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Conspiracy: the disease that threatens our survival

Sometimes it takes a war correspondent to cast light on what is happening at home. The New Yorker’s Luke Mogelson has just published The Storm is Here relating the inside story of the pandemic-era upsurge of violence on the right in the US. He compares the nightmares faced by the people he covered in wars “fueled by injury” in Afghanistan and Syria with the wars fuelled by “delusion” at home: “In the US by contrast, almost everybody I met that said they were willing to fight and die for their cause were mainly animated by a fear of total phantoms and fabricated antagonists.”

The same forces are in play in Australia: desperate people, stoked with existential dread at the crimes of the Elites, exacerbate each other’s sense of victimhood. They falsely claim the pandemic was manmade, and vaccines intended to control them or kill them slowly. They celebrate their pure blood and sperm. They wondered if they felt sick after gathering unvaccinated because the government had sprayed them with toxins. (Because conspiracies are unfalsifiable, every consequence of stupidity becomes fodder for paranoia.)

As in America, grifters of the political, media and influencer spheres manipulate their fear and confusion. United Australia and One Nations politicians repeat the American talking points, even supported by some Coalition politicians. Aspiring political parties on that “freedom” spectrum spruik the conspiracies full-throatedly. News Corp talking heads utter the polite versions, while The Spectator’s radicalising Australian wrap ties the conspiracies to the Orbanist culture wars. Ramshackle “news” outlets on YouTube promote the community’s wildest fantasies as fact.

The Herald Sun recently recounted [paywalled] in apparent shock that the Neo Nazi movement is growing in Victoria. It blamed the rise on the pandemic rather than its own support for hysterical responses to local and world events. The masthead omitted having granted credit to the movement by platforming its figureheads and fostering its bigotry.

The global nation of ethnonationalists is borderless. Disinformation and extremism are pervasive on the various platforms of the internet. People who’ve been radicalising the susceptible on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Reddit over the pandemic era send their new followers over to the Telegram encrypted app to continue the radicalisation untrammelled.

Overt National Socialists spread QAnon messaging on Twitter that the Elites are murdering children in basements, probably because Elites is code for Jewish people. On Facebook, antivaxx conspiracy theorists are blaming Victorian Premier Dan Andrews for weather engineering the floods to boost his election chances. Apparently the Elites are clearing Australia’s east coast for the construction of dystopian Smart Cities that will cram humanity into close confinement to enforce low energy consumption, and where we will eat insect protein.

As America showed us on January 6 2020, it is difficult to assess the reach and intensity of this conspiracy thinking until those inculcated turn up on the doorstep of democracy, armed for insurrection. Certainly some of the material is part of a game (which is how the QAnon idea of a deep state leaker began). The fact that the radicalised walk the line between believing outrageous ideas and tempting the normies to swallow that they believe nonsense makes it difficult to disentangle. Those studying Trump’s election lies, for example, find it hard to determine what percentage of the 64% of Republicans who believe that Biden stole the election are genuinely in the camp and how many “believe” it as a tribal marker. The set known as “trolls” make life miserable online, spreading outrageous bigotry and abuse, with laughter at the earnest as their prime goal. Trump has been known as the king of the trolls.

The internet has provided solace for the isolated for many years now, bringing together people who might despair that they are alone in the world. It has promoted information and insight into problems that the dominant media ignore or fail to tackle. It is also, however, a tool for the dangerous. Far more effective than dropping flyers behind the Iron Curtain or conversations at one’s religious centre, social media fosters political interference and radicalisation.

This builds on the human predisposition to find easy answers, straightforward villains and familiar narratives in the overwhelming complexity of the world’s trials. A population trained to pursue constant thrills and excitement needs more dramatic answers than the mundane inertia of people failing to make the right decisions. Too many of us long for adrenaline and have no idea of the misery of living in “interesting times.” The conspiracy theory narratives allow groups to depict themselves as the victims of a new Holocaust. Always they are the victims, disguising their selfishness and bigotry with a stolen gravitas and dignity.

The issues driving the panics are protean rather than ideologically defined. Mogelson recounted being at anti-lockdown rallies in Michigan with “Patriot” protesters pouring scorn on the “jackbooted Nazis,” police and state troopers taking people’s freedom. He returned to the same protests run by the same people after three weeks’ absence covering the death of George Floyd to find them ardently in support of “the Blue” against Black Lives Matter. The sense of persecution is the point, rather than the enemy selected to destroy.

Some of them, in Australia as well as the US, are “accelerationists.” Far right extremists who believe the system is rotten, and it is only by accelerating its destruction that a better (ethno) state can be rebuilt. They are reckless about which trouble they support, as long as it will speed the destruction of society as it stands.

