Blogs - Clock - Confessions of a Disinformation Agent Chapter VI: The Allegory of the Romper Room--When to Stop Debunking.
Author: Clock (Show other entries)
Date: Aug 12, 2013 at 21:24
Chapter VI: The Allegory of the Romper Room--When to Stop Debunking.
The most important lesson I learned about debunking was when to quit. It took me seven years, and I think I did a lot of good in those seven years. But now it's time to get out.
I'd been souring on debunking since at least mid-2011, but what really motivated me to get out was not the behavior of conspiracy nuts--even the frothy-mouthed fanatics defending Thrive--but what I learned from fellow debunkers who helped me see a little perspective. In his article The Great Internet Conspiracy, which came out in the fall of 2011, former JREF debunker Ryan Mackey had sobering words for debunkers, and even disdained them in some cases. He was amazed that, even though 9/11 Truth was dead and buried, some debunkers wished to continue arguing to the bitter end with what few Truthers were still out there. I thought a lot about this and ultimately decided he was right. Truthers were gaining no converts, and no one paid attention to them anymore. What was there to be gained by arguing with them? Ryan Mackey described Truthers in 2011 in exactly the same way I saw the few pitiful remaining adherents of the Zeitgeist cult: incorrigible dead-enders whose trite dogma the rest of the world had long ago learned to tune out. For the most part I had stopped arguing with Zeitgeisters in August 2011. But others continued the crusade, for reasons possibly more personal than rational.
The Zeitgeist Movement Exposed blog was a case in point. Aside from posting a few occasional comments I never had anything to do with that blog, though two or three of its frequent contributors were friends of mine on Twitter. The creators of this blog re-blogged a few articles of mine, but I was indifferent to them having done so; on at least one occasion I posted a comment clarifying for the regulars what I thought was an erroneous interpretation of an article I had written on my own blog. (Even though I had nothing to do with Zeitgeist Movement Exposed, Zeitgeist cultists continued to confuse me with those who did, evidently assuming that all criticism of the Zeitgeist cult stemmed from a single source). In the fall of 2011, a pro-Zeitgeist commenter who invariably signed his missives "Anonymous" began to post on Zeitgeist Movement Exposed, arguing with every article and rehashing the by-now well-known talking points of cult members. His rants were endless--thousands of words long--and he refused to concede even a single point that put the Zeitgeist Movement or its bizarre ideology in a negative light. The creator and frequent contributors of Zeitgeist Movement Exposed argued with him. Most of the argument concerned social science or economic theory rather than conspiracy theories, which ironically "Anonymous" didn't hit that hard. It went on, day after day, week after week, month after month.
I wasn't involved in these debates except for maybe one or two comments, but sometimes I would click on the articles for Zeitgeist Movement Exposed just to see how long the comments had gotten. I was often shocked. They went on for hundreds upon hundreds of entries--thousands of words, tens of thousands of words, an entire novel-length dialogue of argument over talking points from a conspiracy cult that had been effectively dead for months. I began to wonder why the debunkers even continued to engage "Anonymous." Then in one of the comments I saw that one of the debunkers had discovered that "Anonymous" was a boy in his late teens or early twenties, evidently from Australia, who was unemployed and didn't even have a computer of his own. He would post these endless pro-Zeitgeist rants from a terminal in a public library. He wasn't a high-level member of the cult, a spokesman, theorist, publicist or chapter coordinator. He was just an unemployed kid in Australia. Arguing with debunkers on Zeitgeist Movement Exposed was his sole means of entertainment. For some reason it validated him. It seemed to validate the contributors to Zeitgeist Movement Exposed, too.
This wasn't the first time I'd felt sympathy for the poor deluded people I'd been arguing with for so many years. Zeitgeist in particular attracted high-commitment supporters who, once divorced from the ferocity of their dogma, turned out to be quite pitiable people. The cult's most identifiable spokesman was unemployed, lived in a trailer and routinely asked Zeitgeist supporters for money to keep his lights on and his Internet bills paid. Another particularly argumentative fellow--whom I debated at length, including on this very blog--also turned out to be unemployed, still living at home at age 25, and evidently collecting disability benefits. I remember being vaguely ashamed of myself for having argued with him so vociferously months before. These people were not random rank and file members of the Zeitgeist Movement. They were in positions of leadership in the Zeitgeist Movement. They were the stars. These were the people the Zeitgeisters had faith in to lead humanity to a bold new future.
But were they really any different than 9/11 Truthers, or devotees of David Icke, or believers in chemtrails or fans of Thrive? Did I even know who I'd been arguing with all this time? I never found out anything personal about IgnoranceIsntBliss, the MySpace blogger who I credited with launching my career as a debunker (see Chapter III), but I wouldn't be a bit surprised if his story turned out to be similar to these others. The people who shrieked at me through blog comments on Thrive Debunked, who thought CAPS LOCK was persuasive and couldn't figure out how apostrophes worked, were probably just kids. They latched on to conspiracy theories because they simply didn't know better, and they were not curious enough about the world to seek out the truth in any meaningful way. Refute them, yes--present the facts, show them where they're wrong--but once you've made your point, rubbing their noses in it seems at best mean-spirited, and at worst cruel.
I thought about the many 9/11 Truthers I'd debated over the years who had never read the 9/11 Commission Report, or any of the many books about September 11, including The Looming Tower, a Pulitzer Prize-winning history of Al-Qaeda. In October 2010 I challenged members of the Zeitgeist Movement to refute a book called Seeing Like a State, which explained the social and historical factors behind the spectacular failure of top-down world-transformational schemes like the "Resource Based Economy" that Zeitgeisters professed to believe in. Not a single member of Zeitgeist even cared enough to read the book. Not one.
