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onfocus: Conspiracy Thinking as Corrupted Play

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onfocus: Conspiracy Thinking as Corrupted Play

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I hesitate to mention conspiracy theories at all because while I think they can be entertaining to turn over in your mind they’re ultimately not a rewarding way to spend your mental energy. What if humans didn’t land on the moon? is a neat party trick once but you can’t build a movement on it because it doesn’t hold up with any scrutiny. (By the way, check out the fantastic three-episode Our Fake History podcast on this topic: Why Deny the Moon Landings?)

If you haven’t been following the big consipracy theory of our day, I don’t blame you. There’s a good primer in The Atlantic: American conspiracy theories are entering a dangerous new phase. I think it’s good to be aware of it because it’s starting to affect our politics and creep into our culture. You can’t help but encounter these theories on social media. And unlike moon landing denial or flat-earthers, these theories have become a dangerous world view and belief system for many of the people who are snared.

One useful angle I’ve seen for thinking about these all-encompassing conspiracies is comparing them with alternate reality games. ARG designers Adrian Hon and Dan Hon both had great articles expanding on this connection: What ARGs Can Teach Us About QAnon and QAnon looks like an alternate reality game. I think looking at the history of ARGs can help us make predictions about how current conspiracy behavior will unfold. I especially liked this idea Jon Glover mentioned of corrupted play that describes losing the frame:

Role play is contingent on navigating between real and imagined worlds, which affords opportunities for allegorical thinking, exploration of alternate identities and universes, and creative problem solving. But when this boundary collapses, we have what Joseph Laycock calls corrupted play, a term that helps explain dark or weaponized ARGs.

Corrupted play describes both the appeal and danger of conspiracy thinking. The appeal is all of the good pieces of play that we need but twisting it by losing the fact that it is play at all. Here’s the article by Glover: This Is Not a Game.

Another post that gave me a lot to think about this topic was Mike Hoye’s Connections. He saw conspiracy thinking as similar to occult thinking and summarized C. S. Lewis’ view of its ultimate futility:

Lewis saw occultism as a sort of psychological snare, a set of endlessly self-referential symbols of symbols of symbols with no ultimate referent, a bottomless semiotic rathole for the overcurious inquirer designed to perpetually confuse and distract the mind.

In computer terms, this reminds me of a Honeypot:

Generally, a honeypot consists of data (for example, in a network site) that appears to be a legitimate part of the site that seems to contain information or a resource of value to attackers, but actually, is isolated and monitored and, enables blocking or analyzing the attackers.

However, unlike a script that’s trapped in a loop gathering bogus data, conspiracy adherents take their collected data and act in the world.

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Sanders and Schumer call on McConnell to hold hearings to fight election conspiracy theories – KTVZ

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Sanders and Schumer call on McConnell to hold hearings to fight election conspiracy theories - KTVZ

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Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer of New York are calling on Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to create a new bipartisan committee focused on election integrity and schedule hearings to reassure Americans over a process President Donald Trump has repeatedly sought to undermine.

There is growing anxiety among Democrats, and some Republicans, that Trump will not only continue to sow doubt over the legitimacy of the coming election but throw the subsequent count into chaos by declaring victory before all the votes can be tallied, including the millions that will arrive by mail.

In a letter to McConnell, Sanders and Schumer quote back the Kentucky senator’s own words, in which he attested to the reliability of mail-in voting by citing its successes in Oregon, Washington and Colorado, which have been using the system for years.

Trump has repeatedly questioned the validity of mail-in voting, promoted conspiracy theories questioning election security, called on supporters to act as unsanctioned “poll watchers,” and suggested that the absence of a clear result by the evening of November 3 would in some way cast doubt on the eventual outcome. Key allies in powerful positions, like Attorney General Bill Barr, have followed suit. Barr has persisted in puffing up a debunked claim that ballots received by mail would somehow strip the sender of their privacy — ignoring well-established safeguards.

By escalating the matter now, Sanders and Schumer are responding to growing concern, in partisan and nonpartisan spaces, that Americans are not adequately prepared for the potential of a longer-than-usual wait for results or Trump’s willingness to short-circuit the democratic process if he smells defeat.

“Democrats and Republicans in Congress must come together to ensure that we have a free and fair election where every vote is cast and counted without intimidation,” Sanders told CNN, “where no one has to put his or her health in danger to cast a ballot, and where we have full confidence in the results.”

The proposed hearings would invite a cross-section of election officials from across the country to testify to the security and reliability of mail-in, early- and in-person voting — subjects on which Sanders and Schumer, again, referenced McConnell’s own words.

“Despite the clear security of our vote-by-mail system, some have continued to undermine it with unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud,” they wrote. “As you have correctly said, people ‘can vote early, you can vote on Election Day, or you can drop it in the mail,’ and that voters should ‘not worry about your vote not counting.’”

The minority leader and Sanders, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, also want more detailed discussion about the fraught hours, or days, after the polls close and a real-time watch of the election horse race potentially swings from one candidate to another.

“We know a number of states may well be counting ballots for a period of time after Election Day, and that those votes may be determinative in this election,” the senators wrote to McConnell. “To avoid disinformation, conspiracy theories, and suspicion about results, we must understand the likely timeline for this process.”

The letter goes on to reference the recent war games-style preparations conducted by a group called the Transition Integrity Project, a bipartisan gathering of operatives and academics that made headlines when some of the outcomes of their exercises — including “both street-level violence and political impasse” — were reported on in late July.

“A bipartisan group of experts and officials have studied multiple scenarios where the outcome of the election was not immediately known. Some of these scenarios resulted in unrest and even violence,” Sanders and Schumer wrote, suggesting the Senate should elevate similar discussions and familiarize the public with the uncertainties ahead. “We would like to hear from the most knowledgeable people in the country as to how we can do everything possible to make sure that the election and the period afterward is secure and peaceful.”

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HHS official sorry for conspiracy theory video

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HHS official sorry for conspiracy theory video

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HHS supported Caputo, with a statement that called him a critical, integral part of the presidents coronavirus response, leading on public messaging as Americans need public health information to defeat the COVID-19 pandemic.

There was no immediate statement from the White House.

Attempts to reach Caputo were unsuccessful.

On Capitol Hill, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., called on Azar to fire Caputo, accusing the spokesman of trying to interfere with CDC reports to the medical and scientific community, as well as the public at large. And Senate Minority leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., called on Azar himself to resign, citing interference with the CDC as one example of what he termed the administration’s failures.

Officials at CDC have privately complained of recent efforts by political appointees at main HHS to try to edit or press for changes in the agency’s weekly MMWR publications, a go-to resource for public health professionals.

MMWR articles are technical, but they reveal telling details. One published earlier this year noted that while Trump’s travel restrictions dramatically reduced travel from China in February, nothing was being done at that time to restrict travel from Italy and Europe, where the coronavirus was spreading widely and rapidly. Analysis of virus samples from hard-hit New York in March suggested it was introduced there from Europe and other parts of the U.S., the CDC article reported.

Caputo is an unswerving Trump loyalist. His recent book, The Ukraine Hoax, claims the presidents phony impeachment was rooted in a vast conspiracy.

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unwinona:This is exactly what conspiracy theorists and anti-vaxxers have done with their HIV/AIDS…

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unwinona:This is exactly what conspiracy theorists and anti-vaxxers have done with their HIV/AIDS...

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My RSS Feedunwinona:

This is exactly what conspiracy theorists and anti-vaxxers have done with their HIV/AIDS and Polio narrative (among others), only we’re seeing it escalated to weeks and months instead of years or decades.

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