I’ve got a couple of short posts I’m going to churn out to keep my loyal readers happy that are primarily food-for-thought, as I complete a longer piece for another friend (Hi, Ugo! I haven’t forgotten!)
One of the more interesting graphs I’ve seen come across my desk was produced by Kate Starbird, at the University of Washington. Kate is a professor studying, with data science, conspiracy theories and their effects through graphical analysis. It’s a bit like staring into Saruman’s Palantir as it means dealing with Mordor on a relatively continual basis. What that means is that the work is definitely well-done, and instructive, but doesn’t really tend toward nuanced predictions. This is a picture generated by Starbird that ran in a short piece in Nature on Qanon. For me personally, I am not questioning the existence of the Qanon crowd. At the same time, I also would like some way of estimating their ability to act consistently on their fantastic belief. The structure of Qanon is so fantastic (in the literal sense of the word) it makes great story. And of course, the media just love it. But how large is the action envelope, and how many people will do something? Those are big questions.
Here is Starbird’s graph on the meme-o-sphere.
The tripartite nature maps well into the memetic landscape. Democrats are Legalistic/Absolutistic v-Meme rule followers, and as such are more diffuse in focus on content. The Political Right is definitely Authoritarian v-Meme, and as such has greater coherence of views. And finally, the dark cloud on the right of the picture is the cluster of Magical Thinkers — people with one of Julian Jayne’s Old Gods installed in their head – that may look just like Trump.
With incumbent chaos — these are the people raiding pizza parlors looking for pedophile rings. Naturally, there is bleed-over in the meme-o-sphere, especially between the Right and the Magical Right.
But as I discussed in this piece, bonds formed socially on line don’t necessarily lead to action. Yes — we had the Capitol riots. Yes — they were in essence seditious, but from a material perspective, not realistically so. There was no ability that any of the actors had to actually install a new government, a la a real coup. And those riots did not lead to the vaunted armed protests in 50 states on Inauguration Day.
We need to understand why — as any civil state needs to figure out appropriate action. Do we need some total crackdown and suspension of freedoms in order to maintain civil democracy? I’d argue not. But we could also use a deeper analysis on what the shape of the funnel is that Starbird’s tripartite clouds feed. As long as we have a toxic combination of weak national identity, and growing wealth inequality (and as I have argued in the piece — dietary/health instability) we are going to have some level of insurrection. Whether we are in a more profound state of collapse, or maybe just hitting some nominal stride a la Spain and its Catalonian/Basque problem, or even Russia’s chronic issues in the Caucasus involving Chechnya and Dagestan, is a perspective deserving of far more thought and scrutiny than our current chronic nods to the Apocalypse.
Especially when it comes to any debate involving regulating social media. I was one of the people that breathed a sigh of relief when Twitter finally suspended Donald Trump. But I gave that sigh with an enormous sense of foreboding. Like it or not, social media is how we communicate. And suspending any person is the modern equivalent of Being Sent to Coventry — a total ostracism of the target. It’s time to have a more nuanced debate between the sickness and the cure. Something, on a variety of fronts, we haven’t been doing so well with recently.