Paranoid Denialism, a Strange Brew

I was interacting with some people who don’t believe in anthropogenic global warming (AGW). They are typical specimens. I know I’m wasting my time with them, but I can’t help being fascinated by such strange thinking patterns. When I confront the strange, my response is to analyze.

There are numerous problems with the anti-scientific denialist worldview:

1) In the end, it is an empty rationalization.

The structure of the rationalization is not unique to any particular argument and so could be used to defend any belief system equally as well or rather equally as badly. There either is no substance or what little substance included is inconsequential.

2) It presents no falsifiable hypotheses and won’t accept anyone treating their hypothesis as falsifiable.

Their argument can’t be disproven; then again neither can it be proven. The scientific process with peer review is dismissed out of hand and so no objective standard remains. The argument denies the very evidence that disproves it, but it doesn’t disprove the evidence on a case by case analysis. All peer reviewed research is treated as suspect, unless it fits into the preconceived conclusions.

It is standard confirmation bias, sometimes combined with the smart idiot effect as some of these denialists can spout off a lot of carefully selected factoids. It takes a certain kind of intelligence to defend such a difficult position, especially those who dedicate their lives to it. This is similar to how some apologists can be immensely well educated, sometimes even being academics in biblical studies.

3) The denialist’s worldview forms a self-enclosed and self-reinforcing reality tunnel.

The denialist becomes isolated from any new information being able to challenge what he thinks he already knows. It forms a groupthink where denialists help support eachother’s delusions, giving the appearance of credence by closing the ranks. The denialist groupthink is further assisted by particular well funded organizations and think tanks that hire the ‘experts’ to produce the ‘data’ and arguments to create a semblance of coherence.

4) The essence of the argument is a conspiracy theory.

It’s a paranoid worldview where no one can be trusted, unless they affirm the exact same beliefs. This paranoia plays into their entrapment in a reality tunnel of their own construction. The conspiracy theory, however, only makes sense within the belief system itself. If the person was able to see outside their paranoia, they probably wouldn’t be so paranoid and so the conspiracy theory would no longer be compelling.

The conspiracy theory necessitates a conspiracy larger than anything before in history. The conspiracy would have to include every government in the world and every government agency, every scientific institution both publicly and privately funded, nearly all the scientists in the world, and most of the mainstream media. This would be a conspiracy with millions of participants all colluding together in a massive cooperative effort and doing so almost completely hidden from the view of the public. Considering the vast majority of climatologists and other scientists support AGW, this would include at least hundreds of thousands of scientists alone, many of whom work in the private sector.

Interestingly, research has shown that paranoia is an aspect of a Dark Triad which includes three personality traits: narcissism, Machiavellianism and psychopathy. In the research, perceiving Machiavellianism in others (paranoia and conspiracy theorizing) positively and strongly correlates with admitting to a willingness to act with Machiavellian intentions if given the opportunity. To put it simply, such a person is paranoid because they believe other people are just like them, that other people are equally as untrustworthy and immoral/amoral.

By the way, paranoia shows no correlation with low IQ and so it isn’t an issue of intelligence. Some conspiracy theories are so intricate and complex as to be creations of a genius mind. Conspiracy theorizing is pattern-seeking on steroids.

5) Denialists are holding a double standard.

First, they have a double standard for the assessment and acceptance of evidence. The evidence they accept supports their beliefs and they only accept evidence according to their beliefs. But they wouldn’t accept this being used by others who hold views opposing their own. For example, one of the denialists I was interacting with told me to present a peer reviewed paper proving some particular issue, but simultaneously he was denying the validity of the entire peer review process.

Second, they have a double standard of the rationalization behind what evidence is accepted or excluded. One of the criticisms that denialists often make is that they believe AGW supporters are rationalizing according to a self-enclosed reality tunnel and according to a conspiracy theory about big energy. So, they refuse to allow what they perceive in others what they do themselves. This is, of course, projection for on some level most denialists probably realize their position is weak.

The double standard can be demonstrated by returning to the facet of their rationalization not being unique. The denialist’s arguments could be just as easily turned against them.

