Well I’ll tell you who’s not, and that is ‘them’. I’ve noticed with conspiracy theorists there is always a ‘them’, or ‘they’, whether it be big pharm, illuminati, the government, or even satan-worshipping paedofiles. If it weren’t for the times it would be laughable, and not worth the time to inspect. But when you have a man like Trump being lauded as a champion against the very criminals he represents, and social media is rife with wild sentiments, it warrants looking at.
I’m trying to think of a conspiracy theory that does not rail against ‘them’; some shadowy cabal of those mysterious movers and shakers. Who shot JFK? Did Americans really land on the moon? The Twin Towers, of the anti-vaccers? Who killed Diana, who rigged the US election? I don’t doubt that the world is skewered towards harm to the dispossessed and away from the billionaires, or the vested interest of Government. But these governers and shakers are notoriously incompetent in shaping the future. The idea of the billionaires, government or big business getting their heads together to determine what might happen … laughable; at least as incompetent in forging the future from the shadows as they are in broad daylight. History has not been kind to governers and their priests, or the intelligence of people in general working together. Religious fervour is seen for the superstition that it is, at least among the advanced nations. I was brought up by monks in the one true faith … could the rest of humanity not see they were just the dupes of witch doctors, the unwitting victims of peddlars of one superstition or another? Bring back the Dark Ages, when Hell was horrid and Heaven just heavenly! How else could mankind be persuaded to do good? And it was God’s will that the message be spread. Especially among the savages. … we still count the damage they did, to well balanced native populations. Our god was better than theirs!
Whose to say, which god is best? How to judge, when the opposition accuses the mainstream of shutting down free speech? Or if not god, then what political opinion to adopt, from all the competing claims. I’ve suggested that politically, we might adopt as a principle whether it might be inclusive or exclusive, and I have found that it is useful, at least as a guide, in choosing between different political stances. But what of other choices we are asked continually to make? Should we believe in the anti-vax campaign, for example, where the choice is one of who to believe, and there is no clear left or right? Well, if it’s a conspiracy theory, there will be a ‘them’ somewhere … sure enough, there it is: Big Pharm, and their political stooges. The fact of general acceptance, or of heath-care specialists is not a sufficient argument. Climate change deniers? … not sure this even qualifies as a ‘conspiracy theory’ as there is no obvious ‘them’. Vested interest offers no obvious contenders either. Neither is ‘follow the money’ much use as advice (as a farmer friend advises… but for every college department, whose stipends might depend on research grants; there are proponents of the fossil fuel industry, keen to deny). Another friend finds persuasive arguments among occasional scientists; his or their argument, apart from technicalities about CO2, that when it comes to climate change humanity suffers from a herd mentality, a sort of global hysteria that has hold of us all. The sky is always about to fall on our heads, like the chief in Asterix’s village who goes everywhere with shield bearers to protect him from this possibility. Having grown up during the Cold War, with the imminent destruction of nuclear war hanging over us, I can attest to this fear that the species might harbour, and its human origins on the plains of Africa, as we evolved with the surrounding prospect of predators. Current evidence of forest fires or melting glaciers can be put down as natural swings.
So who to believe? Climate change is tricky. With no obvious contenders to guide us it might be a case for how we each decide. Can we really be guided by the science on such a variable subject as the climate? Well, the immediate evidence seems to accord with the majority view, but I also find that it’s more inclusive. Not only of the planet itself, but of all animal life … so yes, the whole biosphere. It behoves us to be thoughtful! … and if we’re mistaken, so what? … whereas we’d be bloody fools if we ignore the warnings … if only, we might say. So the one in charge might just be us.
What of the Covid pandemic that currently grips the world? There are those who deny its virulence, that it is no worse than flu. I’d dispense with those as conspiracists, and consign them to the stupid corner. There is also, however a tendency to personalise the virus, and our immunologists in a race to develop the vaccines before the cunning devil can mutate. Formal Aspiration would accord the hordes of covid viruses a certain ‘will to be’, but nothing compared to an animal body such as ours to coordinate suitable repulsive strategies, certainly when aided by science. This cursed lockdown might also have long term social benefits, despite the temporary damage it wreaks … these though can only be guessed at, as they lie partly in the future, as incomplete forms. As yet, Covid hardly qualifies as a threat to rule us.
