Conspiracy paranoia seems to have gone mainstream. Should we be surprised, when the US president (Trump – at time of writing) would tell people he got his news from InfoWars? Political conspiracy theories flourish – loudly and unashamedly (and sometimes aggressively) – it’s like Illuminatus!, but without the cosmic good humour and tolerance.
Political “populism” seems insidious when it tends towards the ideological – specifically, ideology which blames a single group or class for social and economic disasters. Language structure may further distort perceptions. Robert Anton Wilson cited the phrase, “White men own all the corporations” (which he heard from a Hispanic radical on TV) – a simple over-generalisation, which also invites “logical” misinterpretation, since our brains may easily register it as: “All white men own the corporations”. There may of course be evidence to support a quantified statement with a more precise wording (eg: “95% of US corporations are owned by a tiny minority of white men”), but populist language tends to be characterised more by dramatic and emotive over-generalisation than by accurate quantification and precision. Thus, “X caused Y” is routinely “understood” to mean “All X caused Y”, including cases where X refers to “immigrants”, “welfare bums”, “liberals”, “corporations”, “the media”, “feminists”, “white men”, “Jews”, etc.
“The media” represents a special case of this logical confusion. A lot of spurious, toxic nonsense comes from “the media” – false arguments for war, whitewashing of Our Glorious Leaders, demonisation of the poor, etc. So, assigning generalised blame to the “corporate media” – eg: “the [generalised] media is to blame for all this toxicity” – seems justified at first glance. But the logic doesn’t work the other way around: “All people in the media are responsible for the [generalised] toxicity”.
And yet that’s often the message from Trump, who seems to know which panchrestons will appeal to his audience. (Panchreston – an underrated word liked by RAW, defined as “a proposed explanation intended to address a complex problem by trying to account for all possible contingencies but typically proving to be too broadly conceived and therefore oversimplified to be of any practical use”.)
A lot of populist criticism of “the media” or “MSM” seems interchangeable between “left” and “right” – and between “credible” and “crackpot”. It’s generally assumed that the hard right and radical left are at “opposite ends” of a linear scale (with “moderates” in the middle) – ie that their thinking couldn’t be more different. But this seems mistaken in the case of populism. The extremes of right and left share many striking similarities in populist language, especially in what Robert Anton Wilson called “fungible” conspiracy theorising over “deep state” and “liberal establishment”, etc.
I just wish that RAW’s critiques of this kind of thinking were more widely read and appreciated. A good starting point to recommend to people is his introduction to Everything is Under Control (Wilson’s wonderful A-Z of conspiriologic and conspiracy theories).
See also: Conspiriologic! #2