The chaos at work is captured in one of Trump’s generals, Michael Flynn. He is now the headliner on the ReAwaken America touring show where he promotes an evangelical battle of good versus evil, QAnon, Trump’s election victory, and hints at violent revolution. The point is that his friends cannot determine whether he is grifting to pay his fees, disgruntled at his failures in government, damaged by his war experience, mentally unwell or a true believer. The impact of his rhetoric is toxic, regardless of his motivation.

The fear and rage of the movements are dangerous. The author of a recent study on violent extremists and the threat to US infrastructure pointed out that the wannabe terrorists were mostly “knuckleheads,” but that they only have to get lucky occasionally to be a serious problem. The same threat is growing here. The wild movie plot conspiracies should not be ignored because they are ludicrous.

Eric Larson’s In the Garden of Beasts showed that, in Berlin in 1933, a mere weeks-long absence on a business trip was enough to return to see one’s circle radicalised into Nazism. It only takes a figure like Trump, who understood so astutely which grievances to activate, to turn a society in trouble into one on the brink.

Australia has a Labor government trying to shore up our protections. It will take more, however, than establishing government accountability to protect us. The climate emergency’s disasters will provoke further fear and anger, and we must guard ourselves from the wrong figure metastasising our fledgling conspiracy sphere into a fatal disease.

 

This was first published in Pearls and Irritations as The Storm is Here: can Australia prevent the conspiracy sphere metastasising into fatal disease?

 

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32 comments

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  1. Phil Pryor

    Many things seem to be getting worse, as we/I age. Certainly other older teachers would suggest that mass education over the last century and a half, has released an egocentric aggressive barely aware type with astounding pretensions to inner knowledge about what matters, what is wrong, what needs to be done. The USA examples illustrated in this article are common enough elsewhere. There are heroic smartarse, knowall, righteous prophets and preachers who live roles, wear symbols, act fantasies, hate others, are threatened in their saved and blessed status by everyone else’s poor levels of awareness. They club up if they can, but modern electronic means enable them to be rebellious peasants who want “justice”. They support evil mediocrities who promise much, for clients and donors, but to satisfy some of the complaints at least symbolically. We get human garbage in power, liars and nohopers, the Trump, Johnson, Morrison, Bolsonaro types and many others. Regardless, the planet, the ordinary citizen, civilisation, suffers.

  2. Clakka

    The brains trust of neuro-psychology, following vast international studies, reveal that statistically, a significant majority of ‘conspiracy theorists’ are sufferers of early-onset dementia. That said, in this world of caring and understanding, do we have to tolerate the intolerant, their abuse, their disruption, and their promotion of violent reaction and destruction?

    Surely not. Fine, the principle of Freedom of Speech, however, in reality the innumerable caveats render the enacting of that principle a nonsense and a convenience. Of course, as an indulgence, politicians in competition, increasingly have no shame, and in saying whatever they like, are unaccountable. As such, it might be considered making it unlawful for politicians from re-spouting or affirming the conspiracy diatribes as political leverage against their political rivals.

    Goodness, what a cleft stick for the msm.

  3. New England Cocky

    Oh dear Phil Pryor, you are being far to generous to describe the last Australian COALition government pollies as ”human garbage in power” and ”evil mediocrities’ who promise much”. Have you considered the Australian voters who have pre-selected then voted for these doppelgangers of their own personal values??

    Consider the poor thoughtful folk of New England having Beetrooter as the representative of the Nazional$ ….. is it only the women of Tamworth that support adultery, alcoholism and amorality??

  4. Phil Pryor

    Cocky, I’m fairly cheap and often free.., but, having Barnaby Pissup-Rooton as your dangling member is atrocious and lovely New England deserves better. While greedy interests are narrowly pursued in politics, people are too often ignored. I became ashamed at the workings of B J Petersen and Askin. Having gone to school with Jack Howard, I feared for the nation. Now we look back on Abbott the unspeakabel, Turnbull the glibly inept, and Morrison the Big Brown Dropping, all with more than a sinking feeling, for we have sunk very low. Support for this garbage is fatally suicidal.

  5. Michael Taylor

    It’s hard to comprehend how stupid some people are. They have a medieval mindset. Next they’ll be saying that drinking water is unhealthy, aka the Middle Ages.

  6. wam

    thanks for a labor gov whose members find inflation is a responsible reason for dropping an election promise of pay rises for workers but not for stopping a $9000 tax cut for themselves. This is on top of the secret pay rises to ALL pollies right through the covid era.
    Who thought parts of dodo dutton’s mob would bob up in Albalmers?
    ps
    michael, ‘medieval’??? see we spend about $800m on bottled water and 375m plastic bottles in landfill

  7. Terence Mills

    The Albanese government are facing the reality of the hardnosed foreign corporations that harvest our gas : they don’t care a fig about Australia, their only concern is about maximising their corporate profits for their own benefit and that of their shareholders.

