Language, woke, pandemics & ecology: Snapshots vs the long view

Even if our culture often invites a snapshot view of things, a longer view can be far more informative.

LANGUAGE AND THE LONG VIEW

I remember my uncle would complain about changes to the language at family dinners.

Even as a teenager, it didn’t make sense to me. Language changes. It changes with each generation, and even decade by decade and year by year.

He has a snapshot view of language based on what he learned and was used to when he grew up. The generations that came before him would see his language as different and perhaps judge it as bad and wrong. And the generations after him will likely view his language as old-fashioned. That’s just how it is.

Our language today is the product of a language that has changed for not only centuries and millennia but over hundreds of thousands of years. I imagine even the ones who first used what we would think of as language were judged by the older generations. Why do they use these weird cryptic sounds instead of grunts and body language?

So when my uncle judged the language of young people today, and incremental changes to sounds and grammar, what would he use as a standard? What was, in his view, the correct language? Was it the one he grew up with, just because he happened to grow up with it? Does the world revolve around him and his generation? Or was it ten generations ago? A hundred? Did he want to return to a time before verbal language, when we used body language and other kinds of sounds?

For me, a long view makes more sense. It helps me be a little more informed, see things in perspective, and realize that language is supposed to change. People younger than me use a different language than me. Some would even pronounce my last name differently from how I do it. And that’s OK. It’s more than OK. That’s the nature of language. That’s how we have the language we have today. That’s how we have language in the first place.

WOKE AND THE LONG VIEW

I love woke. Why?

Because the intention behind woke – the wish for kindness and inclusivity – is remarkable in a historical context.

Many if not most cultures have not been that inclusive. Often, certain people are excluded or oppressed for things they cannot change: their ethnicity, color of skin, sexual orientation, caste or socioeconomic status, and so on. Woke seeks inclusivity and that’s remarkable and something to be applauded.

Of course, woke can take somewhat immature forms. That’s the same with everything and it doesn’t disqualify it as something remarkable and something to applaud and support.

So why do I love woke?

It’s not because of the more immature expressions of woke. I am happy to speak up against those and encourage more balanced approaches.

It’s because I take a long view. I know how unusual and remarkable woke is. Strong forces want to suppress it, now and historically. Many with privilege, including white privilege, feel threatened by such inclusivity.

It’s because I know that inclusivity helps all of us. It creates a more vibrant society and culture. It allows me to be more who I am, since I too am outside the norm in different ways. (As we all are.) It helps me be more myself and embrace more of myself.

Also, it’s because I know that the anti-woke attitudes and orientation originate on the far right, even if it’s sometimes adopted – somewhat naively and misguidedly in my view – by some of the left. Why do some on the left adopt those views? Is it because they don’t have a long perspective?

PANDEMICS AND THE LONG VIEW

When the pandemic happened, I was not surprised. I knew that another pandemic was due any time since they tend to come about once a century. (That may change now with continued human incursion into previously mostly intact ecosystems and changing climate. The first brings more human exposure to diseases previously limited to other species. A warming climate spreads previously tropical diseases to new areas.)

I was also not surprised by the pandemic measures implemented by governments around the world. Since I am familiar with epidemiology, I know what’s considered best practices in a pandemic: quarantine, limiting contact and exposure, vaccines, and so on. These are measures that have been shown to work historically. (Some went a little too far, like the Chinese government, and some didn’t do quite enough, like Trump and Bolsonaro.)

I was not surprised by the backlash to these from some. There will always be a backlash when the government implements restrictions, even if these are temporary and based on epidemiology. There are innumerable restrictions in our society that most people accept. (Laws against theft, killing, driving too fast, and so on.) Why do we accept these restrictions? Because most of them make sense and help society function better. When some reacted to the pandemic restrictions, I suspect it was largely because the restrictions were new. Many also seemed unfamiliar with epidemiology and common and effective responses to pandemics. They didn’t have the long view.

I was not surprised by the conspiracy theories that flourished in some subcultures. History shows that conspiracy theories flourish during any pandemic in just about any time and culture. That’s how people work. I assume it’s a way to deal with fear. Through conspiracy theories, some feel they have some kind of control, if only imaginary. (In reality, conspiracy theories distract from far more serious and urgent big-picture issues that we all know are happening, including global ecological overshoot.)

When it comes to vaccines, I also take a big picture and long view. We know from history and epidemiology that vaccines have had a huge and beneficial impact on our collective health in general. We also know that at an individual level, they occasionally lead to serious health problems and even death. That’s the case with all modern pharmaceutical medications. In rare cases, some individuals experience a strong reaction to a certain vaccine or medication. That’s to be expected and it’s widely known. That’s why I support vaccines in general, and why I am very selective in which ones I personally take and (often) don’t take. (Some anti-vaxxers seem to think – or pretend? – that this information is somehow hidden or not included in the equation when health authorities decide to approve or recommend certain vaccines or medications.)

ECOLOGY AND THE LONG VIEW

With nature, we also often operate on snapshots. This is called the shifting baseline syndrome.

We grow up with our ecosystem looking and functioning a certain way, and that becomes the baseline for us. We may not be aware of how much this ecosystem has changed due to human impact, and how far it is from a state not impacted by human activity.

For instance, as a kid I loved being in the forest near our house. To me, it was nature, it was wild. Later, I realized that it’s cut down regularly and the trees are replanted. That’s why the trees are all the same size. That’s why there is not more diversity and life there. This forest, like most forests in the world today, is very different from a more untouched old-growth forest. It’s close to a monoculture.

I remember the garden from childhood full of insects of all types. Badgers and hedgehogs. Swallows and many types of birds. Today, it’s very different. They’re is almost no life here. I imagine many young people don’t realize the change that happened over two or three decades. They see the absence of life as normal.

This is why it’s important to learn about how nature has changed over time, where we are, and in other places. Visualizing how it used to be and comparing it to how it is now can be a shock, and it’s a useful shock. It can encourage us to support or work on regeneration and rewilding, which benefits not only the wider ecosystem but also humanity and ourselves as individuals.

I make a practice out of imagining how nature used to be where I am (approximately), and also visualizing how it can be with some efforts into regeneration and rewilding. I do this in nature and rural areas, and also in towns and cities.

BENEFITS OF THE LONG VIEW

In all of these cases and many more, the long view helps me find a more sober, informed, and kind view.

In addition to the examples above, there is one that’s even closer to home. When I look at my own behavior, trauma, and so on, it helps to see it in terms of culture and evolution.

My trauma is not (just) mine. It comes from my parents. Much of it has likely been passed on through generations, in variations of the same essence. It’s shared, not just in my family but likely among many in my culture. The essence of it is likely shared by many around the world.

When I look at behavior patterns I may not be completely happy about, for instance the tendency for comfort eating, that’s not just from culture and family. The stage was set by evolution. I am biologically predisposed to like fatty and sweet food. In an environment where that was scarce, the ones who craved it were a little more likely to survive and have surviving offspring.

“Read more” to see what ChatGPT has to say about some of these topics.

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When progressives are seduced by misinformation

“If you think that something in the cow’s digestive process changes the climate, there is something seriously wrong with you”

A social media friend posted this quote. She is someone who seems to care deeply about people and nature and is generally progressive in terms of politics.

This brings up a few things for me.

WHY DID SHE POST IT?

Why did she post it? I assume she may be one of the progressives naively seduced by misinformation. This type of misinformation often originates on the far-right and is – more or less consciously – designed to undermine sane collective action. (Anti-woke is another example of a far-right bandwagon that some naive progressives seem happy to jump on.)

Maybe she wanted to seem smart or anti-establishment? Maybe she wanted to fuel and present a certain identity?

Maybe she knows someone with that attitude and she wants to join in with them?

WHOSE INTERESTS ARE YOU SPEAKING UP FOR?

Here are some questions that come up for me…

Did you consider where that information and attitude come from? (You may find it’s most popular on the far right.)

Did you check to see if there is any solid science behind it? Did you consider if it would hold up in a court of law? (It certainly would not because it’s not funded in science or reality.)

Did you consider that you may be wrong if you see it one way based on whatever, and tens of thousands of scientists from everywhere in the world – who have spent decades studying it – have a different view?

Did you consider who you are aligning yourself with? Did you consider whose interests you are speaking up for? (In this case, it’s the beef industry. In a broader sense, it’s anyone who think they benefit from preventing a shift into a more sustainable civilization.)

Did you consider what those attitudes lead to? (Distrust of science, undermining of sustainable changes.)

Do you value staying close to reality, or something else like belonging or fueling a certain identity? (The second is fine, and it’s good to be honest about it.)

Did you consider that these attitudes undermine what you appear to care deeply about? (Taking care of nature and animals.)

If you love nature, why do you promote attitudes not supported by science that undermine sane actions to protect nature?

LOOK AT MORE THAN ONE CONNECTION

When you look at the connections between two things, it’s good to look at more than one connection.

In this case, what are some of the connections between cows and climate change?

An obvious one is that the digestive process of cows (the need for grass) destroys the Amazon at a rapid pace and that hugely impacts our climate and all of us.

There are more than one billion cows in the world. How can that not significantly impact our climate? They need an enormous amount of grass and grain, which means cutting down large areas of forests and vegetation. This changes the local and regional climate. It creates a dryer and hotter climate. When this happens around the world, it inevitably changes our global climate.

You cannot leave that out.

THE SPECIFIC TOPIC

To address the narrow topic she likely referred to: Methane from cows and climate change.

One cow can produce 250-500 liters of methane a day. With more than a billion cows, that’s a huge amount of methane.

Methane is a greenhouse gas. It works like a greenhouse. It allows light through but not heat.

Light passes through glass / our atmosphere -> the energy of the light is converted to heat when it hits matter -> and that heat is then trapped in the greenhouse / our planet.

It obviously will impact our climate. It’s inevitable. It’s simple physics.

Our planet is small and the atmosphere is thin. It doesn’t take that much to significantly change our atmosphere, and with it our climate and all we know.

This is all simple. It’s what you learned in elementary school.

SANE ACTION

When it comes to cows, there is a sane approach:

(a) Reduce the number of cows in the world and (b) change the way they live and are fed.

Eating meat is hugely inefficient when it comes to land use. It’s far more efficient for us to eat lower on the food chain. It’s also more healthy for us. It helps the cows often living in terrible conditions. And it helps protect nature and our ecosystems.

It’s fine to have some cows, but it’s better – for them and us – if they live outdoors as much as possible, on land that’s managed well. (For instance, silvopasture.)

This is sane action whether or not there is climate change (there is), whether or not it’s human-created (it is), and whether or not methane from cows contributes to it (it does).

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Reflections on society, politics and nature – vol. 68

This is one in a series of posts with brief notes on society, politics, and nature. I sometimes include short personal notes as well. Click “read more” to see all the entries.

ONE OF THE FLAWS OF MANY CONSPIRACY THEORIES: OVERLOOKING THE OBVIOUS

Yes, it seems that many who are into conspiracy theories don’t know much about history or society. They seem to overlook the well-known and obvious, or they present it as if it weren’t universally known. (Likely because they didn’t know about it before so it looks new to them.) And they often overlook far more serious things than what they are focused on. For instance, they may think that the problem is some group of people or corporations, while the actual problem is in the system as a whole. The system that we all are part of. We all participate in it. We are all part of the problem. It’s not just someone else.

There is something real and well-known that’s far more serious than what just about any conspiracy theory is about, and that is our ecocidal and suicidal civilization. We have lived in global ecological overshoot for decades, and at some point, we’ll hit the end of the metaphorical savings account and it will all come crashing down. Nothing is more serious than that. It’s well-known and out in the open. Why not be focused on that instead?

PEACE -> LESS RELIGIOUS

I see some folks on social media posting this and implying or assuming that the directionality goes less religion -> peace. To me, that seems a bit simplistic. Getting rid of religion is not only impossible, but it’s very unlikely to bring more peace. Most conflicts that go along religious lines have little to do with religion and everything to do with ordinary politics and history. For instance, the conflicts in Northern Ireland are not about religion, it’s about the Irish wanting their country back from English occupiers, and they just happen to have different religions. Similarly, when you see Islamic extremist groups, it has little to do with religion and a lot to do with understandable desperation and anger due to the effects of Western imperialism. (I am sure there are some examples where religion is more at the core as well, but they are not so common and even there, it’s often really about politics and history.)

To me, the other directionality makes a lot more sense. Peace -> less religion. In more peaceful countries with better education, less poverty, and better social safety nets, there is less need for religion. People tend to be less religious because they don’t need it so much in their lives. They are doing fine without it.

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Conspiracy theories – why people get into them & a few more reflections

I see people getting caught up in things that – even if true – are typically far less important than what we know is happening in the world. We know our civilization is in the middle of a massive ecological crisis. We know our civilization is currently ecocidal and suicidal. We know we need a deep transformation to survive. So why choose to get caught up in something more peripheral?

I have written about conspiracy theories before and thought I would briefly revisit the topic.

WHY IS IT IMPORTANT?

Why have I taken time to write about conspiracy theories?

There are several reasons.

If a number of people are caught up in (poorly supported) conspiracy theories, it threatens our collective ability to make grounded and informed decisions.

Conspiracy theories generally distract us from far more important issues. What we know is going on in the world today – unraveling ecosystems, massive overuse of Earht’s resources, grotesque social inequalities, and so on – is far more important than what most conspiracy theories are about.

The phenomenon is interesting from historical, social, and psychological perspectives. It tells us something about how we function individually and collectively, including in times of crisis.

Analyzing conspiracy theories is a great way to learn history, psychology, valid reasoning, scientific methods, evaluating the solidity of data, and so on.

What I see in people, including those caught in conspiracy theories, mirrors something me. It mirrors dynamics I can find in myself. It won’t take the same form, but the same dynamics are inevitably here in me. It’s an opportunity for me to discover more about myself.

Questioning my judgments about conspiracy theorists helps me find clarity around those and similar thoughts, and find what’s more true for me. This helps me relate to myself, others, and conspiracy theories in the world in a more clear and effective way.

SOME EXAMPLES OF CONSPIRACY THEORIES

What are some of the conspiracy theories?

Here is just a small selection of the old, recent, or current ones:

Flat Earth. This ignores a huge amount of data that shows that the Earth is round, including people flying and sailing around the world, the curved horizon and things disappearing behind the horizon, the simple stick-and-shadow experiment of Eratosthenes that anyone can do for themselves, the shape of the shadow of Earth when it falls on the moon, the shape of all other large objects in space and what gravity inevitably does to large masses (make them round), and so on. It also ignores that a huge number of people will have to be in on the conspiracy, including pilots, sailors, astronomers, astronauts, and so on.

The Covid vaccine is designed to kill off most people in the world. It hasn’t happened yet, and there is no reason why it should.

Covid doesn’t exist. It’s a variation of a well-known type of virus. There is nothing about it very much out of the ordinary. Also, pandemics happen about once a century so this one was right on schedule. There was nothing surprising about a pandemic coming about this time.

The pandemic measures implemented by governments are designed to remove people’s freedoms and will not be reversed. These are common-sense pandemic measures that we know from history work. They are standard recommendations from epidemiology. There is nothing unusual or surprising about them. And there is absolutely no reason to assume they are anything but temporary. (Most if not all have already been removed.)

Climate change is not happening, or it’s not generated by human activities. What we see in the world today closely fits climate change models from the early 1970s. Nothing about it is surprising. The general physics is also simple: We collectively put a lot of gasses into the atmosphere that allow sunlight in, this light is converted to heat when it hits the Earth, and these gasses then trap that heat. That’s why they are called greenhouse gasses, it functions like a greenhouse.

The sexual allegations against Russel Brand are staged to discredit him since he speaks truth to power and is a danger to those in power. What he says is nothing new and nothing unique. It’s pretty banal and he is often missing the bigger picture. And no matter what, he is certainly no threat to the current system. There is no need to fabricate any allegations against him. Also, what happened was broadcast and captured on tape minutes after it happened. And fueling these kinds of conspiracy theories only makes it more difficult for women to speak up against sexual abuse, and it’s already more than difficult enough for them.

Vaccines are dangerous. This is perhaps not in itself a conspiracy theory but it’s often mixed in with them. Yes, of course, vaccines are dangerous. All medications are. Some bodies react strongly to vaccines, as they likely would to the actual virus, and they can get seriously ill or even die. Anybody who is minimally informed knows that. It’s a matter of weighing the risks and benefits and making up your own mind. Nobody is forcing you to do anything. It’s up to you to be informed and make the best choices for you.

The Covid-19 vaccine doesn’t work. Again, not exactly a conspiracy theory in itself but often mixed in with them. If you live in the uninformed illusion that vaccines always prevent a disease 100%, then I understand why you may see it that way. But in the real world, they definitely work. They prevent serious illness, which innumerable studies show. They protect the ones most at risk for serious illness and death.

Anti-woke views are similarly not a conspiracy theory in itself but are often mixed in with them. They come from the far-right and are adopted by some who generally have a left-wing or progressive orientation.

I know very well that any and all counter-arguments or counter-data to these conspiracy theories are expected by the ones into them and they have their own counter-counter arguments and counter-counter data. The question is, how solid is the logic? How solid is the data? Would it hold up in a court of law? If not, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s wrong, but it may be good to examine it more closely and perhaps hold it more lightly.

Of course, some conspiracy theories turn out to be true. When conspiracies have been revealed in the past, it’s been through the work of diligent reporters and historians. And they have been uncovered through finding a good amount of solid data that can be verified by anyone.

WHAT DO I SEE IN CONSPIRACY FOLKS?

What do I see in people caught in conspiracy theories? What are my judgments? What do I imagine is going on?

Here are some examples, and not all apply in all cases.

Some seem not very well informed about history. For instance, we know from history that times of collective crisis tend to fuel conspiracy theories. Pandemics inevitably lead to conspiracy theories. There is scapegoating and attempts to blame someone for the pandemic. There is denial – it’s not happening or it’s not as serious as people say. There is resistance to the common-sense measures implemented to reduce the impact of the pandemic. All of this is typical and predictable, and yet people repeat patterns from history without knowing that that’s what they are doing.

