Welcome to the post-truth era, part III #Conspiracy theories

Conspiracy theory entering the mainstream is the bedrock of the post-truth era.  No longer confined to the dark corners of the internet, preposterous notions have gained acceptance across large swaths of the population.  The government and its institutions are promulgating fabrications.  The parallel conservative media structure distorts reality, utilizing social networks to beam their propaganda directly into the minds of viewers with staggering rapidity. They've enlisted the help of data analytics companies to microtarget people online based on their internet behaviors, personal information, and facebook likes.  Public confusion and disorientation are manufactured states.  A gateway into another universe, the smartphone is a conduit through which the distortion of reality can occur.  In the post-truth era everything is true and nothing is true, depending on who you ask.

More and more we view reality through a screen.  The screen has begun to function as an appendage, an extension of our organic form, an evolution of our humanity.  Contemporary humans always know where their phones are.  Is it not true you are constantly staring into it?  Is it not true it resides in your pocket or purse during the day, and is laid next to you at night while you sleep?  And is it not true you reach for it compulsively upon waking, clutch it tightly and gaze deep into this glowing rectangle, this portal to another dimension, from the moment you rise to the moment you rest?

Our senses do not bear witness to global events and form an objective reality upon which society and humanity may function.  We channel them through a screen which acts as an intermediary, a barrier between our natural faculties and the moment unfolding around us.  We learn about the world through a glowing rectangle which has the power to augment reality, and even immerse us in virtual reality.  This development has aided conspiracy theories and fever dreams in flourishing among the general population.  

A constant assault against media, academia, and science creates the vacuum in which wild and delusional falsehoods  spread like wildfire through the populace.  The POTUS and his administration have waged a war against reality and actively work to create a trumpian alternate reality.  Institutions and experts have been discredited; people are skeptical of their legitimacy.

trump gained prominence in politics by virtue of the delusional fever dream Barack Obama was a secret Kenyan Muslim and therefore an illegitimate President.  Claiming Obama wasn't American only worked because he was black; forcing him to prove his citizenship was a dog-whistle: it insinuated only white people can truly be President, can truly belong.  He went on a whirlwind tour of CNN and various news outlets to tell the tall tale of investigators he claimed to have sent to Hawaii to uncover Obama's secret past.  trump refused to back down from this claim for years despite all evidence to the contrary - even after the public release of the former POTUS' birth certificate - and it worked. 

He successfully convinced millions of Americans of an utter lie and rode their fervor to a victory in the election, all the while distorting reality via alternative fact and conspiracy theory.  Surveys have proven the extent to which Republican voters are misinformed, with only 27% agreeing Barack Obama was born in the US, and a shocking 41% disagreeing with this demonstrable truth.  It's worth noting Barack Obama released his birth certificate nearly 5 years before the poll was taken, which begs the question: why are so many people ignoring reality?  Or worse: how can so many people be so egregiously misinformed?

Most recently he concocted an absurd tale: his wires had been tapped at trump tower by Barack Obama during the 2016 campaign.  Tweeted to the masses instantly, the highest level of authority in our country invented a falsehood.  This is, of course, an attempt to obfuscate reality in order to distract and deflect away from his numerous conflicts of interest and collusion with the Kremlin.  trump accused Obama of personally wiretapping him during the campaign, equated it to Watergate and called him a "Bad (or sick) guy!".

Accusing political opponents of high crimes without evidence or proof to the contrary distorts and undermines democracy.  It is a tool employed by authoritarians.  For the POTUS to personally create and broadcast a conspiracy theory to the masses is unprecedented and anathema to the values and principles which undergird representative government and individual freedom.  Societies and governments cannot function when there is no basis in fact or evidence, when one side gaslights the other.  The parallel conservative media structure instantly joined in, spreading baseless lies and validating the story as real.  It spread like wildfire, this time with new wrinkles.

