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Creeping normality

I have shown how those that follow conspiracy theories typically rely on mental shortcuts to navigate the information, and the content that feeds them this information is efficient in capturing more automatic cognitions. Kahneman (2011), found that the brain forms thoughts in two ways. He distinguishes the process by referring to them as system one and system two. The former being fast, automatic, frequent, emotional, stereotypic, unconscious and the latter slow, effortful, infrequent, logical, calculating, conscious (p.20-30). It is clear which system is more easily hijacked by conspiracy. 

Berlet (1998), although conspiracism is not new to America. It makes periodical appearances, the flames often stoked by right-wing groups to create powerful political weapons ( p. 2). He goes on to mention:

The conspiracist worldview sees secret plots by tiny cabals of evildoers as the major motor powering important historical events; makes irrational leaps of logic in analyzing factual evidence in order to “prove” connections; blames social conflicts on demonized scapegoats, and constructs a closed metaphysical worldview that is highly resistant to criticism (p.6).

Much like the propaganda utilized by the demagogue, Berlet (2018), new recruits, and new versions of old conspiracy claims will continue to shape right-wing populism for many years (p. 343). In his review Berlet found that the theories were formed using one or more of the following themes:

Moral collapse: gay rights, abortion, feminism, pornography, nontraditional sexuality, and violence.  

Statist intrusion (libertarianism): big government, onerous taxes, government regulations, environment, land use, parental rights, job site safety, and activist judges. 

Collectivist conspiracy: liberal media bias, government tyranny, treason, New World Order globalism, and satanic One World Government (p.307).

The review’s suggestion presents many of the themes that flood the societal consciousness at this very moment. The similarities run deeper, though. By going back to the 2016 election and the attacks and conspiracies around the Clintons and those on the democratic side of American politics Berlet (2018), notes that Bill Clinton faced similar attacks from various factions on the far right in the nineties, much of it utilizing outlandish conspirator beliefs (p.306). Clinton would often be forced to adopt right-wing positions, thus sliding and locking political options, where views once considered extremist far-right become ordinary and views considered centrist fall into the class of ultraliberal, and genuine views of the left are pushed outside of the mainstream media (p.350). We can see this has already played out this election cycle. The Democrats were forced to adopt more right-wing positions while pushing out the more progressive suggestions of Bernie Sanders. His platform was framed as communism by some more far-right critics. This of course is just two-valued judgments stoked by the right to prevent any slide towards more left-leaning politics. Sanders’ platform instead was demonized through the use of the “Red Scare”, the fear of communism or anarchism rising within a state.

According to Noam Chomsky this really is not anything new, in an interview, Chomsky told Polychroniou (2016),

Both political parties have moved to the right during the neoliberal period. Today’s New Democrats are pretty much what used to be called “moderate Republicans.” The “political revolution” that Bernie Sanders called for, rightly, would not have greatly surprised Dwight Eisenhower. The Republicans have moved so far toward a dedication to the wealthy and the corporate sector that they cannot hope to get votes on their actual programs, and have turned to mobilizing sectors of the population that have always been there, but not as an organized coalitional political force: evangelicals, nativists, racists and the victims of the forms of globalization designed to set working people around the world in competition with one another while protecting the privileged and undermining the legal and other measures that provided working people with some protection, and with ways to influence decision-making in the closely linked public and private sectors, notably with effective labor unions (para. 37).

This pull to the right is exacerbated by narrowing the field of critical thinking by utilizing conspiracy to further confuse the masses, as Berlet (2018) argues, the right painted Bill Clinton as “liberal” and “far-left”, though, aside from a couple of differences regarding international and military policies, the gap between Bill Clinton and the right was small, however, the attacks against him were exaggerated to monstrous proportions (p. 308-309).

Overall, the tactics are used to blur the similarities between groups to further an agenda. Smashing objectivity and transforming the field to be advantageous for those pushing for a more authoritarian or fascist agenda. 

Next: Look over there! GOATS!

References:

Berlet, C. (1998). Dances with Devils: How apocalyptic and millennialist themes influence right-wing scapegoating and conspiracism. The Public Eye, 12(2), 3.

Berlet, C., & Lyons, M. N. (2018). Right-wing populism in America: Too close for comfort. Guilford Publications.

Kahneman, D. (2011). Thinking, fast and slow. Macmillan

Polychroniou, C. (2016, November 14). Trump in the White House. Retrieved September 20, 2020, from https://chomsky.info/20161114/

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