DX4 Topic 6 - Conspiracy Beliefs & Cults - What's the Overlap?

Saturday 12 September 2020, 3pm - 5pm

Venue: - Cafe Brunelli, 187 Rundle St · Adelaide

About Focus Questions: a) Please read them before you come to the meetup. Think about them so you have more than "instant opinions" to offer. b) Feel free to add more focus questions. c) THE FOCUS QUESTIONS ARE JUST A MENU TO CHOOSE FROM. From this menu we can discuss whatever seems interesting. d) Focus questions are not intended to push one viewpoint! You can adopt any position you wish. We actually like friendly disagreement - it can lead to deeper understanding

Focus Questions

1. How would you recognize a cult? What is the thinking and behaviour associated with a cult? What kind of organization are usually associated with cults?

2. Conspiracies are universal wherever people are collected together over time. When five people are on a boat, two of them might form a conspiracy against the other three. We expect this sort of stuff. However, there is a scale. When do conspiracies become a serious social, political or economic threat?

3. In life there are real conspiracies, large and small, There are also imagined conspiracies. What kinds of personalities and emotional states give rise to imagined conspiracies? For example, the best known social media based conspiracy theory of the moment is Q-Anon. It favours American Republican election interests, but has also gained an international following. Currently it seems to revolve around accusations that a powerful elite - Hillary Clinton, Bill Gates etc are running a vast international pedophile network to collect the blood of young girls to create an anti-aging potion. The whole thing is an incoherent emotional soup and evidence free. Its elements draw on ideas stretching beck to the Middle Ages, including antisemitism, theories of world domination etc, even witchcraft. The people drawn into it see themselves as rational, and the rest of us as naive.

4. What is confirmation bias? What is the best way to minimize confirmation bias in both formal and informal settings?

5. Try to explain how scientific method actually works. What are its principles? How is scientific method used to provide more secure foundations of knowledge. For the vast majority of people everywhere, "science" is rather like a magical token. When convenient it is wielded as an argument stopper, but its principles are rarely understood.

6. If you wanted to help children understand how cults and conspiracy theories operate, and show them how to protect themselves from being sucked in, how would you go about it?

7. Social media is a fertile bed for conspiracy theories. There has been much chatter lately in America of "the deep state" working to undermine the elected government. How (if at all) does this supposed 'deep state' differ from a professional, non-political civil service trying to act & advise in an unbiased manner according to the law?

8. Political parties and groups habitually conspire to deceive their competitors and/or the electorate on particular issues, or sometimes on an entire agenda. This has always been true. What protections can be built into systems of governance to minimize that damage from such conspiracies?

9. What does the law have to say about commercial conspiracies? How often are commercial conspiracies buttressed by other rationales (e.g. nationalism, racism, religious prejudice etc)?

10, What role can professional journalism play in countering cults, de-fanging damaging conspiracy theories, and educating readership in these phenomena/

Extra Reading

Kyle Daly (August 18, 2020) "How QAnon works like a video game to hook people". Axios @ https://www.axios.com/qanon-video-game-cbbacb1e-969c-4f07-93cd-69e41bc6feeb.html 

Ariel Bogle (24 August 2020) "How the QAnon conspiracy theory is tearing family and friends apart in Australia". ABC News @ https://www.abc.net.au/news/science/2020-08-24/how-the-qanon-conspiracy-theory-is-affecting-australian-families/12564566 

Zoe Williams (27 August 2020) "Laura Bates on the men who hate women: 'They canonise and revere and idolise murderers'". The Guardian @ https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2020/aug/27/laura-bates-on-the-men-who-hate-women-idolise-murderers 

David Morgan (August 26, 2020) "US Congress introduces resolution to condemn QAnon conspiracy theory". Brisbane Times @ https://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/world/north-america/us-congress-introduces-measure-to-condemn-qanon-conspiracy-theory-20200826-p55pbe.html 

Julia Carrie Wong (26 August 2020) "QAnon explained: the antisemitic conspiracy theory gaining traction around the world - The visibility of the online movement has surged as a supporter appears headed to Congress and Trump fails to debunk claims". The Guardian @ https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/aug/25/qanon-conspiracy-theory-explained-trump-what-is 

Michael McGowan (29 August 2020) ""Australian MP takes on conspiracy theorist in court but experts don't know where to begin with online battle - A recent report found QAnon’s following was growing considerably in Australia with only the US, UK and Canada producing more conspiracy content" The Guardian @ https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2020/aug/29/australian-mp-takes-on-conspiracy-theorist-in-court-but-experts-dont-know-where-to-begin-with-online-battle 

Damien Gayle and Molly Blackall (30 August 2020) "Coronavirus sceptics, conspiracy theorists and anti-vaxxers protest in London - Thousands gather in Trafalgar Square to hear calls for lockdown rules to be removed." The Guardian @ https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/aug/29/coronavirus-sceptics-conspiracy-theorists-anti-vaxxers-protest-london


=> ian beutler - What would life be without a conspiracy?
-Where some plotters hide from you & me,-
and plan to make fools of us, you see?
Whilst we are so pure & open, -aren't we?.

