Thursday, September 29, 2005

The Lunatic Fringe

A relative of mine has completely embraced the Lunatic Fringe. Since he believes computers are evil, he won't access them directly -- preferring to let other get what he wants from them and send the information to him.

Instead, he gets his information largely from shortwave broadcasts.

I love radio. I grew up on Radio. The whole idea is pretty fascinating for me. However, there's little that AM, FM, or Shortwave have to offer anymore. Lots of homogenized, pasteurized, compartmentalized "music" formats and some news. Sports and some news is about the only thing radio has to offer anymore.

I lost any meaningful interest in sports years ago, and I get most of my news from various places on the internet, including, but not limited to, the BBC and Washington Times.

At any rate, this relative buys into various conspiracy theories and then spends vast amounts of energy trying to get others to buy in to them, ultimately in the hope of "proving" he's right so we'll all see how smart he is and it will satisfy his hunger for self-worth.

The Lunatic Fringe (and I'd love to have that old Macintosh Screen Saver/Game written for Windows) consists of the hardest core of the various counter-culture groups on the Left and the Right -- neither side has a monopoly on this anymore.

The conspiracy theories they buy into are the big brothers of the urban legend. Much more elaborate and far more well developed, they have bankers running world politics, our own government purposely staging 9/11, even an elaborate scenario under which the United States of America dissolved itself in 1861 and was replaced by an Evil , money-making corporation for the benefit of the Evil Bankers (who, if you press most of the theorists hard enough will turn out to be the filthy Jooooooooos.)

The stories get really wild and even the best of them get pretty self-contradictory. This is because they are bourne out of wild speculation with little regard to anything like fact-checking and common sense. The construction of the basic Urban Legends is to point to a few relatively obscure but ultimately verifiable facts, mix in a bit of comfortable common knowledge, and then turn the "What If..." dial up as high as it will go -- and state it all as fact.

Throw in a source, like "a friend of a friend", or "someone my cousin knows" to personalize it -- some way to show that the idea didn't actually form in YOUR brain but it did come from a source that YOU, the TELLER of the tale, could hop in a car and go visit if you wanted. Tell a story of intrigue, and you'll have people at the edges of their seats, eating out of your hand.

These conspiracy theories use the same elements - they're just far more elaborate. If a person should choose to check the story out, they'll generally go look for the well-recited and placed facts that the story is peppered with, and find that those facts jive -- and assume that your story is true.

The cleverness is to throw the right frame around certain details of the big picture, and spend most of your time on constructing and detailing the frame, and present the whole package as a complete explanation for What's Really Going On™.

People love intrigue. It's easy to sell. Today's Conspiracy Theories are presenting people with completely alternate realities, though, and some choose to imerse themselves in them so completely that they pretty much spend their lives there.

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