazi Adolf Eichmann’s “defense” of why he should be exonerated for behaving like a robotic killer: “I was just following orders.”

Teaching children to be obedient or be emotionally abandoned — whether through physical abuse or emotional abuse or both — is the key to unlocking this mystery of the appeal of hierarchy and authoritarianism which is seeing a resurgence not just in the United States but around the world — especially in Europe as well. Miller calls it “poisonous pedagogy” — not just parents but many other forms of authority indoctrinate youth in this vicious cycle and benefit from the creation of obedient individuals by amassing and maintaining power.

The kicker is we are not supposed to recognize this process — and if we do, we most certainly are not supposed to speak up about it. We are supposed to remain unaware that our deference to authority is merely a construct; a thin veneer over the insecurity of power that hopes desperately to continue wielding absurd moral authority over the masses. This collective and complicitous denial keeps us all locked in the dance of abuser and abused — essentially pretending it isn’t happening all around us including in our own homes.

The Founders advocated fairness

For all the right wing enjoys brandishing the Constitution as fundamental law, they tend to often miss the forest for the trees — that the founding fathers wrote extensively on their views and consideration in constructing a new nation towards the end of the 18th century, and that those views were decidedly against the arbitrary rule of kings and the strict striations of class as seen in the empires of Europe. They sought to get away from the cult of personality paradigm of the divine right of kings, believing that the rule of law should hold sway and that men ought to govern themselves through a political process with enough checks and balances to ensure no single branch or individual could wield too much power over others.

James Madison especially was a big believer in the “wisdom of crowds” to arrive at a better, more morally appropriate solution to legislation and problem solving. Moreover they were extremely uncomfortable with the role of slavery at the founding of the nation, despite being simultaneously apiece with the times and not entirely living up to those professed ideals.

Nevertheless, the role of ideals is to move us forward towards better times; to continually improve our individual and collective characters to get closer to living them out. Taking the founding ideals of fairness and equality as the guiding north star of a new nation and falling short is, in my humble opinion, still leagues farther along than giving in to the indulgent impulse towards supremacy and hierarchy and calling it a day. It’s the essence of progressivism as a vehicle for a narrative of self-growth — as opposed to the narrative hierarchy offers, which is static; dead; inert. There can be no change, no dynamism to a system which defines a priori everyone’s place in society.

Hierarchy is the politics of death.

DIPTYCH: Equality vs. Supremacy

EqualitySupremacy
opportunitygatekeepers
democracyautocracy
diversitymonoculture
rule of lawfealty
entrepreneurshipfeudalism
accountabilitycorruption
Golden Rulepersecution
freedomoppression
fairnessarbitrariness
inclusivenessxenophobia
progressiveconservative
legal customsphysical force
creativerent-seeking
noveltystatus quo
favors challengersfavors incumbents
meritocracyaristocracy
holocracyhierarchy
consensusdictatorship
consenttyranny
diplomacyviolence
curiosityfear
toleranceintolerance
flexibilityrigidity
multi-facetedsingle-mindedness
organicbureaucratic
emergentcontrolling
radialtop-down
deliberaterash
carefulreckless
self-actualizedinsecure
logical reasoningmagical thinking
universaltribal
comprehensivedismissive
caretakingmilitaristic
communitygated community
independenceconformity

We crave the sacred

… some pure, holy, unchanging thing. A perfect, Platonic form.

But there is nothing unchanging. And religion is overall fading — except at the edges; the extremes.

We want desperately to believe in something. This can make us vulnerable to hucksters, tricksters, deceivers, and all kinds of charms and fakery. The modern life condition exacerbates this, with its fractious social isolationism, vapid consumerism, and erosion of community.

May I suggest that we could find solace by cultivating belief in ourselves, and in each other? Be critical when warranted, but beat back this terrible cynicism that engulfs public discourse, filling it with day to day ennui. We don’t have to be at each other’s throats.

Unspoken Libertarian assumption

How do you prevent monopoly capitalism under a minimalist state?

The answer is: you don’t — which is “working as intended” to a libertarian. Both because their contempt for the government is so great they would sacrifice our very national treasures if it meant squeezing another cent out of the public coffers, and because they are fans of monopoly capitalism. Greed is good — so what if the invisible hand must be made to slap around the little guy? Money is a religion, and these people are True Believers.