Some may go into conspiracy theories to feel better about themselves. They can tell themselves they know, while others don’t. They know something most others don’t. They see through the scam while others don’t. In this way, they can boost their self-esteem.

Some may prefer a simple answer over the complexity, unpredictability, and messiness of the world, even if that simple answer is a stressful story. They prefer to have someone to blame rather than admitting that a lot of problems are systemic and we are all part of it, or that life sometimes is just random.

Some may go into conspiracy theories because it fits their identity. They have created an identity for themselves as an outsider, against the mainstream, critical of power, and so on. Conspiracy theories fit into this, so they adopt them because they fit and reinforce their familiar identity. (Conspiracy theories become mainstream to them.)

Some may want to poke at the “elite”. Their main motivation is to go against the political, academic, and scientific community and get a reaction. That’s more important to them than reality and grounded arguments and data. Reactivity trumps reality. (They don’t bother doing the work to argue against the “elite” in a more grounded and solid way that actually could bring about more lasting change.)

Some may follow someone they trust. They may know and look up to someone, for instance, a media personality, teacher, or friend. That person goes into it. So they go into it too.

Some may have a desire to split apart communities. For whatever reason, they seek to split apart families, friend groups, organizations, and even whole countries. This may come from reactivity. It may be a strategic political reason. Or a combination.

Some may paint themselves into a corner, and find it difficult to back out. They may realize, at some point, some of the craziness of the conspiracy world, and they find it difficult to leave. They would have to leave a community. They would have to admit they allowed themselves to be duped. They would have to admit they based it on poor data and reasoning. They would lose a certain identity. And so on.

Some may not be very familiar with the dark side of how the world works. They take little pieces of information that are new to them and blow up their significance. They don’t see it in perspective and the bigger picture. For instance, corporations and commercial media are obviously in it for profit. That doesn’t mean they are part of some grand intentional conspiracy to mislead people. Biases and misleading people inevitably happen anyway for a variety of reasons.

Some want to blame individuals and organizations instead of looking at our systems. A lot of what’s happening in the world comes out of the way our systems are set up. There is no need for individuals and organizations to do anything intentionally to make it happen. For instance, our economic system was set up at a time when nature was – for all practical purposes – limitless. With our current numbers and technology, this system is inevitably destructive to nature and suicidal to ourselves. Similarly, our social system (politics, economy, education, etc.) is set up to largely preserve the status quo, including the privileges of the already privileged. That’s how any system works. No grand scheme is needed. (And all of it can and will change, that’s inevitable too.)

Some may wish for community. They find a community of like-minded conspiracy folks. They feel they belong. They feel seen and understood. (Even if the seeing and understanding are mostly just people reflecting conspiracy theories back to each other.) They have an outer enemy which reinforces and justifies their community and cohesion.

Some may go into conspiracy theories for entertainment, either consciously or because they are compelled to seek entertainment (and distraction from something in themselves or their life). They like the sense of discovery, drama, and excitement.

Some may feel their mind has been opened up to things outside of the “mainstream”, so they get into anything outside of what they see as mainstream. They don’t realize they have joined a new mainstream.

Some base their arguments on weak data without realizing how weak the data is. They latch onto outlier data and assume these are true while 99.9% of other research and data are not. They ignore that outlier data exist in all fields of science and that these are 99.9% of the time based on faulty data and interpretations. Or they find articles that sound and look scientific but are written by non-experts in the field and published on questionable websites and then pretend these are more solid than research and articles done by experts and published in reputable journals.

Some seem unfamiliar with valid reasoning and logical fallacies. They typically commit a series of well-known logical fallacies in their reasoning. For instance, some said that limited and common-sense pandemic measures (that we know work from history) are a violation of human rights. Human rights have nothing to do with wearing a mask or quarantining yourself if you are sick. You already accept a large number of guidelines and laws created to make our society work. These are just a few minor and temporary ones, so why get upset about them?

Some use pieces of information from science without understanding how little they understand. They pick up bits and take them as solid data or solid logic because they are not familiar with the bigger picture. They are not experts in the field. They don’t know how to examine data well. They don’t know how to detect fallacies in the arguments. They don’t examine the source well enough. They don’t have the maturity in the field to realize how little they know. In short, they assume they understand more about a field than experts who have devoted decades of their lives to it

Some may not be aware of the inconsistencies in their views. If they need their car repaired, they go to a car mechanic. If they need a kidney transplant, they go to a kidney specialist and surgeon. If they need a bridge designed and built, they go to an engineer. And yet, when it comes to whatever their conspiracy is about, they suddenly distrust a whole field of experts. They don’t trust climate scientists if they are into a climate change conspiracy. They don’t trust epidemiologists about pandemics. They don’t trust geographers (and many other fields of science) if they think the planet is flat.

Some may start with the conclusion. They fit whatever comes up into their existing conspiracy worldview. For instance, someone pointing out weaknesses in their logic is obviously brainwashed or part of the conspiracy.

Some seem to live in an apparently horrific worldview. For instance, how do you experience the world if you assume that normal airplane condensation trails are meant to poison people? (And that pilots, airlines, and so on are in on it.) Or if vaccines are meant to kill people? (And again, where a large number of people are in on it. In this case, diverse governments around the world, WHO, pharmaceutical companies, and perhaps even doctors and nurses.) What kind of world is that? What kind of view do you have on humans?

Some may not personally know the types of people they have conspiracy ideas about. If they knew more of these people, they would probably realize that they are people just like them, and most of them would never agree to be part of anything like it. It’s easy to project the shadow onto a mostly blank slate, and far more difficult if you actually know these kinds of people. (And these kinds of people are the normal kinds of people, like you.)

Some don’t realize the immense privilege they have, and that the privilege allows them to go into certain views and conspiracy theories. For example, we live in a society (relatively) free of many serious diseases because of vaccines. And the people currently holding anti-vaccine views benefit hugely from decades of vaccines without apparently realizing it.

Some may be caught up in blind shadow projections. They imagine terrible things in the world without recognizing it’s a projection. They don’t recognize the characteristics and dynamics in themselves. (Of course, it’s often in the world too, one way or another, although perhaps not exactly the way we imagine it.)

Some may use conspiracy theories as a distraction. They get into conspiracy theories because they are compelling and distracts them from their own discomfort and what they don’t like about their own life.

Some may use conspiracy theories to intentionally mislead others. Either because it gives them some personal satisfaction. Or as a more intentional strategy to confuse a social issue and create division between people. (Sowing doubt is often effective in preventing or slowing down collective action. We see that with climate change, as we saw it with the tobacco industry a few decades ago. Polarizing a population is an effective way to weaken a country, as we see with Russian troll farms targeting the US and Western democracies.)

Several conspiracy theories and certain related views (anti-vaccination, anti-pandemic measures, anti-woke, etc.) start at the far right and are then adopted by people with a traditional left-wing or progressive orientation. This is well known, and people still adopt these views as if they don’t know what’s going on. They don’t know that they, in many cases, are intentionally being duped and manipulated. (See “Everything you have been told is a lie!” Inside the wellness to fascism pipeline,
The dark side of wellness: the overlap between spiritual thinking and far-right conspiracies, and other articles on this topic.)

Finally and more to the point, I see people getting caught up in things that – even if true – are typically far less important than what we know is happening in the world. We know our civilization is in the middle of a massive ecological crisis. We know our civilization is currently ecocidal and suicidal. We know we need a deep transformation to survive. So why choose to get caught up in something more peripheral?

WHAT DOES THIS MIRROR IN ME?

The question then is, how does this mirror me? How and when do I do the same?

The short answer is that I can likely find all of this in how I see and relate to conspiracy folks

Just writing this list helps me recognize when I do something similar.

I have done more systematic inquiries, mostly using The Work of Byron Katie, and plan to do more.

Images: Created by me and Midjourney with the exception of the cartoon

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Own inquiry: He should be more balanced (he is trying to convince me of conspiracy theories)

I did this inquiry a couple of weeks ago, with a facilitator, and thought I would share some from it here. This is a very abbreviated version.

SITUATION & STATEMENT

Situation: An acquaintance turning a friendly check-in to a lecture on why the Earth is flat, why everyone who received the covid vaccine will die within two years, and so on. (Trying to proselytize about conspiracy theories to me.) This happened in an online chat maybe one and a half years ago.

Statement: He should be more balanced.

INQUIRY

  1. Is it true? Yes.
  2. Can you know for certain if it’s true? No.
  3. What happens, how do you react, when you have that thought?
    I notice I get reactive. I want him to go away. I want to speak from reactivity. When I notice the reactivity, I am concerned I’ll say something I’ll regret later. I know that I usually regret anything I do or say from reactivity. My chest, belly, shoulders, and jaw feel tight. I feel agitated. I get into fighting mode. I get defensive. I want to find arguments to shoot down his view.
  4. Who would you be, in that situation, without the thought? How would you be?
    I am curious. Receptive. Whole. I can see he wants to help and protect people and society. He is coming from a good place. I am able to say: “I understand you see it that way and that it’s important for you. I am not the right person for you to have this conversation with. And I am not interested right now, so I’ll go and do something else.”

TA1: He shouldn’t be more balanced. (Turnaround to the opposite.)
(a) There are likely infinite causes for him to have that view, and I can’t fight the whole universe. For me too, there are likely infinite causes for this human self to have the views I have. We are the same.
(b) It serves as a kind of feedback in society, and a correction or questioning of mainstream views. (The impulse to counter mainstream views serves as a correction and feedback, even if the content of the views may not always be founded in solid logic and research.)
(c) A part of me likes the fight and feeling right and righteous.
(d) My idea of balance is my idea. Maybe he is balanced in his own way. In any case, reality is free of shoulds and any ideas of balance or not.

TA2: He should be less balanced. (Turnaround to another opposite.)
(a) Maybe it helps him to complete a process in him. Often, impulses with a lot of energy behind them need to run their course before something else can come in.
(b) It would help me step back and not engage too much. I would go: “Wow, this is a little too much” which would help me return to my own sanity.

TA3:  I should be more balanced. (Turnaround to me.)
(a) It would be exciting for me to explore how to deal with the situation in a more balanced way. (Similar to what came up in question four.)
(b) It would help me speak and act from reactivity, and feel better about it after.
(c) It helps me see and discover more. I can find the genuine validity in more viewpoints, and a larger picture that holds more or all of them.
(d) It would help him feel more seen, understood, and supported. It could help him to relax.
(c) It would help me not burn bridges. Who knows, maybe that connection would be important later?
(d) It helps me set boundaries in a way that feels good and right to me.

TA4: He should be more balanced! (Turnaround to the same, the yay! turnaround. At that moment, how is it good for me that I have that thought?)
(a) It comes from a good intention in me. I wish for connection and understanding, and that’s easier if I see him as more balanced. Also, I wish receptivity for him, and an ability to explore a range of views, and that’s easier with some balance.

REFLECTIONS

I wrote this several days after doing the inquiry, and it’s difficult for me to get back into the same place. The session was one hour and went into a good deal of detail, and it did definitely shift something in me. For instance, it helped me get in a more visceral sense that most people into conspiracy theories come from a good place. They genuinely want what’s good for society and people.

I have done a series of inquiries over the last couple of months, after taking a break for some years. And it feels different to come back to it. It feels more fresh and more visceral. I notice that question number four now is what feels most powerful and transformative for me, while it used to be the turnarounds and question three. (They are still powerful, it’s just that number four seems to stand out more for me now.)

I did The Work of Byron Katie almost daily from the early 2000s to the mid-2010s, and then took a break from it while focusing more on sense field explorations (Kiloby Inquiry) and energy work (Vortex Healing), along with some prayer, ho’oponopno, tonglen, and mainly just noticing.

When grounding in reality = censorship and lack of fun

I am part of a Facebook group for one of the healing modalities I use.

A few days ago, one of the members announced he had set up a new group for the same modality and invited people to join. His reason for setting up the group was the “censorship and lack of fun” in the existing group.

This made me and others curious. We haven’t noticed any censorship or lack of fun. Any topic is allowed, and there are frequent posts with (often quite funny) memes and jokes.

That’s obviously not what he means. So what is he referring to? Why does he experience the group as censoring and not fun?

Most likely, because he has posted conspiracy theories, and those posts predictably receive comments disagreeing and pointing out logical fallacies and poor or non-existent data and documentation.

That’s one of the reasons I like the group. Many there are sober, grounded, and invested in reality. We want to stay as close to reality as possible, which means analyzing statements and claims and pointing out weaknesses in the logic and data.

For him, that may feel like censorship. And, of course, it isn’t. If you post something in a public forum, you have to expect people to disagree with you and pick apart your argument. Especially when your argument is not very strong and is not backed up by solid data.

It may also feel like “lack of fun”. For him, it may be fun to indulge in conspiracy theories without being hampered by more sober views.

For me, it’s important to point this out. What he calls censorship is just normal pushback when you make big claims without being able to back them up. And what he calls a lack of fun is what you experience when you want to indulge in speculation and meet a more sober approach.

It may seem tempting to create another group that has the rules you want it to have. (Or lack of rules.) But there will be challenges in that group too, and if you have loose or nonexistent rules, you may discover why well-functioning groups have clear rules. In addition, you risk splintering the community which comes with its own consequences. (As I have seen from being involved in community groups for a few decades.)

Personally, I am not in that group for “fun”. I am there to pick up tips about how to better use the healing modality and to ask questions if there is something I am unsure about. Censorship doesn’t really apply, and if I want fun I find it somewhere else.

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The more you know, the more you know how little you know

The Dunning-Kruger effect has been floating around on social media for a while so I assume many are familiar with it. Knowing a little can make you think you know a lot because you don’t know how little you know. Novices can become over-confident.

CONSPIRACY THEORIES

This especially came to the forefront during the recent pandemic. Many conspiracy theorists thought they knew a lot about vaccines and epidemiology. (Topics that take decades of study to become proficient in.) While they, in reality, based their views on random pieces of information from dubious sources, internet echo chambers, generally bad data and bad logic, and a lack of familiarity with the field.

Many also seemed unaware that they were repeating predictable patterns from history. During pandemics, these types of conspiracy theories flourish, likely because people are scared and try to find a sense of certainty. (Often through blame and assigning the cause to a group of people rather than the systems or the unpredictability and randomness of nature, and/or by denying what’s happening.)

AWAKENING, HEALING, AND SPIRITUAL PRACTICES

This also applies to healing, awakening, and spiritual practices.

I often see people who have been into it for a few years presenting themselves as if they have certain knowledge, while they in reality are just scratching the surface and approaching it in a relatively immature way.

Of course, some get a lot in a relatively short period of time. (I was probably among them.)

And their knowledge may be more than sufficient to help others along the way. We often just need to be one or two steps ahead of someone for our guidance and input to be helpful, especially if we approach it with some groundedness and a sense of our limits.

AS WE GET MORE EXPERIENCE

There is also something that happens as we mature into it.

In a conventional sense, we may know quite a bit and perhaps more than most. And we also learn and discover how much we don’t know.

We may be among the ones who have the most experience with something. And at the same time, we realize that our own experience and knowledge is a drop in the ocean compared to how much there is to discover and learn.

We tend to realize that we don’t know anything for certain.

We tend to be more aware of our biases and how our evolutionary history, our biology and psychology, our place in time and culture, and more all strongly color our perception.

We tend to know, from experience, that our view may be turned upside down and inside out at any time.

We tend to realize there is no finishing line and that there is always further to go.

This helps us hold it all more lightly, and that is often a sign of maturity.

WHY THIS EFFECT?

The peak of “mount stupid” is often marked by a sense of certainty.

We start to feel a sense of mastery of something and we tell ourselves we know and that we are experts.

There may be several reasons for this.

We may not yet have enough experience in that particular area to realize how little we know.

We may not be good enough in any area to have learned that there is always more to learn and that we are always, in a sense, just scratching the surface. We may not have this experience to generalize from.

And we may be motivated by wanting to compensate for a sense of lack. If we have a sense of lack and feel we are not good enough, it’s tempting to jump on a little skill or knowledge and use it to feel better about ourselves, and then overdo it.

WHEN WE AVOID THIS PITFALL

As suggested above, we can avoid or reduce the DK effect in different ways.

As we get more experience, we know how little we know, we know we don’t know anything for certain, and we hold it all more lightly.

If we have expertise in one field, we tend to know how little we know and that there is always further to go. So we find some humility grounded in reality, and can generalize this to other areas of life. If this is how it is in the field I happen to know about, it’s probably the same in other fields.

We may have this more naturally with us. Perhaps because of our upbringing and what we see from others, from our own experiences and insights, or because we don’t have much of a sense of lack or don’t use the DK strategy to compensate for it. We may naturally hold it all more lightly with an inherent knowing that we cannot know for certain.

LEARNING ABOUT THESE DYNAMICS

Another way to prevent or reduce the DK effect in our own life is to learn about it.

We learn about the effect, examine some typical expressions of it, and look at some specific examples. And that makes it easier to recognize when it happens to us.

We can also use our common sense. There is always more to learn and further to go. We don’t know anything for certain. It makes sense to hold it all more lightly. And it makes sense to have some respect for those who have spent decades in full-time study of something and hear what they have to say and learn from them.

Also, if we don’t know much about something, and our view is different from professionals in the field, then maybe it’s most likely that we are off on a wild goose chase?

A REVERSE DUNNING-KRUGER

A kind of reverse Dunning-Kruger effect can also happen.

We can be painfully aware of how little we know, to the point of not sharing it with the world.

The Dunning-Kruger effect is often rooted in a sense of lack. People compensate for a sense of lack by pretending – to themselves and others – they know and understand more than they do.

And the reverse Dunning-Kruger effect is also rooted in a sense of lack. It just plays itself out differently. We tell ourselves that what we know is not much, or that what we know is not worth much because we are not worth much, so we don’t share it or make much use of it.

This is something that’s familiar to me. And it’s one reason why I am mostly just sharing these things on an anonymous blog that just a few people look at.

Illustration: From Wikimedia Commons

Reflections on society, politics and nature – vol. 60

This is one in a series of posts with brief notes on society, politics, and nature. I sometimes include short personal notes as well. Click “read more” to see all the entries.

