Sunday, September 09, 2018

The 3 U.N.-Horsed Men of the Boobocalypse

Let me start this post with the first proviso:  my wife is a very intelligent person with a very demanding job, so she doesn't spend time on-line like I do.

I mention that because an article like this ("The human need for ‘chaos’: Here is why extremists spread conspiracy theories and fake news") immediately makes me look to the numbers.   Partly because conspiracy theories have always been with us, and partly because we seem to think they are more pervasive now than at other times in our history.  Most of American racism is based on conspiracy theories (black men lust for our white women, for example; and away from racism, the moon landing was faked, vaccines will kill you, 9/11 was an inside job, etc., etc.).  Much of eastern Europe thrived on conspiracy theories under the Soviets.  That may be a better explanation for their seeming rise there. Here we are less used to it in public life, but it has never been less prevalent, except to people who confuse the internet with reality.  How many Trump supporters are there, actually, who adhere to the wild conspiracy theories espoused by the likes of Alex Jones? (and what does it say about the "liberal" reputation of Austin, Texas, that Jones lives there?).  The article has three people pictured in it:  Joe Arpaio, Alex Jones, and Donald Trump.  My wife would recognize Trump, but not Arpaio or Jones.  If I named them, she might not even be sure who they are.  I doubt anyone in her office would know.  I doubt most of my students would know, this semester or in recent semesters.  And yet for those of us who are on-line, they are three of the most dangerous people in the world.


I recently saw an article that asserted that some 23,000 people nationwide adhere to the QAnon conspiracy theory, and this was presented as a number large enough to evince concern.  Really?  I went to school in a small East Texas town you've probably never heard of, and it was larger than that. I went to the University of Texas at Austin, when the student body exceeded 50,000 (I think it's close to 60,000, now, but I'm not sure).  23,000 out of 350 million is a forgettable, anonymous small town in flyover country.  It's probably not enough votes in one place to sway the electoral college, much less scattered randomly across 50 states.

I'm sure there's a "human need for 'chaos' ".  I'm sure there are people, as Alfred said in "The Dark Knight," who just want to watch the world burn.  I don't think Donald Trump is one of those people.  For one thing, he's not as malevolent as Heath Ledger's Joker; for another, he's not as coherent.  Donald Trump is not an agent of chaos (as the Joker was), Donald Trump is a toddler with a loaded shotgun.  He's chaotic because he's incompetent, not because he revels in disorder.  He's dangerous because he's become the President, not because he's got a plan, or even motive and means, to destroy democracy.

Look at his tweets (again).  He's told Jeff Sessions to investigate the author of the anonymous op-ed.  On what grounds?  Kellyanne Conway says we don't need no steenken' grounds, we just need to be suspicious (which is not the same thing as the legal concept of "reasonable suspicion).

“From what I understand, there can be an investigation if there is criminal activity,” Conway said. When Tapper said “there doesn’t appear to be any,” she replied, “I don’t know that and I don’t think you know that.” Asked again if she believes this person broke the law by criticizing the president, Conway said, “I have literally no idea, nor do you, what else this person has divulged.”

“I think this person is going to suss himself or herself out,” Conway predicted. “I think cowards are like criminals. Eventually they confess to the wrong person.”

The closest she comes to a coherent argument there is that cowards=criminals, and so they should be treated as criminals, and we must investigate the coward who has probably committed a crime we aren't even aware of yet!  We don't know what they might have done, so we must presume they are guilty of something!  5th Amendment be damned!

Or some such nonsense.  This is either to divert suspicion from her, or because she's as dumb as her boss (or, third option, wants him to think so).  But it is arrant nonsense, and the greatest concern it raises is that it echoes the statements of the President.  The effect is corrosive, but not signs of immediate chaos and doom.  Trump is not an agent of chaos, he's a source of incompetence, a tool in the hands of others (Stephen Miller, who's been most effective at getting his foul ideas turned into government policy), but not really a force in himself.  He can't even bring himself to fire people.  Comey learned he was fired from a tweet someone told him about.  John Kelly famously had to fire Omarosa, and Trump acted like he knew nothing about it (and was powerless to reverse it, quite a different picture than the "I alone can do it!" image he thunders at his rallies).  He is, as I said, a toddler with a shotgun:  dangerous because of the situation, but in himself, harmless as a babe.

The reference to "The Dark Knight" is actually fortuitous.  The Joker is convinced he can scare enough people into creating chaos themselves, and like a chain reaction it will run riot through Gotham City.  But the people, without Batman's direct intervention, decline to be so cowardly, so base, so self-interested.  In the climatic scene two boatloads of people on ferries hold the power to destroy the other boat (and save themselves), and both ultimately decline the offer.  That has been the reaction to Donald Trump:  not joy and triumph that chaos is ascendant, nor even fear and loathing that chaos is coming (I've seen that in action, and it's not a feature anywhere right now).  People have generally declined the offer to destroy each other in the name of evading chaos.   The reaction, in fact, has been against chaos and toward order, against scapegoating and fear mongering, and toward reasonableness and optimism.  The "audacity of hope" Obama tried to run on single-handedly, may yet be finding fertile soil and amenable gardeners.

There certainly isn't any rush to embrace the Mad Toddler as the only one who can save us (a promise he made in the campaign which he has, unsurprisingly, broken).


  1. I became very interested in politics because of my daddy..who said as a woman I needed to know what men were doing to take away my rights..

  2. I tried reading through the paper that the original article cited, A “Need for Chaos” and the Sharing of Hostile Political Rumors in Advanced Democracies" and it is ridiculously baroque in its claims and its methodologies. I couldn't make heads nor tails of what it was supposed to mean or claim. It makes absurd claims equating the Danish and U.S. "rights" and "lefts" and that was only the first problem I had with their methodology.

    I came to the conclusion that this kind of "science" is a product of researchers having access to software they can plug numbers into and it cranks out numbers. I was wondering how long it would have taken to crunch their numbers by hand and what effect the existence of the software has in the ability of those who want to make poly-sci more "sci" by claiming they can make recourse to "evolutionary theory" (based on the cited authors I'm familiar with, evo-psych).

    I'm wondering if it's worth reading through the paper more carefully several times to tear it apart, it is rather transparently bull shit, if you'll excuse the word.

    Salon and Raw Story are far too prone to being suckered by BS science.