    Trying to dig into their windfall profits won’t work, they will just continue the old pea & thimble trick of transfer pricing to prove once again that they don’t actually make any taxable profits and thus cannot be taxed.

    WA played hardball with these guys and insisted on gas reservation for state use AND capped the cost . We have to do the same with all our national resources to ensure that Australia and Australians come first.

  8. Canguro

    We say, ‘only in America’, and in a way that speaks of our thankfulness that we, currently, are not like them, and perhaps hopefully that we will never be like them, never descend into the dystopian nightmare that now characterises that country.

    This excerpt from the Introduction in the just released book written by journalist Luke Mogelson, The Storm is Here, referenced in Lucy Hamilton’s opening paragraph. It refers to America’s response to the Covid crisis, and is a comparison to how effectively poor West African countries like Liberia and Sierra Leone dealt with the highly infectious and far more serious viral disease, Ebola, and essentially with little or no help from international aid and medical agencies.

    Begins…

    “When the real disaster came, this is precisely what Donald Trump asked us to do. “Now is our time,” he declared from the White House, in March 2020. “We must sacrifice together, because we are all in this together.” Over the next year. COVID-19 would kill half a million people in the US, far more than any other nation. Legions of Americans would join a millenarian cult prophesying righteous mass murder. Political tribalism, incipient fascism, and unrestrained demagoguery would pit citizens against one another, online and in the streets. A raging blizzard of propaganda would completely blot out reality. Banks, post offices, and police stations would burn. Thousands of soldiers would be deployed in dozens of cities. Religious extremism would proliferate. Gun violence would claim nearly twenty thousand victims, the highest toll in decades. Hate crimes would skyrocket. So would drug overdoses and domestic abuse. Trust in the press would disintegrate, along with confidence in our system of governance. Talk of war, revolution, and even the apocalypse became commonplace. Elected officials would attempt a coup.”

    Ends….

    It seems to this writer that we have the seeds of this social dystopia already planted in this country, and the question is will they sprout, be watered and nourished and allowed to thrive, or will they rightfully be ignored and destined to perish, to fail to germinate, or if not, to wither and die.

    A wise businessman I once knew confided that vigilance is the main criteria in commercial success. The same could be said of social behaviour and matters political. These are difficult and dangerous times that are testing our society’s cohesiveness, and it’s not a useful gambit to let the lunatics loose to take control of the discourse.

  9. Douglas Pritchard

    As a small child I frequently tested my reading skills with the frequenly seen slogan:-
    YANKS GO HOME
    And 80 years later on the other side of the globe it is probably the most needed expression of our times.

  10. A Commentator

    Many of the conspiracy theorists support Putin, weirdly they see some vast conspiracy that Putin proposes to end
    Conspiracy theorists, anti vaxers, fascists and old fashioned communists form the strange pro Putin group

  11. Lucy Hamilton

    I have to say, I’m surprised that AIMN allows Covid denial BS to remain posted. I’m not sure if I am supposed to delete such posts myself? I have spent the past 30 months in constant horror, with stories related by my relative who is an infectious diseases consultant with a PhD in respiratory disease and the head of an ID (incl Covid) department. I know how much conspiracy bunk is involved in the Covid denial conspiracies. The fact that lockdowns prevented your mum dying because of an oxygen shortage (or your dad going untreated during a heart attack) remains a hypothetical because lockdowns prevented us running out of hospital beds and supplies.

    We have someone who approves of Gav trying to post a comment that includes toxic Great Replacement bigotry. The frustration with conspiracy theorists is they take 2 + 2 and come up with 9,000 as the answer. Yes, rich people are screwing up the world. No it’s not a Great Replacement with NWO and WEF shiftiness.

  12. Roswell

    Lucy, authors have the authority to delete or edit comments in their post.

    Disclaimer

  13. Roswell

    The general rule is that conspiracy theorists aren’t welcome here and they will eventually find themselves banned. We may also put their comments in moderation for approval.

  14. Lucy Hamilton

    Thanks for the info, Roswell. Will do. I just deleted another piece of wild fantasising from Gav’s fan. Hilarious how far people will go in search of the blame when the real problem is out in the open.

  15. Lucy Hamilton

    No one promised a life with no disease, Gav. What they did was try to prevent a total collapse of the health system that would have left heart attack, stroke victims, car attacks potentially untreated. Lockdowns allowed the slowing of that pressure on the health system. Your tosh about mRNA is just that. The carrying material is flushed from the body in days and the conditions that have a very small risk around all the vaccines are much more common with Covid infection.

    If a swift vaccine process (brought about by technological preparedness, scientific cooperation, influxes of money and the removal of bureaucratic lags ) had not taken place, we would still be in nightmare times. You couldn’t run society as normally as we are (accepting deaths of the infirm, staffing chaos and supply chain mess as part of the “better” normal) without the vaccine. We saw in the UK and India the nightmare of letting it run. No oxygen, no hospital access because full.

