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Contrarian

The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls
And tenement halls.

One of the odd things about conspiracy theories is their reversal of truth and falsity. The essence of conspiracy thinking is that the “powers” are effective in covering up the truth; therefore, if a government agency, the mainstream media, an academic consensus, or an officially certified document says something, it must be false. On the other hand when a tabloid newspaper or a fringe talk radio host, a self-proclaimed expert with no credentials or a few bloggers says something, it must be true.

I couldn’t help thinking about this while I was listening to Paul Simon sing the lyrics quoted above from The Sounds of Silence at a 9/11 tribute yesterday. I also couldn’t help remembering something Jesus said from Matthew, Chapter 7:

13 ” Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. 14 For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.

Matt 7:13-14 (NASB)

I can remember as a child adopting contrarian strategies, for example, looking for Easter eggs a little beyond where the crowd was looking for them (not an effective strategy, by the way) and even now I point my binoculars in a different direction from where most of the others on the nature tour are focused.

There is something to be said for looking for things beyond where the crowd has already searched. That’s how new discoveries are made and knowledge is advanced; however, when one ventures outside of the mainstream where many sets of eyes, some especially skilled, have weeded out the cranks and nonsense, one must use ones own discrimination and critical thinking skills, ones own buncombe filter, to keep from going astray. This is where conspiracy theorists fall down. The combination of valuing  arcane knowledge and making novel connections, while lacking the ability to recognize nonsense is what drives conspiracy thinking. Confirmation bias plus validation from like-minded cranks on the Internet amplifies the phenomenon.

Loving ones enemy is a contrarian strategy. Believing that UFO aliens are working with the Illuminati (et al.) to create a world-wide cataclysm that will usher in the New World Order headed by the anti-Christ is nonsense.

I didn’t make that up.

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31 Responses to Contrarian

  1. avatar
    Keith September 12, 2011 at 5:24 pm #

    Very astute.

    The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls
    And tenement halls.

    The words of the prophets are meant to alert us to psychological truths and suggest alternate paths, as Misha would no doubt say, the moral conscience of the people.

    Their prophecies do not define reality, they awaken our senses to what is real. They don’t narrow our choices, they help us see the consequences of our choices.

  2. avatar
    Tarrant September 12, 2011 at 6:31 pm #

    Often birthers, when I point out things like this, will talk about people like Galileo, or Einstein, or (insert name here), who went against convention wisdom and overthrew it. But while such things happen, they are very rare – most of the time the reason all evidence points to one thing is that that thing is nearly correct (and, of course, a geocentric model of the solar system is pretty good at measurements if you’re only talking about general position, and Newtonian physics are still taught today when one is dealing in the macroscopic world).

    Carl Sagan once quipped (paraphrased as I don’t have the exact quote) “They laughed at Galileo; they laughed at Newton. But they also laughed at Bozo the Clown.”

    The fact that birthers alone buy into their nonsense does not make it right.

  3. avatar
    Egharcsar September 12, 2011 at 7:27 pm #

    Oh c’mon, doc, you’re sucking all the fun out of the Internet 😉

  4. avatar
    Paul September 12, 2011 at 11:25 pm #

    Well put.

  5. avatar
    Lupin September 13, 2011 at 6:02 am #

    It’s not the lunatics that bother me; it’s the people who use them or give them a veneer of respectability.

  6. avatar
    Dr. Conspiracy September 13, 2011 at 9:13 am #

    That’s very much the theme of the book I am reading, Idiot America. I keep coming back to the concept of “gatekeeper.” Cranks always had a voice, but not access to mass distribution except the occasional book. Today the proliferation of channels — niche cable TV, Internet, and talk radio — put crank ideas on an equal footing as consensus ideas. It tales effort to see which is which.

    Lupin: It’s not the lunatics that bother me; it’s the people who use them or give them a veneer of respectability.

  7. avatar
    Dr. Conspiracy September 13, 2011 at 9:14 am #

    Reminds me of the Know Nothings from the 19th century:

    I am reminded of a historical nativist movement from the 19th century for a parallel with the Tea Party.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Know_nothing

    Lupin: It’s not the lunatics that bother me; it’s the people who use them or give them a veneer of respectability.

  8. avatar
    Paul Pieniezny September 13, 2011 at 9:30 am #

    I wonder. Perhaps they were contrarian at the beginning, but are they still so, two years into it?

    Don’t forget that Google and other sites remember what you looked for, and may deliver completely different search results on “Obama birth certificate” depending on whether you are an original birfer, a (faux) Vatellite, an Obot or, well, normal people.

