Tag Archives: conspiracy

An Epidemic of Paranoia

As one who nurses a few conspiracy theories of his own — but only ones that fit the Seven Secret Rules of Plausibility ;-) — I actually find most of the run-of-the-mill-kneejerk stories, concocted by modern loonies (not only on the far right, but also plenty on the far-left) to be just plain dumb. They are nearly always based on several self-flattering premises:

1) that the powers who are supposedly performing the conniving-nefarious activity are nearly all-powerful, nearly all-knowing and have unlimited supplies of eager, willing, compliant, conscience-free, yet staggeringly competent henchmen, who somehow commit their acts with perfect timing, without a glitch, hiccup or anyone deciding to blab… and

2) that somehow, in a world filled with skilled scientists, cops, investigators, journalists. intelligence agents and dedicated enemies of the (purported) conspirators, somehow it is the believer and his or her close-aligned pals who are the only ones smart enough to see through the smoke and mirrors to the truth… and

3) that lots of people on this planet can be delusional crazy while vigorously denying it, yet nevertheless go on to proclaim, in serene confidence — “But I’m not one of them!”

Days after Osama bin Laden’s death, a wealth of conspiracy theories have been spun, claiming that Osama was actually a U.S. agent, that he had actually been dead for a decade, his body kept on ice in some super-secret location. Or that Osama is actually alive and well, being interrogated by U.S. officials on a remote island hideaway. Or possibly that President Obama invented Osama’s death to boost his re-election campaign, or as a distraction from Trump pushing the “birther” issue (clever use of one conspiracy to kill another…) And yet, in order to conspiracy OBL’s death, they are going to have to malign and impugn the US Navy Seals. That won’t be easy.

There are powerful psychological drivers behind conspiracies: A need to explain one’s own poverty and failure. The allure of enticing pattern recognition. Above all, the warm feeling we get from being in the know…from being part of the “elect group” that can see what’s going on! There are no richer mental drug-highs than self-righteous indignation, resentment, and contempt for fools. See my article on Conspiracies and Wishful Thinking. Self-delusion is the greatest of all human talents.

=== IS IT ALL A MATTER OF PERSONALITY? ===

This seems especially pertinent, given America’s recent swerve down Kookoo Lane. Belief in Conspiracies linked to Machiavellian Mindset – a firm belief that “they did it” is linked to the concept that “I would do it”…if I could! It’s exactly what I would have written, if they hadn’t systematically stolen my ideas. Wait, am I confusing conspiracy theorizing with paranoia? Easy to do… except when the conspiracies are real, but only a few can see them!

Or might it all be chemical? In work that gives cranky teenagers another reason to blame their parents for all life’s woes, researchers have uncovered a genetic link to happiness. The study of more than 2,500 Americans revealed two variants of a gene that influenced how satisfied – or dissatisfied – people were with their lot. Those born with two long versions of the gene (one is passed down from each parent) were more likely to declare themselves “very satisfied” with life than those who inherited two short versions.

=== MORE PARANOIA? ===

Your GPS-enabled cell phone allows your location to be tracked at all times. Even the photos you take on such a device have a location-coding attached when you upload them to the internet, pinpointing the precise coordinates of your home or where you had that weekend tryst.

Is your entire life on your cell phone? Arresting officers may be able to search the arrested person’s cellphone, downloading everything from address books, photos and websites to thousands of texts… plus everything the phone touched in the Cloud… all without a warrant, because the phone was on your immediate person, and thus “like” a pocket or a purse or a set of keys? Or is the phone something much more? A “portal” into your whole life, meriting a warrant to rummage through?

How about the Corn Conspiracy? Ethanol (made from corn) may be responsible for high food prices worldwide. Federal mandates on ethanol have helped push corn prices up from $3 to $7 a bushel. And of course, corn syrup appears in nearly every item of processed food…

From the Washington Times: How the U.S. Treasury Department froze Libyan assets. They expected $100 million, but found over $30 billion — mostly all in one bank. To put it in perspective: In 2009, Libya had a gross domestic product of $62 billion. Anybody remember the “Helvetian War” from my novel EARTH — to retrieve the money stashed by dictators or drug lords in secret Swiss bank accounts?

=== AND FINALLY, UNDERLYING REASONS FOR PARANOIA ===

“Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works. Anything that’s invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it. Anything invented after you’re thirty-five is against the natural order of things.” — Douglas Adams

Calm down. Remember, the thing that you are trying to defend… against those who are conspiring to bring it down… is a calm, enlightened, pragmatic civilization filled with smart problem-solvers, who appreciate knowledge, wisdom and skill… and who negotiate with one another.

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The Future of Media (and when I’ll be on Colbert!)

First, it seems I’ll be made fun of (in good humor) on Comedy Central’s The Colbert Report, on January 7 (subject to change), while helping my favorite show explore the concept of “dangerous aliens!”  Help spread the word!  Sure, I’ll be edited to look silly, but anything for laughs… and for that Colbert Bump!

The Future of “Free” Media

Will the current “everything is free” version of the Internet last? We’ve grown used to being able to hop about like gods, sampling almost everything out there, without having to pay a dime.  There are plenty of wise folks out there who predicted the collapse of this model, for a long time.  Sooner or later, they may prove to be right.

In a fascinating interview, Michael Whalen, award winning composer and new media observer, discusses the challenges facing those who create and delivering “content.”  He correctly (I think) sees the monopolistic control model of content-delivering “pipes” collapsing into a vast lake, though this won’t benefit the content owners, either.