    Britain has 1/2 million people impaired by long Covid.

    10 million children lost a parent.

    It’s very easy to reverse engineer how a pandemic seems when we were saved from the worst of it. What didn’t happen is hard to take into account. Your science and epidemiological failures will be deleted if they continue. Misinformation (or disinformation) is as dangerous as the virus itself.

    I have a piece on this I am running by my Covid specialist due out this week. I will not be permitting anti-expert DIY research to stand there either. The arrogance of thinking that a bit of DIY time from YouTube and patched together “research” can counter decades or study, research and experience blows my mind.

  16. Michael Taylor

    I’ll back you up on that, Lucy, as will our other moderators.

  17. Phil Pryor

    This site is not enhanced by deliberate distortion, exaggeration, egofixation, onanistic outbursts, nonexistent evidence, inabilites claimed to be actualities, etc, all under a dud name. The Australian federal health department has available twenty four booklets on vaccine preventable diseases which ravaged humanity over time. Most boofheads were saved in their infancy by such treatment.

  18. Michael Taylor

    Gav, stand by whatever you like, as long as you do it elsewhere. Some of your claims are not welcome here.

  19. Douglas Pritchard

    If this site is to remain independant, don`t we need to invite all sources of information so that, as inteligent individuals we can make up our own minds about what is going on.
    On a daily basis we see multiple examples of “conspiracy theories”, and this helps our learning process in decision making about what to accept, or otherwise.
    How else are we to learn?
    As soon as we sit in judgement about what is seen, and its from a single source, it is known as propaganda and worthless.
    (I am with Lucy here, but appreciate that this world has Gavs)

  20. Michael Taylor

    You are right, Douglas, they can promote reasonable debate – if their comments are themselves reasonable – but after almost ten years most people here have had it up to their ears with conspiracy theories. On top of that, they are known to have driven people away from this site, and that is regrettable.

    I’m not suggesting that we become an echo chamber, as we can all learn something from each other. None of us, in my opinion, gain nothing out of big pharma conspiracies, a fake Moon landing, Howard was behind the Port Arthur massacre, or that this site is owned by George Soros.

    So if I had a choice of you or Gav staying on this site… you’d win hands down.

  21. Phil Pryor

    We’ve had a gav and now a james (common nouns here) with intense raves. The james intrusion offers us a line to “dossier”, which is a foreign slagfest aiming to gain converts and faithful. One of its operatives, about two years ago, one Keith Raniere, became a convicted felon apparently. Do not submit to polished up shit about fear and superstition, especially USA sourced.

  22. A Commentator

    Conspiracy theories can be a matter of perspective.
    For example, I recall I was about the only person in this site who (back in Jan/Feb called out the nonsense along the lines of ” the reporting of a Russian invasion of Ukraine is a Lib/Murdoch conspiracy to allow Morrison to run an election campaign as a wartime leader”
    That absolute nonsense was repeated several times.
    It was tolerated and even endorsed.

  23. The AIM Network

    Those articles and/or comments were removed long ago. Hardly an endorsement.

  24. James

    Thats the strawman argument Michael, saying all conspiracies are impossible just because you might have proven one or two to be outrageous.

  25. Michael Taylor

    James, where did I say that all conspiracies are impossible?

  26. Canguro

    Timely reminder Michael, just spun some $$ in your direction.

  27. Michael Taylor

    Just saw it, Canguro. Truly appreciated.

  28. wam

    The LNP and Labor ground troops laud self and applaud wealth. The former with no regard as to how just how much, Whilst many of the latter have concerns about the how. Musk is ultra-weird even amongst the weird rich. I am a twit so twitter has no interest for me. Over the last 3 years I have had many discussions with rabbottians over the personal liberty infringements of compulsory masks. These people were ignorant of the stop the spread aim of a mask even when I pointed out surgeons wear masks to protect patients from harm, they still believed it was a UN Chinese plot with labor support. However I love conspiracy theories. Not the ridiculous like aliens nor the harmful like Hook school. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1111/pops.12568 https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/0963662520957252
    ps Remember that science stems from proving a conspiracy theory explanation right or not.

  29. Terence Mills

    Apparently Twitter is not making any money and when Musk proposed a $20 month subscription he got a very quick response from the tweeters. including author Stephen King :

  30. Phil Pryor

    Let us be clear and honest, under our own name, do research, accept the proven, use logic, reason, and always, good manners.

  31. Douglas Pritchard

    Roswell.
    Its a little known fact but the sole survivor of that crash was recently put in charge of the LNP party in this country.

  32. paul walter

    I really find it hrd to conjure with A Commentator’s comments above, when confronted with fact-free and tedentious elements perhaps made in ignorance and arrogance frequent in comments over past times.

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