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  • Writer's pictureJack Metz

Censuring The Censors

Misinformation. Disinformation. Malinformation. Conspiracy theories.

These labels have become as powerful as conventional weapons in today's culture war.

But are they accurate portrayals of the ideas being expressed? More to the point, are the people who love to wield such divisive buzzwords, in the ultimate ironic twist, actually the ones responsible for spreading falsehoods and covering up the truth? In short, yes... which is why it's high time that someone annihilates the entire mainstream rubric about conspiracy theories.

Image credit: @gama.films (free use)

Shrinking Heads

To effectively rebuke the petty tyrants eager to shut down alternative opinions, there's no better spot to start than inside the collective that defines the parameters of acceptable conduct. To that end, I sought out two psychologists who tout themselves as experts on the conspiratorial mind.

The first, Dr. Brian Sharpless, is the affable editor of Unusual Psychological Disorders. Back in January, I attended a presentation he hosted called "The Psychology of Conspiracy Theories" which toed a line between hugely entertaining theatre and cognitive dissonance spectacle. It was perplexing to watch this man denigrate conspiracy theorists after his admission that the bulk of them are indisputably sane folks merely looking to avoid uncertainty. Giving situations a sense of order "to explain how powerful people conceal their role" fills a primal need. In his own words, "Human beings are pattern-seeking animals who would prefer (any) theory to no theory at all."

Sharpless also acknowledged the incontrovertible axiom that conspiracy theories can indeed be factual... before conceding to the audience that he buys into the Jeffrey Epstein jail conspiracy!

So why does a man who knows all this and proclaims, "If you can't have different people that believe things talking to one another, I don't see any good coming from that," feel compelled to advertise tips on how to "inoculate yourself against conspiracy theories" that "may help you maintain a more realistic and accurate worldview?" Does that sound rational? Similarly, isn't it intolerable for a leader in his profession to link minority notions with "bad ideas" when answering my question regarding the potential underlying effects of society squashing dissenting voices?

A few months later, I joined a Zoom meeting focused on misinformation where one of the featured panelists, NYU professor Jay Van Bavel, detailed the blowback he received after he and other psychological dignitaries refuted the idea of mass formation psychosis in a 2022 AP piece. But here's the thing... just because his counterpart said mob mentality and group mind are "discredited concepts" that have no place in the study of crowd behaviors doesn't make it accurate in spirit. For goodness' sake, the same exact article points out how groups can and do influence individual action. Not convinced? The behavioral science magazine of record published an article less than a year earlier literally titled "The Psychology of Mob Mentality."

Should I keep going? None other than Sigmund Freud wrote about mass formation a full hundred years ago. Just because the Father of Psychoanalysis didn't connect the word 'psychosis' to each Massenbildung reference doesn't mean the world must stifle discussion of the general principle.

One last thing: this ordeal also showcased how quickly debunkers play the victim card when called out for censoring other perspectives. Van Bavel twice asserted on Zoom how he was "targeted for harassment for fact checking a conspiracy theorist." As true as that may be, do you think any of the "trolls" he opposed had industry heavyweights like the American Psychological Association (APA) defending their arguments with oblivious one-sided conceits about cult psychology, damaged reputations, and harmed careers? [Even preteens perceive that people branded as conspiracists don't quite top the job security list.]

Media Manipulation

According to Van Bavel, working the so-called misinformation beat is a "professional hazard." Maybe that explains why he typed a response to every question in the Q&A section but mine. I suppose asking how to avoid getting the dis/mis/mal/information tag slapped on corroborated claims was a bridge too far for him. Thankfully, New York Times journalist Tiffany Hsu chimed in.

It was refreshing to hear her confess how "valuable" it is "to question things that are presented to you because you need to understand the motivations behind the people that are spreading information." She also relayed that "there are far, far, far more people than a lot of people assume that are open to hearing evidence... processing proof on their own." I wholeheartedly agree with both of these sentiments. But does she apply them universally? Or are these platitudes limited to citizens who adopt establishment-approved logic. You should know this same woman won a 2022 Mirror Award for her work on 'false narratives' and continues to operate in that space.

