Saturday, March 14, 2015

The Power of Unreason

Gordon sent me a link to a Channel Four page (for those of you who don't know, C4 is the highbrow channel in Britain that brought you the pseudo-conspiratorial drama Utopia. A comedian- it's always a comedian- is doing a show on British UFOlogists that is set to air tonight in the UK. 

What the angle is is hard to tell from the interview with the host in question.  In fact the anonymous gatekeeper who conducts the interview seems downright offended the show isn't the usual BBC sneer-a-thon (UFOlogists are always a safe target for the British media).
You don’t try to debunk these theories. Why did you adopt that approach? 
That wasn’t the focus of the show for me. None of us wanted to make something that was laughing at these people. It was more a matter of going “Look, this is an actual thing that’s happening, and millions of people around the world believe in it,” and if you’re at a dinner party and you’re sitting next to one of these people, you can either say that they’re mad, or dangerous, or idiots, or you could have a good conversation with them. I’m more interested in just hearing from them what they think is going on and why. If you see a documentary with Richard Dawkins, you don’t have time to understand what the religious person thinks, because Dawkins is shouting them down. That’s in no way productive for a conversation.
Or maybe what's really happening is that as the Establishment becomes more and more contemptuous of the citizenry, strange ideas are beginning to well up out there. We hear a lot of Establishment cheerleaders screaming "anti-science" at all and sundry, but none of these seem to acknowledge that every scrap of science being done is ultimately controlled by the Military-Industrial Complex.

That the only way you can get the resources to do any serious science is to completely submit to some corner of the ruling class, otherwise you may as well futz around in the garage with your ant farm and your Sea Monkeys for the rest of your life, no matter how intelligent or ambitious you are. 

There are cliques and factions within the ruling class, which is why you might see some science being done that challenges prevailing orthodoxies, but usually the best-funded factions win. 

The so-called "anti-Science" people are generally more aware of the politics of science than the "pro-Science" crowd. Of course these terms are meaningless- or more accurately Orwellian- since "anti-Science" is simply used to attack people who don't mindlessly submit to every single press release that emerges from a corporate or governmental flack.*


One of the tricks the Establishment uses as these voices well up is try to defuse them with surrogates they believe they can manage. UFOlogists are downright moderate in comparison to some of the ideas brewing out there, one of which is the Flat Earth movement. One of the appeals of the movement is its preposterousness, in fact its proponents tend to acknowledge how ludicrous it sounds in their arguments.

The Flat Earthers are somewhat oblique in their presentations, but I am kind of getting a Gnostic, Dark City vibe from the material I've seen. They also dismiss the entirety of the space program out of hand as a hoax and I have to admit some of the ISS stuff is pretty curious. 

Will it grow past its curiosity value? There's a certain trangsressive appeal to it. I wonder if it could be a harbinger of a new trend, a way of saying "fuck you" to the technocrats. 

There's also the more problematic battle over vaccination, a battle that really moved from the far fringes with the emergence of Gulf War Syndrome in the early 90s. The media is unanimous in its opposition to this movement, but the movement uses that not as a liability but as an asset. Look at the recent controversies over tall tales told by anchormen like NBCs Brian Williams and Fox's Bill O'Reilly to see just how poor the public image of the news media is these days. No "anti-vaxxer" gives a shit what the media talking heads think of them.

Things have gotten so that Google has floated the idea of ranking websites by "truthfulness," using sites like the Democrat-partisan website as an authority. That will surely backfire. The people who gravitate towards unconventional scientific ideas generally rely more on social media and reflexively distrust authority. They'll automatically skip the top results and head for the back pages. 

If Orwellian tactics prevail and the material is excised from the web altogether, it will thrive via email and instant messaging. Indeed, official sanction usually acts as corroboration for fringe theories.

Science made its bed with the power structure- it didn't have any choice. But once those facing the erosion of freedom and opportunity stop being distracted by the shilling and strawmen, Science is going to have a serious PR problem on its hands. 

Maybe more than that, depending on what the endgame of this giant chess match is....

UPDATE: Gordon picks up the thread on the C4 UFO show...

*If people ask I describe 2015 America as a chunk of Weimar, with a dollop of 1984, a slice of Brave New World and a pinch of Khmer Rouge. Ironic that today's authoritarians are yesterday's "free thinkers."


  1. Another excellent post. :) I have long wondered: if there is nothing but "woo-woo" going on about UFOs and such, then *why* do the powers-that-be try so hard to suppress it?
    I agree too, the harder Google and the rest try to suppress the "fringe", the more people will think that where there is smoke, there is fire.

