Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Conspiracy, Control and The Dark Corners of the Internet

Poe's law:
"Without a blatant display of humor, it is impossible to create a parody of extremism or fundamentalism that someone won't mistake for the real thing."
A while ago, I stumbled upon a website that I immediately assumed was a brilliant piece of satire: well-executed and obviously funny enough to ensure that nobody would mistake it for sincerity. 

'Fair Dinkum Radio' is not a parody. It is a real website, and is run by a person.

It is one of the most comprehensive collection of conspiracy theories I have seen in a while. The site itself offers a fascinating study of how conspiracy theorists operate - and, potentially, tells us a little bit about climate skepticism and wind farm health fears.

On the front page of the website, Leon Pittard, the man behind the site, doesn't hold back in declaring his concerns:
"We examine the subjects that Corporate Media does not talk about, including their role in Social Engineering and steering humanity into a designed Scientific Technocracy."
"The philosophy and religion of this New World Order is based upon New Age and Occult worship, this is directly opposed to Christianity and the Creator of the Universe – Yahweh."
An example of the stratospheric cray-cray you can find on Fair Dinkum Radio:
"There is NO hard evidence proving [Martin Bryant] killed anyone at or near Port Arthur Historic Site in Tasmania, Australia, in April 1996. Martin was born handicapped. He has a very low IQ of 66. Tests reveal his mental age is 11 years, or less."
This was perhaps the most instantaneously shocking and incredulous claim on the site. The Port Arthur massacre was the most deadly mass-killing in the history of Australia. It led to a raft of gun control laws being introduced by then-PM John Howard.

Some other topics covered on the site:

- Aluminium causes cancer
- Water flouridation is dangerous
- Supporting the anti-vaccination lobby (including a few interviews with the wonderful Merly Dorey)
- Chemtrails as a 'tool for the manipulation of humanity'
- Pushing a corrosive and dangerous 'herbal' product ('Black Salve') as a cure for cancer:
"Both black and red salves are corrosive and essentially burn off layers of the skin and surrounding normal tissue. They can destroy large parts of the skin and underlying tissue, and leave significant scarring.
- Therapeutic Goods Administration
In addition to their propensity for taking up pseudoscientific (and demonstrably harmful) causes, there's an undercurrent of emotion running through the content on their site.

Themes of control, sovereignty and imposition seem to be prevalent. This seems consistent with the idea that people who feel imposed upon by some external force, whether it be a government or a corporation, can resort to the fantastical and the conspiratorial to find an outlet for the frustration they feel.
"This activity is further evidence of the control of the bureaucracy over every aspect of our lives and goes to the heart of food freedom and the autonomy of the individual to choose what goes in their body."
Writes Leon Pittard, regarding Ann Bressington's efforts to promote the consumption of raw milk (with added bacteria, for extra goodness..)

The Galileo Movement, a climate skeptic group (with a requisite hatred of wind energy), has featured on their website - the admin of their Facebook group writes of one of their radio interviews:
"Understand the UN's clever tricks from use of language, to coralling (sic) people's inherent care for Nature and humanity, invention of attractive labels, ending property rights, eroding family, ... all to package control over you and us as attractive."

A sign from the 2012 carbon tax protest - many of the signs featured claims about world governments, and the UN's Agenda 21. 

Swimming amongst the paranoia, we can find the same themes of control, oppression and frustration running through almost every single topic addressed on the website. Each of these topics is framed as a conflict, using terms like 'war', 'battle' and 'fight'. Recently, they have taken up the cause of Australian anti-wind groups, and the same themes run just as distinctively through their discourse on this issue:

The content about wind energy offers a unique insight into why some people feel set-upon by wind energy, and consequently turn to bad science. The prevalence of pseudoscience and conspiracy theory seems like a symptom, rather than a cause. Individuals who feel they haven't been able to exercise sufficient influence in changes to their financial, aesthetic, environmental or political landscape seem compelled by the false but intensely dramatic arguments of conspiracy theory.

Fair Dinkum Radio is moving up in the world, too. Alan Moran of the influential Institute of Public Affairs and ex-Deputy Secretary of Energy for Victoria recently featured on their show. On the same episode - Bressington advocating raw milk consumption.

Not to get too amateur-pop-psychology, of course - the complexities of why people believe conspiracy theories is best left to the experts (such as Michael Shermer, who is very much an expert). Yet, I feel it's important to recognise that those hoping to encourage the take-up of conspiracy theories and pseudoscience frame their messages in the context of freedom and control. A great example seems to be the rhetoric of pro-tobacco (and funded by big tobacco) campaigners 'FOREST ("Freedom Organisation for the Right to Enjoy Smoking Tobacco"):
"Plain packaging is yet another illiberal attempt to denormalise smoking, treating a legal product as some type of pariah brand that needs to be singled out for special treatment. The real loser however is FREEDOM, and that should have every smoker and non smoker up in arms."
Tobacco kills around 15,000 Australians each year. Efforts to curb cigarette sales through forced plain packaging are very likely to reduce that number. Yet, spend some time exploring the FOREST site, and you'll see the repeated assertion that human beings are entirely unaffected by packaging - and that smoking is a rational, wilful act.

To happily disregard the science of addiction, and to assert that the billions of dollars spent on packaging products has zero effect on consumer decisions, seem utterly unhinged - cray-cray of the highest order. Yet, framed in the context of freedom, control and choice, they can megaphone their message without an ounce of irony.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent post Ketan. It really highlights the lack of regard for critical thinking and scientific understanding in our communities. Doesn't matter whether it's supposed detrimental radiation exposure from Wi-Fi, mobile phones etc or the deliberate attempts by governments to instigate mind control via chem-trails sprayed high above our heads for the benefit of the illuminati. As you have pointed out, there are some truly crazy ideas out there – for mine, the really scary thing is that the proponents of these nutty ideas walk around in society unaccompanied by handlers :-)