The age of Conspiracies

I wrote about “The Age of Stupid” a few weeks ago, but “Age of Conspiracy” could be just as appropriate to describe what we’re going through these days. And it’s been going on for a long, long time.

You could say that I grew up in an age of conspiracy theories. I was born about halfway through the “red scare” that started in the late 1940s and ran into the late 1950s. Politicians like McCarthy latched onto it immediately as a way of expanding their power and influence, claiming there were evil communists lurking in every corner, infiltrating our schools and even taking over our popular media. It resulted in very public witch hunts. It ruined the lives of a lot of people because of the tactics of people like McCarthy, who engaged in unsubstantiated accusations, public attacks and fear mongering. I suspect that McCarthy didn’t give a fig about communists, nor about the homosexuals he’d tried to go after in the so-called Lavender Scare (1) earlier. I suspect he was trying to do anything he could to revive a rather mediocre political career and saw this as a possible path to power.

McCarthy and his red scare was perhaps the beginning of the modern era of conspiracy theories. After his disgrace and his death in 1957, other people, other organizations, took up “the cause”, whatever that cause might be. Whether that cause was the government poisoning us by putting fluoride(2) in the water, the United Nations taking over the US, Catholics (3)… The list goes on and on.

Any time there is some kind of crisis going on it seems that someone will come up with some kind of conspiracy theory to try to explain it.

The development of the internet has resulted in such an explosion of conspiracy theories that it’s impossible to keep up with what’s going on out there. There’s Jade Helm, which somehow linked empty Walmart stores with FEMA, the UN, Obama (of course) and I don’t know what all else and morphing it all into some kind of invasion attempt. Airliners pumping tons of chemicals into the atmosphere via ‘chemtrails’. Weird, mysterious groups of people who secretly control the world. Fake moon landings. FEMA stockpiling “disposable coffins” to deal with the bodies when Obama purges the country of A) gun owners/NRA members, B) Christians, C) heterosexuals, D) all of the above. FEMA setting up “death camps” in secret locations all around the country so it has enough bodies to put in the ‘disposable coffins’. Fluoride (again and still). Canada pre-staging its entire military force along the border to invade the US. The NRA board of directors being taken over by the Islamic Brotherhood. Hillary has brain cancer. Hillary has tuberculosis. The list goes on and on and on.

How do these things get started in the first place? And even more importantly, why do some people actually believe them?

How they get started isn’t difficult to discover in many cases. Someone, somewhere, finds something, some little fact, some photo, some tiny, tiny bit of reality, and goes off the deep end with it, totally transforming into something it isn’t. Over time other people get their hands on it, add to it, expand it, modify it, and you end up with… Well, let’s look at the FEMA coffin thing.

What seems to have happened in that case is that someone stumbled on a field covered with not coffins, but with burial vaults that are used to put over coffins to prevent coffins from collapsing when you drive thousand pound lawnmowers over cemeteries. In a lot of areas these things are required by law. You can’t just shove a coffin in the ground, you have to put a vault over the top of it. Because burial vaults are tough and weather proof the company didn’t see much point in building expensive warehouses to store them, they just stack them up outside in a vacant field. Eventually this field of burial vaults morphed into the FEMA coffin nonsense.

Same with the FEMA death camps. They have actual photos that prove there are actual camps complete with tacky old trailer houses where they’re going to shove all us gun loving god fearing americans while they line us up to kill us off. Probably with fluoride? That story also started with a very tiny grain of truth. There are areas where large numbers of these trailers are parked. They aren’t “camps”, they’re storage areas. Where do you think FEMA gets the trailers they use to house people after a major disaster? Just call up some manufacturer and say they need, on, 5,000 trailers and deliver them tomorrow? Of course not. They already have them stockpiled. Someone stumbled across one of the storage sites, and the story evolved into the whole death camp nonsense.

I know how these things get started, but what’s always puzzled me is why so many people, many of whom seem reasonably intelligent, believe this stuff.

I think part of the reason is we often refuse to accept the fact that a lot of things are our own fault. We have made decisions in our lives that have resulted in certain undesirable consequences, and because we like those decisions, because they make our lives more comfortable or make money for us, we desperately try to rationalize away the undesirable consequences.

Like climate change. It is a flat out fact that pumping hundreds of millions of tons of carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere as we have been doing for decades is going to have an adverse effect on the climate of the planet. But a lot of people won’t accept that because it means that it would be their fault and, even worse, trying to fix the problem might have an adverse effect on them personally. So they latch onto some tenuous and irrational explanation for what’s going on, rather than accept the facts.

The list goes on and on, with people latching onto conspiracy theories for whatever reason.

There are always going to be people who, for whatever reason, appear to genuinely believe this stuff. There’s nothing we can do about that.

The real problem is when politicians and the media deliberately embrace this kind of thing for no other reason than for financial gain or to try to expand their support.

 

 

—- Footnotes

(1) Most people don’t remember the so-called “lavender scare” that McCarthy and a few others attempted first, a witch hunt McCarthy and others conducted against suspected homosexuals. McCarthy seemed almost desperate to try to find some issue, any issue, that would bring him some kind of influence and power after his mediocre and largely unnoticed career in the Senate.