JUSTIFYING INJUSTICE WITH SPIRITUALITY

Religion and spirituality have always been used to justify injustice.

The most recent one I heard was from a wealthy woman in a country with many living in poverty. She justified her wealth, and her inaction and support of conservative politicians that wants to keep people in poverty, with karma. The poor are just reaping what they sowed in past lives. And she also added that they chose that life to learn something. So she doesn’t have to do anything to help or to righten the injustice.

To me, it’s very different. Yes, it’s possible there is something like karma that continues across lives, but it’s more about mind patterns, and if there is some kind of karma as she talked about, it would mean we all have infinite amounts of an infinite variety of karma.

And what it comes down it is how I relate to the lives of others. I don’t justify my own relative wealth and I certainly don’t justify poverty. I know it all comes from what we happen to be born into in an unjust system. And I do what I can to change that system, including by supporting policies and politicians working for that change.

ADOPTING THE MINDSET OF THE COLONIZERS

Some modern societies pat themselves on the back for giving indigenous people some autonomy and for honoring, to some degree, their culture.

That is, of course, a step in the right direction. But it’s good to keep the larger picture in mind.

The larger picture is that colonizers and the mainstream Western culture have oppressed the indigenous culture for centuries – through genocide and violence, and by banning their religion, forcing Christianity on them, separating children from parents, and so on.

Now, they have lost so much of their original culture that the little that’s left is not a threat anymore. So it costs almost nothing to allow them some autonomy and allow them to have the little that’s left of their culture.

The oppressed have adopted the mindset of the oppressor. They have internalized the Western culture sufficiently to no longer be a threat.

DISTRACTIONS AT A CRUCIAL TIME IN HUMAN HISTORY

We are in the middle of a huge ecological crisis that will – and already is – impacting the whole of humanity, and especially the ones with the least resources. This crisis is created by human systems that don’t take ecological realities into account, and this especially applies to our economic and related (production, transportation, etc.) systems. And the solution is either a profound systems change brought about by a collective realization of what’s going on and a will to change, or a massive die-off of humans along with many other species.

This is undeniable. We have know for decades that this would happen. We know this is without comparison the major issue of our time.

And yet, it’s not prioritized. Media have occasional stories on this topic, but don’t weave it into just about every single story as they should considering its importance. People still vote for politicians and policies that don’t prioritize this shift. Most continue to live their life as if nothing is happening. (Partly because they may now know what to do.)

And some actively chose distractions and try to get others involved in the same distractions. One of these meaningless distractions is conspiracy theories and anti-science views. Why on Earth spend time and energy on this what we KNOW is happening is far worse and more dramatic than any conspiracy theory? Why spend time on it when we know that the major challenges in our time – ecology, poverty, and so on – are systemic and the consequences of systems that made sense, to some extent, when they were created and now absolutely don’t anymore.

When I see this lack of action, and the active distractions by some, I have to admit I feel less encouraged. Will enough of us come to our senses in time? Will we identify the systemic causes and what needs to be done? Will we take the actions needed?

CONSPIRACY THEORIES AND LACK OF INTELLECTUAL HONESTY

It’s no surprise that the conspiracy world is riddled with a lack of intellectual honesty.

For instance, when it comes to the covid vaccine some take the inevitable examples of a few who have a serious reaction to the vaccine and use that to discredit the vaccine in general. We know some bodies react to certain vaccines strongly, that’s not a secret. This is about the bigger picture.

They pretend that vaccines should prevent illness and say they don’t work since they don’t, and dismiss the real reason for taking the vaccine which is to prevent serious illness and death. (Which it does well.)

They talk as if vaccines are mandatory while they obviously are not. You are perfectly free to not take them.

They pretend that since masks don’t work 100% it means we shouldn’t use them. And I am sure they too know perfectly well that here too, life is imperfect. Nobody says masks should work 100%. That’s not their purpose. Their purpose is to reduce viral load, which they do well and which is crucial for how severe the illness becomes. Also, they obviously reduce transmission from the inevitable spit that comes out of our mouths when we talk. And the good ones do prevent transmission well. (I use the best ones from 3M.)

They pretend that the common-sense pandemic measures taken by many democratic countries not only unduly restrict their freedom, but is a step in some conspiracy to keep restricting their freedom. To me, this seems childish to the point that I am baffled that adults would want to appear so stupid. We already live with a large number of restrictions and responsibilities that helps society function, and most people are happy with it because we are used to it and we know it works. And there is absolutely no reason to assume that this is a step in keeping restricting freedom. When it comes to pandemics, we know what works and what doesn’t from history and epidemiology. And the vast majority of the measures we see in democratic countries follow what we know works. And to me, responsibility is as or more important, especially in these types of situations. I am happy to change my life if that means the more vulnerable among us are more protected. This is not about me, it’s about the more vulnerable.

We know that harebrained conspiracy theories flourish in pandemics. So why repeat history? The conspiracy theorists in pandemics in the past now look pretty stupid to us. Or, rather, uninformed and scared and reacting to their fears by trying to find safety through conspiracy theories. (By going into these conspiracy theories, they feel they know, they have human scapegoats instead of living with the inherent unpredictability of life, they have something to distract themselves from their discomfort, and so on.) So why do these people willingly mimic the people of the past? Probably because their need to escape into a sense of knowing and having someone to blame is greater than their interest in intellectual honesty.

When we don’t know how little we know

If we are familiar with a topic, it’s often easy to recognize how little novices know or understand about it, and it’s easy to recognize their misconceptions and limitations.

And the more we are familiar with any topic, the more we tend to realize how little we know. And we tend to realize that this goes for any area of life or knowledge. We tend to find intellectual humility. (Of course, there are exceptions.)

None of us know what we don’t know. But we can know generally how little we know. We can find some intellectual humility and curiosity and even appreciation for the beauty of knowing little, no matter how much we know about something in a conventional sense.

The more mature and experienced we are, the more we tend to viscerally know how little we know.

As usual, there is a lot more to say about this.

For instance, what do I mean by knowing little? Don’t some know a lot about certain things? Yes, of course. We can have a lot of experience in certain fields and areas of life. And even then, what we think we know may not be entirely accurate. There is always more to be familiar with and learn. Our understanding will change with new insights and experiences, sometimes incrementally and sometimes dramatically. There may be other contexts to understand it within that makes as much or more sense, that will put everything in a new light, and may even turn everything upside-down and inside-out. In the bigger picture, what we are familiar with and think we know – as individuals and collectively – is a drop in the ocean compared to what there is to experience and understand. And we always think we know, we don’t actually know.

Where do I think I know a lot? Perhaps about this particular topic since it’s been of interest to me since my early teens. (Philosophy and methods of science.) Also, perhaps about the essence of awakening. (Although I am very aware that here, there is infinitely further to go and my sense of who and what I am can and likely will change dramatically as life continues to explore this through and as me.) And certainly any time I stress myself by holding any thought as true. (Stress is a sign my system holds certain thoughts and assumptions as true, and that these may not be consciously identified and certainly are not thoroughly investigated so I can find what’s already more true for me.)

What are some examples of where I tend to notice how little folks know about a topic, even if they may assume they know a lot? I sometimes notice it in news stories on topics I am relatively familiar with. I sometimes notice it in articles summarizing a field I am more familiar with than the author. I sometimes notice it in people who are exploring spirituality and awakening and have simplistic notions that betray a lack of experience or go into wishful or fearful thinking that reflects unexamined projections. I see it in some who reject the insights and expertise of professionals in a field and think they know more than them based on having read a few articles on the internet or listened to some podcasts.

Why is this important? It’s of vital importance since we need to be well informed to make good choices, both at an individual and collective level. If we are to deal with the huge challenges we are faced with these days – ecological crisis, mass migrations, pandemics, hunger, poverty – we need to be well informed and make good collective decisions. And we cannot do that if we are misled and assume we know more than people who have spent their life studying certain fields, or if a significant portion of the population misleads themselves in that way.

How do we balance knowing and knowing we don’t know? It’s not necessarily that difficult since they are two different things. We know more or less about certain topics and areas of life in a conventional sense, and this is based on data and logic that’s more or less solid and our assumptions work more or less well when tested out in practice. And no matter what, there is always more to know, our context for understanding may and probably will change, and we always think we know even when our assumptions are based on solid data and logic and work well in practice.

Are there not cases where experts are mistaken? Or intentionally mislead people? Yes, of course. Experts are human and make mistakes. Whole fields change over time and what’s taken as gospel truth today will be seen as old misconceptions a decade or century from now. And that doesn’t mean we need to wholesale reject the current content of science or mainstream views or assume we know more than experts just because we read or heard something. We need to know how little we know. In most cases, mainstream science is the best we have right now, even as we know the content of science changes with time.

Why do we sometimes like to think we know more than we do? It’s partly from a lack of experience and maturity. And there are likely also psychological dynamics at play. For instance, we may go into those ideas to compensate for a sense of lack or inferiority. The more at peace we are with ourselves, and the more psychologically healthy we are, the easier is for us to find peace with, genuinely appreciate, and live from the receptivity of not-knowing and knowing how little we know.

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Reflections on society, politics and nature – vol. 59

This is one in a series of posts with brief notes on society, politics, and nature. I sometimes include short personal notes as well. Click “read more” to see all the entries.

THE ZEAL AND IMMATURITY OF THE NEWLY CONVERTED I: CONSPIRACY THEORIES

When I see conspiracy theorists, I often see the zeal and immaturity of the newly converted.

Often, these are people who may have discovered some grains of truth that are public knowledge but they were not aware of before. And they go overboard with it without understanding much of the history, context, or how to use this information in a more nuanced and reasoned manner.

And then they want to educate others about it. They become self-appointed missionaries.

This is the zeal and immaturity of the newly converted.

It’s not wrong or bad. It’s understandable and most of us have done it at some point with something we discovered that was amazing or shocking to us. But it is good to have some perspective on it and know that it is the zeal of the newly converted, and there is a more mature way to relate to it.

THE ZEAL AND IMMATURITY OF THE NEWLY CONVERTED II: HEALING & SPIRITUAL PRACTICES

This can obviously also happen when we find healing modalities and approaches to spirituality that works for us.

In my case, I tend to not do it since I know there are lots of approaches out there and what works is often individual. But I do fall into this pattern in the reverse: I tend to not talk about things that are relevant, interesting, or even useful just because I don’t want to proselytize. (This also ties into a pattern of wanting to hide, even if what I hide could be interesting or useful to others.)

STORY ARCS

Stories, at least in our European-influenced world, have a certain format. We have a beginning, middle, and end. We get to know the characters and setting, there is struggle and conflict in some form, and then resolution. And so on.

Most stories in our mainstream culture follow this format.

And I understand why. These types of stories feel satisfying. They feel complete. And they mirror inner processes when they reach a kind of completion. (Which is always temporary and part of larger processes.)

At the same time, it gets boring when most stories have to tie up loose ends and reach a kind of resolution and completion. Why not leave some mystery? Why not leave it more open-ended?

This comes to mind since we are in the next-to-final season of Stranger Things. (Which I love.) I suspect the story is reaching a kind of resolution with more and more loose ends tied up. That’s fine. But I suspect I would have enjoyed it even more if they left more unresolved.

When they want to give the readers or audience a neat ending, the resolution is often a bit disappointing. Leaving it open leaves more room for imagination. And it’s also closer to real life where a lot is not tied up in this way.

CIVILIZED AND BARBARIANS

This is an old classic and sometimes worth repeating.

If we see ourselves as civilized and others as barbarians, it’s often so we can dehumanize them and do terrible things to them – rape, pillaging, genocide, theft of land and natural resources, and so on.

In that case, who are the real barbarians?

Calling someone a barbarian is clearly a projection. We call others barbarians to dehumanize them and justify injustice, and we are the ones acting in barbaric ways.

There are many synonyms for barbarians in this context: uncivilized, brutes, heathens, non-Christians, poor, foreigners, and so on.

Today, this is especially relevant to how we treat non-human beings. We call them animals, make a strong mental division between humans and animals, and justify treating them terribly through that mental division and by seeing them as less than us.

JUDGING A SYSTEM BASED ON THE LEAST FORTUNATE

This is another classic that is sometimes worth repeating.

How do we judge a society or political system?

I judge it based on how the least fortunate are treated and live.

If a system mainly works to the benefit of those who already have what they need, and leaves the rest to live in poverty and struggle, it has already failed.

And if it provides good safety nets and real opportunities for the least fortunate, then it has some merit.

LONG COVID

Like many others in the CFS world, I thought one of the worst consequences of the covid pandemic would be post-viral syndromes, now known as long covid.

I assume this will keep getting attention as we are more aware of its prevalence and seriousness.

There are several reasons to be cautious here. For instance, it seems that even with vaccines and having had covid and recovered, it’s still possible to get long covid from a new infection. And there is always a chance of new mutations that increases this risk.

Personally, I have been relatively lucky. I had covid in February (four months ago), and still have Covid brain – especially when it comes to memory. Of course, most recover fine. And I also know a couple who still struggle with relatively serious and debilitating after-effects of their covid infection at the beginning of the pandemic (almost two-and-a-half years ago).

BROTHARIAN?

I find that when I have bone broth regularly, I feel deeply nourished and my cravings in general are diminished or fall away. I have a much-reduced craving for sugar and often feel a slight aversion to it. And the same for meat.

It seems that my ideal diet may be bone broth with otherwise mostly vegetarian food.

What should I call this? Maybe brotharian?

JUNE 18, 2022

VOTING ON BEHALF OF THE NON-HUMAN SPECIES

There was just a presidential election where I am, and the one elected has the interest of the less privileged at heart.

For me, when I vote, I vote on behalf of the less privileged. (Who often vote against their own interests based on identity.) And I especially vote on behalf of non-human species and future generations.

Would it hold up in a court of law?

This is the question I ask myself when I am faced with a piece of information.

Would it hold up in a court of law?

If yes, I assign it a little more weight in a practical sense. It’s a bit more likely to be somewhat accurate.

If not, I put it on the “likely nonsense” shelf. Or, if I feel generous, the “maybe” shelf.

CONSPIRACY THEORIES AND UFO STORIES

Nearly all conspiracy theories fall short of this test. They are typically founded on bad logic and bad data, and would not hold up in any court of law.

The same goes for most UFO stories and similar. A few are supported by multiple sources of apparently solid data. (For instance, the Ariel school phenomenon and the US Navy UFO sightings in recent years.) And most would not hold up in a court of law.

WHAT ABOUT AWAKENING?

So what about awakening? Would it hold up in a court of law?

Maybe. And, in reality, no. And that’s not a bad thing.

Maybe, because it’s been reported by many people across times and cultures. If described logically and without relying on too much jargon, it makes sense to a receptive mind. And it’s something we all can check out for ourselves with some guidance. (Sometimes even relatively quickly, for instance using the Big Mind process or Headless experiments.)

And likely not. It’s not something that can be “proven” outside of logic and our own immediate noticing. It’s not something widely accepted in our culture, which also plays a role. And it hasn’t been thoroughly explored and described by science yet, although that can and maybe will happen in time.

In many ways, it’s a blessing that it likely wouldn’t hold up in court. It means we have to rely on our own explorations and check it out for ourselves. We cannot take anyone’s word for it.

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Discrediting a view by calling it mainstream

I see a trend in social media where some (often conspiracy theorists?) not only criticize others for taking a mainstream view. They take it a step further and try to discredit a view by calling it mainstream.

I am not particularly a fan of everything mainstream. Many of the major problems in our society are almost by definition mainstream. This includes an economic and other social systems that don’t take ecological realities into account, and where an ordinary life within this system inevitably is part of the problem and damages the natural systems we depend on for literally everything.

And yet, there are many problems inherent in disqualifying a view just because you see it as mainstream.

IT MUDDLES THE WATER

By doing so, you chose to focus on a label or characteristic of a view rather than the content. You bring attention away from the content of the argument. You resort to name-calling instead of presenting your case with solid logic and data.

YOU MAY HAVE YOUR OWN MAINSTREAM

Most of us have our own mainstream. We often take on the mainstream views in the subculture or subcultures we resonate and identify with.

If we criticize others for mainstream views, we may overlook that we have our own subculture that we get our information and views from. This is our own mainstream.

We are doing what we criticize others for.

In this case, when people try to discredit a view by calling it mainstream, they have adopted a rhetoric that’s mainstream in their own subculture.

HOW DO YOU DEFINE “MAINSTREAM”?

To me, it seems a fuzzy concept and it obviously depends on culture, time, and subculture.

What do you consider mainstream?

Is it anything you or your favorite subculture happen to disagree with?

What within the mainstream do you embrace? What do you reject? Why?

Do you consider Noam Chomsky mainstream? University professors and researchers who are deeply knowledgable of and critical of how society works, and yet reach different conclusions from you? Your friend who is a doctor and has a different and more informed view on vaccines than you?

THE DIVERSITY WITHIN THE MAINSTREAM

What some call “mainstream” is, in reality, wildly diverse.

It’s not at all one set of opinions and views that everyone takes on board. 

Within our culture – and within media, politics, and science – we find a range of different views and opinions. You typically don’t have to look far to find something that’s quite different from what may appear mainstream at first glance.

You may even find a different set of data than what most use. The question here is: How solid is this data? Would it hold up in court? Would it be the type of data a reputable reporter would rely on? Even in science, it’s often easy to find data that seems to go against the typical findings in the field. In 99.9% of the cases, it’s one of the inevitable occasional statistical outliers that cannot be replicated because there is nothing there. Or the result came from weak or bad methodology and cannot be replicated with better methodology.

WHAT YOU DISMISS AS MAINSTREAM MAY BE AN INFORMED VIEW

Many within the mainstream are good critical thinkers, have a solid knowledge of their field, have no illusions about how society works, may be well aware of the views and information you rely on, and still reach a different conclusion from you. 

What looks mainstream may well be founded on critical thinking, deep knowledge about a topic, and a long journey to arrive at that particular view. What looks mainstream is often not adopted wholesale or without discernment. 

HABITUAL REJECTION?

Do you habitually reject something just because you consider it mainstream?

If we habitually react to certain views by attaching to an opposing or contrarian view, there isn’t much discernment there. We are just reacting.