    1. It's funny- last year the media was telling us UFOs were over and sure enough 2015 is seeing the start of a new flap. I swear you can set your watch to it.

  2. I feel like the Einstein Memorial in DC is going to share the same fate as Nelson’s Pillar if these Flat Tops get any real momentum- (They’ll need a nickname- All dissident groups get one eventually)

    1. I can't see this idea gaining that kind of traction. But then again, who knows. It's hard to predict anything anymore.

  3. Another in a long stream of fantastic posts, Chris. Longtime reader, first time commenter so this'll probably be a novel:

    Even though I'm an eternal optimist, it's feeling like the 2010s are even more of a bummer than the 2000s. I'm 29, so I remember the fiery days of Bush-era youth internet culture. 20 year olds casually embedding '9/11 truth' videos next to their favorite bands or TV shows. It was a rough ride but at least anti-authoritarianism was on trend. Fringe was edgy and cool.

    It all kinda fizzled once Bush & Co. (aka 'mean daddy') left office...and at some point in the last two years, a switch flipped and a ton of under 35s have become raging authoritarians. Shout-down / Call-out culture is in full swing. There is suddenly a TON of rage and weirdly misplaced emotion in the Social Justice movement and very little actual social justice (why do that when you can fight among factions, call gay dudes misogynists or practice your best Stormfront impression?). I mean, I'm pretty uncomfortable with parents refusing to vaccinate their children but the absolute vitriol spewed at 'anti-vaxxers' makes me more uncomfortable. There's just so much anger in the culture...and it's all conveniently aimed at each other.

    People have renounced former fads like 9/11 truth or 'We Are Indigo Children!!1!' and are retreating to the warm (cold?) embrace of acceptable thought. At least when people thought they were Indigo Children they were open to something more than the dry bowl of Wheaties currently being served up.

    It's 2015...we're officially OFFICIALLY in the future by 20th Century standards...I wonder if anyone correctly predicted 2015 looks like hardcore 90s nostalgia and people claiming the world is flat? '2001: A Space Odyssey' ... '2015: lolwut? alienz r fake u tinfoil IDIOTS #IF*ckingLoveScience #blessed'

    1. Different anon here. One of the fascinating things is how (as Chris has poined out many time in his postings) scientific advancement has pretty much ground to a halt yet the media propagandizing science is operating in full-on Kurzweil mode telling the masses that we're advancing faster than ever.

      Imagine a thought exercise - you travel back forty years and talk to a scientist or engineer about life in 2015. He'd be quite impressed with Smartphones & computers but not surprised as Moores Law was already going in the 70s. He's probably be disappointed that a typical desktop machine of 2015 has thousands of times more raw power than a 1970s mainframe but isn't artificially intelligent.

      As for other tech of the glorious 21st Century - no moon bases, no Mars bases, no viable cancer cures, our antidepressants work slightly better than what they had in the 1950s but that's all, our best painkillers are still opiate drugs, nuclear fusion still doesn't work reliably, we've got artificial body implants but no working artificial organs and so on. We even cracked the basic genome code but have no working gene treatments and a whole mass of confusing data that's basically rubbished the existing science (humans with under 30,000 genes, epigenetics etc. have thrown a grenade under traditional genomics).

      Science guy would express interest in the ISS and annoy you by calling it 'Big Skylab' then asking why there's no O'Neil colonies or at the very least why we haven't moved our most polluting industries into orbital factories for environmental safety reasons. You'd then bluster through a description of the modern Internet and he'd wonder why a large percentage of the human race is spending it's spare time watching cat videos and why so many people are single and watching porn instead of getting together with all the millions of other unhappy singletons. Then burst out laughing at the concept of social networks where we can stay at home and type at each other before asking if the term is an example of Orwellian doublespeak - or if 21st Century types just really dig irony.

      Now go back in time another 40 years and explain to the scientist of 1935 the technology of the Seventies. Man on the moon, jumbo jets flying across the Atlantic, Concorde, being able to pack the equivalent of 10,000 valves onto a cm square silicon chip, antibiotics, organ transplants, video recorders, laser disks, hydrogen bombs, satellites, lasers - it would all sound like the maddest pulp fiction...

      I'm sure there's lots of strange and creepy secret military tech out there but the actual things we civilians get to use haven't changed much now in twenty years, aside from faster chips - and that economic bounty is coming to an end, too as we hit fundamental physical limits (it will be possible to work around them using fancier materials but is likely to take decades for the industrial infrastructure to make them is built - I've got a book here written in the 90s about the sort of chip tech they expected by now - photonics, super-exotic materials, atom-sized transistors - is all still in the lab). Computer tech is cheap, spies on us and hasn't delivered on half the things promised. Everything else is mainly stagnant and whenever one of my fellow nerds jokes 'Where's my jetpack?' I want to scream at them.

