Social media is heating up. Conspiracy theories are everywhere. I tell you what you can believe with total confidence.
The journalist Gary Webb once believed in a conspiracy theory.
He believed that the CIA was importing huge amounts of cocaine, selling it on the streets of America, and using the money to fund Contra rebels in Nicaragua.
Turns out the theory wasn’t just a theory though. It was fact. And it was the biggest scandal of the day.
Webb got no thanks for his efforts though, and he later committed suicide.
By shooting himself in the head.
Welcome to the strange, murky world of conspiracy theories.
Now, what’s really going on with the Corona virus?
Like, really REALLY going on?
I can see things are starting to get pretty heated on the socials. In the early days of the virus, the narrative was more or less, ‘uncontested’. Now there are more and more voices questioning what’s going on.
That’s a good thing. If you never question anything, you’ll spending your whole life in a nice safe job, until one day you watch your entire life savings go up in smoke in a bot-driven market crash.
But, there’s a lot of stories out there – from the official to the fringe. They can’t all be true, so how do we make sense of everything that’s coming at us?
Over the next few blogs, that’s what I want to try and do. Give you a framework for making sense of the conspiracy theories that are out there, and sifting the reasonable from the nonsense.
Now, when I put it in the context of a binary between ‘reasonable’ and ‘nonsense’ it sounds like it’s an easy thing to do. Like the truth will somehow appear obvious and untainted when we look in the right place.
But humans are not geared up for ‘truth’.
Let’s look at that for a bit, because we need to understand what we’re dealing with.
Okay, so let me ask you, how do we experience ‘facts’?
Well, facts are our things that we have perceived with our senses. Either directly, or second hand – through images to our eyes or meaningful sounds to our ears.
But even this leaves room for a universe of the unknowable. Our senses have evolved. Early organisms didn’t have eyes or ears, but we do.
However, ears and eyes have been selected to help us survive in our environments. That is, they are specifically designed to help us eat, root and avoid angry things.
By design, they give us just enough information to do that. No more and no less.
And they could do more. Insects can see whole spectrums of colour that we can’t see, because it helps them navigate their niche. We can’t see that spectrum because it’s kind of irrelevant to us.
So there’s spectrum of light and sound. But there are world of possible media – Vibration? Quantum phasing? Spirit?
If the earth was inhabited by gentle ultraviolet spirit beings who ate beauty and had no impact at all on our ability to eat, root or avoid angry things, then we wouldn’t be able to see them, simply because there would have been no evolutionary advantage in being able to see them.
So this is the first point. Evolution determines what you are capable of perceiving.
You are never seeing the ‘whole’ truth. Your sense organs are just not designed to do that. That’s not what they were built for.
They were built for survival, not truth.
The same story goes with the information you perceive and the way you process it.
Your brain’s job, as detailed in the job description evolution gave it, is to give you a workable framework for getting about in the world.
The ‘accuracy’ of that framework, again, is kind of irrelevant. The only thing that matters is whether it successfully helps you eat, root and avoid angry things.
So perhaps you believe that when trees wobble, it creates wind, and when trees really start wobbling, a storm is coming and you should take shelter.
It doesn’t matter that you’re ‘wrong’. The framework helps you survive, and that’s enough.
The ‘truth’ is only ever a second-order consideration.
This is something that is useful to acknowledge.
Your brain has only a loose commitment to the truth. It is interested in relevant and workable truths, not complete truths.
In fact, it’s geared to not spend too long over-thinking the truth. Once the brain has a workable framework, it actually starts resisting the impulse to do any more digging.
Once you have a workable framework, you actually, sub-consciously, start filtering out anything that might disturb your confidence in that framework.
It’s why science tends to move in lurches – frameworks need to become completely untenable before we’ll invest the precious resources needed to create a new one.
And that’s all before we touch on social media thought bubbles, confirmation bias and the tendency to believe anything that ‘feels’ right.
So that’s the second point. Not only are you imperfectly equipped to perceive truth, you are imperfectly equipped to understand truth.
It’s an uphill battle all the way.
I’m saying all this because I think we all need to relax a little bit.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed right now because you don’t know what the truth is or who to believe, that’s ok. You not designed for ‘truth’. It’s still available to you, but you’re fighting your biology.
So take it easy. Find what’s workable for you. That’s what your ancestors would have done.
The second point is that if you’re shouting at strangers on the internet because they’re too stupid to see the truths that you see, maybe dial it back a bit.
First, while it’s possible that you have a grasp on the whole truth, it’s probably unlikely. Second, if you’re getting frustrated that people can’t embrace your truths overnight, it’s most likely because there’s a billion years of evolution getting in the way.
Go easy on them. They’re sophisticated monkeys trying to do the best they can… just like you are.
So take it easy Australia. Either way, we’re all in this together.
Now, I haven’t told you what I think yet…
More on that next week.