WHEN I DO THE SAME

When do I disqualify a view just because I consider I assume it fits a certain category?

I sometimes do it with conspiracy theories. 

If I disqualify a view just because it’s a conspiracy theory, I do the same. Although I have to admit many of these are recycled and familiar and I am aware of the flawed logic and flawed data it’s founded on. 

ADULT VS REBELLIOUS TEENAGER DYNAMIC

When people dismiss a view by referring to it as mainstream, it’s an obvious logical fallacy. 

For me, it feels a bit embarrassing to even write about this topic, although it does transfer to other areas that are more interesting. (For instance, where do I do the same?) 

Often, when people address these topics, it can sound like an annoying adult admonishing rebellious teenagers. And that’s perhaps not a coincidence. Some of the ones who habitually criticize something because it’s mainstream behave like rebellious teenagers. They seem to have recently discovered some of the many problems inherent in how our society works and react to them by rejecting whatever is mainstream without much discernment.

They act on reactivity. They lack a more nuanced understanding and approach. They often throw the baby out with the bathwater.

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Spiritual fantasies

How do we make sense of all the chaos and breakdown of the world as we have known it during the past few years?

First Covid, now the Ukrainian War, as economic issues, climate change and other issues lurk on the horizon.

Is there a larger context holding it all in a way that is meaningful and reassuring to our souls?

Here’s our take:

Humanity and the Earth are entering into a time of profound, existential transformation. 

For millennia, human souls have been gestating as third-dimensional, physical “caterpillars.”

But now we are entering into the chrysalis of transformation.

All that we have known of ourselves and our world is dissolving, so that a new species of 4th- and 5th-dimensional, luminous, divine human “butterflies” can emerge — Homo Luminous. 

We can find spiritual fantasies in all forms of spirituality.

The quote above is one example. We experience what humans have experienced throughout history: We have pandemics, war, a possible famine, and so on. It’s routine. And instead of recognizing it as routine, and using it to heal and mature, some go into spiritual fantasies to make sense of it and feel better about it.

SUMMARY

This article became quite long so I thought I would simplify it in this summary:

We rely on mental representations – mental images and words – to orient and function in the world. 

And they can be more or less accurate in a conventional sense. Sometimes, they correspond to something and are relatively accurate. And sometimes, we cannot find what they refer to or they may be inaccurate in other ways. 

Spiritual stories are also fantasies. Sometimes, they are relatively accurate, and sometimes what they refer to doesn’t exist or doesn’t exist as anything close to what our stories tell us. 

What I’ll write about here are the spiritual fantasies that we are invested in, for whatever reason. 

They are the ones I cannot verify for myself. They are typically about something “out there” (in others, the world, the future, the past). And I am invested in the stories in order to feel better about myself or the world, or sometimes to fuel my fears. (They have an element of wishful or fearful thinking). 

What are some examples of these spiritual fantasies? It can be about an afterlife. Some imagined future jump to a higher dimension. That awakening will give us a lasting desired state or solve all our human problems. Or anything else we label spiritual, cannot check for ourselves and are invested in to feel better. (Or to fuel our fears.) 

There is nothing inherently wrong with this. It’s natural. It’s necessary until it isn’t. Sometimes, what the stories refer to exists and sometimes it doesn’t. And these spiritual fantasies tend to become more “subtle” on an awakening path. They can take the form of mental representations saying we are consciousness, awakeness, oneness, love, capacity, and so on. (Which is not necessarily wrong, it’s just that investing in these mental representations is not what it’s about. These images and words are pointers, not important in themselves.) 

At the same time, there are inherent drawbacks to spiritual fantasies. Mainly, they distract us from what’s here. And what’s here is what we all deepest down long for. We long for noticing the wholeness and oneness we already are. And any idea of finding what we are looking for “out there” is a temporary distraction and misdirection. It’s a distraction from focusing on healing at a human level, and from noticing what we are.

We can also make use of these spiritual fantasies. 

We can use them as a mirror for what’s here. 

What’s the spiritual story? How is it to explore this story as I would a dream? How is it to see all the elements of the story as mirroring parts of me? How is it to dialog with these parts of me? Or take the role of these parts and see what they have to say and how they perceive me and the world? (Voice dialog.) 

When I turn the story to myself, can I find specific examples of how it’s true – in the past and now? Can I find in myself the characteristics and dynamics the story describes and points to? How is it to get to know it in myself and embrace it? 

We can use these spiritual stories to notice that they happen within our mental field. We can notice the mental images and words making up these fantasies, and we cannot find what they (literally) refer to outside of these images and words. 

We can investigate the story through different types of structured inquiries. 

For instance, what happens when I hold the story as true? Can I find genuine examples of how the reversals of the story (when I turn them to the opposite and to myself) are equally or more valid? (The Work of Byron Katie.) 

What do I find when I explore the mental images and words, and how the mind associates them with particular sensations in the body? How is it to notice that the sensations lend a sense of solidity and perhaps even truth to the stories, and the stories give a sense of meaning to the sensations? Does that peek behind the curtain remove some of the fascination and magic from these stories? (Living Inquiries.) 

How is it to find myself as capacity for these stories and what they may refer to? How is it to notice they – and what they may refer to – happens within and as what I am? Does this soften the fascination of these stories? (Headless experiments, Big Mind process.) 

We can use them to practice being more honest with ourselves. It’s a story. I cannot verify it. I notice a pull in me to invest in it to feel better. (Or to fuel my fears.) And all of that is created by my own mind.

See also Alejandra’s perceptive comment on this topic.  

IN MORE DETAIL

HOW DO WE RECOGNIZE A SPIRITUAL FANTASY?

To recognize a spiritual fantasy, I can ask myself:

Is it a story I label “spiritual” or associate with spirituality?

Can I check it for myself? Can I know for certain it’s true? Would it hold up in a court of law?

Am I invested in the story? Do I wish to hold onto the spiritual story to feel better about myself or the world? Or to fuel my fears?

If I am honest with myself, and the answer is yes, no, and yes, it’s very likely a spiritual fantasy.

In general, spiritual fantasies are: (a) Stories we label spiritual. (b) They are typically about something out there – in others or in the world, or in the future or past. They are out there in space or time. (c) They are about something hidden and something we cannot easily check out for ourselves. (d) And we are invested in the stories. They help us make sense of the world, and we invest our hopes or fears in them.

OPPORTUNITY FOR EXPLORATION

When this happens, it’s an opportunity for exploration. 

We can recognize the telltale signs of attaching to a story in order to take refuge in it. We defend it. Perhaps we proselytize and want others to know about the story and agree. We rehearse it in our mind. We seek out confirmation for it, even if the sources may be flimsy. We experience an emotional charge around the story. We create an identity around it. And so on. 

We can then explore this in several ways. 

We can identify the story and examine it. 

When I look, where do I find the story? Can I find it outside of my own mental representations and what others tell me? And where do I find what the story refers to? Can I find it anywhere? Can I hold it up and show it to someone? Can I take a photo of it?

Can I know for certain it’s true? What happens when I hold onto it as true? How am I in the world when I hold it as true? What’s the genuine validity in the reversals of the story? (The Work of Byron Katie.) 

What are the mental images and words making up the story? What are the physical sensations my mind associates with these images and words? What are the associations that come up? What do I find when I examine these mental representations and associated sensations? (Living Inquiries.) 

What do I hope to get out of holding onto the story?

What do I fear would happen if I didn’t hold onto the story? How is it to feel this fear? Thank it for protecting me? Recognize it comes from a desire to protect me and from love? Find love for it, as it is? Give it what it deeper down wants? (A sense of safety, being seen, support, love, etc.) 

Do I know that a story is a spiritual fantasy, but I still want to hold onto it? What am I afraid would happen if I don’t have it? What are my fearful stories? What do I find when I examine those stories? How is it to befriend the fear?

We can also use the stories more explicitly as a mirror. Can I find in myself what they point to? If I turn the story around to myself, can I find in myself here and now what the story says is out there? Can I find the characteristics and dynamics the story says is out there also in myself? Can I find specific examples here and now and in the past? How is it to get to know this side of me?

How is it to notice the story – and anything associated with it – happens within and as what I am? That my nature is capacity for it all? (Big Mind process, Headless experiments.)

In this way, we take any tendency to spiritual fantasies in ourselves and make use of them for exploration, healing, and a bit of maturing. 

WHAT ARE SOME EXAMPLES OF SPIRITUAL FANTASIES?

The quote above is one. It’s something we cannot check. It’s a form of wishful thinking. It’s unnecessary and doesn’t give us anything of substance. It’s a distraction. It looks like something some cling to in order to feel better about themselves and the world and keep some unpleasant feelings (fear) at bay. 

Any idea about an afterlife is another. This too is something we cannot check for ourselves while we are still alive. It’s something science hasn’t thoroughly examined yet. (Although there are some good efforts.) People use these stories to instill fear or hope in themselves or others. 

In Vortex Healing, it’s when we attach to the story that by taking these classes, we likely won’t have to incarnate again. How can I know? To me, it’s just a story someone told me. Again, some seem to hold onto this story in order to feel better about themself and their life. It’s a comforting promise of escape from a life they struggle with.

It can also be any ideology we attach to and label “spiritual”, for instance, veganism. We tell ourselves it’s going to save the world, and we attach to it to feel better about ourselves and the world and distract ourselves from a difficult discomfort. (I am not saying there isn’t a lot of good in veganism. I am all for eating low on the food chain and I am aware of the many benefits for our health, for the animals, and for Earth. I am just talking about what happens when we attach to it as an ideology, as a belief that’s going to save us or the world.) 

The conspiracy theories that circulate in the wellness and New Age world can be seen as spiritual fantasies. People go into them as a coping strategy, associate them – for whatever reason – with spirituality, and choose these particular fantasies because others in their subculture do the same. 

It can also be fantasies about awakening. For instance, that awakening is a state free of discomfort. That it will magically solve all our problems. And so on. 

In general, we may tell ourselves we know that things are a certain way. Yes, my stories and maps may seem relatively accurate and they work to some extent. But…. How can I know for certain? How can I know I am not missing something important? How can I know I won’t see it differently tomorrow or in ten years with more experience and new information? How can I know it won’t look very different in a different context? One I am not familiar with now, but would make more sense to me if I knew it? Any time I tell myself I know for certain something I label spiritual, I engage in a spiritual fantasy. 

WHAT IS NOT A (SPIRITUAL) FANTASY?

When I write here, I try to avoid any form of spiritual fantasy. I aim to make it practical and something people can check out for themselves. Of course, I am not always entirely successful.

The only thing that’s free from spiritual fantasies is direct noticing. What’s here in my sense fields? In sensations? Sight? Sound? Smell? Taste? Movement? Mental representations? 

Anything found in the mental representations – mental images and words – is, in essence, a fantasy. It’s created by the mind. These can be more or less accurate in a conventional sense. The more accurate ones help us orient and function in the world. And the rest are more obvious fantasies. 

Even when we explore our own nature, it’s often mixed in with some spiritual fantasies. We may partly notice directly our nature. (Find ourselves as capacity for the world as it appears to us, and what any content of experience happens within and as.) And there is often an overlay of mental representations of whatever we expect to find. (Oneness, love, capacity, and so on.) Sometimes, we may look at a mental representation and assume it’s a more direct noticing of what it points to. Sometimes, we are conscious of the mental representations and use them as pointers for a more direct noticing. And often, it may be a bit of both. 

THE USE OF SPIRITUAL FANTASIES

Spiritual fantasies are useful in a couple of different ways, as mentioned above. 

They can serve as a distraction from our own discomfort. This is useful whenever we are not ready for meeting and exploring it more directly. We may not be in the right place in our life. We may not have the tools and skills. We may not have the support for doing it. We are not ready until we are. And the spiritual fantasies are necessary for us until they aren’t. 

And they can serve as a pointer to something in us to explore and get to know. As just about anything else, we can use them more intentionally to find healing, wholeness, and notice our nature. 

SPIRITUAL FANTASIES WITH AND WITHOUT A CHARGE

I should mention that spiritual fantasies can come with or without a charge, or with different types of charges. 

I can imagine the spaghetti monster from the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster (Pastafarianism). For me, this has a slight charge and is associated with some physical sensations. But the charge doesn’t tell me that it’s true. The charge just tells me I find it funny and I love the intention behind that particular church. 

I can imagine an apple as a spiritual deity. For me, this has no charge. It’s clearly not true. I recognize it as just a fantasy. And many spiritual ideas are like this too, for me. For instance: God is a blue boy. (Krishna movement.) 

And if I consciously believed something, for instance, that “I” somehow will continue after this life, it would have a charge telling me that it’s true. My mind creates the mental representation of it, it creates certain physical sensations in my body through tensing up certain muscles, it associates the two, and it uses the physical sensations to give a charge to the mental representations and tells itself the sensations means its true. (Of course, when we recognize this and notice it directly, it seems slightly ridiculous and the fantasy tends to lose its sense of reality.) 

HOLDING FANTASIES AS TRUE 

Spiritual fantasies may be more or less accurate in a conventional sense. They may refer to something in existence that’s actually there in some way.

What this article is about, is more the dynamic of (a) creating a story, (b) calling it spiritual, and (c) investing in it in order to feel more comfortable or safe. That’s something that’s worth investigating no matter how accurate or not a story is in a conventional sense. 

And it’s really about any story we hold as true. Ultimately, any story is a fantasy whether it’s accurate or not in a conventional sense. It’s created by the mind to make sense of ourselves, the world, and existence. The stories are inherently different in kind from what they point to, they are simplifications, they cannot hold any full, final or absolute truth, and they can be more or less accurate in a conventional sense. And the dynamics of holding a story as true is more or less the same no matter what the story is about.

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Reflections on society, politics and nature – vol. 56

This is one in a series of posts with brief notes on society, politics, and nature. I sometimes include short personal notes as well. Click “read more” to see all the entries.

THE COMPLEXITIES OF THE WORLD

If we put pressure on someone to get a particular result, they will typically push back – either right away or after a while – and we end up with the opposite outcome.

This is something most of us learn early in life, although Putin may not have gotten the memo.

For instance, due to Putin’s invasion, the public support for NATO membership in Sweden and Finland has gone from weak (20% in Finland) to a clear majority. That shift happened in less than a week and it’s not likely to revert any time soon.

A predictable and almost inevitable consequence of Putin’s current aggression towards a neighboring country is that more of Russia’s neighbors will want to join the EU and NATO for their own protection.

Putin has not only created a situation where more countries are far more motivated to join NATO for their own protection. His invasion of Ukraine has also created the perfect window of opportunity for more countries to join. The Russian military is caught up in a bungled invasion and does not have the capacity to invade any other country in the period between they start a membership process and they actually become members. 

This is also why former Soviet republics have joined NATO since the fall of the Soviet Union. They know that Russia has a history of invading and occupying their neighbors and wants to protect themselves. They do the sane thing. (And, yes, I know there are lots of problems with NATO but that’s separate from this and another discussion.)

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Reflections on society, politics and nature – vol. 55

This is one in a series of posts with brief notes on society, politics, and nature. I sometimes include short personal notes as well. Click “read more” to see all the entries.

OPINIONS AND WHAT THEY ARE ROOTED IN

Some people like to pretend that their opinions about something are equal to the views of others.

One person’s opinion is equally valid as someone else’s, right?

Wrong. This is obviously wrong even on the surface.

Yes, we have views, orientations, and opinions. Yes, none of us can know for certain our view is absolutely true. Yes, our views are always provisional and up for revision.

And no, they are not equal.

They are more or less rooted in solid data and theory.

The more it’s rooted in solid data and theory, and the more it has been examined and tested and found to hold up, the more weight a view holds.

For instance, one outlier academic study that goes against innumerable solid studies does not hold much weight. It can be interesting. It may be worth looking into it further and doing more research. And, in itself, it’s not worth much.

We also know this from daily life. If a group of people sees and touch a tree, and one insists that the tree is not there, it’s pretty safe to assume we can disregard the outlier view. There is always a very small chance the person is right, one way or another, but for practical purposes, we can set it aside.

This is basic common sense that some seem to disregard these days.

QUESTIONING THE MAINSTREAM VIEW?

Someone on social media wrote: I love Joe Rogan because the dares to question the mainstream view.

My response is: Anyone can – and often do – question the mainstream view. And if it’s rooted in bad logic and bad data, as is the case of Joe Rogan, then it’s not worth much. It’s just more noise and distraction.

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A single swallow does not a summer make

Some folks who are against vaccines, mask-wearing, and so on refer to research papers to support their view.

PAPERS WRITTEN BY PEOPLE WITH NO CREDENTIALS IN THE FIELD

Often, these are not studies. They are theoretical papers written by folks with no credentials in the field. The only thing they have going for them is that they are presented in a format that makes them look scientific at first glance. And this trick sometimes works. If you are not used to reading and evaluating scientific papers, and you don’t have much knowledge about the field, you can be misled to think this is actually serious science.

SINGLE SWALLOW STUDIES

Occasionally, these are single studies that find something different from what was found in innumerable other studies. These studies go against the mainstream. It’s always like that in science. There will always be outliers. And, often, they are outliers because they use a small sample size or otherwise weak or bad methodology. For these outliers to have any value, their findings need to be replicated by several other studies using solid methods. A single swallow does not a summer make.

HOW SCIENCE WORKS

Medical science relies on solid methodology and replication. One or a few studies finding something doesn’t mean much. It’s only when a large number of independent researchers find the same or similar results, using methods other cannot find a serious fault with, that something is taken more seriously. And even then, it’s provisional since future research may find something else.

We cannot cherry pick from outlier studies to support our view. At most, it can be interesting information to hold very lightly. It’s clearly not anything to base our views or life choices on.

WHEN WE CHOSE BAD INFORMATION

In one sense, it’s understandable if people are misled by papers that look serious but aren’t, or take a single study and say “this is how it is and everything else is wrong”. They want something to be true and cling to any straw that can help them support it.

In another sense, it shows a lack of commitment to reality. They know they are not experts in the field. They know they are not used to reading or relating to these types of papers. They know innumerable other studies show something else. They know the view among people with solid credentials in the field is different. And yet they pretend they know the outlier view is true. They promote it to others. And they use it to promote irresponsible behavior. That is inexcusable.