The unsubstantiated wiretapping allegations fit into an even larger conspiracy theory: The Deep State.  This new right-wing fever dream du jour asserts the presence of a shadow government, secretly controlled by arch-nemesis Barack Obama.  Consisting of an entrenched cabal of bureaucrats, spies (the CIA, FBI, NSA, and Mi6), political operatives, lawyers and 'leakers', the former President refuses to relinquish his control of the government, according to the theory.  Furthermore, the 'deep state' is constantly undermining trump, and covertly seizing power from the people of the US outside of the confines of our democratic structure and institutions. 

The media, of course, is complicit and colluding with the so-called deep state and trump is a victim of the shadow government.  Reporters, journalists, and television personalities are duplicitous and actively engaged.  The leaks which led to the downfall of Michael Flynn and Paul Manafort were products of the 'Deep State', "FAKE NEWS" leaked to the 'biased' mainstream media, according to the President.  The Deep State conspiracy further delegitimizes the media, academia, national intelligence agencies, reporters, casting them as corrupt and lacking credibility.  Are you really gonna believe something you see on CNN?  Everyone knows the mainstream media can't be trusted!  Science is just liberal indoctrination.  The parallel conservative media greatly benefits from this narrative.  Breitbart, Infowars, and Sean Hannity of Fox News earnestly promulgate the Deep State falsehood, firmly implanting it into the minds and lexicon of millions of Americans.

                              Conspiracy theory has gone mainstream

                              Conspiracy theory has gone mainstream

You may be saying sure, there's always a few crazy people out there.  There's always a few loons.  Since the inauguration of Barack Obama, Republicans and their voters have earnestly embraced lies and disinformation and alternative facts and conspiracy theories.  In fact, it's been blasted through Fox News, which now claims the highest ratings in the history of cable news television.  It has translated to political gains across the nation: Republicans currently control nearly the entire government from the local to the Federal level.  Their viewers are living in an alternate reality not based on facts but appeals to their emotions, and they have swayed enough people to seize massive political control.

In the past, conspiracy theories resided in the fringes of the internet and society.  The wiretapping allegations bring forth a troubling new element: certain members of government institutions are actively involved in corroborating and furthering the wiretap lie.  Devin Nunes, Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, released a statement to reporters in which he claimed to have seen intelligence reports in which trump and his campaign members had had their communications collected incidentally and legally.  No evidence, no source, and no documents have been cited, it's completely unknown.  Nunes issued a statement indicating the POTUS had been under surveillance, 'supporting' the President's completely debunked wiretap lie.  The source of Nunes' claims is a mystery.. Providing no evidence or sources for his claim, Nunes sidestepped his committee members and went directly to trump, subsequently releasing a statement to the media.  In the post-truth era, members of pivotal democratic institutions actively work to misinform the public.  

Nunes' statement to reporters was gobbled up and used as fodder by the parallel conservative media structure.  Misinformation was produced by Fox News and Breitbart and their cohorts, blasted through social media and consumed by millions.  Incredibly, 60% of Republicans believe the wiretapping conspiracy theory regardless of all evidence to the contrary, according to a recent poll.  Technology and social media allow for these misinformation agents to define reality in accordance with their narrative.  Narrative control is a powerful weapon.  The head of the FBI and NSA publicly testified to the contrary of this certifiably insane fabrication, yet the public at large have trouble believing them because our institutions have been discredited and damaged.

Unable to admit his mistake, trump even ignited an international controversy in stating Pres. Obama enlisted the help of British intelligence agency GCHQ to spy on trump without leaving a paper trail back to the White House.  The claim finds genesis in a Fox News segment featuring Judge Napolitano, a pundit who frequently appears on the network.  In the post-truth era, there is a feedback loop between conservative media and the White House.  In fact, conservative media like Fox News even has the power to invent details to support a fabrication, and the POTUS himself repeats it as truth to support his claims.  Make no mistake, this perpetual misinformation campaign drastically affects its viewers.  The echo chamber effect is strong, and exiting it is difficult.  For many people, this is the truth.

Propaganda piece by Breitbart.  Steve Bannon is the former executive chair of Breitbart and the Chief Strategist of the President.