Moreover, the makers of specific mobile hardware will matter less and less. Money will still be made by each year’s best device maker, but it will remain a hardscrabble, highly competitive world. Device-making will not be a robust business model for steady and ongoing profit.

So far, so likely to be true. But what Whalen misses is the other shoe that must drop, and that is the inherent problem in re: advertising. We’ve grown used to viewing Adverts as the great monetizer, the prop that can convert raw numbers of “eyeball” attention-seconds into support for the vast lake of quasi-free content.  This model has worked far longer than I would have expected, supporting Hulu, YouTube, Facebook, Yahoo and so many other content delivery systems one can barely count them all.
Almost alone, I have long viewed this as a bubble, of sorts, perhaps even of the tulip variety. This vast house of cards may prove very hard to support, especially once companies get used to highly targeted AdSense-style ads delivering the actual information consumers need, in order to buy the actual products they want.

Will online advertising collapse like an over-inflated bubble?  I haven’t heard anybody else say this, but I think it might be the next shoe to drop.  And if it does, what will happen to all that free content people are so used-to?

As I see it, there are a few models out there. One is pay as you use… either through fee-entry sites like the NY Times or through content aggregators likeiTunes and the varied Ap stores.  The aggregators are likely to expand.  Indeed, this is one reason why I am clinging to my AAPL stock, because they are well placed to be leaders in this role.

I am less-sanguine about individual pay-for-content, like the NYTimes is trying to set up. I part with most critics over why it won’t work, though.  Most say that the public is used to free content and hates to pay. Wrong. People are willing to pay.

What they hate is the current inconvenience of paying.  Having to type in name/email and password, or credit card info, or even using PayPal to do their rapid click-surfs for interesting content.

“I’d pay a nickel for that, but don’t slow me down!” That is the attitude I am hearing.

The problem is that PayPal is very badly set up to handle the kind of micro-payments that would enable Salon and the NYTimes to charge the reasonable (say) one-cent per view that people would be willing to pay. Seriously, a venture capitalist who invested in the next kind of PayPal… one that gets the micropayments wagon rolling… could make a ton, once ten million people are signed aboard.  A fantastic business opportunity, but it would take a fellow with patience and deep pockets.

(In fact, I know a few tricks that would make it easier and bypass some of the problems.  Daring investor out there? ;-)

Another model is Rhapsody… clubs and subscription services that let you pay monthly and access content without ever thinking twice, after that.  If advertising collapses, you’ll see such services abound.  People will have the click-grab feel of free content, in daily use, but pay willingly a fair monthly rate, as in Netflix. It would work and bypass much of the “Net Neutrality” problems.  (I wrote about both of these methods in The Transparent Society (1997).

Then there’s the notion that advertising will be an ever-growing subsidy, forever. I could be wrong.

A fourth system of content generation and delivery is the one Whalen speaks of: ” I think we’re going back to the 19th century in terms of the “status” of artists. They’ll be figureheads. Imagine: like Paris or Vienna of the 1900s, we’ll have wealthy patrons and small clutches of people who support the art of “real” artists. In this environment, the work we will try to sell is simply a loss leader and an inducement for us to perform or create a “custom” song, TV show or film…”

Yes, obviously this is where we are heading, in a society that is re-aristocratizing at a rapid clip, abandoning the post-WWII shape of a diamond, with a dominant middle class, and resuming the traditional pyramid structure, with a few thousand oligarch families up-top.  It is how things worked in every other culture… and you and I will hate it.  Even if we get to be lords, you and I will hate it.  But it may be where we wind up.  And so, creators (like me) may need to start looking for patrons.

The good news? I know a dozen billionaires on a first name basis. The bad news? That fact has never done me a scintilla of economic good in the past. But it may in-future, if Whalen is right.

Sometimes Whalen gets silly: “I think everyone is waiting for a GOOG – AAPL face off.  It’s not going to happen… AAPL can BUY GOOG.”

Um… not.  Market cap is not everything.  I know Sergey.  Won’t happen.  Heck, even if advertising collapses, that collapse won’t touch Google.  In fact, frantic advertisers will run TO google.

But all that is quibbling.  A very interesting article.

Misc add-ons! =

What if H. P. Lovecraft wrote … TinTin?

Another Smartypants Brin?

The Symphony of Science is a musical project headed by John Boswell, designed to deliver scientific knowledge and philosophy in musical form. Here you can watch music videos, download songs, read lyrics and find links relating to the messages conveyed by the music.

British artist Darryl Cunningham offers an insightful cartoon take on Global Warming and Conspiracies. “It’s one thing to be skeptical, but it’s another thing entirely to believe in a conspiracy.”  It really is very stimulating… or so said hundreds(!) of commenters on my blogs, alone.

= Which Brings Up My Final Thought: about SOA… =

I have long held that Americans are especially enthralled by the mythos of Suspicion of Authority.   And deep underneath their bickering, republicans and democrats share a mental reflex – suspicion of authority (SOA) – that goes back generations, differing mostly over which elite they see looming as a potential Big Brother. (While making excuses for the elites they prefer). Seldom discussed is their agreement on a common theme – that Big Brother would be a really bad idea.

I had nursed a hope that there would come a time when both major wings would realize that – though wrong in many ways – the other side has a point about the elite it worries about.  That we should be guarding each others’ backs. Alas, instead we see a rising tide of irrationality and conspiracy theories.

Conspiracy theories happen when SOA metastacizes, like cancer.  Either by infecting everybody with unreasonableness… or by becoming true.

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