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Reflections on society, politics and nature – vol. 54

This is one in a series of posts with brief notes on society, politics, and nature. I sometimes include short personal notes as well. Click “read more” to see all the entries.

WHY DO PEOPLE IN THE WELLNESS WORLD SO EASILY MISLEAD THEMSELVES?

Quite a few people in the wellness world buy into anti-pandemic measures views and conspiracy theories in general.

Why? Why do they seem so gullible?

I suspect it may be connected with several things.

They may not have a very solid education. They may not be trained in the history of science, logical fallacies, media literacy, and so on.

They may be a bit naive about the world. They may not previously have known about the many flaws inherent in just about anything humans do. And they don’t have a more nuanced and mature view which leads to discernment and knowing that we don’t always have to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

They may have an outsider identity and they may be suspicious of the mainstream. So they automatically gravitate to any view opposed to the mainstream medical views.

They have found their own “alternative mainstream” and absorb the views held in that subculture. They want to belong. They want to assume they got it.

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Trauma & being against pandemic measures & conspiracy theories

The results showed that the more trauma people had experienced in childhood, the more likely they were to mistrust NHS Covid-19 information, to feel unfairly restricted by the government and to support the end of mandatory face masks.

– Covid vaccine hesitancy could be linked to childhood trauma, research finds, The Guardian, February 1, 2022

I have long suspected this connection, and have written about it in previous articles.

ANTI-PANDEMIC MEASURES AND CONSPIRACY THEORIES

Not everyone who criticises the pandemic measures is into conspiracy theories. Some rely on good data, take a reasonable and informed approach, and chose to not get vaccinated and so on, for whatever reason.

And from what I have seen, it does seem that many who are against the pandemic measures do it out of reactivity and their reasoning is rooted in bad logic and bad data and in some form of unsupported conspiracy theory. This is the group I’ll focus on below.

INDIVIDUALS VS GROUPS

It doesn’t mean that every single person opposed to the measures has a lot of trauma in their system. And it certainly doesn’t mean that everyone with trauma goes into these views.

At a group level, research suggests this tendency. And at an individual level, there is a lot of variation.

TRAUMA AND CONSPIRACY THEORIES

Several studies have found connections between trauma and conspiracy theories. (Here is one of several.)

We all deal with trauma, emotional pain, and discomfort in different ways. We can face it head-on and work on it. We can try to make it go away. Or, most commonly, we distract ourselves from it.

And one way we can distract ourselves from it is by going into ideologies. And one type of ideology is conspiracy theories.

For some people, conspiracy theories is the perfect distraction. The pandemic has given more people time to go down rabbit holes on the internet and getting into echo chambers. Conspiracy theories can be exciting since we uncover hidden information. It has good guys and bad guys. It’s global and epic. We know something others don’t. It has a lot of drama. And we can create more drama by going into conflicts with friends and family about it.

In short, it has everything for us to get completely absorbed into it and the drama in it, which creates the perfect distraction from our own pain.

HISTORIC PERSPECTIVE

When we look at history, we see that conspiracy theories tend to flourish during pandemics and other collectively challenging times. People are scared and react to that fear by distrusting authorities and trying to find someone to blame.

The conspiracy theories we see today follow the pattern we see from history. History repeats itself, which seems to be missed by many who are into conspiracy theories these days.

We also know that conspiracy theorists from history tend to see themselves as outsiders, ignored, and relatively powerless. It’s not a stretch to imagine that many of these were traumatized from a challenging life and conditions created by an unjust social system. Their reaction is understandable and misguided, and distracts from the real changes needed to change a system that only works for some.

TRAUMA BEHAVIOR & CONSPIRACY THEORIES

What is trauma behavior?

When we experience strong emotional pain or discomfort, we find ways to deal with it.

In general, we have two options. We may meet it, befriend it, find peace with it, heal our relationship with it, invite in healing for the issue, and so on. We may try to distract ourselves from it or make it go away. Or we shift between both.

If we try to distract ourselves from it, we tend to do it in a slightly obsessive way, whether we chose food, sex, entertainment, work, exercise, drugs, nature, spirituality, ideologies, or something else.

And if we try to make it go away, that too can take on a slightly obsessive flavor, whether we try to make it go away through healing, spirituality, or something else.

It seems that for some, conspiracy theories is the perfect distraction from emotional pain.

They may have an outsider identity, and conspiracy theories fits their outsider identity. They may have a victim identity, and conspiracy theories feed into their victim identity. They may get caught up in the entertainment and excitement of discovering new and previously hidden things. They may get to fuel their image of themselves as people on the side of the good and against some evil conspiracy. They may get to feel smart. They get caught up in the drama of the conspiracy theories, and the drama between those into conspiracy theories and those who are not into them. And so on. And all of this serves as a perfect distraction.

PERSONAL OBSERVATION

As mentioned, I have long suspected the trauma-conspiracy theory connection.

Why?

One reason is what I mentioned above. We all deal with our pain, trauma, and discomfort in different ways. And one way is to get into ideologies and things like conspiracy theories.

I also see typical trauma behavior among many who are into conspiracy theories. They seem reactive. Defensive. Procetylizing. Wanting others to understand and agree. Feel like and outsider. Go into a victim position. Become obsessive about it. Use bad logic and bad data to support their views. Resort to name calling. Act like a somewhat immature or even damaged child or teenager. And so on.

What do I base this on?

Partly, it comes from working on my own trauma and emotional pain, and seeing the many ways I have dealt with it. I have done, and sometimes do, what I see in them.

Partly, it’s from history and historical patterns repeating themselves.

Partly, it’s from current research on trauma and conspiracy theories.

And partly, it’s from having worked as a trauma therapists and seeing a lot of the many ways people deal with trauma.

BEING DISCERNING IN HOW TO USE THIS INFORMATION

It’s important to do solid research on these connections, and that research is still in its infancy.

It’s also important to know how to use, and how NOT to use, this information.

We can use it when we discuss anti-pandemic views and conspiracy theories at a group level. We can use it as yet another argument for trauma-informed schools and institutions in general, and working to prevent and heal trauma.

And when it comes to discussing specifics – around vaccines, masks, and so on – it’s better to stay on topic and avoid using it against someone. (In that context, it’s an ad hominem argument).

ADDITIONAL REFLECTIONS….

This is more related to the bigger picture of conspiracy theories.

THE SEED OF TRUTH IN CONSPIRACY THEORIES

There is a seed of truth in many conspiracy theories. Some have a strong reaction to vaccines and get seriously ill or even die. (This is their own body’s reaction to the vaccine, and some react to the virus in a similar way.) The medical industry is in it for the money, not primarily to help people. The multinational corporations have a way too strong influence on policies and some media.

Most conspiracy theories take these seeds of truth to the extreme without supporting it in good data and without too much nuance and maturity.

In rare cases, conspiracy theories are true. When these have been revealed through history, it’s typically because of the work of journalists, historians, or even government agencies. Not because of some people on YouTube or a podcast.

And, in general, the problems we see in the world today are systemic. They are a natural consequence of the system we have. They don’t require or depend on some secret and sinister conspiracy of certain people or groups. (Although, of course, it is in the short-term interest of some groups that the current systemic problems continue.)

“I AM NOT A CONSPIRACY THEORIST, YOU ARE IDIOTS”

I saw someone posting this on social media, apparently in all seriousness.

Of course, from the perspective of conspiracy theorists, what I write here is nonsense.

They are not conspiracy theorists. They have just uncovered the truth.

It’s the rest of us who have bought into the mainstream narrative.

In fairness, from their own perspective, their reactions make sense. They get frustrated, angry, defensive, and reactive. Not because they are caught up in trauma but because they have uncovered a terrible truth that most are oblivious to.

THE PEACE IN TRUTH

When we are very honest with ourselves, we tend to find peace.

What would that look like for me?

Of course, I cannot know anything for certain. For all I know, what these people are saying is true.

And yet, it’s not very likely.

The mRNA vaccine seems relatively safe based on twenty years of testing and research, what we see in the world so far, and knowing how it works. Vaccines reduce the risk of infection, which in term reduces the rate of transmission. And vaccines reduce the risk of hospitalization and death. And, of course, it’s possible we’ll see more problems with the vaccine down the road. That’s always possible with any medication.

Masks definitely work in reducing the risk of transmission from droplets. They often reduce the viral load when someone gets infected, and that makes a big difference. And research show they are effective in reducing transmission.

Some folks refer to single studies showing something different from the mainstream view. There will always be outliers. That’s statistics. For the results to have any value, it needs to be replicated several times – by reputable researchers using solid methodology. A single outlier, in itself, means nothing.

And when it comes to the more grand conspiracy theories, is it really likely that a large and very diverse group of people around the world – with widely different political views and orientations –would be in on it?

I cannot know for certain. And that doesn’t mean that I cannot know with a relatively high degree of certainty in a conventional sense, especially when it’s based on history, science, and logic.

For me, this is the most accurate and honest.

What would be more honest for them? I cannot know, of course. But I assume it may be that they too cannot know for certain. And perhaps, somewhere, they know their data and logic doesn’t always hold up.

When I come from reactivity and defensiveness, it’s because I am holding onto a story that I know is not true the way I pretend it is. I assume it’s the same for them. They know they cannot know, and they may suspect their logic and data are flimsy, so they get reactive and defensive when they see their views as threatened.

MATURING OUT OF IT?

To me, conspiracy theorists often appear without too much nuance and maturity, especially when they have the zeal of the newly converted.

So will they mature out of it?

I am not sure.

Some will if they are open to it feel they have the space to do.

And some may not. They may have built an identity and community around conspiracy theoris. They may have burnt intellectual and social bridges. They may feel too much backed into a corner by the reaction of family and friends. And if they have specific predictions that don’t come true, they may go into explanations that fit their existing worldview.

SUMMARY

This is a topic that’s both relatively simple and complex.

The pandemic-related conspiracy theories we see today follow what we have seen in other pandemics. They follow a historic pattern and were predictable even before the pandemic happened.

The people who get into these conspiracy theories tend to have an outsider identity, sometimes a victim identity, and may have more-than-average trauma in their system.

There are often seeds of truth in conspiracy theories, and these seeds are typically more connected to systemic problems than any intentional or coordinated conspiracy.

Knowing about the trauma connection is important at a social level, and it reinforces the need for a more trauma-informed society and institutions, and a better system for helping people with their pain and trauma. Mainly, it reminds us of the need for deep systemic changes.

When discussing these issues, it’s most helpful to stay on the topic and avoid ad hominem arguments.

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Pandemic-related conspiracy theories: Why do we repeat history?

From history, we know that pandemics and times of crises, in general, tend to fuel a lot of conspiracy theories. And from the many pandemics in the past, we know some of how this played itself out and what type of conspiracy theories flourished.

In general, it seems that people get scared, don’t trust authorities, and make up their own stories about what’s going on – which often involves blaming certain people or groups. And the people who get into these conspiracy theories are often the ones who already have an outsider identity, feel left out from the mainstream and/or the elite, and feel generally powerless.

In hindsight, these conspiracy theories seem a bit silly and misguided. It’s clearly something scared people engaged in to make sense of a confusing situation.

Knowing this, why do some repeat history? Why do they engage in the same types of conspiracy theories that some did during past pandemics?

Why do they, knowing that their views will likely seem equally silly and misguided?

One answer is that this is a natural expression of some dynamics in the collective and individual psychology.

Another answer is that these people likely don’t know much history. If they did, I imagine they would hesitate to engage in the same type of conspiracy theories we know from history.

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Do people really believe the more extreme conspiracy theories?

Of course, we never really believe any story. Somewhere in us is more sanity. We know we cannot know anything for certain. We know what’s happening when we hold a story as true. We latch onto the story and pretend – to ourselves and others – it’s true in order to find a sense of safety.

That aside, and in a more conventional sense, do people really believe conspiracy theories? And especially the more extreme ones?

I am sure there are individual differences. And I suspect many don’t actually really, honestly, believe them.

They hold onto them more as a form of reactivity. It may be more an expression of pain and a kind of tantrum.

To test this, I have offered some who hold more extreme conspiracy theory views a bet. For instance, you say that the vaccine is intended to kill off people. Within how many years? And how many? Would you be willing to take a bet, where you set the conditions for whether it goes one way or the other? If this does happen, I give you $10,000 (and put it in my testament in case I die before). If it doesn’t, you give me $10,000.

So far, nobody has taken me up on it. And that tells me they may not really believe it.

Somewhere, they know they cannot know. Somewhere, they know it’s likely nonsense.

Somewhere, they know it’s more an expression of reactivity.

Somewhere, they may even know it’s a bit immature.

And all of this mirrors me, of course. I do all of this too. Not with conspiracy theories, but anytime I hold a story as the final, or full, or absolute truth. Or any time a part of me holds a story as true, which happens more often and sometimes without me consciously noticing.

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The body reacts to the vaccine as it does to the virus

There are many arguments from vaccine skeptics and anti-vaccine folks that are baffling to me.

Among these is the possible side effects of the vaccine.

We know serious reactions to a vaccine happen, although it’s rare. Just about everyone already accepts far greater risks in daily life, like getting into a car. So why not also accept this very small risk when our individual and collective benefits are so great?

Equally important is that the serious side effects of vaccines typically reflect what can happen when we have the real infection. It comes from the body’s reaction to the vaccine and the virus.

The vaccine mimics the virus. The body’s reaction to the vaccine mimics its reaction to the virus. And in rare cases, for whatever reason, that reaction can be severe.

So if you are afraid of the body’s reaction to the vaccine, shouldn’t you be as or more scared of how the body may react to the actual virus?

Reflections on society, politics and nature – vol. 53

This is one in a series of posts with brief notes on society, politics, and nature. I sometimes include short personal notes as well. Click “read more” to see all the entries.

THE TRUTH IN THE SEEDS OF CONSPIRACY THEORIES

There are several relatively obvious truths in the seed of many conspiracy theories.

The medical industry is in it for profit. (Obviously, since we live in a capitalist world and generating profit for the shareholders is the main aim of any business.) The medical industry is corrupt. (Of course, since they are powerful and in it for the profit.) Multinational corporations influence and partly control politicians and media. (Again, obviously, since they can and it helps them in generating profit.) When power is removed from people, and the bottom-up vs top-down balance is too far in the latter direction, it’s obviously not good. (And it happens because there is always a shift between the two.) The current system is rigged to benefit the already powerful. (It was set up that way, so it obviously works that way.)

All of this is obvious. It’s what any moderately informed young teenager knows.

I easily agree with all of this and more. I have known about it for almost my whole life, apart from the very first years.

And yet, I don’t agree with the conclusions of conspiracy theorists.

I know all of this and more, and I still agree with the pandemic measures. They are common-sense measures that history shows works. They are what epidemiologists have studied and found works for decades. They are not something anyone made up now.

I know this and more, and see it as systemic and not something that requires sinister scheming from any one group of people.

WILLING TO SACRIFICE OTHERS TO BE A REBELLIOUS TEENAGER

When I see people who have anti-mask and anti-vaccination views, I often see people willing to sacrifice others in order to make a point. They are willing to sacrifice others so they can be rebellious teenagers.

Yes, I agree with a lot of their reasons. (The ones grounded in reality, not the conspiracy theories). And I don’t agree at all with their conclusion.

I know the medical industry is corrupt. Media is owned by multinational corporations. Politicians are influenced by the interests of big money. Even a moderately well-informed teenager knows that.

At the same time, I know the history of pandemics. I know what history shows us is working and not working in terms of limiting the impact of pandemics. I know something about epidemiology. I know that the pandemic measures we see today are not at all invented now. They are well tested, make sense, and are aimed at limiting the impact of the pandemics. I know that in a time of crisis, the government – which is not “other” but us collectively – needs to take stronger control.

So even knowing all the things I know about the system we live within, I chose to wear a mask and take the vaccine and do the other things. I do it because it’s the responsible thing to do. I do it to protect the most vulnerable among us. I do it because not doing it is not going to help the situation in any way at all.

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Brief notes on healing and awakening and occasional personal things – vol. 33

This is one in a series of posts with brief notes on healing, awakening, and personal things. These are more spontaneous and less comprehensive than the regular articles. Some may be made into a regular article in time.

THE ESSENCE OF FREUD

Freud is often seen as old-fashioned and perhaps even outdated by many today.

And yet, the essence of Freud’s ideas is still very much valid and informative.

A lot of who we are and what we operate from is not conscious to us. What we are aware of is just the very tip of the iceberg.

We tend to internalize cultural ideas and shoulds, and use these to guide ourselves even if it sometimes goes against our authenticity and what we feel we more genuinely want. (Over ego, or “superego” in the weird terminology of the English translators of Freud.)

We disown parts of who we are (our psyche), and see them as “other” or “it”. Often, we see this in others and won’t admit to it in ourselves because it doesn’t fit our familiar or desired image of ourselves. (The “it” or “id”.)

It can be helpful to bring some of this into consciousness. It can help us relate to it more consciously. It can help us find more peace with it. And, if we allow, it can invite in healing of certain parts of us.

THE BIGGER PICTURE ON CONFLICTS AND DISAGREEMENTS

There is a bigger picture for conflicts and disagreements, and just about any social interactions.

And it’s the usual things I write about here.

At a human level, others are a mirror for me. I can take any story I have about them, turn it around to myself, and find specific and genuine examples of how it’s true. Usually, I can find examples from the moment I have the thought about others, and I can find examples from my past.

As what I am in my own first-person experience, I can capacity for the world as it appears to me. I am capacity for those human beings and this human being and anything else happening. It’s all happening within and as what I am. In my own first-person experience, there is no fundamental I or Other anywhere.

We can also look at this from the view of the universe, evolution, and society.

At a social level, we need different views, orientations, and life experiences. We need all of it to get a bigger picture of ourselves, how we can respond to challenges, and where we want to go as a society and humanity.

In the context of evolution, we find the same. We are different because it helps our collective survival. It has in the past. And, if we are smart, it will do so now.

From the view of the universe, all of this is existence and the universe exploring, expressing, and experiencing itself in always new ways. All the different human experiences and views and orientations are the universe, locally, having these experiences, views, and orientations.