Propaganda piece by Breitbart.  Steve Bannon is the former executive chair of Breitbart and the Chief Strategist of the President.

Information has emerged linking the White House to the leak of Nunes' information.  In fact, Nunes went to the White House the day before he released the statement.  It definitely appears as if trump was involved in the process leading up to the statement by Nunes.  There is a cyclical nature: 1) Fabricated information is provided to the head of the House Intelligence committee on behalf of the President 2) the Chairman of the HiC releases a statement based on unrelated, unknown, and unsubstantiated intelligence in order to give the illusion of vindication 3) Conservative media produce a litany of propaganda pieces specifically stating trump was "vindicated" in his wiretapping allegations 4) trump points to aforementioned propaganda as evidence he is correct.  Another fake news story from the mainstream media!

The result distorts and severely damages democracy.  trump and the Republicans are able to cast their political opponents as criminals, guilty of high crimes without a trial in the court of public opinion.  The parallel conservative media slander and attack political opponents in lockstep with the Presidents' talking points.  Members of high-ranking government institutions actively work to warp reality to fit their ideological narratives.  Technology and social media allow these entities to wield incredible power in terms of information.

Alex Jones rose to prominence through a web empire and radio broadcast of conspiracy theories, the singularly most disgraceful one being the Sandy Hook 'false flag'.  After the brutal slaying of 20+ kindergartners, irrational internet sleuths promulgated the notion President Barack Obama had orchestrated the massacre in an attempt to confiscate guns and lock conservatives in FEMA death camps.  A separate wing of the Newtown "truther" movement believe actors portrayed the parents and the entire scene was an elaborate production, ala Hollywood.  While impossible to quantify the number of followers exactly, this patently unhinged theory is widespread.  Alex Jones is incredibly popular and YouTube searches for conspiracy videos related to the 'fake massacre' have hundreds of thousands of views.

Not only has trump appeared on Jones' show, he regularly consults him and the two are friends.  Alex Jones is an unabashed supporter and has an enormous following.  He is an especially talented conspiracist and propagandist; often inserting kernels of validity and specializing in half-truths, there are some true stories on his website.  By interspersing quasi-truthful articles amongst his hoaxes, the viewer is confused and assumes the latter is real because the former was in a different article.  In other words, he establishes credibility in order to deceive at a later occasion.

In fact, several trump lies originate from infowars.  Without providing any proof or evidence, the POTUS has repeatedly claimed 3-5 million people voted illegally, every single one of them for Hillary Clinton.  This lie was originally pushed by Alex Jones, naturally.  One reason this is important is because there is a concerted effort amongst Republicans to repress the vote by instituting strict voted ID laws and subsequently closing DMVs in rural/impoverished areas.  It's likely there will continue to be a wave of voter ID laws passed throughout conservative states.  Thus, there's a possibility these raving fabrications could become the basis of policy aimed at undermining Democracy.

Pizzagate is a conspiracy which postulates Hillary Clinton organized and operated a child sex-trafficking ring out of the basement of a Washington DC pizzeria.  It finds genesis from Infowars and Alex Jones has spent a lot of time shouting the conspiracy to millions across the planet.  It is baseless, farcical, and demented, with no facts or evidence to support it.  Yet, a stunning and remarkable 53% of trump voters believe Pizzagate is real, proving the power of outrageous conspiracy.  A deranged man armed with an assault rifle even went to self-investigate the pizzeria, and ended up opening fire with scores of innocent people inside.

Michael Flynn, the now-disgraced former NSA and top trump confidant, went on Russian state-owned media to promulgate conspiracy theories.  He used his former position of DIA to give himself credibility, subsequently slandering Obama.  He claimed Pres. Obama made a 'willful decision' which led directly to the creation of ISIS.  Overly simplified half-truths and out-of-context information results in a deceptive narrative.  High-tech, sleek misinformation was blasted through the annals of the internet via RT, further solidifying the claim as truth.  This claim was later echoed by candidate trump who forcefully claimed "Obama is the founder of ISIS.  Obama is the founder of ISIS, OK?!"  

