The Crowd is eternal.
I have this sinking feeling that in one generation, the terrified, enraged Crowd spent their time torturing and burning innocent farm girls alive for “being witches.”
In similar frenzies, the Crowd spent centuries racing around beating and murdering European Jews in pogroms, culminating in the Holocaust (which, remember, was started by Hitler’s deranged conspiracy theories that people at first laughed at and did not take seriously).
And now we have Qanon, which is electing people to political office and receiving positive words — impossibly — from the (close friend of Epstein) and leader of a certain political party.
We would be well served to be cautious with rumors and cultural frenzies that feed on fear and hate. 9/10 conspiracy theories are completely made up. And some of them have devastating real-world consequences.
We should practice our critical thinking skills and do our research with verified, trustworthy sources, starting with Rule 1: “The more extreme the claim, the more extreme the burden of proof.”
Real-World Conspiracies, as opposed to internet conspiracy theories, are exposed by brave investigative journalists and whistleblowers on a regular basis (often at the cost of their lives).
Think of the Paradise Papers or Edward Snowden (and his legion of predecessors who have been forgotten by history). Think of Glenn Greenwald and James Bamford and the best work by Scahill or Taibbi. Hell, the Nixon affair and exposure of the sordid political underbelly during Vietnam. Bush’s war crimes. The world economic crash of 2008 (clearly dissected down to each participant’s name and conscious participation in countless books and documentaries and popular movies). The Roman Catholic Church sex abuse exposés (which continue to emerge). The organized effort to engineer and COVER UP the climate crisis (in which 70% of earth’s life was wiped out since the 1970’s). Etc. Etc.
There are very real life-or-death issues facing the world. Human trafficking is a member of that set – but there are brave men and women and organizations fighting every day against these evils. We would do well to listen to their testimony and support their work rather than following suspicious Subreddits.
(I am thinking, for example, of Ashton Kutcher’s incredible foundation, which has invented entire AI technologies to help FBI and LEO save kids from trafficking all over the country).
I am unsettled and worried for America; I also have a recurring voice in my head at these times which keeps whispering that “Americans are stupid and cruel, and they deserve what happens to them.” I fight that voice, I resist it, and I try hard not only to learn to be a stronger thinker but how to encourage my community to develop these skills.
Because I know that lives depend on it.
SO HOW DO WE DO THAT? (Some notes)
1. As I have already told my close friends and adopted family (though it needn’t even be said in close relationships), I’m not okay with anything that smacks of white supremacy, Holocaust Denial, anti-Jewish racism and conspiracy theories based on halfwit derivatives of Hitler’s propaganda.
2. I have worked in communities with some of the last Holocaust survivors and have had disgusting, enlightening brushes with KKK and alt right people over the years. I have also met people who were genuinely misled by toxic lies that persist to this day. The Holocaust is an agonizing reminder that lazy thinking, collective panics, and “the madness of crowds” regularly leads to mass murder and suffering in human history.
It takes one ignorant and intellectually lazy generation to repeat all the mistakes of the past and more.
2. I am a vocal critic of the corrupt current political administration in Israel, which has absolutely nothing to do with anti-Semitism. That’s a whole separate issue — I oppose nationalism and support universal human rights worldwide. That’s why I vocally oppose all Anti-Semitism, terrorism, and political violence (regardless of what “side” is doing it), and that is why I have always been vocally opposed to my own country’s BIPARTISAN record of human rights abuses and corruption.
3. Excellent (local) investigators, legal teams, and investigative journalists regularly expose powerful people (like Epstein) before the broken, corrupt system prevents justice.
We need to reform the entire system so that this no longer takes place.
4. Child abusers almost always prosper right out in the open in positions of trust (education or, overwhelmingly, religious positions of power).
The enormous energy that goes into each month’s fake “expose” distracts from systemically tackling this problem, which puts more kids at risk and benefits predators. Qanon is a predator’s wet dream, because it provides perfect cover while people give in to self-serving, irrational panic.
Case in point, again, being that the very Qanon community worships Trump, who is widely [AlLeGeDlY] known to be an abuser of girls and women (with decades of documentation, personal anecdotes laughingly told on tape, entries in Epstein’s records, lawsuits from teen victims that vanished overnight after the election, etc. etc.) The very people who claim to suddenly be experts on protecting children and “exposing” truth are idiotically praising and empowering a known [AlLeGeDlY] predator. They are “bravely” unsubbing from Netflix due to a Qanon rumor — but are they paying attention to the problematic pastor at church?
5. I’m not an expert in many of these matters.
But I’m scared not only of the ruling class in my country but of a great many fellow citizens who don’t know how dangerous they are when they aren’t thinking carefully about important issues.
6. The corrupt machine likes to use the lazy term “conspiracy theories” to paper over Real-World Conspiracies. I am intimately aware of this and I am not lazily saying that everyone who sees the (many) ludicrous holes in the popular mainstream metanarratives is crazy or dumb. Throughout history, huge and scary things happen behind closed doors CONSTANTLY and OF COURSE it’s happening now too.
But I know that I have indulged in being crazy and dumb on some key issues when I forgot to consult trusted community members, public records/data, and experts in examining those tough issues.
7. There are certain subjects that I do not and will never consent to discussing publicly.
And that’s fine, because there’s nothing to be done about them anyway, and because we have plenty of work to do on the well-documented issues and threats that dominate our daily lives.
8. We’ll pull through all of this crap in the end. But it’s a question of how smoothly and whether we choose to avoid a universe of avoidable suffering along the way.
9. We have to learn how to inhabit the tenuous space between curiosity, creativity, wonder, mystery, and mental laziness. We have to see the massive lies that undergird Postmodern America (on all political sides and in all ideological camps); but we also have to be aware of our own follies and cognitive limits. We have to admit that we can only scratch the surface of truth in the longest of lifetimes, and that we will end up being quite wrong about a great number of things along our learning journey. That’s ok – that’s why we build healthy, smart, kind communities in which we all try to balance each other out.
I’ve written extensively on epistemology and metanalysis elsewhere; in short, I have already had the satisfaction of seeing myself proven completely right on some ENORMOUSLY controversial beliefs that others mercilessly mocked me for over the course of nearly thirty years; at other times, I have had the chastening, painful experience of being brutally wrong about major areas of belief.
I am learning to embrace uncertainty, to stay humble, and to subtract my ego from the hunt for truth; to adapt Voltaire: “Uncertainty is uncomfortable, but certainty is stupid!”
10. As the inimitable Jim Carrey wisely says, when in doubt, “Choose Love Over Fear!”
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