Conspiracy theories are very much in the news following the riot at the U.S. Capitol and it is widely agreed that they are very unhealthy for the body politic. Uh, except the fashionable ones. Thus in his new book Michael Mann sneers that the forces of climate darkness have found a new plan. “The plutocrats who are tied to the fossil fuel industry”, he tells an interviewer, have adopted strategies perfected by the tobacco and gun lobbies. Then in the actual book “Malice, hatred, jealousy, fear, rage, bigotry, all of the most base, reptilian brain impulses — corporate polluters and their allies have waged a campaign to tap into all of that”, he raves about these lizard people. “The enemy is also employing PSYOP in its war on climate action… the forces of denial and delay are using our fear and anxiety against us so we remain like deer in the headlights… the most immoral act in the history of human civilization: not just a crime against humanity, but a crime against our planet.” Wow. If true, it unmasks a very big very bad plot and hooray Michael Mann. But if it is not true, it is a loathsome conspiracy theory that delegitimizes dissent, demonizes opponents (for instance he calls them a “shape-shifting Leviathan”) and walks in some very ugly footsteps. And anyone who prides themselves on being a voice of reason and toleration should distance themselves at once from such fever swamp rhetoric and those who spew it.
It would probably shock most alarmists to be accused of peddling poison. After all, they know they’re the good guys trying to save the world from the evil plutocrats (including, of course, “the Koch brothers”) who deliberately lie in order to get filthy rich amid the smoking remains of the Earth. They are pure in word and deed unlike those devils in human form they are fighting. But if it is a fair parody of their position, if they attack the motives of those who seek to debate them and indeed trash their characters, they are conspiracy theorists.
As for instance when the CBC recently started a news story “A $3.5-million Alberta government public inquiry into alleged foreign-funded anti-energy campaigns has posted commissioned studies that experts say are based on junk climate-denial science, bizarre conspiracy theories and oil-industry propaganda.” Which managed to denounce conspiracy theories while peddling one, all under the anaesthetic rubric “experts say”. (The experts were two professors, a politician and an activist.)
Our distaste for conspiracy theories, we add pointedly, extends to those who call climate change a hoax including in the commentary section of our own social media. We are convinced that even those whose methodology is so dubious as to reek of zealotry, from Mann to the 97 percenters, are sincere. Indeed, we submit that if they were not, they would be more careful in handling data. The reason they do not worry about being “found out” while manipulating facts is that they do not think they are doing it at all. We happily grant their devotion to truth, or at least to truthiness. We just think they are very wrong and, in some cases, have dug in so hard that they have become unreasonable and even intolerant. Including instantly, reflexively and unreflectively invoking a conspiracy theory when challenged, saying vile things about their intellectual adversaries, and not noticing they are doing it. Or cozying up to it.
Mann, whose rhetoric about how “The enemy has masterfully executed a deflection campaign” and “The deflection campaign also provides an opportunity for the enemy to employ a ‘wedge’ strategy” sounds like Radio Beijing on a bad day, is deep into the swamp. For instance he has argued that some on the left are harming the cause because they portray the situation as beyond hope. But he cautions that they are flawed angels deserving of pity, unlike the worthless devils on the right who have ensnared them. “They’re well-intentioned…[and]…are sort of the victims of this disinformation campaign. There are progressives, for example, who have become opposed to certain measures, critical measures for combating climate change like carbon pricing. And it’s not because they’re working for the fossil fuel industry or sympathetic to the fossil fuel industry. It’s because the fossil fuel industry, their advocates, the think tanks that promote their messaging, the news networks that promote their agenda, have been so effective at manipulating public opinion, and ironically, actually weaponizing certain enclaves within the left to do their job for them.”
So there you have it. His enemies are evil, they know they are evil, and they deliberately trick and manipulate some of the good guys into furthering their sinister ends, like Sauron ensnaring Saruman and Denethor by showing them the inevitability of defeat in the Palantiri.
That last example is of course drawn from fantasy. But so is Mann’s vision. It’s just that his sounds far more like Dan Brown than J.R.R. Tolkien, with the “enemy,” a term he repeatedly and recklessly flings about, sinister and secretive beyond belief.
It’s paranoid vicious conspiracy theorising, it’s disconnected from reality, and it stinks. Do not abet it please.