It's possible that the media echo chamber deserves blame for this disconnect exhibited by reporters. I sat in on a February talk at American University where Pulitzer Prize winner John Sullivan told the room, "Conspiracy theory often gets the feeling right but the facts wrong... People want the facts... they want people out there that can tell them about this. And that's your role as a journalist." At first blush, this doesn't sound objectionable -- especially when it comes out of the mouth of a guy with great stage presence. But, if you really mull it over, it's another example of elites assuming the masses are unable to parse through complex matters without being spoon fed everything. On the contrary, regular residents are capable of thinking critically. *

Medical Microcosm

What hope does the common man have to speak freely when these agenda setters and 'experts' slam cynics? We've all seen how the disinformation complex smothers the opposition. Stanford and Harvard professors can be defamed and disappeared by unidentifiable blobs at social media companies, search engines, and within our own government. The highly unreliable fact-checking industry can drag anyone or any idea through the mud with virtually no consequences for error or bias. [Retractions and/or corrections don't exactly put the genie back in the bottle in most cases.]

To justify censorship, references to peer reviews and obscure research are often sprinkled into the hatchet jobs. It's not uncommon for the universities that provide this dreck to also be guilty of opining on the academic findings. One particularly objectionable confluence involved a University of Minnesota publication equating the thirst for knowledge to an "infodemic." This misanthropic take arose from an outside paper (and its accompanying press release) where coauthor Sedona Chinn conflated inquisitive persons with QAnon right before disclosing "people who do more information seeking about their health conditions have better treatment outcomes."

What the hell?! How can all of these brainiacs not see the stark contrast between their overt messaging and their inner monologues? **

Some battles jump right off the page -- illustrating the lengths those in the crosshairs are forced to go in order to clear their good names. Former Army flight surgeon Dr. Richard Eggleston is one of these people. This pillar of the Inland Northwest had seen patients for close to 50 years when the pandemic hit. Feeling an internal pull to get information into the public sphere during confusing times, Eggleston answered a 2020 Lewiston Tribune request for conservative writers. [Note: the Idaho outlet had published previous submissions of his.]

When we spoke on the phone last week, the good doctor indicated the Tribune provided a vehicle to fulfill his "obligation to protect our liberties and freedoms." His humanitarian endeavor was soon hijacked by a Genesee, ID resident he'd never met who claimed Eggleston's rhetoric was detrimental. From there, things started to snowball... eventually causing his Washington Medical Commission "active retired" license to be placed under the microscope. Again, all for expressing a medical opinion based on half a century's worth of professional experience.

Not afraid of a fight, Eggleston hooked up with a few other named plaintiffs, including local NBA legend John Stockton, to confront this apparent violation of First Amendment rights. RFK Jr. signed on as their attorney of record. While the federal case isn't resolved, various interesting tidbits related to it are worth mentioning:

  • After further vetting, the science surrounding many of the supposedly "false" and "dangerous" topics he broached now increasingly supports his side of the story.

  • In typical fashion, the situation is hung up on a technicality. Specifically, the board charged him for unprofessional conduct but has not yet sanctioned him. As such, he is stuck in a dark limbo where he can't erase the stain on his character.

  • The doctor divulged he needs permission in the form of a release to get certain material published these days. This reeks of practical second-class status in the public forum. It's exceptionally frustrating when you consider the double standard at play (mainstream conjecture has often been found to be faulty until media resets normalize flaws).  

Are you ready for the wildest part? Towards the end of our conversation, Dr. Eggleston taught me about Ignaz Semmelweis. For those unaware of this 19th Century physician's fate, Semmelweis was thrown in a mental asylum (dying two weeks later) for having the audacity to challenge the medical community with his newfangled and controversial theory: handwashing! It didn't matter that the mortality rate in his clinic dropped by 90%; the experts didn't approve of his explanation. It's incomprehensible that modern pundits fall prey to Semmelweis Reflex when his cautionary tale of confirmation and authority biases, groupthink, belief perseverance, et al is easily one of the most memorable medical stories in history. Yet they did it during COVID and they do it today.

