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Madness and civilization

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I read the manifesto of the man who set himself on fire in front of the Trump trial courtroom building yesterday. It’s a mixture of valid generalizations (Crypto is a Ponzi scheme; Elon Musk is a dangerous man; NYU is a racket) with huge swaths of paranoid nonsense. It’s among other things the obvious product of someone Doing His Own Research on the Internet for 18 hours a day for a decade or two, which is something that has driven many people completely crazy, although I realize that’s not the DSM-5 approved term.

My friend Steve the meteorologist asks some pertinent questions:

We need some metric on “people be crazy” to determine if people be crazier.

Anecdotes:


1. Aaron Rodgers. Sandy Hook fake, antivax, 9/11 fake, Fauci created HIV, Tartarian architecture.

2. Naomi Wolf. Similar list of everything

3. Lara Logan. Pizzagate, QAnon, Zelensky is a Satanist, plus above list of Covid/vax/Fauci. Rothschilds hired Darwin to invent fake evolution theory. Rothschilds started American Civil War.

4. James Delingpole. Longtime professional climate skeptic, in the wrong but not foaming sense. Now totally foaming. Flat earth, dinosaurs are fake, moon landings were fake.

Importantly, these were people of some professional success, with probably the required 70th%ile or better intelligence. Rodgers is verbally adept, and he hosted Jeopardy. Wolf–well she’s never been great but she was in the respectable lane in the 90s as a feminist author and political consultant (Al Gore earth tones. OK, still too soon). Now crazier than crazy. Logan was a 60 Minutes reporter, Delingpole wrote for British newspapers, National Review.

They all went completely nuts. It seems inescapable that the availability of all sorts of online nuttiness greased their slide down the crazy hole. You can in fact do a lot of your own research. If you choose to be credulous, there are 1000 videos and manifestos about which to be credulous.

Of course a response would be “there have always been crazy conspiracists” and that is true. Which is why we need some sort of measure. Be People Crazier?

What brought this to mind is the guy who set himself on fire today. He is not in this category, in that he was not professionally successful. But he clearly had done a lot of research, being mad about Peter Thiel, crypto and a bunch of other stuff he undoubtedly found online.

It’s a good question, related to another one I have, which is to what extent people who go down one bogus Internet rabbit hole end up feeling impelled to go down some or many or all of the others? My suspicion is that that there’s some kind of crazification inertial effect, that drives people who buy into one piece of craziness to start mentally purchasing all the others as well. (Naomi Wolf seems like a good example of this.)

Related to this is what has been called the shift from conspiracy theories to “conspiracism,” which is conspiracy theory without the theory. Donald Trump (“a lot of people are saying”) is the avatar of this trend, which I take to be an example of the degeneracy of the present age, as in my day one had to connect the dots on the mimeograph with some sort of elaborate account, not merely assert that the Earth is ruled by lizard people. Today’s paranoid ranters have no sense of craft is what I’m saying.

Yes this is a serious subject, but laugh or cry remain our civilizational options.

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