=> Thor May - Yes Ian, we've noticed your conspiracy to become Master of the Universe. Observe that I've used 'we' though I've yet to find the other conspirators in my 'we'. The ones in yours are also opaque, so your power to confuse is unlimited.

=> ian beutler - many thanks, Dear Thor, for yr confirmation of my unlimited powers to do something. You are no panderer, but an honest toiler in this almost, or mostly, totally self-deceived area of the mind. So I am assured of your honesty. My most proudly worn distinction, and title, as received from my dear Wife is: Village-Idiot.. and the which I bear with pride.

Michael McGowan (29 August 2020) ""Australian MP takes on conspiracy theorist in court but experts don't know where to begin with online battle - A recent report found QAnon’s following was growing considerably in Australia with only the US, UK and Canada producing more conspiracy content" The Guardian @ https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2020/aug/29/australian-mp-takes-on-conspiracy-theorist-in-court-but-experts-dont-know-where-to-begin-with-online-battle

Learning-Theories (n.d.) "Confirmation Bias (as defined by Peter Wason) - Summary: Confirmation bias is a cognitive error that people make when they are only willing to accept new information when it confirms what they already believe. People who fall into the trap of confirmation bias tend to purposefully seek out evidence that supports already solidified beliefs and purposefully reject any evidence that goes against those beliefs". Learning Theories website @ https://www.learning-theories.com/confirmation-bias.html

Julian Baggini (15 February 2018) "Does the Illuminati control the world? Maybe it’s not such a mad idea
Questioning the hidden power of elites – whether big pharma or secret societies – is really quite sane". The Guardian @ https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/feb/14/illuminati-running-world-not-mad-idea-questioning-hidden-power-elites-sane  [Quote: "It’s good to know that we’re much more sensible and rational than ... clearly deluded conspiracy theorists. The problem is that they differ from the rest of us only in degree, not kind. The reasons why people believe in secret, controlling elites are rooted in basic human nature. We are constantly on the lookout for both patterns and agency. Pattern-seeking is essential for our survival, and the penalties for seeing patterns where none exist are lighter than those for missing patterns that really are there. If our ancestors had failed to notice that crops left to dry tended to die, they too would have expired through starvation. But if they thought they had noticed that sacrificing a goat increased the likelihood of rain, then at worst they wasted the odd bit of meat."]

Foo Yun Chee (June 3, 2020) "Over 140 arson attacks on 5G infrastructure in Europe". Brisbane Times @ https://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/world/europe/over-140-arson-attacks-on-5g-infrastructure-in-europe-20200603-p54z39.html  [Quote: "The Council of EU ministers "expresses the importance of fighting against the spread of misinformation related to 5G networks, with special regard to false claims that such networks constitute a health threat or are linked to COVID-19", it said. ... The World Health Organisation (WHO) has debunked the claims, saying that viruses cannot travel on radio waves or mobile networks, and that COVID-19 has also spread to countries without 5G mobile networks".

Mark Seal (July 3, 2020) “Ghislaine, Is That You?” : Inside Ghislaine Maxwell’s Life on the Lam For a year leading up to her arrest, the vanishing act of Jeffrey Epstein’s longtime friend, lover, and alleged accomplice vexed the authorities, the press, and the women who accuse her of luring them into a web of sexual abuse." Vanity Fair @ https://www.vanityfair.com/style/2020/07/inside-ghislaine-maxwells-life-on-the-lam  [Thor, comment: The viral Q-Anon conspiracy theory revolves around the suggestion that American high profile figures, who just happen to be Trump's political enemies, are involved in a vast pedophile ring. Funnily enough Jeffrey Epstein (now suicided) and his partner Giselle Maxwell (now arrested) were in Trump's social circle and involved in underage sex trafficking for just this cirle of rich clients. e.g. see "All the Ways President Donald Trump is Connected to Ghislaine Maxwell" @ https://www.townandcountrymag.com/society/money-and-power/a33393615/president-donald-trump-ghislaine-maxwell-relationship/  [Quote: "Her New York town house became a social nexus; one dinner party’s 80 guests included members of the Kennedy and Rockefeller clans, “along with the requisite sprinkling of countesses and billionaires,” reported The Times of London in 2011. Maxwell had become “a modern-day geisha” in a “domain filled with the richest people in the world—some of whom are good guys, and some of whom are bad—and who think they are above the law. It’s a world frequented by young half naked girls in bikinis, billionaires and lavish lifestyles, but it borders on the grotesque. You are never really sure what is going on behind closed doors.”]