Once freed from the constraints of objective evidence and standards, almost any argument could be put forth that couldn’t be disproven (or proven). Also, once we enter the convoluted territory of conspiracy theory, Occam’s Razor can be dismissed as well and we can go to any length to seek a coherent worldview. Many have pointed out that the conspiracy theorist can end up with a worldview that is more coherent than any scientific theory for the conspiracy theorist feels no desire to include conflicting data and interpretations.

I hold out some hope that denialists can be reached, that some of them aren’t beyond all redemption.

That does seem to be the case. Not all denialists are overtly anti-scientific. A few simply are being overly cautious in vetting the consensus of the scientific community, but this doesn’t mean they dismiss it out of hand. In recent years, I’ve heard of several cases of scientists who held strong skepticism toward AGW and were publicly vocal in their skepticism, and yet over time the evidence finally convinced them.

I don’t criticize to make myself feel better. It certainly doesn’t make me feel better to think about the weaknesses and failures of the human mind. I like to think that there is value in trying to understand what makes people tick.

Far Right’s Self-Fulfilling Prophecy: Secessionism & Militias, Paranoia & Violence

I find it hard to comprehend the mindset of some rightwingers. I don’t disagree in principle with many of their values and ideas, but I always sense some hidden motive behind the rhetoric. It’s partly just that rightwingers are more prone to paranoid conspiracy theorizing than those on the left. I’m actually sympathetic to the paranoid state of mind. As they say, just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get you.

However, sometimes it seems that the far right has a self-enclosed, self-reinforcing, self-fulfilling way of seeing the world. For example, some rightwingers get all worked up over a talk show host telling them the Feds are going to take their guns away. So, they stock up on guns and start acting suspicious which attracts the attention of the police or FBI. It never ends well for the paranoid rightwinger.

This kind of rightwinger might even be correct about some of their fears, but there is something demented about their being prone towards aggressive self-defense which not unusually leads to self-destructive behaviors. This style of thinking isolates them and makes everyone who is different than them into a potential enemy.

Fear is fine, but fear-mongering just isn’t helpful for the fear-mongerer himself or for anyone else. I mean what benefit does someone like Glenn Beck gain from fear-mongering? To be cynical, many say it’s all just a show and so it comes down to profits. And profitable it is. Beck wasn’t rich before fear-mongering, but since beginning his extremist style of punditry he has become massively wealthy. If he actually believed the nation would collapse or the socialists were going to take over, then what would be the point of his amassing all that wealth?

One element behind my thoughts are the recent talk of secessionism. Even some Republican politicians have openly and directly encouraged secessionist attitudes. Do these politicians actually want a new Civil War? Unlike the first one, a second Civil War would probably be over in days or weeks. And if for some reason the army itself became split in it’s allegiances, we would experience a war that might be more destructive than any war fought in modern history. Could you imagine the country splitting in half with the respective military forces lobbing nukes at each other. It would make the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan look like Disneyland in comparison.

The specific issue that started this line of thought is that some rightwingers are seeking the establishment of state militias. I’m fine with the proposition in the abstract, but the motives seem a bit suspect. When I hear the proponents speak about it, there is a lot of talking around in circles and much that is implied.

It’s all very strange. At the bottom of it all, I sense that some rightwingers feel their being left in the dust of the 21st century and so their itching for a fight. I suppose that, going by the demographics, many of these rightwingers are out of step with where society is heading. It’s just a fact that America is becoming less dominated by whites, by fundamentalists, by the culture wars. A shift is happening in demographics right now that is unlike anything that has happened before in American history.

Ultimately, I wonder how many of these rightwingers take themselves seriously. Are they just posturing? Maybe most of them are just posturing, but definitely some rightwiners are working themselves up and some are seeking ways to organize. What will happen if and when they organize is another issue. But I have no doubts that the authorities (be they police, FBI or maybe even National Guard) will come down hard on some of these groups. Be prepared for the same violent confrontations and bombings we saw from the rightwing militia types in the ’90s. It will be interesting to watch it all play out.

It’s not that I necessarily trust the government more than the average conservative. I just trust the far right fear-mongering machine even less. It’s like these rightwingers have a narrative stuck in their head and their determined to play that narrative out to its inevitable conclusion. Of course, the authorities are more than willing to play their part as well. Personally, I’d prefer a different story to be played out on the national level.