"In a world of new conspiracism, we must always use facts to stop bad things from getting worse."
People are dying.
Democracies are crumbling.
Corporations are collapsing.
How did we get here? How did it get so complicated?
We lost the truth in a series of convenient lies. Lies perpetuated as fact by disorientated people who are frustrated and afraid. Lies sold as facts by desperate and manipulative leaders who have so much to gain.
Welcome to the new conspiracism — conspiracy without the theory.
It’s a world in which opinions are formed by believing and sharing baseless conspiracies. A world in which we look for meaning and allocate blame to rationalise a situation that’s difficult to accept.
A crisis feeds conspiracy. To some degree it’s an expected initial human reaction. Desperate for an explanation, we make one up. We’re not the first generation to ever experience this — the same was the case during the Russian Flu of 1889. Conspiracies theories were abundant and some almost identical to what’s circulating today. Including that recently installed electricity poles at the time were helping spread influenza.
The difference today is the internet — it serves as rocket fuel for theories and takes them global with a click.
With so much noise around us, we need to focus on the fundamentals. We need to know the facts. Facts matter more than opinions. If we’re going to get out of this alive and together, we need to be conscious and responsible about the information we consume and share.
Let’s define what we’re talking about.
Opinions In A Crisis — At What Cost A Life? COVID19 is not just a medical crisis. It’s a misinformation catastrophe.
From Presidents to family and friends, people pushing uninformed opinions is dangerous and irresponsible and costs lives. As governments push for mask wearing to reduce COVID19 infections, groups including Unmasking America have caused confusion on a subject matter we can’t risk being confused about.
Whilst Facebook just took action and shut down the group which has over 9,000 members — many others remain, pushing uninformed opinions based on rumours and theories shared on social media as facts. The result? Dangerous misinformation and untruths spread like a virus. People believe the misinformation they read. Conspiracy theories thrive.
The list goes on. We need to take action.
Whilst we can’t control the untruths spewed by leaders who have so much to gain [until we can vote them out], we can control what we say and what we choose to believe.
If you’re sharing and perpetuating conspiracy theories — stop it. Stop it now. You’re not a doctor or a health care professional . You have a responsibility to yourself, the people you love and your community to be responsible. Stop with the conspiracy theories and invest time in learning.
If you’re looking for facts and want to develop an informed opinion, seek out credible sources to build a foundation of knowledge. Look for leading medical authorities and a diverse range of reputable news outlets.
Knowledge is power remember.
Facts will help us navigate through this crisis — opinions won't.
Opinions In Politics — What Could Go Wrong? In the 2016 US Elections, I campaigned for the Democrats for six months and spent the last month in California making noise for Hillary.
In the countless conversations I had with many people [yes, even in California, a blue state], I was surprised at the number of voters planning to support Trump. I listened with patience trying to understand their perspective. Their pain points. Their challenges. Their views.
I heard views based on Fox News grabs, slogans and social media posts. No research. No facts. There was an absence of real knowledge or any compelling arguments. Instead, views moulded by vitriolic shows like Info Wars hosted by American shock jock Alex Jones and further cemented by QAnon, far right conspiracy theorists.
Whilst Twitter just banned 7,000 QAnon related accounts and restricted another 150,000 as part of a crackdown, more action is needed.
So, there I was face to face with the people who listened to all the offensive racist, bigoted shouting rants and opinions from these broadcasters and I was standing there looking at the result. It wasn’t pretty.
American President John F Kennedy described this type of scenario.
“The great enemy of truth is very often not the lie — deliberate, contrived and dishonest — but the myth persistent, persuasive and unrealistic. Too often we hold fast to the cliches of our forebearers. We subject all facts to a prefabricated set of interpretations,” Kennedy said.
“We enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.”
During the last days of the campaign, I was on the ground in Hollywood and I was dismayed with the
Trumpisms relayed to me verbatim by supporters on the streets.
Trumpsters crowded Hollywood Boulevard nearby the Mann Theatre every night making noise.
I approached them one night in attempt to connect and understand them. I was intrigued by their vehement defence of him.
“Why are you campaigning for Hillary?” they questioned me. “She should be locked up. Lock her up!” They ignited in a group chant and continued the rhetoric in such a strong and loud manner that I was rendered silent.
I was outnumbered. I was out voiced.
“Don’t believe the Democrats — fake news,” they continued.
“Drain the swamp.”
“Make America Great Again.”
They continued shouting conspiracies without the theory. Baseless arguments fuelled by such deep emotion and misled belief.
It was hard to argue stupid. We know what happened next.
There are no alternative facts.
Authors of A Lot of People Are Saying, Nancy L Rosenblum and Professor Russell Muirhead explained to The Economist why conspiracies have always been a part of life and politics.
“Conspiracy theory has always been part of political life. So long as those who exercise power are secretive and self-serving — and so long as democratic citizens value vigilance and even a degree of mistrust — it always will be. Some theories are far-fetched, but sometimes the dots and patterns that support a conspiracy theory prove the charge,” they said.
“What we’re seeing today is something different: conspiracy without the theory. Its proponents dispense with evidence and explanation. Their charges take the form of bare assertion: “The election is rigged!” Yet the accusation does not point to any evidence of fraud. Or take Pizzagate, the claim that Hillary Clinton is running a child sex-trafficking ring in a pizzeria in Washington, DC. It doesn’t connect to a single observable thing in the world — it’s sheer fabulation. And in America, this new conspiracism now comes directly from the president, who employs his office to impose his compromised sense of reality on the nation.”
Twitter + Trump = Dangerous conspiracism [that feeds his base and continually shocks the world]
Opinions — How To Move Forward Let’s take a collective deep breath and calm down.
Let’s support each other through this with logic, common sense and facts.
“Opinion is really the lowest form of human knowledge,” said American Academic Bill Bullard as part of a commencement address he was unable to deliver due to food poisoning [true story].
“It requires no accountability, no understanding. The highest form of knowledge according to George Eliot is empathy, for it requires us to suspend our egos and live in another’s world. It requires profound purpose larger than the self kind of understanding,” Bullard concluded.
We should yearn to learn from people who are knowledgeable in their area of expertise. We should ask questions and listen closely. Let’s not accept bite sized consumable opinions as facts. Let’s do a deep dive from credible sources to get the full story.
This requires effort and if we don’t do it consciously, we won’t do it at all. With all the social media noise — it’s getting harder to distinguish fact from fiction — that’s why we need to invest time and effort.
So, how do we move forward in this new world disorder? As President Kennedy said, we should seek the ‘discomfort of thought.’
Read, study, learn — understand the facts. Know what we’re talking about and call out the people who don’t know. Learn to separate opinions from facts and treat them accordingly.
What happens next matters most. So whether it’s an election or a pandemic, when we’re engaged in a conversation it’s our responsibility to be solid, clear and loud with the facts.
Differentiate opinions from facts — know the difference. Encourage those with unqualified opinions to read, review, learn and focus on what they need to know.
Facts matter more than opinions.
Learn the facts. You’ll feel more empowered to navigate through this.
Photo by Ana Flávia on Unsplash