=> ian beutler - i can assure the unmarried chaps here the best way to learn about double-dyed betrayal & being stabbed front & back, is to marry two wives, one following the other in this "singular time" & to bear children by both & try to care for all of them.

Edward Helmorein New York (11 May 2019) "'Everything was just lies': how alleged sex cult Nxivm deceived its victims - As the trial of the group’s founder, Keith Raniere, begins, experts say people attracted to change are vulnerable to manipulative ‘cultish group behavior’. The Guardian @ https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2019/may/11/nxivm-trial-allison-mack-keith-raniere-cult-victims

Rachel Browne (March 10 2017) "Inside the Jehovah's Witnesses: A 'perfect storm' for abuse" http://www.smh.com.au/national/inside-the-jehovahs-witnesses-a-perfect-storm-for-abuse-20170309-guukur.html

Lisette Voytko (Aug 26, 2020) "How To Talk With—And Maybe Help—Someone Who Believes In QAnon And Other Conspiracy Theories" Forbes magazine @ https://www.forbes.com/sites/lisettevoytko/2020/08/26/how-to-talk-with-and-maybe-help-someone-who-believes-in-qanon-and-other-conspiracy-theories/#2864a11f412d

Mina Kim (August 7 2020) "How to Chart a Path out of QAnon and Other Cult-like Communities". [35 minute audio recording ] KQED website @ https://www.kqed.org/forum/2010101879066/how-to-chart-a-path-out-of-qanon-and-other-cult-like-communities

Derek Beres (18 May, 2020) "The thin line between conspiracy theories and cult worship is dissolving - An information war is being waged." Big Think website @ https://bigthink.com/politics-current-affairs/conspiracy-theories-2646021443?rebelltitem=1#rebelltitem1

George Monbiot (2 September 2020) "No 10 and the secretly funded lobby groups intent on undermining democracy - Thinktanks such as Policy Exchange are working to shift power away from state institutions – into the prime minister’s office". The Guardian @ https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/sep/01/no-10-lobby-groups-democracy-policy-exchange  [Thor, comment: This is real and toxic conspiracy. The general public does not give a damn and will never give a damn. It is all too hard. Most of the public does not understand the critical value of an independent professional civil service and its role in constraining political leaders who act in a sociopathic way. The article references England. The same deliberate destruction of an independent professional public service has been underway in Australia since the time of John Howard. Trump in the United States is sponsored to destroy civil service professionalism ('the deep state', 'the swamp') with a mafia driven gang of opportunists. Well, that's my interpretation]

Christine Vickers (September 1, 2020) "On the edge: the psychology of the COVID rule-breakers". Brisbane Times @ https://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/national/victoria/on-the-edge-the-psychology-of-the-covid-rulebreakers-20200901-p55rbs.html  [Quote: "Psychoanalyst Wilfrid Bion identified characteristics of people in groups: the dependency group – seeking a leader to make all decisions; the fight-flight group where the leader is attacked and or avoided; and the pairing group where the members of a group look to a couple within the group to produce a new leader. Earl Hopper’s fourth Basic Assumption addresses the helplessness and the fear of annihilation experienced in the face of trauma, resulting in inhibition of thought and attacks on knowledge and curiosity. Traumatised groups may act with incohesion, responding inconsistently, or in a fragmented way, using images intended to unite the team, or suppressing discussion. Such traumatised groups can "personify aggregation and massification processes respectively'', Hopper explains. Within government a group might become ultra-bureaucratic, adopting forms of in-group-speak or succumb to apparently logical but binary thinking. Excluded from the conversation, people fear for their liberties. A second feature is the formation of sub groups – cults, or single idea groups. These include conspiracy theorists: such as the types who refuse testing because they believe COVID is a fascist plot. Others, feeling overlooked, unheard and frightened, respond with mockery, derision and violence."]

=> ian beutler - this latest little-chat-topic is totally fascinating,-speaking subjectively.. i immediately call to mind an orgn. (but i wont name it, coz i remember my 'manners' )...that exploits all of this typical MOB-MINDED-CONFUSION.. AND-INDIVIDUAL-TRAUMA...which also explains the reason the most suxeggsful groops are tha phun+games ones... & tha "failures" are-tha-ERNEST-genuinely-soulful-ones...hey!! when's tha next wingding-grog-up b.t.w..?

