Feb 052019

 Posted by at 10:54 pm

  2 Responses to “Dominion Post Letter response to Phil Quin on conspiracy theories”

  1. Here’s the original column from February 4, 2019, followed by the text of my response:
    It’s a weird world in the conspiracy rabbit hole
    The Dominion Post 4 Feb 2019 Phil Quin

    I suspect we all secretly believe one or two crazy things. Here’s mine: the All Blacks perform better if I’m not watching. This dubious superpower was handed down by a mother who will go to extraordinary lengths to avoid looking directly at the television in do-or-die moments. That aside, I’m largely immune to wacky ideas, (so is Mum, to be fair), and this is especially true when they take the form of conspiracy theories.

    I’ve been at or about the nexus of media and politics for the better part of three decades, and what it’s taught me above all else is that nobody – I mean nobody – can keep a secret. Everyone is blabbing, all the time, about everything – especially the very people you’d need to stay quiet to conceal conspiratorial shenanigans. Only during my brief, entirely undistinguished, stint in amateur theatre did I encounter people as prone to gossip as politicians, journos and diplomats. Good luck with them staying mum about an alien invasion.

    Have you heard the one about JFK Jr and his wife crashing the White House Christmas party dressed as Santa and Mrs Claus? But what about the plane crash that allegedly killed the couple in 1999, I hear you ask. Staged, obvs – as almost goes without saying. Faked deaths are a staple. As for the yuletide get-up, we’re told it was to disguise their involvement in the impending takedown of the Deep State foreshadowed in cryptic Reddit posts by a mysterious high-ranking Trump Administration official known simply as Q.

    And as for why John and Carolyn Kennedy would emerge after two decades in hiding to take part in Donald Trump’s planned mass incarceration (and summary execution) of America’s liberal elites when nobody embodies that cohort more than a scion of the Kennedy clan and his fashion publicist wife, I guess that’s quibbling. As the first reply to the original post raising the subject said: ‘‘Wow. I did not know that. Thanks!’’

    There’s a lot more to the #QAnon thing than I’ll canvass here. A word of warning, though: it’s a rabbit hole from which it can be hard to escape. After days wading through the weirdly specific, ever more outlandish, lunacy that grips Q’s acolytes, it’s tempting to reach one of two conclusions: either the world has gone completely mad, or I have.

    It’s easy enough to explain the proliferation of conspiracy theories in the digital age. Before the internet, there was no shortage of fodder – Freemasons, papist plots, presidential assassinations – but it was a comparatively slow-moving affair. These days, hysteria spreads at the speed of light.

    Fascinated by the eagerness of so many to embrace wild conspiracies like QAnon, I sought an explanation from a

    leading scholar on the subject, Dr Karen Douglas from the University of Kent. ‘‘Conspiracy theories seem to appeal to people who have specific needs to satisfy,’’ she told me. ‘‘[They are] looking for knowledge and certainty, wanting to feel safe and secure and good about themselves and the groups they belong to. So when these needs are unmet, people might turn to conspiracy theories in an effort to fulfil them.’’

    In the case of QAnon, there seems to be another factor at work: for its true believers, it relieves cognitive dissonance produced by relentless attacks on their beloved president. The Mueller probe, an existential threat to Trump’s hold on power, has thus been twisted into an epic ruse whose real target is not the White House, but its enemies.

    To a conspiracy theorist, the rest of us are helpless sheep or complicit in a vile coverup.

    Another feature of the modern discourse feeds conspiracies, too, and that is the declining faith in official accounts of anything, or in officialdom itself. I encountered this ad nauseam battling deniers of the genocide against the Tutsis of Rwanda, where I lived and worked for three years. When presented with clear evidence of what occurred in 1994, they quickly disparage it as ‘‘authorised history’’, as if verifiability itself is a fatal weakness.

    Their far-fetched revisionist takes, by contrast, may be without factual merit, but offer a certain contrarian thrill – even when it requires superhuman leaps of logic. To a conspiracy theorist, the rest of us are helpless sheep or complicit in a vile coverup. They poison the discourse with pervasive bad faith.

    As anyone who’s found themselves next to a 9/11 ‘‘truther’’ or Moon landing sceptic at a cousin’s wedding can attest, there’s simply no reasoning with them; not one square inch of common ground. It’s tempting to laugh this nonsense off, but conspiracy theories are not always harmless – they can, as Douglas says, ‘‘stop people from taking efforts to reduce climate change or discourage people from having children vaccinated’’.

    Douglas sees little hope once conspiracies take hold, offering no solution beyond prior ‘‘inoculation’’ – a strategy bound for failure among the vaccine-averse.

    Twitter: @philquin

    The DomPost has “A new voice”! Phil Quin, with a long career as a political hack and spin meister (“strategic communications adviser”), will now thankfully devote himself to fearlessly challenging our lazy preconceived notions of social and political reality.

    In his debut column, “It’s a weird world in the conspiracy rabbit hole”, Quin bravely takes on the rarely covered topic of conspiracy theories. He employs a fresh, unique formula. First, he makes you identify with him by admitting to his own irrational All Blacks related superstition that has nothing to do with conspiracy theories. Next, he creates a Straw Man argument by citing the #Qanon cult, easily demolishing it by listing a few of their wacky beliefs. Next, he laments the declining general belief in official stories, citing someone’s doubting of an event he personally knows about, the mass murder of the Tutsis. 

    So far, Quin has plucked low hanging fruit, enhanced his own credibility, and led us to his logical leap of faith, the coup de grâce. He conflates all non-Establishment beliefs with #Qanon and holocaust denial. Genius! Quin is sure to be a hit with Dominion Post editors, though perhaps not with discerning readers.

  2. Bravo Phillip – thank you for demolishing this frivolous article! I will also write to Mr Quin asking what he thinks of the seriousness of the US attorney allowing a grand jury investigation into the unprosecuted federal crimes at the World Trade Centre on 9/11….