    Every day these guys look at the screen of their computer for the first time, they (and we) may see something that simply strengthens those beliefs.

    Just my Austrian 2 cents. (Did I ever tell you I encountered my first coin of that variety this summer in … Andorra?)

  9. avatar
    The Magic M September 13, 2011 at 9:49 am #

    Tarrant: “They laughed at Galileo; they laughed at Newton. But they also laughed at Bozo the Clown.”

    And in fact, the argument “X was Y, I am Y, so I am like X” is false association.
    Just like those parents who say “Einstein had to repeat one class, my child had to repeat one class, my child can still be a genius!” (apart from the fact that Einstein didn’t repeat class, a common mistake).

    The problem with the argument ist that, as the Sagan quote shows, birthers seem to think it’s a viable defense against “no-one agrees with you”.
    It would be if birthers actually had a consistent theory which is simply not believed for “being outrageous”. But birthers never had a consistent theory, not since they left their initial “Obama managed to hide his true origins” and had to include more and more and more people into a vast conspiracy theory.
    Just like the child who has to repeat class – if it has to because it simply doesn’t understand mathematics, no matter how hard he tries, it’s unlikely it’s a genius. If it has to because it was so bored with the subject because he could already see way beyond it, then it’s likely it’s a genius.

  10. avatar
    Arthur September 13, 2011 at 10:03 am #

    Lupin:
    It’s not the lunatics that bother me; it’s the people who use them or give them a veneer of respectability.

    Yes, you’re quite right about that, Lupin.

    My fear is that for-profit, non-accredited degree mills like University of Phoenix will begin offering majors in symbology– dangling the promise of turning out a new generation of Robert Langdons.

  11. avatar
    Dr. Conspiracy September 13, 2011 at 10:25 am #

    I don’t think birthers are contrarians. Birtherism is more a combination of racism, xenophobia and plain old political dirty tricks. I do think a distrust of authority plays a role in their resistance to evidence.

    Just reading birther comments at WND, one gets the impression that they believe that they hold a consensus view.

    Paul Pieniezny: I wonder. Perhaps they were contrarian at the beginning, but are they still so, two years into it?

  12. avatar
    Lupin September 13, 2011 at 11:46 am #

    @ Paul — a shame I didn’t know you were in Andorra; we’re in the Pyrenees near Limoux, a couple of hours down from Andorra. We could have met. If you plan to visit the region again, let me know.

    @DR. C. My theory that birthers are in part used as a Trojan Horse by racist organizations aiming at disenfranchising non-white people is well-known; the current efforts made around the country by the Right to block the votes of non-whites is well documented. The birthers are merely the tail of that, er, dragon.

    As someone said, if only whites voted in America, you’d already have a fascist regime.

  13. avatar
    Tarrant September 13, 2011 at 11:51 am #

    Of course, that is because WND, with its fake polls and articles makes it seem like they ARE the consensus view. Many birthers are convince that they are the majority of the nation and only The Man/The Conspiracy is keeping it from being reported by the media.

  14. avatar
    misha September 13, 2011 at 12:32 pm #

    Paul Pieniezny: (Did I ever tell you I encountered my first coin of that variety this summer in … Andorra?)

    Lupin: @ Paul — a shame I didn’t know you were in Andorra

    Andorra, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Monaco Defense Pact

    MONTE CARLO – Lance Garibaldi, a spokesman for the Presidential Palace held a press conference here today, and announced the formation of LATO – the Leftovers Atlantic Treaty Organization. http://www.thespoof.com/news/spoof.cfm?headline=s3i39831

  15. avatar
    Daniel September 13, 2011 at 12:34 pm #

    The flat earthers also believe they are the majority opinion, and they point to the very compelling fact that we are all born flat earthers, until the establishment indoctrinates us into roundism.

  16. avatar
    Majority Will September 13, 2011 at 3:10 pm #

    Daniel:
    The flat earthers also believe they are the majority opinion, and they point to the very compelling fact that we are all born flat earthers, until the establishment indoctrinates us into roundism.

    That reminds me of my reply when a friend accused me of being out of shape. I said, “I’m in shape. Round is a shape.”

  17. avatar
    Judge Mental September 13, 2011 at 4:49 pm #

    Majority Will: That reminds me of my reply when a friend accused me of being out of shape. I said, “I’m in shape. Round is a shape.”

    My pal Dave has a similar problem Daniel. He told me that he believes in keeping in shape….it’s just that this month’s shape is a sack of potatoes.