On Thrive Debunked, I refuted Foster Gamble's erroneous claims about the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin affair being a "false flag" attack by quoting a book which included an account by the North Vietnamese naval official who ordered an attack on a U.S. destroyer in the Gulf, thus proving that at least one of the two alleged attacks did occur. (The second attack probably did not happen). It was obvious Foster Gamble had never read that book, nor had anyone involved with Thrive even cared enough to investigate the full testimony of Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, whose out-of-context words are used in Thrive to support the erroneous conclusion that the Gulf of Tonkin affair was a fabrication. They simply pretended these documentary sources didn't exist, and they banked on Thrive's audience simply taking their word for it and not being interested enough to research the truth.
It was more than just the realization that conspiracy theorists are intellectually lazy, which I'd known since day one. It was that the real knowledge of the real world and how it worked was totally alien to them. No wonder they denounced every piece of real evidence I ever presented as being "disinformation"--they were totally unequipped to assimilate any real information, and totally unable to distinguish real information from misrepresentation, partial truth or outright fiction.
This marks the true difference between debunkers and conspiracy theorists. A conspiracy theorist who really is curious about how the world works, and who really does want to take meaningful action to evaluate it, will eventually shut off YouTube and walk into a library. Once they cross that threshold, then--only then--will they finally be competing in an arena where persuasion is possible, where facts mean something, and where words have consequences. In that arena, willingly entered on its own terms, the facts will defeat the woo every single time. And in that arena the facts won't need debunkers cheering them on. They can do just fine on their own.
So here's the deal--the final truth, the ultimate thing I learned from seven years of debunking.
Conspiracy theorists are children playing in a rubberized, hermetically-sealed Romper Room where all the words are small, the concepts bite-sized and easy to understand, and the toys are conveniently made of soft foam rubber. The world inside the Romper Room works differently, more simply and with far fewer ambiguities, but it is also a darker, scarier and more polarized universe. The tragedy is that the kids trapped in the Romper Room--the angry children who bash away at each other with Nerf toys, flinging YouTube videos and InfoWars links at the rubberized walls desperately hoping they'll stick--don't realize that they're trapped inside the Romper Room, and that there is a larger world out there. The misguided children who are angered and frightened by imaginary conspiracy theories scream and cry and pout and bang their Nerf mallets at the walls, desperately trying to change something, but they can never quite do it. The conspiracy Romper Room is Plato's Allegory of the Cave with Icketilian aliens and Libertarian political ideology. It is a hellish, chaotic and dispiriting place. In this sense the Romper Room is eerily like the digital false world of the movie The Matrix, a perennial favorite among conspiracy theorists.
Sometimes, adults like to play in the Romper Room too. You can't blame them. Most of the time they enter with good intentions. I certainly did. "It's okay, kids," I said. "You don't have to cry and scream and pout. This isn't the real universe. There's another whole world out there where things work differently." But the children wouldn't listen. Sometimes--too often, in fact--I would grab a Nerf mallet and hammer them back, hoping to knock some sense into them. "No, I'm telling you--this is not the real world! Quit pretending that it is!" And still they would ignore me. Then I would get angry and do my own share of bouncing against the rubberized walls, frustrated at the inability of the children to listen, to understand, to even want to understand.
There are bullies in the Romper Room. They seek to exploit the anger and fear of the misguided children who live there, because that makes the bullies important people, visionaries, and self-appointed saviors. The bullies of the Romper Room--the Peter Josephs, the Foster Gambles, the Bernard Poolmans, the David Ickes--would see me as a threat. They would fight back, trying to eliminate the threat. In the twisted world of the Romper Room, fighting back against the threat is rational, and it makes perfect sense why they did it. Sometimes their blows would hurt. My blows at them certainly hurt them back, probably more than I intended. But ultimately they were trapped too, just like the other children. They too were frightened, angry children, as most bullies are, and they lacked the ability to understand what lay outside the Romper Room.
Once in a while a lucky kid would slip out the door to the Romper Room that I'd left ajar. Those lucky people--the ones who sent me emails thanking me for pulling them out of conspiracy nonsense--would find themselves in that other world, and with a totally new perspective. They had broken out of the Matrix. But while I was in the Romper Room, frantically shouting and pointing at the door--"There it is! There's the door! You can leave any time you want to! All you have to do is go through it!"--the only ones who could reach the door were the ones who found it within themselves to look for it. I could not lead them. All I was doing, ultimately, was playing in the Romper Room for my own entertainment, like Ryan Mackey's friends who couldn't stop arguing with Truthers, like my own friends who couldn't resist replying to "Anonymous" just one more time. Perhaps they too sometimes tended to forget that the Romper Room wasn't reality. It's easy to do that. I did myself on more than one occasion.
Ultimately I just couldn't stay anymore. As much as I wanted to make the Romper Room like the real world, or to lead the angry and frightened children out of it, these were two tasks I realized I could never accomplish no matter how long I stayed, no matter how loud I shouted and no matter how many skulls I bashed with my Nerf mallet. Yes, I feel sorry for the kids still trapped there. As for the adults who like to play there, I cannot and do not disdain them; obviously I loved the Romper Room enough to spend seven years there, bouncing off its walls. But I've found the door again. And now I'm back out here, in the real world, and I left my Nerf mallet behind.
I've left the Romper Room for good. After seven years, I'm done. I'm Muertos, and I'm a recovering debunker.
Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. TWA 800 was an accident. 9/11 was not an inside job. The Egyptians build the pyramids with no help from aliens. Evil bankers do not rule the world. There is no such thing as the New World Order. Zeitgeist and Thrive are bullshit. Crop circles are created by human beings. Reptilian shape-shifting aliens do not exist. Global warming is real. These are the truths of the real world outside the Romper Room.
Thanks for reading. This is Muertos, signing off--for the last time.