What does it say about the world today when even seemingly reasonable people like Umair are falling for these conspiracy theories? I've learned that a true believer in a conspiracy cannot be reasoned with, even after their “evidence” has turned out to be nonsense over and over again. There is no point in arguing about the very poor standards of evidence that they are willing to embrace in support of the narrative. It is impossible for them to take an honest look and see it for what it is...their attachment is not logical, it is emotional. The roots of the most conspiracies are always deeply embedded in our deepest and darkest biases...including those we don't even realize we have.
Umair has written very many eloquent pieces on the characteristics of authoritarianism, I applaud him for this effort, and it is the main reason why I follow him. But he has somehow missed the important fact that conspiracies are themselves a very useful tool of authoritarian regimes, and an effective means of manipulating people into doing things they would not ordinarily do. The rise of conspiracies in place of genuine and honest public dialogue is an extremely dangerous sign.
The point of officially peddled conspiracies is always the same: To deflect criticism away from those who are responsible, and to instead direct it toward scapegoats. The best scapegoats are those that resonate with deep-rooted (and very human) biases within a population, especially racism and/or xenophobia. And conspiracies about other alleged conspiracies are also common. It is frighteningly easy, and the results can be devastating.
The Nazi regime was very skilled at wielding conspiracies. The Reichstag fire conspiracy blamed Communists and gave Hitler an excuse to seize power. It worked so well, that they kept escalating conspiracies by pushing them out to mass media channels. The holocaust was based on an officially peddled conspiracy that Jews were themselves engaged in a mass conspiracy. This was the precise mechanism that enabled the Nazi regime to round up and murder millions of people, with little opposition from the public.
Conspiracies are bipartisan. In a hyper-partisan environment, in which all politicians of all stripes are willing to stoop as low as they can go in order to gain any perceived momentary advantage, all tools and methods are on the table. Conspiracies are a common theme in both the GOP and Democrat circles, and are peddled and reinforced by their corresponding mass media.
Conspiracies change people in surprising ways. The conservatives that I knew as a younger man would never support Trumpism as we know it today, and would have been horrified to see his (and his follower's) attacks on institutions. Likewise, the liberals I knew while growing up would never support the present-day attacks on free speech, cheerleading of state security, unbridled militarism, mass surveillance, suppressing whistleblowers, or hiding government behind a thick veil of secrecy under the guise of "national security." Nor would they ignore the false charges, imprisonment, and torture of major publishers in retaliation for revealing information that is embarrassing to the empire. But today's Republican and Democratic parties have become unrecognizable to me, they aren't grounded in any kind of ethos. Everything is about gaining advantage in the moment, and total disregard for all principles, morals, and values that used to define them.
Q-anon and Russiagate are the respective conspiracy theories of Trumpism and Clintonism. Both are probably rooted in some truths, which provide an entry point to a broader belief in these conspiracy ecosystems. The collaboration of state security to gain more funding, legal power, and influence (the so-called "deep state") is demonstrably factual and on-going for many years, but Q-Anon takes people from this point and leads them to believe that leaders are engaged in widespread child prostitution, Satanic rituals, etc.. Similarly, the idea that Russia and the US regularly interfere in one another's elections was always an accepted fact throughout my entire life (and that is only the tip of the iceberg of global-scale influence campaigns), but Russiagate takes it to whole new levels of pee-tapes, puppetry, hacking of everything from electricity grids to rocket launchers, etc.. Each family of conspirators mock and ridicule the other camp's conspiracy madness, and neither side can take an honest look at themselves. It is a case of dueling conspiracy systems...it destroys any possibility for people to engage in genuine dialogue. This is not a good sign.
The thing that alarms me most is Democrats' descent into an alternate reality, with Putin as bogey-man. I had previously thought that Democrats were at least somewhat more reasonable than Republicans, but now I unfortunately see little difference. Just in recent years I saw Democrats actually supporting continuation of the war in Afghanistan, motivated by the dubious claim that Putin was paying bounties on US troops. Because they think he might have published material that was helpful to Trump, they ignore the false prosecution, imprisonment, and torture of a major publisher, Julian Assange. There was an instant 180˚ turn on #IBelieveHer once their anointed anti-Trump was the accused. Because Russia (followed by 6 January), they have been manipulated into supporting mass surveillance, expansion of the police state, rolling back civil liberties, mass censorship campaigns, and more.
When even the "reasonable" people have lost their minds in conspiracy theories, and this is changing them in fundamental ways...it is a time for great concern. I know I'm wasting my time writing this, since it won't change anything, the conspiracy nuts on either side will never be swayed. But at the very least I feel the need to document and share my observations...and I can hope that Umair will come back to logic and reason again. We need his voice to expose the tools of authoritarianism, it would be a terrible shame to lose him to their machinations.