Today’s Scarlet Letter is ‘Conspiracy Theorist’
(mouselink) -- by Matteo Wyllyamz --
It’s time for us to decide if we really want a free Internet. Certainly many of us do. Some of us think we do, but we don’t really understand what this entails or what the consequences might be. Then there is a rising tide of increasingly loud voices who do not believe in an unfettered, level playing field for human ideas, who are frightened by the radical extremes of people’s opinions, and who would seek to control thought itself. Some of these folks would like to fundamentally change our online lives as we know them.
In seeking to control human thought, we are really trying to regulate humanity, to restrain life itself in an attempt to rein in the infinite informational interactions of the universe. I dare say, humans do not have this ability. Throughout history, would-be controllers always lose control, and are defeated by the power and complexity of chaos. As the fictional character Dr. Ian Malcolm said in _Jurassic Park_, “If there is one thing the history of evolution has taught us, it’s that life will not be contained. Life breaks free, expands to new territories, and crashes through barriers, painfully, maybe even dangerously. … Life finds a way.”
The history of our race could be described as a futile, yet reoccurring attempt to control everything, by those who want to administer that control, over those who do not wish to be controlled. And in the minds of the would-be overseers, freedom of speech is dangerous, because in their view, people are not smart enough to be trusted to form “correct” opinions. Some ideas are just too malignant, and therefore must be oppressed at all cost. Other beliefs simply do not serve the self-preservation of the system. This is merely political correctness tending towards its logical end.
And so there is always a great deal of pressure from the current establishment on us as individuals to conform to mainstream ideals. Most often, the people who don’t are mocked and insulted, and this is the way it has been done for millennia. Today, of course, it’s often done on the Internet, through message boards, Reddit, Facebook, Twitter, and the like.
Those who do not adhere to officially sanctioned views are rarely described as free thinkers, non-conformists, dissenters, mavericks, rebels, or even ideologues. Rather, we’ve invented more colorful descriptors in our attempts to mock and suppress them.
We call such people kooks, oddballs, crackpots, nutjobs, tinfoil hatters, or cranks. Snake oil salesmen. When we want to sound more sophisticated and intellectual, we accuse people of “denialism,” or we leverage buzzwords like “extremist,” “pseudoscience,” or “fringe.”
But these are simply code words — insults thinly disguised — that have the same intention as the more fractious aspersions: to discredit someone without the use of reason or intellectual argument. People who study logical fallacies call these ad hominem attacks. Instead of debating the validity of a person’s ideas, we attack the person. And that is not an argument at all.
Insults work well for those who regularly preach to the converted, because this maneuver does nothing to change anyone’s mind about anything. In that way, it’s safe. Easier to simply mouth off at somebody, rather than attempt a logical assertion. These tactics simply inflame and entrench, and that only adds to the futility of using them. When I see someone insulting another person in a discussion, it immediately tells me, that’s the best they’ve got.
And now “conspiracy theorist” has become the granddaddy of all ad hominem attacks. It’s the ultimate label, the new scarlet letter that we can pin on someone we desire to marginalize and ostracize. We can pretty much deny the validity of what anyone says with this phrase. As long as the person’s opinion lies outside of predominant views, we can merely utter, “Oh, that’s just a conspiracy theory,” and then act like the argument is over.
Perhaps the opposite should be true.
Popular opinion, or the societally/politically acceptable mainstream way of thinking, has a pretty dismal track record. If we want to enthrone consensus as some kind of absolute ruler over what is acceptable for us to think and speak, then it seems like we’ll have to undo every major paradigm shift that’s taken place throughout human history. In reality, those who question the status quo are often history’s heroes. Copernicus, Galileo, Newton, Darwin, and Einstein all questioned and overturned scientific consensus...MORE...LINK