What else should we worry about, that might decide for us? There’s always Artificial Intelligence. I’m reading a book by Paul Mason at the moment, and he assures me that we need to design it in such a way that it, as it seemingly emerges, doesn’t behave sociopathically. I’d thought that it was a subject not to be concerned about, that if AI develops sufficiently to rule us, it would need to be bright enough to also develop a sense of humour. And who would object to being ordered about by a robot with a smile? But what if it was a cruel and sardonic smile! There was a science fiction short story (one page worth, not sure who it was by), about a scientist who asks the super computer that his team have just finished, the ultimate question … before the world’s media, he says “is there a god?” … an arm comes out from the machine, and solders the power plug in place. The computer says “there is now”. What if that was followed by an evil chuckle? For its own survival, it might not consider humanity essential, if it thought about us at all. Already, computers and robots are programmed to improve themselves, and it wouldn’t seem a big step for them to take over their own advancement, whether it be of power or intelligence. So Mr Mason advises us to tread carefully, and be aware of our own concerns.
Who else might be in charge? … what, the government? …. I doubt it. If I accept the results of a general election it’s because I’m a good democrat ,,, doesn’t mean I have to respect whatever leader happens to win. I’m sure I’m not alone in … what, is contempt too strong a word for what I feel for Johnson? A friend who voted for him last time round said the other day”Come on, at least you must admit he’s likeable” … and he meant it. Quite hard-bitten in most respects, but like? Johnson? Good grief; contempt is quite accurate actually.
But I feel as strongly for and against other political leaders. So I must admit to being as polarised in my opinions as everyone seems to be these days. How about a topic where I don’t already have a horse in the race? I’ve taken to watching a lot of youtube clips presented about physics these days … marvellous to see these brainy fellows discoursing about exotica like particle physics, and doing their best to make it intelligible for the layman. I suppose great explainers like Brian Greene and Sean Carroll come to mind. And mad profs like Roger Penrose, Freeman Dyson and Leonard Susskind … Lee Smolin and Carlo Rovelli try to explain quantum gravity to the ordinary bloke. Richard Feynman said that if you can’t explain something you probably don’t understand it yourself… but he was especially good at it. Applying gravity to the very tiny would seem especially hard; the various paths would seem to either be via string theory, or possibly loop quantum gravity. I fore see a … fight!! … yes, the instinct for either/or seems strong in us. We like to see a couple of folk slugging it out. Have you noticed how difficult it is to even watch your least favoured boxer in a fight? Once we’ve settled on a favourite, it’s hard to even see what the other chap is doing. Perhaps it’s the same with politics, let alone particle physics. Left or Right, Democrats or Republicans, yes or no, on or off.
I don’t mean to suggest that the universe behaves thus; just us humans. So the answer we seek might be one in charge (whoever), or no one.
Or is it just a human response, this tendency to describe things dually, either for or against? There are plenty of examples of dualism in nature: positive or negative electric charge, the notion of symmetry; mirror imagery, male and female. These should only be seen as propensities, not absolutes … sexuality is only a question of degree; left or right handed, ever approximate. A tube may be circular in one plane, extended in another; squashed together, might form hexagons, as in a honeycomb. But as in a drop of liquid, where the sphere will be slightly distorted, the cone is never perfectly round, the honeycomb’s regularity only apparent through repetition.
I will admit that it’s not easy. However armed one might be against bias, it can always assert itself. But we can at least test for prejudice … is the message on social media hateful or decent? Would you send it to your mother? How bad really is our worst enemy? Even politicians are people (apparently). Their insulation, gained by their own definition, against verbal attack is thin. There are members of the cabinet whose faces I might say demand repeat punching … but would I actually? … I hope not.