As preposterous as this notion sounds, it was an oft-repeated claim on the campaign trail and was gleefully echoed by trump supporters in the time before the election.  It's one of many Obama-related conspiracies which has flourished among vast segments of Americans.  The constant disinformation war emanating from the highest echelons of our government has left people confused, over-loaded with information, and unsure what to believe.  When this state occurs, there is room for propaganda to flourish.  The creation and dissemination of slick, new-age propaganda based off of disinformation originating, at times, directly from members of high-ranking institutions is a powerful weapon.

There have always been corrupt, morally bankrupt despots through history.  They have been able to trick people and repress the masses.  It's not the liar but the believers who enable this era. What's unique to the post-truth era we now inhabit are the mechanisms of warping reality through disinformation and "alternative facts".  Glistening, powerful misinformation transmitted through social media and the internet finds its viewers instantly with smartphones and tablets.  This misinformation has the potential to drastically and subconsciously shape one's worldview.  Not only do conspiracy theories trick people, they contribute to an environment of confusion in which people have a hard time knowing what is real or fake anymore.  

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Even more disturbing is the method of delivery.  Not only is new-age propaganda being used as a weapon, the way it finds its audience is no coincidence.  Our online data and behaviors are harvested, and we are in-turn targeted based on said information. Robert Mercer is a reclusive billionaire, and also a computer genius.  He is linked directly to Breitbart and Donald trump.  He donated $10 million to Breitbart, and was a large donor of trump's during the campaign.  He is also the biggest shareholder in Cambridge Analytica.  Steven Bannon - former executive chair of Breitbart and Chief Strategist to the POTUS - was a board member of the same company.  Cambridge Analytica is an off-shoot of SCL Group designed specifically for use in US elections.  SCL group has been involved in 25 election campaigns - mostly in the developing world - and is used to manipulate public opinion and political will.  The techniques used are referred to as 'psyops' (psychological operations) in the military realm.

Cambridge Analytica has engineered a profiling system based on general online data, facebook likes, and smartphone data.  In fact, Facebook likes alone can be used to gain insight into a user and target them psychologically, according to Das Magazine of Switzerland.  Cambridge Analytica employs "data enhancement and audience segmentation techniques" to provide "psychographic" analysis in order to gain a "deeper knowledge of the target audience."  This advanced technology allows one to directly target key voters and consumers with individualized propaganda based on online behaviors they aren't even aware are being collected.  It allows propagandists to control what information a user sees online.  They can microtarget demographics in key swing states or precincts during political campaigns, which in turn allows propaganda to reach it's audience immediately and deliver a narrative or conspiracy beneficial to the manipulator.

It's clear Donald trump's election victory was far from a bumbling accident; highly-advanced forces used complicated software and algorithms to reach and target individuals based on online behavior and interests.  Once the targets are identified, individualized propaganda is presented through smartphones to push narratives, influence perceptions of events and political figures, and manipulate public opinion.  This is a complex operation.

Bots - computer malware which perform basic functions on social media (sharing, liking, commenting) - push the propaganda at exponential rates to huge audiences online.  Thousands of fake accounts on Facebook and Twitter were made to emulate real Americans and proliferate misinformation and propaganda online.  When an actual person sees a comment from a fake account that looks entirely real, it reinforces the narrative being pushed.

Russia even paid 1,000 internet trolls to push propaganda and fake news online in swing states during the campaign.  Real people sat in a building all day and promoted pro-trump propaganda as well as anti-Hillary disinformation.  The combination of bots and paid-trolls amplifies the material and spreads it to millions of people. Misinformed and untethered from objective reality, disoriented citizens share and spread it further. Quite simply, there are incredibly powerful entities involved in the proliferation of propaganda.  The smartphone has become ubiquitous and allows transmission of weaponized media directly into the minds of billions of people all over the planet.

A resolution was passed through Congress which allows ISPs to harvest and sell your online data.  This will facilitate and accentuate the ability of Cambridge Analytica to microtarget users and control the narrative they are presented.  It will only exacerbate the problem.  The conspiracy theory era is undergirded by advanced machinations and algorithms.

