This summer, the case of Michael Hastings (see my previous post) has brought conspiracy manipulation front-and-center once again. It has become frighteningly fashionable among liberals to casually assume that the journalist was murdered, even after his wife and brother have come forward to say that it was only a tragic accident. We now know that Hastings was on a path to self-destruction, but that doesn't matter to the conspiracy manipulators; they continue to post their "unanswered questions" in comments sections, such as why Hastings' car engine was found behind the crash site, a physical impossibility in a high-speed crash. (This online rumor has been repeatedly debunked, but again, that doesn't seem to matter.)
One might think that the rise of conspiracy manipulation and belief stem from a failure of critical thinking. But it's more troubling than that; the trend is a perversion of critical thinking. Conspiracy manipulators and believers will adamantly tell you that they are the ones thinking critically; their critics are not. Those who criticize are declared either "brain-dead sheep," perhaps tranquilized into mindless conformity by fluoride in the water (yes, some do actually say that), or paid-off operatives of a government with limitless funds -- "shills" or "disinfo agents" in conspiracy-manipulation parlance.
Such arrogance is a textbook illustration of the Dunning-Kruger effect: the proven tendency of individuals who are less competent to overestimate their competence, while more competent individuals tend to underestimate their competence. To put it more colloquially, conspiracy manipulators wouldn't know critical thinking if it hit them in the head. To them, merely being "fringe" and dismissing all information from authorities (unless, of course, it supports their cause) is enough to declare themselves super-awesome critical thinkers. "Wake up and open your eyes!" they tell you. For all their talk of open-mindedness, ironically they are pseudo-critical thinkers, too self-impressed with their questioning of authority to notice their own pseudoskepticism. And, they will deny that they are conspiracy theorists as readily as crazy people say, "I'm not crazy."
Do conspiracies exist? Of course they do, and of course the government has lied to us at times. But the conspiracy manipulator takes these to the extreme, seeing conspiracies everywhere. He (or she) skillfully crafts language that is fertile soil for the impressions of cover-up and deceit to bloom, all while asserting their impartiality as a mere seeker of truth. In the same way that the sociopath masters the art of superficial charm, the conspiracy manipulator -- completely oblivious to their own intellectual dishonesty -- masters the art of superficial inquisitiveness.
It's quite easy to write like a conspiracy manipulator, and if things had been slightly different, I could have been one (video). So let's give it a try:
I have reason to question whether the milk from Berkeley Farms -- a local dairy in my area -- is actually from cows. There are so many unanswered questions, things don't add up. There's a note on the Berkeley Farms label: "Does not come from cows treated with rBST." Hello? They're practically admitting it right there. So I called Berkeley Farms and asked if their milk comes from cows. The person on the phone refused to answer, and she seemed surprised -- unnerved, even. She put me on hold, and guess what, the call was dropped. What is Berkeley Farms hiding? (Sure, their website says their milk is from cows, but Ikea's website never told us their meatballs were horse meat, either.) I don't want to believe I'm drinking pig's milk! So, I went to Berkeley, to visit their farms. I found a major university and a lot of built-up urbanization, but not one single farm.* I then compared the color of milk from a random gallon of Berkeley Farms to one from a competitor, Clover Stornetta, and discovered that they look different (see below). Several calls to Professors with Ph.D.'s confirmed my suspicions that cow's milk would probably look different than milk from a pig or another animal. It should be noted that the Clover Stornetta label depicts a cartoon of a cow; the Berkeley Farms label does not. Interestingly, when I Google "Berkeley Farms milk is from cows" I get exactly zero results, whereas Googling Berkeley Farms pig milk yields 20,400,000 results. An e-mail demanding that they release genetic-analysis reports was ignored. Is Berkeley Farms milk from pigs or some other animal? I don't know, weigh all of the facts and decide for yourself!
Do these milk samples look the same to you?
I always find it amusing when a religious person tries to get me to pray. "Just try it, what have you got to lose?" they ask. "Drop to your knees and cry out to God. If you truly believe, in your heart, then trust me, Jesus will speak to you." Yeah, if I truly believe, first. That's the kicker there.
And if you cried out to the dairy-conspiracy gods -- and you really, truly desired to believe that the milk in your cereal isn't what it seems -- then my Berkeley Farms conspiracy would probably speak to you, too.
* Inspired by the signs on their delivery trucks, reading, "Farms? In Berkeley?" (Of course, there are a lot of indoor farms in Berkeley.)