    2. 504, the whole shout down thing is just more divide and rule tactics. It keeps people from coalescing over shared economic grievances. But I wonder if there's also some precedent setting being done here. The US is going to have to deal with a militarized China sooner than later and that means re-militarizing the country. There are all sorts of double-edged swords being thrown around out there by people who don't really understand how quickly pendulums can swing. Remember that whole "First they came for the Communists" litany?

    3. 554, you touch on the same points Peter Thiel has been making. There's a lot of talk out there that for all the bluster and PR a wall has been hit. I've been around around a while and I can recognize the whole "this amazing breakthrough is just around the corner" as being somehow forever elusive when you actually turn those corners. We keep hearing about all these exotic pain therapies yet the big new breakthrough is time release hydrocodone. And then there is the issue of antibiotic resistance. Everyone is always to blame but maybe the problem is that human history is filled with fits and starts and long periods of stasis. Maybe the real secret of the secret space program is how mundane the technology is. That friction and gravity and radiation are tougher foes than our science fiction writers thought. As for Kurzweil, I don't think he's alone. I think naturalism creates terrors the sleep of reason never dreamed of.

  4. This is absolutely true in my experience as a scientist:
    "...every scrap of science being done is ultimately controlled by the Military-Industrial Complex. That the only way you can get the resources to do any serious science is to completely submit to some corner of the ruling class, otherwise you may as well futz around in the garage with your ant farm and your Sea Monkeys for the rest of your life, no matter how intelligent or ambitious you are. "

    The vaccine debacle was kind of a turning point for me. It was weird to see how many self-identified "progressives" (many of them my friends) fell over themselves to defend medical fascism. There was no room for discussing real and troubling issues over informed consent.

    1. I did my first degree at what might be termed a 'lower tier' university in England. Was amazed at how many of the lecturers seemed to be working/funded by organisations related to the military. One guy we even thought was joking when he'd make throwaway references about how he had to attend a conference in Washington DC or similar but couldn't tell us the details (He wasn't joking & was apparently 'Consulting' in some technical manner the US security establishment).

      Later when I did my postgrad at a different uni it was the same - research sponsored by the military, ex-military guys doing degrees, lot of recruiters sniffing round those wanting to work in interesting places like Cheltenham. If it was like this for software geeks at the bottom end of the education market how militarised must the likes of Oxford/Cambridge and the big US universities be?

    2. 130- yeah, it's amazing seeing progressives act as such vociferous cheerleaders for these corporations. But it's the end result of a lot of money and influence peddling. Plus, don't forget the opinion shaping power of the phony culture war.

    3. As someone who works at a decidedly "progressive" university, I can comment that, for far too many of my peers and "betters", the progressive pose ends when their grants, their tenure and their 403b retirement accounts are at stake. Plenty of staunch conservatives in academia who have been posing for the progressive camera so long they've come to believe their own disguise.

    4. I don't think anyone on today's campuses knows up from down anymore, the mind control is so thick on the ground. Notice we don't see the kinds of protests we saw in the early 70s, agitating to get CIA and Pentagon money off-campus. Identity Politics is a windfall.

    5. Chris, yeah, a couple friends of mine protested the CIA on campus back in the late 80's. I hear nothing about that at the same university nowadays. I work here now, and the "corporatizing" of education continues apace, with almost no resistance now. Though, as you are pointing out in your posts, I think that is starting to change, ever so slightly.

  5. One impression I get is that so-called science, engineering, mathematics (I tend to lump them all together under the single banner of curiousity/learning and 'making stuff', or figuring out how stuif is made. In other words, the very bedrock of conciousness, the way everyone does it) has been rather tied to a long line of power structures through history. Had Leonardo been a rebel tinkering in his garage, forget the establishment, we would not be venerating him today. I recall figuring this out on my own, quite a while ago. My own theory is that one day some pimitive human (if there were any) picked up a big stick and wacked another primitive human with it. Sometime after that, enjoying his/her power, they then realized that pretty much anyone could do so, and thus, set about protecting his/her right to wield the mighty stick. Gods and so forth, special privilege by divine right were invoked, and eventually calling on that smarter guy to make a better big stick. And thus it has ever been, and until we evolve out of that morass, shall it be.

    1. Knowledge is power and Power makes it its business to monopolize knowledge or when necessary, surpress it. It has always been that way, to be sure.