  18. avatar
    Dr. Conspiracy September 13, 2011 at 5:13 pm #

    I think there’s an important nugget of truth in this. The media in the United States imposes a rigorous self-censorship, making certain subjects taboo including racist, anti-Jewish, anti-Masonic, anti-Catholic material as well as conspiracies of the New World Order, black helicopters, FEMA internment camps, government mind control, and eminent UN takeover of the world.

    In the 1980’s the radical right’s ideas about the New World Order had infiltrated UFO conspiracist literature. UFO believers are treated by the media as mostly harmless entertainment. Through the UFO community, some of the radical right’s conspiracy theories leak through media censorship and into the main stream.

    I don’t doubt that birtherism provides a similar vehicle, albeit a much weaker one.

    Lupin: @DR. C. My theory that birthers are in part used as a Trojan Horse by racist organizations aiming at disenfranchising non-white people is well-known;

  19. avatar
    Paul Pieniezny September 14, 2011 at 6:56 am #

    misha:
    Andorra, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Monaco Defense Pact

    MONTE CARLO – Lance Garibaldi, a spokesman for the Presidential Palace held a press conference here today, and announced the formation of LATO – the Leftovers Atlantic Treaty Organization.http://www.thespoof.com/news/spoof.cfm?headline=s3i39831

    Come on, that guy cannot possibly be called Garibaldi?

    According to Andorran history as told by Andorrans, Andorra was created by Charlemagne who wanted a place to exile opponents to, who he wanted to kill but could not because of his new Christian faith – priests seem to have told him that a Christian king could only kill people who had killed someone themselves, like a follower of his.

    Andorra being a desolate place where food was in short supply,as there were no skiing resorts in those days, sending people there in exile, when they could not leave even for the South West (under Muslim control) was like slowly torturing them to death. An early Medieval Guantanamo.

    Actually, according to the Moldani & Sorti Time Conspiracy Theory (also supported by Garry Kasparov), Charlemagne never existed, so Andorra does not exist either. Of course, Moldani and Sorti think they have proven that Carlos II of Spain never signed the will that gave the throne of Spain to the French Bourbons, meaning Spain (without Catalonia of course, from where the second ruler of Andorra hails) should now have a Carlist on the throne, only the Carlist “pretender” of today is on record as supporting the establishment of a republic.

    As long as Andorra (figment of the imagination or not) is not a member of Schengen (there has been talk of that for a long time), American visitors normally need a multiple-entry Schengen visa to LEAVE it. There are no direct plane flights from Andorra to London or Liechtenstein, so better be safe than sorry.

  20. avatar
    Paul Pieniezny September 14, 2011 at 7:29 am #

    Paul Pieniezny: Moldani & Sorti Time Conspiracy Theory (also supported by Garry Kasparov

    That is Rita Moldani and Francesco Sorti. They both have short wikipedia entries which do not yet include their most recent novel “Mysterium” which explains all about how not only Charlemagne, but Plato and Aristotle never existed and how medieval monks falsified time.

    Accoding to this conspiracy theory, we are now living in the 18th century after Christ, though there is also an almost as credible possibility that it is really the 13th century.

    Do not ask me how they explain the 300 contemporaneous years in the Anglosaxon chronicles, with the changing language that hundreds of historical linguists consider genuine (to the point of using it for mathematical formulas on language chnge rate – and yes, I have studied this as a major at university). Of course, if you can forge the US president’s birth certificate in such a way that more than a hundred million people think it is genuine, you can also forge 300 years of annals and diaries in a way that hundreds of learned chaps think they are genuine.

  21. avatar
    Dr. Conspiracy September 14, 2011 at 8:14 am #

    Dendrochronology.

    Paul Pieniezny: Accoding to this conspiracy theory, we are now living in the 18th century after Christ, though there is also an almost as credible possibility that it is really the 13th century.

  22. avatar
    misha September 14, 2011 at 8:43 am #

    Paul Pieniezny: Come on, that guy cannot possibly be called Garibaldi?

    It’s satire. I’m trying to get a gig with the Onion. Also, I deliberately said Garibaldi instead of Grimaldi, to make sure no one could scream libel.

    Like this: http://newyorkleftist.blogspot.com/2009/01/what-if-dogs-could-write.html

    Or this: http://newyorkleftist.blogspot.com/2009/01/what-if-dogs-could-write-ii.html

    Or this: http://newyorkleftist.blogspot.com/2009/10/electric-cars-are-dangerous.html

  23. avatar
    The Magic M September 14, 2011 at 8:53 am #

    Daniel: The flat earthers also believe they are the majority opinion, and they point to the very compelling fact that we are all born flat earthers, until the establishment indoctrinates us into roundism.