From the view of the divine, it’s all the play of the divine. It’s the divine expressing, exploring, and experiencing itself in all of these ways. It’s all new. It’s fresh. It’s different.

THE PANDEMIC REVEALS IRRATIONALITY

The pandemic reveals irrational thinking in different ways.

Here are a couple of examples I have seen a few times:

Some read articles in less-than-reputable online journals, written by people with zero credentials in the field, and take it as solid information. Some do the same with one or a few people who have credentials, while the vast majority of other experts have a different view. (In any field, there will be individuals with different views than the mainstream. That’s normal and to be expected, and it doesn’t mean they are right. Most of the time, they are not.)

Some say “it’s a violation of my human rights” on the topic of vaccines and mask-wearing. Nobody is forcing you to take the vaccine, so it’s clearly not a violation of human rights. The ones enforcing vaccine passports are in their full right to do so. And wearing a mask is literally the least we can do and doesn’t harm anyone.

Civilization is built on rules and privileges. We already accept a lot of laws and rules, including wearing a seat belt, not driving drunk, and so on. So why not accept masks and vaccines? There is no categorical difference between what you already accept and what you now refuse. The only difference is that you are used to most of it and take it for granted, and the vaccine and masks are new to you so you chose to focus on those.

OUTSIDER IDENTITY

I suspect one of the dynamics behind the wellness world’s antipathy towards science, vaccines, and mask-wearing is an outsider identity. Many folks interested in alternative things see themselves as outsiders, and opposing common-sense measures adopted by the mainstream fit their outsider identity.

I have been in this alternative / wellness world my whole adult life, so this is my mainstream. When I follow the mainstream measures in these areas, it’s not only because it’s science, common sense, and the best course of action when we look at history and epidemiology. It’s also because this, for me, fits my outsider identity.

If my mainstream is the alternative world, following the mainstream makes me an outsider. And it’s comfortable since I too feel some comfort with the outsider identity.

AGREE WITH MANY OF THE POINTS AND NOT THE CONCLUSION

There are many essential points made by people in the anti-science world (anti-vaccines, anti-mask-wearing) and conspiracy world I agree with.

A lot of it is obvious: Corporations are all about profits, not helping people. Corporations often have a very strong influence on policies. Science is often used by corporations for profits, and sometimes in ways that are clearly not ethical. Media is often owned by the same corporations. Some have very serious reactions to vaccines. Vaccines are not 100% reliable in terms of preventing infection or serious illness. And so on.

All of that is valid and what any reasonably well-informed young teenager knows.

And yet, I don’t agree with the conclusions.

For me, the problems and solutions are systemic.

It’s not about secret groups of people. It’s not about some grand plan. What we are seeing in the world today is a natural consequence of the systems we function within. You and I and any average person living within these systems are part of the problem just because we function within these systems.

And it’s not about throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Yes, there are serious problems in our corporate-run world. And that doesn’t mean we need to throw it all out. Vaccines and mask-wearing, and other common-sense pandemic measures are still very valuable. They still help prevent hospitals from overflowing, they still prevent some illness and death, they still prevent some getting long-term effects of the infection, and so on.

What we need is a deep systemic change. We need an economic system that takes ecological realities into account. We need systems that are aimed at supporting all of life and not just a segment of the human population.

That’s not easy. It won’t happen until people recognize the systemic problems and recognize systems change as a solution. And that may never happen.

That said, conspiracy theories and anti-science attitudes are certainly not the solution. It’s as much part of the problem as neoliberal capitalism and the way our corporate-run world functions today.

It’s a misidentification of the problem. It’s a distraction from the far more serious problems in the world today we all already agree on. (Ecological crisis, poverty, too much corporate influence, and so on.) And it’s a distraction from the systemic nature of these problems and their solution.

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European in Latin America during the pandemic

I am currently in a small village in Latin America and notice to my dismay that most of the other Europeans here have bought into the harebrained anti-mask, anti-vaccine ideas related to the pandemic.

It means that Europeans tend to have a deservedly bad reputation among the locals. And it means I feel ashamed of being European here.

No matter what my personal opinion on mask-wearing and vaccines is, I would always use a mask and take the vaccine out of respect for the country I am in and the people living here. It’s the least I can do in terms of being a respectful visitor. It’s the least I can do to be a good citizen, no matter where I am.

Certain things are far more important than my own personal idiosyncratic views and opinions on things like mask-wearing, vaccines, and the pandemic in general. And one of these is to be respectful to others and a responsible citizen in whatever society I find myself in.

In general, people who are against mask-wearing and vaccines seem to not care about the illness and suffering of others, including the many who will get long-covid (the pandemic within and after this pandemic), and the many healthcare workers who sacrifice an enormous amount to care for the sick.

They prioritize immature reactivity and their own opinions over the life and well-being of others.

Personally, if there is even the smallest chance that wearing a mask in public and taking the vaccine would prevent long-covid for even one person, or the indirect death of someone, or overflowing hospitals and overworked healthcare workers, I would do it. Even if it’s slightly uncomfortable (masks), or a slight risk (vaccine), or it goes against my personal preferences. Those considerations pale in comparison to what using a mask and taking the vaccine can do for others.

This is all about the precautionary principle, not for me but for others and society as a whole.

As an aside: Many of the Europeans here have some kind of hippie orientation. And although it’s early life-centered, it also tends to be quite immature in many areas of life. It’s a view that often prioritizes oneself over others and society, and one’s own harebrained opinions over those of people who have devoted their lives to study and work within a particular field. It’s an orientation that often lacks nuance and throws the baby out with the bathwater. It’s an orientation less open to the validity in any orientation and view, and is often unable to include it all into an overall and more mature orientation.

Just because an article looks and sounds scientific doesn’t make it so

A friend on social media referred to scientific-sounding articles going against the consensus view on vaccines, mask-wearing, and other pandemic-related topics.

Here is my response:

In any area of science, there are published articles that don’t fit the mainstream view. In most cases, the findings are not grounded in reality. This is just part of science, and – as I said – you’ll find this in any science and on just about any topic. Just because something is published doesn’t make it valid or something that reflects reality.

Especially these days, there are lots of online journals that, at first glance, look serious and scientific. They use the language and format of reputable publications. But the content is very weak and would likely never be published in serious and respected journals.

Personally, I have seen several articles on pandemic-related topics, published in these types of journals, that are almost laughably bad in terms of data and logic. And, often, the articles are written by people with some sort of credentials, just not in the area they are writing about. Which means they have no credentials at all. They have close to zero credibility.

For the findings and views to be taken seriously, it has to be published in reputable journals, the findings need to be replicated by independent researchers several times, there has to be a sound theory behind it, and competing theories and approaches have to be thoroughly disproven.

Note: The image is a screenshot of one of many articles that look and sound scientific and serious, but is published in a less-than-reputable journal and the authors have zero credentials in the field.

The conspiracy that’s actually here when we take conspiracy theories as true

Sometimes, there is a conventional conspiracy behind conspiracy theories. Someone – an individual or organization – creates and/or promotes a certain conspiracy theory, and does so because they get something out of it, whether it’s emotionally, financially, politically, or something else.

And always, if we believe a conspiracy theory, there is a kind of conspiracy inherent in it.

Our mind conspires to hold the conspiracy theory ideas as true and to perceive and live as if it’s true.

The mind tells itself it’s true and makes it feel true for itself. It works to perceive as if it’s true in a myriad ways, including through believing supporting stories and denying falsifying stories. And it lives, as best as it can, as if it’s true.

At a more finely grained level, it associates certain sensations in the body with the stories so the sensations lend a sense of substance and reality to the stories, and the stories give a sense of meaning to the sensations.

This is one of the ironies of conspiracy theories. If we hold them as true, we are our own victim of our own conspiracy to hold them as true.

And that goes for any story we hold as true, whether partially or as an absolute, full, or final truth. Our mind conspires to hold it as true, to make it appear true for itself, and to perceive and live as if it’s true.

Of course, in a conventional sense, there may be some validity in any story or not. And it’s always good to take it a step further. We can examine the story, see what happens if we hold it as true, and find what’s already more true for us. We can examine how our mind creates its own experience of it as true if it does. And we can see how it is to hold the story far more lightly, whatever the story is.

Reflections on society, politics and nature – vol. 52

This is one in a series of posts with brief notes on society, politics, and nature. I sometimes include short personal notes as well. Click “read more” to see all the entries.

THE BIGGER PICTURE ON CONSPIRACY THEORIES

There is a relatively obvious (?) bigger picture on conspiracy theories.

And that is the life, the universe, existence, the divine seems to wish to express, explore, and experience itself in always new ways and in as many ways possible.

All beings live in their own world, and often these worlds intersect to some degree. Especially within the same species and community, beings tend to experience the world in similar ways.

In our age of online echo chambers, a huge amount of smaller global communities are formed. Some of these are formed around a shared passion for something within culture or nature. Some are learning communities. And some are conspiracy communities.

Conspiracy theories are one of many ways life or the divine explores, expresses, and experiences itself.

It’s part of the diversity of perception and mental guidelines for life within humanity right now.

It doesn’t mean the views are grounded in reality. It doesn’t mean they are logically very sound. And it doesn’t mean these folks are not sometimes a danger to democracy.

But it does mean it’s all happening within a bigger picture.

PUBLISHED SCIENCE ARTICLES – ON VACCINES, MASKS, THE PANDEMIC ETC.

A friend on social media referred to very weak articles published in less than reputable journals online.

Here is my response:

In any area of science, there are published articles that don’t fit the mainstream view. In most cases, the findings are not grounded in reality. This is just part of science, and – as I said – you’ll find this in any science and on just about any topic. Just because something is published doesn’t make it valid or something that reflects reality.

Especially these days, there are lots of online journals that, at first glance, look serious and scientific. They use the language and format of reputable publications. But the content is very weak and would likely never be published in serious and respected journals.

Personally, I have seen several articles on pandemic-related topics, published in these types of journals, that are almost laughably bad in terms of data and logic. And, often, the articles are written by people with some sort of credentials, just not in the area they are writing about. Which means they have no credentials at all. They have close to zero credibility.

For the findings and views to be taken seriously, it has to be published in reputable journals, the findings have to be replicated several times, there has to be a sound theory behind it, and competing theories and approaches have to be thoroughly disproven.

This is science 101 and I assume just about anyone learns about this in school.

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Reflections on society, politics and nature – vol. 51

This is one in a series of posts with brief notes on society, politics, and nature. I sometimes include short personal notes as well. Click “read more” to see all the entries.

FREEDOM & RESPONSIBILITY

Some countries require proof of vaccine for entering public spaces like restaurants and movie theaters. In response, some vaccine skeptics say: “I am in control over my own body. Nobody can tell me I can’t do certain things just because I chose to be unvaccinated. It’s a violation of human rights.”

To me, it’s a weak and partly nonsensical argument.

We live in a society, and in a society, we have certain freedoms and responsibilities. That’s required for society to work reasonably well for as many as possible.

We already accept a lot of restrictions to our freedom. We accept that we shouldn’t drive drunk. Kill people. Steal. Damage other people’s property. And so on.

Requiring a proof of vaccine is just one of many restrictions. It’s temporary. And it clearly helps society as a whole, including us as individuals.

We know that those vaccinated are less likely to be infected and seriously ill. That means they are less likely to pass it on to others, and they are less likely to end up in a hospital, take up valuable spaces there, and cost society money. The more people are vaccinated, the sooner we can get through the pandemic, and the less risk there is of new and more transmittable mutations.

For me, requiring proof of vaccine for travel, entry to restaurants, and so on, is among the least we can do to limit the impact of the pandemic.

Personally, I am very happy to accept a limited (very small) personal risk by taking the vaccine, if this can help society as a whole. It’s the least I can do.

Note: It’s almost not worth mentioning, but it’s not a “human right” to enter restaurants and movie theaters. And it’s not a “violation of my body” if someone requires me to be vaccinated to enter those places.

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Brandon Bradford: It’s easy to make everything into a conspiracy when you don’t know how anything works

Yes, and for some, it’s easier to blame some evil people rather than acknowledge that the problems we are facing today are systemic and we are all part of these systems so our daily life is part of the problem.

When I look at popular conspiracy theories, I typically see a fundamental misunderstanding of science and how society works. I see paranoia. I see a wish to find someone to blame. I see people being misled by trolls. I see people reacting to their own discomfort and unhappiness by going into entertaining, intriguing, scary, simplistic, and unsubstantiated stories about how the world works.

Unless they are actively trolling, which some conspiracy theorists are, they have a good heart and think they have discovered something of importance to humans. They see themselves as on the side of the good, some evil people on the side of evil, and the rest of us as sheep accepting what we are told.

I see a lot of projections that make a grounded conversation difficult. They project what’s happening in them to others. That tends to create an equal and opposite reaction from others towards them. And all of that tends to kick up a lot of dust which makes a real dialog challenging.

Existing in alternate realities

Yes, these days with internet echo chambers, conspiracy theories, more radical politicizing of science, and so on, it’s very obvious that we exist in different realities.

It’s always that way. We filter and experience reality based on our assumptions, which are more or less strong, more or less conscious, and more or less examined. And this creates a reality that is more or less similar to those around us.

Before the internet, we typically had to spend time with people in our physical world to create a very different reality from mainstream society, and that limited how often that happened and to what extent it deviated from the mainstream. These days, it’s easy to find online subgroups of people with any type of view on just about anything, sometimes created by trolls, and that makes radicalization and polarization of views far easier and it can happen faster and to a more extreme extent than before.

I suspect this is also happening because the internet is relatively new, and the current scale of trolling and intentionally created and promoted conspiracy theories are equally new, so our collective immune system for these types of viruses hasn’t been developed yet. It may be that in some years, more people are more conscious of the dynamics, signs, and red flags, and they are a little more resistant to manipulation.

There are some possible upsides to this.

As mentioned, more people may over time be more conscious of these social dynamics and a little more mature in how they relate to echo chambers, conspiracy theories, and so on.

More of us may be more conscious, in general, of how our worldviews and assumptions are formed by our culture and different subcultures, and how they sometimes tie into – and are fueled by – our own hangups and wounding.

And some of us may use this as an opportunity to explore this in even more detail, through different forms of inquiry.

What does my worldview consist of? What are the assumptions I am operating from? And, especially, what are my less conscious assumptions – about myself, others, and the world? What do I find when I look at where these come from? How do these assumptions color my perception, choices, and life?

How do these assumptions show up in my sense fields? How do my sense fields combine to create these assumptions and filters?

In general, what do I find when I examine these assumptions more thoroughly? How would it be to recognize these assumptions in daily life, and recognize them as assumptions and questions about the world?

Reflections on society, politics and nature – vol. 50

This is one in a series of posts with brief notes on society, politics, and nature. I sometimes include short personal notes as well. Click “read more” to see all the entries.

ART HISTORY

In the early ’90s, I studied art history for a year (full time) at the University of Oslo. Since they called it “art history”, and since I was young and naive, I was looking forward to WORLD art history. The history of art from the earliest times and across all cultures. That was what I expected, hoped for, and wanted.

To my surprise and disappointment, the course turned out to be the history of WESTERN art, and really just the art of Western Europe and the European culture in North America.

I was left with several puzzling questions:

Why didn’t they have a course for WORLD art?

Why did they call a course that had such a limited scope “art history” without any qualifiers?

Why didn’t they address or acknowledge this obvious discrepancy?

The answer is probably a kind of ethnocentrism. They – consciously or not – may have seen “real” art as the art of western Europe and the European culture in North America.

I imagine that now, 30 years later, they are a little less provincial and more conscious of this. Hopefully, they include the art of the world and not just a small section of the world. Or, at the very least, they label the course accurately.

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A few reflections on conspiracy theories

I had a chat with a FB friend yesterday. It started out as an ordinary exchange about our lives, and then took an unexpected turn as he started proselytizing conspiracy theories of the more extreme varieties.

This led me to write down a few reflections about conspiracy theories, as I have in some previous posts.

WHY BOTHER WITH CONSPIRACY THEORIES?

Why bother looking at the dynamics of conspiracy theories?

For most of us, it’s often best to ignore conspiracy theories. They are distractions from far more serious issues in our world.

And yet, it’s worth occasionally addressing their dynamics for a few different reasons.

Many have gotten into them recently, for a few different reasons. It’s easier to find them online. Some governments (Russia) use some of them intentionally to destabilize other countries. And the pandemic led to many spending more time at home, and they went down internet rabbit holes.

Widespread acceptance of conspiracy theories has real-life effects on our society and democracy. We see this with the anti-vaccination conspiracies, and QAnon in the US and the storming of the US Congress last January.

Widespread acceptance of conspiracy theories is an example of what can happen when people have limited knowledge about society, history, science, logical fallacies, media literacy, and so on. It’s a reminder of the importance of children learning these things early on in life. A little knowledge is dangerous, and a more thorough understanding is often the cure.

Equally important, the world of conspiracy theories is a rich mirror for all of us. It shows what happens when we get lost in logical fallacies and more. We all have a tendency to hold certain ideas as true, in an attempt to find safety. We all operate on some logical fallacies. We all seek like-minded people and go into echo chambers. We all sometimes take something as true because someone told us so. We all have experienced holding a story as true, being faced with information that doesn’t fit, and then either doubling down on the story or finding a story that more accurately fits the data.

HOW I MAKE DECISIONS ABOUT THE VACCINE

First, a few words about how I personally make choices about what I put in my body, including the Covid vaccine.

In the FB messenger chat yesterday, my acquaintance brought up the topic of vaccines and the views from the more extreme vaccine conspiracy theories. He repeated the same arguments as most in that camp seem to use, and his responses mostly consisted of “dream on” and similar phrases.

How do I make decisions about whether to take the vaccine or not?

I do it the same way I make decisions about anything I take into my body. I make myself reasonably informed at a story level, taking in information from a variety of sources, and I evaluate the reliability of the different sources and look at my own biases. I check the pendulum. (Which is just my fingers these days, I abandoned a physical pendulum a long time ago.) And I check in more directly with the energetics of the substance and how my body responds to it – before I put it in my body.