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The incredible power of information cannot be understated.  It can find its way around the globe instantaneously.  Plato posited in his Allegory of the Cave humans were more likely to to believe shadows than pursue the light.  He observed how the majority of us weren't actually witnessing reality, only observing an illusion.  And not only do we enjoy these illusions, in the event we unshackled ourselves from the walls of our prison we wouldn't be able to handle staring down the light.  In fact, it would be too much to handle. We would run back to our caves to spread the gospel of the truth to our enslaved friends....and they would laugh in our faces.  They would ridicule us for daring to shed light upon the true nature of reality.  Ultimately, Plato believed we would shackle ourselves back to the wall of the cave, for it is easier to live following illusions than it is to confront the truth.

Perhaps this is why propaganda succeeds: humans cannot handle the truth.  Don't we need a system to structure our lives, to provide the semblance of meaning while obscuring reality?  Haven't our mundane lives of isolation and materials and work rendered us vulnerable to believing tall tales?  Doesn't a 9-5 work schedule leave you feeling unfulfilled, without meaning, longing for a higher purpose, or at least an incredible story to follow?  Maybe it's simply human nature to concoct wild tales to justify our worldviews or absolve ourselves for our shortcomings.

Over time, the screen has become smaller and moved closer to us.  From TV to the computer to the smartphone, size and distance have been reduced.  Eventually, internet and social media will be linked directly to our minds, for the merger between human and technology is predestined. Decreasingly is our worldview crafted by our five senses.  The screen is the portal through which we receive our information.

Like a fetus connected to its mother by an umbilical cord, so too are we connected to mother technology.  It is a reciprical relationship vital to the continuation of both our species.  I was struck by the symbolism of an action which has become common and banal. I saw a man hunched over a power outlet, grasping his smartphone which was charging through a USB cable attached to an adapter and plugged into the wall.  Do we not routinely find ourselves in this position?  Human beings require this connection, and it is ubiquitous, it is natural.  The umbilical cord is a lifeline for an unborn child and without it life would cease to exist.  Like the dependent entity inside its mother's womb, mankind is absolutely dependent upon technology and the internet, oftentimes tethered to it physically and almost always online.  It is only a matter of time until the fusion of man and machine is complete.

Technology and the internet are the yin to the yang that is humanity.  We depend on each other and our survival is linked.  If you ask a five year old to walk across a room, pick up a magazine, and bring it back to you they can do it easily, without issue.  Creating a machine to do this same task would cost millions and would be considered 'cutting-edge' technology.  Conversely, asking a five year old to divide 837323 by 42 would be nearly impossible, yet a machine as archaic as a calculator can instantly tell you the answer is 19,936.262.  Humans need to mine the raw materials and manually assemble the technology upon which humanity is completely dependent.  What would happen if the internet ceased to exist one day?  What if our lights didn't turn on?  Can you imagine living one day without electricity or running water?  How chaotic and damaging would it be if our cell phones stopped working overnight?

Like moths to a flame or mosquitoes to a luminescent purple light, people are drawn to the glowing rectangles in their pockets.  We are drawn to the light in ways similar to nature.  Like anything else, the universal law of duality applies here.  There has always been a battle between the light and the dark, good and evil.  Technology has the power to emancipate us in unimaginable ways, but also has the power to disorient and destroy.  It's clear the post-truth era should be seen as a seesaw teetering between two dimensions, an upcoming fork in the road.

We either use technology to connect ourselves in ways never before, as a tool to open doors into a universe of possibilities...or we descend into chaos and turmoil, utterly unsure what is real and what is fake, misinformed and easily tricked into forfeiting our rights and freedoms.  For the post-truth era is but a prologue to the next period of history, whatever route we may take. What course we take depends on the extent to which we are willing to resist.  The post-truth era has become an existential battle for the truth, the ability to define reality.  We cannot have Democracy without facts, evidence, and objective reasoning.  With this in mind we must fight for the truth.

-Adam Mantine

 

 

Adam Mantine1 Comment