    Which must mean magic is also real, because all children believe in it until indoctrinated otherwise (by such evil things such as “science”).

    Then again, if you want to see looney, check the ID crowd. At least birtherism has been mostly free of religion (though the occasional WND birther invokes all kinds of Bible quotes). But those people who actually consider Obama the Antichrist, well, there lies the kingdom of madness…

  24. avatar
    misha September 14, 2011 at 9:07 am #

    The Magic M: At least birtherism has been mostly free of religion (though the occasional WND birther invokes all kinds of Bible quotes).

    Steven Weinberg: “With or without religion, good people can behave well and bad people can do evil; but for good people to do evil—that takes religion. ” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steven_Weinberg

  25. avatar
    misha September 14, 2011 at 9:20 am #

    The Magic M: But those people who actually consider Obama the Antichrist, well, there lies the kingdom of madness…

    Obama cannot be the anti-christ. He’s not Jewish.

    – Hagee: He will be Jewish, as was Adolf Hitler, as was Karl Marx.
    – Falwell told about 1,500 people at a conference on evangelism in Kingsport, Tenn., that the Antichrist is male and is a Jew.
    http://www.nytimes.com/1999/01/16/us/antichrist-is-alive-and-a-male-jew-falwell-contends.html

    How do we know that the Antichrist is not a Jew?
    If he were, 666 would be marked down to 495.

  26. avatar
    Paul Pieniezny September 14, 2011 at 9:21 am #

    Lupin: @ Paul — a shame I didn’t know you were in Andorra; we’re in the Pyrenees near Limoux, a couple of hours down from Andorra. We could have met. If you plan to visit the region again, let me know.

    We were staying at Argeles, actually. Perhaps even a bit closer, but of course going through Perpignan is a nightmare nowadays.

    I think I announced here that I would be in Languedoc for the first two weeks of August, but I suppose it was easy to miss. They have Personal Mail at the Fogbow, by the way.

    I do not know whether you can e-mail me through Wikipedia if you are not a contributor there, but that looks even more anonymous than the Fogbow.

  27. avatar
    Lupin September 14, 2011 at 9:54 am #

    @ Paul. You can email me through my wife’s blog here:

    http://possumworld.com/

    I have a friend who lives in Argeles.

  28. avatar
    Paul Pieniezny September 15, 2011 at 12:44 pm #

    Dr. Conspiracy: Dendrochronology.

    But can you really, really prove we are now in the 21st century with dendrochronology? There is a reason why the Time Conspiracy believers concentrate on a period before 1300. (500 to 800 or 500 to 1300)

    And that is the Black Death. There was a virtual stop in building in most of Europe as a result of it. Meaning you somehow have to bridge a gap, by using other techniques.

    This made me think of radiocarbon dating.

    As you know, the Shroud of Turin was carbon dated to 1260-1390. Very soon after the announcement, a certain Raymond Rogers in a January 2005 paper claimed that the sample cut from the shroud in 1988 was not representative. He concluded based upon the shroud’s loss in vanillin, that it must be between at the least 1,300 and at the most 3,000 years old.

    The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry contends of course that Rogers’ study was pseudo science.

    But think about it If the Moldani & Sorti Time Conspiracy theory is correct, Rogers was saying that Jesus Christ was crucified between 750 BC and 50 … BC.

    How one conspracy theory turns another.conspiracy theory into a funny joke.

  29. avatar
    G September 15, 2011 at 5:36 pm #

    Yeah, the Timeline Conspiracies are definitely up there as some of the grandest-scale cover-up claims that conspiracy nuts have ever come up with. They truly serve as an example of how selective and compartmentalized the delusional paranoid mindset can get.

    Some good brief reads on this crazy topic:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Chronology_(Fomenko)

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phantom_time_hypothesis

    Paul Pieniezny: Dendrochronology

  30. avatar
    Keith September 15, 2011 at 9:20 pm #

    Dr. Conspiracy: Dendrochronology

    Perfected at the University of Arizona. Go Cats; BEARDOWN!

    Cut down the Tree’s this week and put’em into the Tree Ring Lab!

  31. avatar
    Keith September 15, 2011 at 9:31 pm #

    misha: How do we know that the Antichrist is not a Jew?
    If he were, 666 would be marked down to 495.

    Ahhh, but how do we know that the real number isn’t 740, marked down to 666? You know we just can’t trust you guys in any of this conspiracy stuff.