In the case of the mRNA covid vaccine, I got a strong “yes” on the pendulum. And when I checked with the energetics I did notice a relatively mild energetic “clash” which I resolved through channeling (Vortex Healing) for perhaps 15-20 minutes and otherwise got a clear yes here as well. I assume an unresolved clash could have led to mild side effects, and as it was, I had just about none. If anything, I felt better after the vaccine, which happens for some people with long-Covid and ME / CFS.

Why do I trust the pendulum and direct sensing of the energetics? For me, it’s one of several sources of information. If it fits other sources, I trust it. If it doesn’t, I’ll have to take a closer look and see what makes the most sense to me.

I have used both daily for more than thirty years, and it’s been reliable. There is typically a close match between what actually happens and what I had sensed in advance. Although I am very open to it being off now and then, I honestly cannot remember a time it has been wrong when it comes to things I put into my body. (I do sometimes eat things that are not so good for me, but I do it knowingly.)

It is a bit ironic that he kept repeating that I trust and follow the mainstream, while I – in reality – trust and follow my more direct sensing. I take in information from a variety of sources, keep it in mind, and mainly trust my own sensing. From what he said, he seemed to largely rely on what other people have told him.

I am very aware that most do not see the pendulum and direct sensing as reliable sources of information, or as a source of information at all, and I completely understand that. Thats’ why I usually don’t mention it, unless it’s relevant as it is here. (I should also mention that in the Vortex Healing community, where many have developed and tested out their sensing, it seems that most or all sense the vaccine as beneficial.)

WE DESCRIBE OURSELVES

We all describe ourselves when we (pretend) to describe others. And the conspiracy theory community is a good mirror for us here.

They say about others: You are sheep. You just trust what you are told. You are manipulated. You are deceived.

And, in reality, they trust what someone told them. They say and think what others in their camp say and think. They often allow themselves to be manipulated and deceived.

As mentioned above, this was clear in the chat yesterday. He repeated that I trust what authorities tell me. The reality is that I base my final decision on my own direct sensing and not any outside authority. And he is the one who seems to trust what other people, with an agenda, have told him.

And, of course, when I have stories about anyone – including conspiracy theorists – I am describing myself. What I see in them, is something I know from myself.

These are universal human dynamics. What I see in conspiracy theorists reflects something in me. And what they see in the world is a reflection of something in them.

DISTRUST OF AUTHORITIES

There are many pop-psychology insights about conspiracy theories, and there are likely grains of truth in many of them.

One is that some who get into conspiracy theories have a chronic distrust of authorities based on childhood experiences. For instance, someone may have grown up with a father who abused his authority, they grow up distrusting authority figures in general, and conspiracy theories nicely hook into, are fueled from, and feed this pattern.

A healthy distrust of authorities is, of course, valuable. There are many historical examples of people in power abusing that power and sometimes putting a glossy and inaccurate image on it. (And if we are honest, we all may be able to find examples of where we have done the same, perhaps in a very different setting and with apparently less serious consequences.)

And yet, it’s good to be aware of this dynamic in ourselves. Do I have an issue with authority figures based on my own experience? How does that color how I see the world and authority figures in the world? Would my views be different if I didn’t have this issue?

The upswing in conspiracy theories is, in many ways, a symptom of a patriarchal society and culture with a history of abuse of power. More people are waking up to this, which is good. And some go a bit overboard for personal reasons.

CONSPIRACY THEORIES AND SPECIFIC PREDICTIONS

The history of conspiracy theories is at least as old as civilization itself, and it’s full of examples of specific predictions.

Doomsday cults have predicted the end of the world on specific dates. QAnon has predicted things happening on specific dates, which didn’t happen. And some anti-vaxxers predict that many (most? all?) of those vaccinated will die from the vaccine within one or a few years.

What happens when these predictions don’t come true?

There have been studies on this, and we see the classic responses these days as well.

The typical response is to create new stories explaining why it didn’t happen that fit the existing conspiracy worldview. They use the failed predictions to reinforce and deepen their existing views. Perhaps because it would be too embarrassing to admit it was fundamentally wrong from the beginning. And perhaps because they are invested in a particular worldview and community, and want to stay connected with it.

And a few, to their credit, get disillusioned and question the whole thing.

This too is a mirror for ourselves. We all predict things about the future which doesn’t happen, and some of us do it many times a day. How do we respond when it doesn’t happen? Do we keep going as before? Or do we question our assumptions at a more fundamental level?

CONSPIRACY THEORIES AS A DISTRACTION I

As I have written about before, the main reason I am not into conspiracy theories is that they are a distraction. What we KNOW is going on in the world is far more serious than the topic of most conspiracy theories.

We live within systems that maintain social inequalities and make the wealthy wealthier and the poor poorer. Where multinational corporations own a large number of other corporations and media. Where politicians often are in the pockets of Big Money. Where wars are fought for corporate interests. And most serious of all, we live within systems that do not take ecological realities into account and are destroying ecosystems we and future generations depend on. We live within a system that is unintentionally rigged for self-destruction and the destruction of our civilization.

No conspiracy is needed. The way our systems are set up creates all this, and we are all participants since we live and function within these systems. It’s up to each one of us to bring attention to this and support and bring into life alternatives.

How did this come about? In terms of ecology, our current systems of economy, production, energy, and so on, were all developed at a time where we didn’t need to take ecological realities into account. And now, with a much larger population and more effective technology, just living normally within these systems are destroying ecosystems and what we depend on for our own lives.

EASIER TO BLAME PEOPLE THAN SYSTEMS

One major fallacy of conspiracy theories is that they blame people rather than systems. The major problems we see in the world today are systemic. And, as mentioned above, normal people living normal lives are causing these problems just because we live within these systems.

I understand it may be tempting to blame people, and people are obviously involved, but in the bigger picture, a one-sided focus on individuals and groups is a distraction. The real problems are in the systems, and that’s not personal.

CONSPIRACY THEORIES AS A DISTRACTION II

Conspiracy theories function as a distraction in yet another way, and that’s on a personal level. If our life is not as we would like it, it may be tempting to get distracted by something – work, politics, religion, spirituality, collecting stamps, or going into conspiracy theories.

Conspiracy theories are often compelling, invoke our emotions, create the appearance of good and bad guys, put us on the side of the good, create or support desired identities for us, invoke powerful archetypes, and so on.

And since they involve emotions and identities, they can blind us to our more grounded and reasoned side, and they are perfect for distracting ourselves from whatever we wish to be distracted from. They can distract us from what in us it’s difficult to meet, which is typically discomfort in the form of uncomfortable emotions and stories about ourselves and our life.

THE GRAIN OF TRUTH IN CONSPIRACY THEORIES

There are obviously a lot of things regularly happening in the world that can be called a conspiracy. Politicians act on behalf of corporate interests. Multinational corporations own a large number of other corporations, including media companies. Big Money has intentionally pushed neo-liberal thinking and policies for decades. The oil industry back climate-change deniers. Wars are fought over strategic footholds or access to natural resources and not the more noble goals they often present to the public. And so on. This is well known, has been going on – in one form or another –  since the dawn of civilization, and are often called politics or business rather than a conspiracy.

In this sense, the general idea behind conspiracy theories is correct: There are conspiracies going on in the world on a regular basis, at all levels from the smallest backroom deals to global business and policies.

There may also be grains of truth in specific conspiracy theories. For instance, vaccines do have side effects and some die of them. That’s widely known, and it’s a risk most are willing to accept. We are all already willing to accept far greater risks in daily life, for instance when we get into a car or regularly eat sugar or meat.

CONSPIRACY THEORIES AND THE NEWLY CONVERTED

I get the sense that many conspiracy theorists are relatively new to some of the ways the world works, including corruption, people pulling strings, the influence of Big Money in media and politics, and so on. (To me, all this seems obvious since I have been exposed to information about this since childhood and early teens.)

If they are relatively new to this, it explains both their naivité and their zeal. They lack critical thinking skills, they don’t have a very mature approach to the topic, they gulp up a lot of what’s presented to them, they are willing to assume the worst without very solid data, they tend to proselytize, and they generally go a bit overboard with their enthusiasm.

Again, that’s something many of us have done in one form or another – often early in life – when we discover something that’s new to us and seems important and possibly life-changing.

What happens over time with conspiracy theorists? And how will society respond to conspiracy theories? I assume some (many?) of the conspiracy theorists will wise up, ground, and find a more nuanced view over time. And it may be that society as a whole becomes more inoculated against conspiracy theories, especially as more people learn to recognize the patterns and common flaws of conspiracy theories.

INNER AND OUTER CONSPIRACIES

There are real or imagined conspiracies in the world, and we all also have internal conspiracies.

What are some of these internal conspiracies?

The most obvious one is to believe a thought, any thought. We conspire with the thought to hold it as true, prop it up, defend it, and so on. We ignore that a thought is only a question about the world, cannot hold any final truth and that there is some validity in a range of different views and thoughts on the same subject.

There are innumerable variations of this. For instance:

When we act against our heart, our inner knowing, because we hold a stressful thought as true, we conspire against ourselves.

When we make ourselves small, others small, and the world small, because we hold a thought as exclusively true, we conspire against ourselves.

When we act against our own interests because we hold a stressful thought as true, we conspire against ourselves. (Our own interests are what we are more aware of and seek when we come from clarity and kindness, and it’s inclusive of the interests of others.)

For some, it may be more tempting to focus on possible conspiracies in the world than getting to know our internal conspiracies. It may feel easier, even if it’s not in the long run.

THE PATTERNS OF CONSPIRACY THEORIES

There is a pattern to conspiracy theories, familiar from history and psychology.

The essence is obviously (a) a story of a conspiracy (b) believed by a group of followers.

And there is more. For instance….

Conspiracy theories are compelling. They are intriguing, fascinating, have good and bad guys, appeal to the emotions, and so on, just like any good story. They are entertaining and pull people in.

Conspiracy theories create insiders and outsiders. They can split existing groups like families, communities, and even countries.

The followers tend to have a good deal of zeal, trying to convince others of their views.

They tend to use the same language and arguments.

They accept stories as fact without solid critical thinking and examination of the source.

The source / originator / propagator often has an agenda. The conspiracy theorists are manipulated.

They overlook systemic factors and focus on people, perhaps because it’s an easier target than the abstraction of systems.

They get emotional satisfaction out of the conspiracy theory. They feel they know something others don’t. They are insiders and others are outsiders. They feel included in their own community.

Many conspiracy theorists feel like outsiders, and this reinforces that identity while providing them with a community of fellow conspiracy theorists.

If a conspiracy story can be checked, for instance, X happens by Y date, and it doesn’t happen (which is nearly always the case), they respond in one of two general ways. They either explain it away with a story that fits into their general worldview. Or they get disillusioned and leave the conspiracy community.

They see any contrary view as evidence that the person is deluded by mainstream stories.

They pride themselves on excellent critical thinking while committing a good deal of logical fallacies.

They tend to be less educated and may see themselves as having a less privileged position in society.

They accept the views of “experts” that have no real expertise in the field they are talking about.

The conspiracy community has many similarities with cults.

They accuse outsiders of exactly what they themselves are displaying: Lack of critical thinking. Parroting a story. Onesidedness. Being duped and manipulated.

When we learn this pattern, it’s much easier to recognize it when we encounter it online or in real life. And it’s far easier to not get pulled into it. That’s why conspiracy theory literacy, along with media literacy and learning critical thinking skills is crucial, and especially in schools.

When we recognize the pattern, it’s not so tempting to go into it.

CONSPIRACY THEORIES AND INSANITY

When people get lost in conspiracy theories, is it a kind of insanity?

To an outsider, it can certainly appear that way. The more conventional parts of me can easily say: He is either very stupid, or insane. The more empathic side of me responds: Or in a lot of pain.

So is it a kind of insanity?

The reality is that any time we believe a thought, it’s a kind of insanity. We perceive the world as if the thought is true, and although there is some validity to many thoughts, the world is always more than and different from any thought. When we believe a thought, we get stuck into that perspective and are less open to anything that doesn’t fit. And that’s a kind of insanity, and the more strongly we hold onto the thought, the more obvious the insanity is.

People who are into conspiracy theories obviously don’t see themselves as insane. They see themselves as having discovered something true and important, and other people are ignorant of this important truth. They see themselves as being on the side of the right and good. And that’s how it is for all of us when we hold onto any thought as true.

Why do we do it? Why do we hold onto certain stories as true? The short answer may be that we don’t know any better. We grew up in a family and culture where people did just that, and it’s normal and expected. We didn’t learn to relate to our thoughts more intentionally. We didn’t learn to examine them thoroughly to find what’s more true for us.

Also, we think we get something out of it. We assume it gives us safety, certainty, protection, and so on. While, in reality, it gives us stress and discomfort.

Finally, are people who go into conspiracy theories insane in a clinical sense? Probably not more than average. But I assume that after getting into it, some may develop signs of mental illness like paranoia and so on.

LIVING WITH CONSPIRACY THEORIES

If you held a conspiracy theory as true, how would it be?

How would it be to believe that a large number of people (governments, doctors, corporations) are intentionally injecting something into a majority of the world’s population in order to kill them?

I imagine it creates a lot of distrust, paranoia, inner and outer conflicts, a sense of isolation, and general distress and discomfort.

So why choose to hold these views? Why hold views unsubstantiated by any real evidence? Why hold views that seem so obviously absurd to most of us?

I am not sure. I assume it’s what can happen if you go down rabbit holes on the internet. Spend time in internet echo chambers, and perhaps some in real life. Leave your critical thinking at the door. Are generally gullible. And perhaps feel like an outsider already, and this fits your established outsider identity.

CONSPIRACY THEORIES & NEW AGE SPIRITUALITY

Occasionally, there is an overlap between those into new-age spirituality and conspiracy theories.

I imagine some who get into spirituality do so because they feel a bit lost and are looking for answers, and both spirituality and conspiracy theories offer answers, although often very different types of answers.

Many who get into spirituality are relatively open-minded and open to questioning their old assumptions, which also can lead to going overboard with conspiracy theories.

Some who get into spirituality feel a need to abandon most or all of their old views and assumptions, and conspiracy theories is one way to engage in a scorched earth approach to your old assumptions.

Some who get into spirituality have issues with authorities. They avoid established religions, and they are more prone to get into conspiracy theories.

And some who are into spirituality are just starting to explore this whole field of questioning assumptions, seeing through cultural beliefs and norms, and so on. They lack experience, maturity, and discernment, and are easy prey for certain conspiracy theories.

Again, this is a mirror for all of us. We may all feel a bit lost at times and look for answers. We may at first be a bit naive in what we take refuge in. We may go overboard in certain areas of life, at least for a while.

RETREAT PATHS

Conspiracy theorists, and especially those of the more extreme variety, tend to isolate themselves from family and friends who have little tolerance for that brand of nonsense.

The more they feel attacked and judged, the more they tend to retreat into their new views and identities. And the more difficult it may be for them to retreat from it when they later start to realize the nonsensical nature of the conspiracy theories.

So what’s the best way to relate to conspiracy folks? Ignore them? Tell them we are not interested in hearing about it? Try to have a rational conversation? Use stronger language and be more direct?

I don’t know. What I know is that it’s good to welcome them back if or when they realize what’s been going on, and avoid shaming or judging in that situation.

CONSPIRACY THEORIES AND CONFIRMATION BIAS

Many conspiracy theories have obvious weaknesses. (Although occasional stories are weird and turn out to be true in a conventional sense.)

The flat earth ideas are very easily punctured. It’s easy to see the curvature of the Earth on the ocean. Even the old Greeks knew how to measure the circumference of the Earth and we can all do the same experiment. A flat-Earth conspiracy would require a huge number of people to be in on it – pilots, ship captains and crew, astronomers, long-distance travelers, and so on. It’s extremely unlikely so many, and people with such a diverse orientation and interests would agree to uphold such a conspiracy. Also, basic physics tells us that large masses take on a round form because of gravity. And all largish objects in space – of which Earth is one – take on a round form. (Of course, I assume almost everyone into the flat-Earth conspiracy knows better and are doing it to troll others, including scientists.)

The same goes for many of the vaccine conspiracy theories. It would require a huge number of people around the world to be in on it. That may work in an organization where people agree it’s for the best to keep something secret. But it’s hard to impossible to imagine it would work on a worldview basis. Why would people with widely varying worldviews, values, political orientations, and so on all agree to actively join in? Why would countries with equally widely varied values and political orientations agree to collaborate? Why would Cuba agree? Why North Korea? And so on.

For instance, if what my FB acquaintance said is correct, and the vaccine is not a vaccine but aimed at killing off large portions of humanity, it would require the active cooperation of a huge variety of professions from all countries around the world. It would require the active cooperation of producers, workers, doctors, epidemiologists researching the effect of the vaccine, government officials, and so on. And not only within one country, but every single country in the world, each one with its own agenda and interests. Many of these people are people of conscience who are in their profession to help society and humanity, and they would never allow this to happen. They would not be silent.

Also, each one of these huge numbers of people would actively allow their loved ones – family and friends – to take the vaccine and be killed. (The alternative is that they warned them, which means a huge number of people globally warned, and in real life, many of these would speak up.)

This is an obvious example of confirmation bias. We seek out information that supports our existing views, and either ignore or explain away the rest. It’s something we all do, and the world of conspiracy theories is a good mirror for all of us.

CONSPIRACY THEORIES AND TROLLING

I suspect that quite a few people into conspiracy theories know what they are doing and are trolling the rest of us. They like to see people exasperated with the obvious idiocy of most conspiracy theories, and they especially like to see the “elite” – liberals, intellectuals, and scientists – riled up by it.

Especially in the US, it seems that conspiracy theories are used as a poke in the eye of the “elite”, and it’s done so by people who feel they are outsiders or have been left behind one way or another.

That’s fair. Although it’s worth remembering that conspiracy theories have real-life effects, and sometimes serious real-life effects at both individual and social levels.

Is it worth it? I would say no.

Even if people don’t consciously know what they are doing, they do know it somewhere. Somewhere, we all know when we allow ourselves to get into a story for emotional and other reasons, and that the support for that story may not be nearly as strong as we tell ourselves it is.

