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."