It's important to highlight why men like Semmelweis and Eggleston always seem to be out on a limb with little to no backup. The potential loss of "pride, money, and notoriety" keeps the vast majority of natural allies cowering on the sidelines. Lump in the magnified scare tactics employed by the megaphone-wielding media, and it's easy to see how naysayers and whistleblowers end up isolated and cast as rabid lone wolves. Fear is an unparalleled motivator.

Overwhelming Evidence

By now, I imagine you are outraged by the know-it-all crowd's commitment to cultivating a free speech doom loop. And I pray that you grasp that none of this is accidental. As famous linguist Noam Chomsky once put it, "The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion but allow very lively debate within that spectrum."

Only under those conditions can truths become verboten. Joseph McCarthy and his supporters were (and still are) excoriated for pursuing communist spies in our bureaucracy. It doesn't matter that there were known cases of espionage; nor does it matter that basic common sense dictates foreign spies are never welcome on sovereign soil. The fascist crackpot moniker must be affixed to anyone who dares to reveal facts it took decades for the censor class to affirm.

Clashing with the consensus is no different in 2024. If anything, it's even harder. Words and definitions are twisted beyond recognition to suit sadistic initiatives or to cement power. I would love to hear Chomsky's take on this June wordsmithing from French President Macron, "the rise of the nationalists and demagogues is a threat not only to our nation but also to our Europe..." I don't know what is more frightening: that he implied nationalist tendencies don't put the nation first or that he dropped this verbal nugget in the midst of dissolving his nation's government!

At least politicians can be voted out. What are we to do with the nebulous organizations and initiatives like the Election Integrity Partnership (EIP) that signal an itch to 'moderate content?' Last time I checked, the average American wasn't clamoring for vague entities to police their Instagram posts.

One of those EIP figures, Kate Starbird, now leads the Orwellian-sounding Center for an Informed Public. I found it fascinating to learn that this arbiter was raised by a mother who wrote an extremely sacrilegious book meant to shake up Christianity using numerology, "secrets encoded in classical art", and talk of fertility cults! Of course, her mom pales in comparison to Kate's grandfather, given that he was the head of an obscure defense branch that steered the creation of the internet we all use while still controlling the militarized version.  How far did that apple fall from the family tree... and is her ability to remain dispassionate when monitoring the nonconforming viewpoints of her compatriots compromised in any manner?

In the end, it might not matter what we want if it conflicts with the goals of these mysterious alphabet agencies. Former CIA Director William Casey allegedly had a penchant for letting the cat out of the bag when it comes to strongarming the populace. An NAACP article on disinformation attributes the following 1981 quote to Casey: "We'll know our disinformation program is complete when everything the American public believes is false." Lest you distrust the source, Pulitzer Prize winner Jack Anderson wrote in a 9/22/81 Santa Cruz Sentinel print that Casey avowed that "the government has the right to mislead the public by planting phony stories in the press."

Remind me... am I allowed to classify his master plan as a substantiated scheme?

Or is it just another baseless conspiracy theory because of how supremely inconvenient it is?

Note: the post above (and the language below) may contain commentary reflecting the author's opinion.

* Proof that average Joes can be just as wise as the honored experts: I queried Margot Susca, a professor of Journalism, Accountability, and Democracy, about the downsides of the nonprofit newsroom model at this AU event. After reflection, she responded in what appeared to be all seriousness, "Maybe this question will set up my second book."

** Every now and then, pundits will twist themselves up in absolute knots trying to make their case. Check out the hole Pew Research Center put itself in trying to dig into conspiracy theories on racial lines. Pay special attention to how the subsequent apology speaks of revision -- and even backpedals to a watered-down definition of 'conspiracy theory' that I doubt will be applied evenly going forward.

Postscript: this outlet is well aware that some conspiracy theories are ill-advised, fallacious, or downright delinquent. For those that need to hear it, we categorically grant that speculation of this nature exists. But if you've gotten to the final addendum and haven't yet realized that runaway censorship is a bad thing and that allowing unfettered access to 99.9999% of all dialogue is the key to a free society, you might as well close your browser and block this site.


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