THE CONSPIRACY THEORIES WE ALL ENGAGE IN

As usual, the world is our mirror.

So what do conspiracy theorists mirror in me? And perhaps in most of us?

I have mentioned much of it above.

We all sometimes… Jump on a story without having good data to support it. Fill blank areas of our mental maps with unsupported and sometimes scary stories. Feel we are an outsider and find stories that fit and perhaps enhance that identity. Tell ourselves we know something that many others don’t. Get fascinated by stories because they are entertaining. And so on.

We also go into conspiracy stories in a more direct way. For instance, we may have a story that the world is conspiring against us. Or a person or group of people. And we may fuel and give these stories energy without thoroughly checking the stories – in terms of what they do with us, if we can know for certain, the validity in the reversals, how solid the data is, what fits the data, and so on.

We are all conspiracy theorists, sometimes and in some areas of life.

See also additional posts on this topic, with other points.

What’s behind conspiracy theories?

What’s behind the apparent surge in conspiracy theories? Why do new groups – for instance, holistic health practitioners – get into it?

I have written about this before, but thought I would make a quick summary of some possibilities:

SOCIAL LEVEL

Internet & media bubbles. We seek out information and groups that fit and support our desired worldview. That’s even easier now than in the past due to the internet and the general fragmentation of the media landscape.

People benefit. Some benefit from creating or peddling certain conspiracy theories. Trump and his folks benefit from QAnon. Putin benefits from the erosion of western democracy, encouraged by Russian troll-farms. In general, people who are actually doing something that people would be upset about if they knew, benefit from the distraction conspiracy theories provide.

Appealing to people’s values. Most conspiracy theories appeal to people’s existing values. Trump is going to save the world (QAnon). Vaccines harm people. If you get into these conspiracy theories, you feel you are a good person and on the side of the good.

Foot-in-the-door. When people take one step in a certain direction, it’s easier to take the next. If we get into a small conspiracy theory, it may be easier to go into the larger and more serious ones.

Wishful thinking. For some liberals in the US, it may be easier to imagine Trump as a secret savior (QAnon) rather than a horrible narcissist who was elected president of the United States. Some conspiracy theories gain a following because they offer simple solutions and some form of salvation.

Fearful thinking. Similarly, conspiracy theories often seem founded in fear. The ones creating or peddling conspiracy theories often use people’s fear as a hook. There is a vast network of pedophiles. Vaccines have tracking-chips in them. 5G is seriously harmful.

EDUCATION

Grain of truth. The essence of conspiracy theories often has a grain of truth in it. For instance, it’s true that governments hide some things, although it’s mostly (not exclusively) to protect the state from other countries. It’s true that our current system is rigged to benefit the already wealthy and powerful, but that’s a feature of the system and no conspiracy is needed to make it happen. It’s also true that vaccines sometimes have harmful effects, although it’s rare and – as with so much else – we decide it’s worth it. The grain of truth may be there, but it’s often taken too far, understood in a too simplistic fashion, or taken in a misguided direction.

Lack of media literacy and valid logical reasoning. Again, the more we know about and familiar with this, the easier it is to recognize and avoid pitfalls. The conspiracy world survives because of a lack of basic media literacy (examining sources and messages), and a poor understanding of valid logical reasoning.

Lack of perspective. To me, what’s actually happening in the world is far more serious than the topic of any conspiracy theory I have seen. We are in an early stage of a massive – and for us catastrophic – ecological shift. We have an economic and social system that doesn’t take ecological realities into account and where those who already have the most benefit the most. This is not disputed and is far more serious than just about any conspiracy fantasy. Conspiracy theories distract from what’s actually happening.

Lack of historical knowledge. If we know a bit about the history of conspiracy theories, cults, millennial movements, and so on, then it’s easier to recognize and avoid them. There is a repeating pattern.

Checking our sources and information. Conspiracy theories typically require a not-so-thorough examination of the sources. The remedy is to ask: Would this information hold up in a court? Would a serious historian or journalist use it? What are the sources? Are these reliable? Can the information be verified? If not, set it aside as a very loose “maybe”.

PERSONAL LEVEL

Social aspect. Conspiracy theories can give a sense of community and belonging. If you are lonely or feel like an outsider, these communities can seem attractive.

Boredom. Some may feel bored – especially during this pandemic – want some drama and excitement, and the actual drama of the world isn’t enough or of the right type. Conspiracy theories can feel like a puzzle and a game and draw people in.

A sense of knowing. If we have low tolerance for ambiguity and not knowing, conspiracy theories can seem attractive. They give simple and clear answers, and they often paint the world in black-and-white.

Blame. The world is complex and confusing and we cannot know anything for certain. For some, it can feel good – like peeing in the pants to stay warm – to blame someone. It’s easier than a deep analysis of history, social dynamics, and complex social systems.

Distraction. In general, it seems that conspiracy theories serve to distract from what’s actually happening. By going into the – for some – fascinating world of conspiracy theories, we can distract from the pain in our own life, and perhaps also the pain that’s triggered in us when we see what’s actually going on in the world (poverty, hunger, wars, ecological destruction).

Trauma. We can use anything as an obsession or compulsion to distract ourselves from our discomfort or pain. For some, it may be easier to get obsessed with conspiracy theories than dealing with their own pain. If I am honest, a lot of what I see in the conspiracy world looks like trauma behavior.

Compensating for feeling not enough. Going into conspiracy theories can make you feel that you know something others don’t. If you feel you are not good enough, as many do, then this is a way to compensate for it.

Feeling powerless. If we feel powerless and left out, being part of the conspiracy community can give us a sense of power. We know something others don’t, we are many, and we’ll do something about it.

Outsider identity. If we already feel like an outsider to mainstream society, it’s easy to hook onto things that’ll reinforce this outsider identity. The conspiracy theory world fits the bill for some.

Victim identity? I don’t know enough about the conspiracy world, but I wonder if not people with a victim identity also are drawn to conspiracy theories. The content of many conspiracy theories seem to fit with and reinforce a victim identity.

A questioning mind losing its bearings. People who go into conspiracy theories may, by nature, be more questioning. There is nothing wrong with questioning basic assumptions, but this questioning has to be disciplined and tied to intellectual honesty.

Other priorities than intellectual honesty. When I see people who are into conspiracy theories, it often seems that the conspiracy theory often takes priority over intellectual honesty.

Most of these dynamics are universal and we all have done or do it sometimes and in some areas of life. The conspiracy world sometimes turns the volume up to eleven.

NOT ALWAYS FANTASY

Conspiracies are not always a fantasy. Sometimes, they happen. And almost always, they are uncovered by official investigators, investigative journalists, or historians. Not people on the internet.

THE REMEDY?

The danger of rampant ungrounded conspiracy theories is obvious: it harms our democracy and society. So what can we do?

One solution is education, for instance in the media and schools. This could be an education in the history of cults, millennial movements, and conspiracy theories, media literacy, logical fallacies, existing power structures & systemic problems, and some basic related psychology.

WHAT CONSPIRACY THEORIES CANNOT SURVIVE

In general, it seems there are several things conspiracy theories are not likely to survive or cannot survive.

If we know the patterns of past cults etc., we are likely to recognize those patterns in the conspiracy world and be cautious.

If we know and are rigorous with logical reasoning and avoiding logical fallacies, most conspiracy theories fall like a house of cards.

If we are intellectually honest, the same happens.

If we are aware of the many and serious systemic problems in today’s society, including at a global level, we are less likely to fall for simplistic scapegoating theories.

If we are rigorous in working on our own issues and recognizing our projections, we are similarly less likely to fall for the emotional reasoning behind many conspiracy theories, and also the coarse projections required to prop them up.

Reflections on society, politics and nature XXXIX

This is one in a series of posts with brief notes on society, politics, and nature. I sometimes include short personal notes as well. Click “read more” to see all the entries.

MOON LANDING

I watched Armstrong (2019) and was happy to see that they, through Armstrong in his own words, touched on some of the themes I see as most important with the lunar missions. (Yes, I have been a space enthusiast since childhood!)

A huge number of people worked on the missions and made them happen, and they – in turn – wouldn’t have been able to do it without the work of innumerable people living then and in previous generations. We see the astronauts on the screen and in the media, but they are just the very tiny tip of the iceberg. That’s how it often is. We stand on the shoulders of not only giants but innumerable people and beings and all past generations.

One of the great benefits of space missions, in general, is that we get to see Earth from the outside as one seamless living whole. And we get to hear the testimonies of people who experienced it themselves and how it changed them. This is the overview effect and it shifts, in a small but significant way, how we see ourselves.

We can say that the space missions are a product of the Earth locally transforming itself into humans, technology, and a desire for exploration. In this case, we are the sensory organs of Earth seeing itself as a whole and from the outside for the first time. (Armstrong didn’t mention this, obviously.)

Read More

Reflections on society, politics and nature XXXVII

This is one in a series of posts with brief notes on society, politics, and nature. I sometimes include short personal notes as well. Click “read more” to see all the entries.

SOME LAYERS I USE WHEN I LOOK AT SOCIETY

When I write posts here, I write from one or a few perspectives.

These perspectives reflect my biases and conditioning as a male from a northern European country, university educated, and so on. And they reflect my own hangups, wounds, emotional issues, beliefs, identifications, and perceived lack.

There are many perspectives out there that are equally valid and important, and I leave them out to make it simpler (and easier for myself), and also because I am aware of only a small subset of all the existing and possible perspectives.

So what’s the bigger and more general picture for social issues?

My world – the world as it appears to me – happens within and as what I am. All my experiences happen within and as what I am.

The world appears the way it does to me because of my own mental overlay. This overlay consists of mental images and words, and it puts labels, meaning, and stories on my world. I am responsible for my own stories about the world, including the most basic assumptions about the world, others, and myself.

The stories I have about the world reflect me as a human being. Whatever stories I have about the world or others also fit me, and I can find very specific examples of how each one fits me.

Each person perceives and acts from their own filters and biases, including me. We cannot escape this but we can be a little more aware of this happening and some of the specific filters and biases.

Each person has valuable perspectives and views, especially when we drill down to the essence of what these are about.

Everything is a whole and part. What we see happening here and now are expressions of movements within the whole – going back to beginning of time and stretching out to the widest extent of existence.

It’s all lila. The world as it appears to me is the play of this consciousness. Or, we can say it’s the play of life – or the divine. It’s consciousness, life, or the divine expressing, exploring, and experiencing itself in always new ways.

I cannot know anything for certain. I am operating from a huge number of questioned and unquestioned assumptions.

When I write, I typically highlight one or a few of these even if all of them are there in the background.

A SAD IRONY OF CONSPIRACY THEORIES

There is a sad irony in the conspiracy theory world.

I suspect some – or many? – who get into conspiracy theories do partly to feel they know something others don’t and to feel special, smart, and perhaps even powerful. They may try to compensate for feeling like an outsider, a failure, rejected, and powerless.

Although they may find a sense of belonging in the conspiracy subculture, they may also separate themselves from friends and relatives. To the extent they get identified with the conspiracy world, they may isolate themselves from those who are not into it. In that way, they create for themselves even more of what they try to escape.

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Do people really believe conspiracy theories?

For me, it’s difficult to imagine someone actually believing the QAnon and other weirdo conspiracy theories. I understand how people can get hooked on it since it feeds into their emotional issues and they live in digital bubbles that confirm what they want to believe. But it’s hard to imagine they actually believe it. Somewhere in them, they know they live in a bubble. They know the sources are questionable. They know they do it to feed emotional issues.

And that’s really the same with all beliefs, for all of us. Somewhere in us, we know we want to believe but don’t really. We know we cannot know for certain. We know we are largely doing it to feed our emotional issues.

So on the surface, the answer is yes. In a sense, we do believe whatever we appear to believe. We perceive the world through our beliefs. We think and feel as if it’s true. We live and act as if it’s true. And yet, somewhere in us, we know what we are doing. We know we allow ourselves to get caught up in a fantasy. The fantasy of knowing something for certain we cannot know.

Reflections on society, politics and nature XXXV

This is one in a series of posts with brief notes on society, politics, and nature. I sometimes include short personal notes as well. Click “read more” to see all the entries.

A CONSPIRACY TO USE CONSPIRACY THEORISTS

I love this, although I would rephrase it slightly: “Just wait till conspiracy theorists discover they’re part of a conspiracy to use conspiracy theories to spread disinformation.”

If there is a real conspiracy out there, it’s that some intentionally use conspiracy theories – and conspiracy theorists – to spread disinformation.

And through that, influence politics (e.g. QAnon with Trump support), sow confusion and doubt around certain topics (petroleum industry with climate change), and generally create chaos and polarization (Russia with the US and Europe).

Conspiracy theorists are being used, and they often don’t realize it.

I love this one too. It’s true we are all the universe and Earth and – if we see it that way – Spirit. Our experiences are the experiences Spirit wants to have through and as us. At the same time, if I lived in the US, I would do anything I could – through voting and getting out the votes – to prevent a second Trump presidency.

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Vaccine communication & anti-vaxxers

In the past 40 years, Danish research has shown that the story of vaccines is not quite as simple as the World Health Organization, national health authorities and others portray it.

– from Vaccines – an unresolved story, Science News DK

Why do we see a backlash against vaccines these days?

I wonder if it’s partly connected with the way governments and doctors have communicated vaccine information. They tend to strongly push it and focus on the very real benefits of vaccines, while ignoring or glossing over the equally real complexity and occasional downsides.

Why would officials and authorities push vaccines in a one-sided way? It may come from thinking they obviously are needed and should be used so they don’t see the need to include the other side of the argument. They may want to avoid muddling the water or give ammunition to anti-vaxxers. Another factor may be lobbying from the powerful pharmaceutical industry since they obviously benefit from mass-scale vaccination projects.

As anyone who has ever been a child or teenager knows, one-sided persuasive communication creates a backlash. We know reality is not that simple. We know they are leaving something out. If we are a bit informed, we know what they leave out. So there will obviously be a backlash.

With a more balanced and grounded communication, it’s likely that the response also would be more balanced and grounded. Yes, vaccines are amazing and often a very good way to go. And yet, there are complexities and possible downsides that need to be addressed. Both are part of the picture.

We are used to accept risk. Cars help us get around but they also kill people. Pesticides may allow for an easier larger yield, but these too kill people. Medicines helps people stay healthy and alive, and they have side-effects and kill people in the wrong dosage. Hospitals help people stay alive, and hospitals also kill people – through mistakes, antibiotic-resistant infections, and so on.

We know about these risks, and most of us accept them.

And so also with vaccines. Yes, they often have some risks. And yet, their benefits often outweigh these risks. Most people are willing to accept the risk of some vaccines, especially if they are informed about these risks and feel the authorities are honest and open about it. In other cases, vaccines may seem less needed or the risks may be too high.

Through a more informed discussion, we could collectively be more discerning about when, how, and for whom any one vaccine is helpful.

This is an example of how conspiracy theories often have some basis in reality, although usually not in a literal sense. Yes, the issue of vaccines is more complex than authorities tend to acknowledge. And no, there is most likely no vast conspiracy behind it apart from the usual pressure and influence from those who benefit from it financially.

Conspiracy theories make dumb people feel smart

Conspiracy theories make dumb people feel smart.

– a comment on a friend’s social media post about conspiracy theories

It’s a bit crass, but considering the real-life harmful effects of rampant conspiracy theories, perhaps some crassness is justified.

I think there is something to this quote, in a couple of different ways.

Conspiracy theories can help us feel special, that we know something others don’t, that we are “sticking it to the man”, and so on. We feel “smart” in a broad sense. And this, in turn, is a way to cope with our own fears and sense of lack.

Also, they often come from a lack of critical thinking. We may feel we are questioning authorities when we take a conspiracy theory as real, but we may not go far enough in questioning authorities. Do I question the source of the conspiracy theory? Do I even know who the source is? Do I question my own thinking? Am I versed in media literacy, human bias, and logical fallacies? Do I apply these to the conspiracy theory and how I think about it? What’s the evidence for the conspiracy theory? Is it solid enough to hold up in a court? Or to be used by a serious historian or journalist?

So if I hold a conspiracy theory as true, it may come from a wish to appear smart and special to myself and perhaps others, and in the process I may be dumb in that I don’t apply critical thinking.

As I have written about before….

Some conspiracy theories may indeed be true. But I need to apply critical thinking and look at the evidence. If it looks flimsy or questionable, it doesn’t deserve much of my time and energy. Also, real conspiracies have historically been uncovered through serious investigations by journalists, historians, or official investigators. (Not nutters on the internet.)

And the real conspiracy here may be that conspiracy theories distract us from the very real problems in the world most or nearly all of us agree on: mega-corporations owning a large number of corporations and media outlets and influencing public discourse and policies, huge gap between the few wealthy and the rest of us, poverty, lack of basic health care, an economic system not taking ecological realities into account, our very real ecological crisis, and so on.

I intentionally use “we” language here since it’s not about us and them. Most of us go into our own conspiracy theories now and then. We believe our own scary thoughts about something and assign plan and intention where there is none. It’s good to notice.

Finally, what I see in others reflects what’s in me. If I believe the idea that conspiracy theorists are dumb, I make it into a conspiracy theory about conspiracy theorists to make me feel smarter.

Conspiracy theorist don’t go far enough: they don’t question ALL authorities

….many who are into conspiracy theories do not go far enough in questioning authorities. If you want to question authorities, question ALL authorities, including the sources of conspiracy theories and – especially – your own thinking. Are you certain you know what you think you know? Explore critical thinking, media literacy, and how the human mind operates from biases, shortcuts, and logical fallacies.

– from a previous post

This is an important point about conspiracy theories. People who are into conspiracy theories often pride themselves on questioning authorities, and yet they tend to be selective in which authorities they question. They may not question all authorities, including the sources of conspiracy theories and their own thinking.

Do you know the source of the conspiracy theory? Can you verify who it is? Can you verify the conspiracy theory itself? Would the evidence hold up in a court of law? Would it be solid enough for a serious historian or investigative reporter?

Do you know the common biases of the human mind, and do you take them seriously when it comes to your own views? Are you familiar with common logical fallacies, and do you test your own thinking against them?