(2) Still is in some areas. The fluoridated water scare is something that goes through cycles it seems. It eventually fades away, but sooner or later some news service comes across something on a slow day, runs it, and it heats up again, only to fade out of the public eye until the next slow news day.

(3) Yes, Catholics. They’re plotting to take over the US and turn it into the Pope’s private estate, you know, or something like that. You wouldn’t believe the nonsense we used to hear when Kennedy was running for president.

Disconnection from Reality in Agriculture

I often find myself irritated by what appears to be a serious problem with how some ag news outlets and their various pundits report on the dairy industry. Ever since milk prices plummeted a couple of years ago, I’ve been reading an endless string of opinion pieces by the so called experts, the pundits, even actual news reports, that indicate that milk production is dropping, or is going to drop, the number of milking cows is going to shrink, and there is going to be a significant improvement in farmgate(1) prices.

Even as I was reading some of those items I was scratching my head because the actual data I was seeing was telling me exactly the opposite of what the pundits at the ag web sites were claiming. While there was some shrinking numbers in some parts of the world, like New Zealand, what I was seeing in the rest of the world was a significant increase in production almost world wide.

The experts were claiming that production in the US was shrinking as well. They were claiming that production was flat or even shrinking as farmers culled herds and halted expansion plans.

The problem was that at the same time I was seeing new permits for mega farms being applied for, news stories about expansion plans, and other indications that exactly the opposite was happening.

The new USDA report that came out yesterday supported what I’d been seeing in the news, and indicated that the pundits don’t read the news reports in their own magazines or websites.

August milk production was up almost 2% in the US. Texas’ production was up 11%. The report said that 16,000 milking cows were added in July alone, and 45,o00 were added over the past year. And just ten minutes ago I was reading about yet another application here in Wisconsin for a dairy CAFO(2) to expand to 5,000 head.

The problem with a lot of these experts seems to be that they look at a specifically local condition and extrapolate from that and apply it world wide, while ignoring what’s really going on.

Some of the claims that production in the US was in decline was due to California. Production there has been declining significantly for the last ten years for a variety of factors. But they’ve been ignoring the fact that almost everywhere else in the US production has been going up. Wisconsin, North Dakota, Arizona, Minnesota… almost every state with any kind of significant dairy farm presence has been increasing production, often dramatically, as with Texas.

It’s been the same thing with the EU. They focus on a single country that’s seen a decline in production, and from that claim production is going down through the entire EU. When it isn’t.

It’s been a similar story when it comes to demand for milk products. They seem to focus on a small part of the world that is experiencing an increase in demand for milk products, and apply that world wide.

Even worse, they’ve gotten in the habit of looking at Global Dairy, a milk marketing system in New Zealand, as an indicator of world wide demand. But they tend to ignore the fact that GD is not an independent market. It is a wholly owned subsidiary of Fonterra, the New Zealand milk processing giant, and that it has a history of deliberately manipulating supplies flowing through the market in order to manipulate prices. Neither the amount of product flowing through GD, nor the prices of the products sold, is an accurate picture of supply and demand.

 

 

  1. Farmgate price is not the commodity futures price, but the actual price that the farmer gets for her/his product. There is often a significant difference between the commodities prices and the farmgate price. For example, a couple of months ago when the corn price on the Chicago market was running about 3.49, the actual price farmers in this area were getting for their corn was 2.78.
  2. CAFO is the term used by government for a mega farm. Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation. It applies not just to dairy farms but to any animal operation that has more than a certain number of cattle, pigs, etc. Generally around 500 – 700 animals.

The Age of Stupid

Some people like to classify different periods of human development in terms of ‘ages’. We’ve had the Stone Age, the Bronze Age, the Iron Age, the Steam Age, the Space Age, the Nuclear Age.

According to a friend of mine, we have entered what will be the last age of humanity, the Age of Stupid. And one of the problems is, well, this kind of attitude:

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This quote from William James, a philosopher and psychologist from back around the end of the 19th century, pretty much sums up what’s going on these days. This quote was bogus at the time, and it is bogus now.

Belief does not create  fact. Belief does not alter the facts.

But that doesn’t stop millions of people from thinking that it does.

We seem to have come to a point in human evolution where a lot of people think that belief does indeed equal fact, is even superior to fact. All you have to do is turn on the television, listen to the radio, read on the internet, and you can see that.

Sometimes when I see the list of people who, for whatever reason, accept belief over fact, I despair about the future of the human race. I see it every single day. The anti-vaxxers, the creationists, the climate change deniers, the scammers selling phony cures, the conspiracy theorists… The list goes on and on. And the apparently endless string of politicians willing to exploit the ‘true believers’.

How did it happen? How did we evolve a culture where the claims of a former Playboy model are given more credibility than those of actual doctors? When did the beliefs of someone like Ken “Jesus rode a dinosaur’ Ham become more credible than those of actual geologists, paleontologists and biologists? How did we end up in a world where people share the ‘outrage’ of the “Food Babe” when she expressed horror that there was nitrogen in the air of an aircraft she was in?

Do we really live in the “Age of Stupid”?