Charlotte Edmond (n.d.) "Conspiracy theories have flourished during the pandemic – here’s how to stop them in their tracks". World Economic Forum @ https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/09/conspiracy-theories-prevent-spread-covid-19-unesco

=> Bryn Williams - Excellent reference but unfortunately reinforces an approach that assumes the presence of some common sense and that those who are spouting the conspiracy actually want to consider alternatives. Having just had an online battle with anti vaxxers I've given up, unfortunately it seems ignorance and stupidity trump anything if you simply close your mind to any other view. ( PS I had an eye operation on Wed which hasn't gone overly well at this stage. I've had a bleed in the operated eye and spent two days blind which was very frightening. Some positives starting to appear (pun) however maybe a slow recovery and so unlikely I can make this meetup).

=> Sorry about the eyes Bryn. I hope it comes together. Those windows on the world are precious. (25 years ago I took a wild gamble and had mine lasered. It was the best thing I ever did, but needed a few deep breaths). ... Conspiracy theorists - yeah, you can't argue with them. They see rationale argument and our version of common sense as a threat. You have to get inside their fearful, wacky world view and seduce them from the inside out as it were - if it's worth the trouble, which it usually isn't because come the next rabbit hole, they'll fall down that too. But looking at the topic response in Adelaide, yawning disinterest in worldwide raging blazes of conspiracy theories, for popularity maybe I should be selling them, not hosing them down.

=> ian beutler - hope you and I can continue to see eye to eye on a few more things, Bryn... b.t.w. that ol saying "seeing is believing" is crap... also ...

=> Bryn Williams - Thanks Ian, I have had to endure some unkind comments about always being one eyed anyway , so what's new??

Elliott Brennan (7 Sep 2020) "Australia's conspiracy theorists are increasingly energised, but police crackdowns may be counterproductive". The Guardian @ https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/commentisfree/2020/sep/07/australias-conspiracy-theorists-are-increasingly-energised-but-police-crackdowns-may-be-counterproductive

Thor => Yay, at last you understand the greatest conspiracy of all. As the hair stands up on the back of your neck, you realize that a shadowy world is out to get you. Yes, you personally. Think of all those years you dreamed and planned in vain. At every step the goblins had you pegged and put a tree root across the path in a shady spot to trip you. Again and again. As you ate dust for the umpteenth time, a light finally went on in your dull brain. The bastards want to do you in. ... And so it came to pass ... at 3 am on a stormy morning on September 8th 1945, Thor came into the world and his doom was inscribed by the Norns at the foot of Idgrasil : "Reflections on Turning 75" @ https://www.academia.edu/44038894/Reflections_On_Turning_75

=> ian beutler - Your joyfulness at these realisations is infectious,Thor, as it may be with any profound human experience as, e.g. when one learns that one's own human-nature is the ultimate enemy, not excluding one's "self." & OH!!-and many more "happies" ( so to speak) b.t.w. I am sure it was more a delight for your Mother!! &I am sure She was a Valkyre!

Christopher Knaus and Josh Taylor (10 Sep 2020) "Twitter permanently suspends QAnon account belonging to friend of Scott Morrison for 'harmful activity' - BurnedSpy34 and two other associated accounts have been removed by the social media giant in its crackdown on conspiracy content - The man behind the QAnon account is Tim Stewart, whose wife has worked on Australian prime minister Scott Morrison’s staff". The Guardian @ https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/sep/10/twitter-permanently-suspends-qanon-account-belonging-to-friend-of-scott-morrison-for-harmful-activity

Associated Press (10 September 2020) "Mike Pence slated to speak at fundraiser hosted by QAnon supporters - Caryn and Michael Borland, the hosts of Montana fundraiser, have shared posts supporting conspiracy theory on social media". The Guardian @ https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/sep/09/mike-pence-montana-fundraiser-qanon-borland 

Sarbsblog (n.d.) "Escaping my Slavery to Cults Beliefs" Sarsblog @ https://culthopper.com 

Sarah Wilson (15 September 2020) "The wellness realm has fallen into conspiritualism – I have a sense - The collision of new age ‘light and love’ with the conspiratorial world of QAnon may seem surprising, but as a (retired) veteran of the wellbeing industry, Sarah Wilson can see the ". The Guardian @ https://www.theguardian.com/books/2020/sep/15/the-wellness-realm-has-fallen-into-conspiritualism-i-have-a-sense-why 



Index of past discussion topics & questions: http://thormay.net/unwiseideas/DiscussionTopics/DiscussionIndex.htm

Convenor : Thor May thormay@yahoo.com Personal website (legacy) http://thormay.net
Articles http://independent.academia.edu/thormay  (.. about 147 articles by Thor)


Conspiracy Beliefs & Cults - What's the Overlap? (c) Thor May 2020 

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