Complexity is one driver for information disorder and confusion. Complex systems, such as social systems (politics, economics, information) or ecological systems, or weather systems, are so complex they are impossible to describe with complete accuracy, so it is hard to test theories about them. They are often impossible to observe in total, and it is hard to interact with them, or the interactions are so continuous that it is hard to tell what actions have what effects. This is pretty standard for human life – we develop unconsciousness along with consciousness – the theories that allow us to understand the world, may also hide it from us. Humans attempt to establish continuity and order, but sometimes change is happening anyway, and the order they try to establish no longer works and the world bights back, in the same kind of way that personal unconsciousness may produce symptoms that demand attention, and may distract us from our real problems.
It is normal to be confused, but still retain some kind of insight. However, in the modern world there is so much information, that it is even harder to navigate towards information that is correct, and the prime driver for the spread of information is rarely accuracy. It is whether:
- It appeals to people’s emotional bias – it gets you angry with the right people. Confirms how you feel etc.
- It confirms your identity as ‘whatever’ (White male Christian; Left activist; Australia etc), and confirms that whoever you define as the “other people” are lesser beings in some way. Empirically, it seems that political identity is the number one factor here in the contemporary world.
- It reinforces your existing world view, or stretches it in an acceptable direction.
On top of that we have the following problems.
- Information stays around without much in the way of ties to its refutation, so its easy to find discredited information without any awareness of it being discredited.
- Information can be appealing because it is partially true [For example: Right voters often seem to think they have been abandoned by the elites which is possibly true. Left voters think corporations have too much power and are trying to crush them or kill them, which is also possibly true.]
- Status tends to be tied up with ‘knowledge’ so higher status people tend not to admit when they are wrong, and they fight to hide their wrongness or attack those who insist they are wrong. Other people try to gain status by not being wrong. [Quick experiment: how often do you like the idea of being wrong in public…. add to that the idea that others who have proved you wrong are dancing in triumph. If that causes you any discomfort, then you have demonstrated the point….]
- Whole organisations can go down the path of delusion, because of peoples’ fear of what will happen should they deny the organisation’s ‘truth’ – they can be expelled, loose their power, loose their income loose their friends etc. as well as feel the discomfort of being ‘wrong’ in public. They will eventually agree with the falsity, or behave as if they do, and persecute others who do not agree with that falsity.
- The people at the top of an organisation can be fed whatever it is those beneath them think they want to hear, irrespective of reality, and this then lurches the organisation in a particular direction.
- People can be instructed to seek for information that does not exist, and punished if they don’t find it, so they do find something…. or they make stuff up to satisfy those higher up. They may come to a point where their whole status and being is tied up in defending this nothing, against challenge, and punishing those who think it is nothing.
- Much media exists for the simple purpose of maintaining power by spreading interpretations and propaganda that benefit “their side”.
- This propaganda media is usually marked by opinion masquerading as news, shouting, name-calling, rousing of passions to help guide people’s thinking (generating emotional bias), confirming your virtue for siding with them, convincing you that their elite have the same interests as you, branding the other side as evil, and telling you that the identity you have is under challenge.
- This set-up stops people from wondering what the “other side” thinks, because the other side is evil, inferior and dangerous to self-image etc.
- This has the advantage of keeping people’s eyes on this propaganda media, which allows more advertising profit, which also may destroy less biased media which does not raise passions to persuade people of things.
- The disbelievers are held to believe what they believe because they are biased and evil (and even conspiring against you), and you believe what you believe because you are smart, virtuous, practical etc….
- Often those who follow propaganda media, officially do not believe it, so if it is shown to be false, they can declare “all media lies” so they can go back to following the lies they believe, and fake their status – they were not taken in, even though nothing shifts.
- Anyone can be fooled, especially those who think they cannot be fooled. This is the basis of the best cons. People think they are smart enough not to trust a particular politician, but they accept that his policies are what they think he says they are, and that he has implemented them, and has not deceived them.
- Everyone sees patterns in random events, faces in the sky, landscapes in ink splashes etc. Indeed it is hard not to. These patterns may prove nothing. Q followers have great pattern detection and are encouraged to detect particular patterns and ignore others which might be more relevant, such as the failure of Q predictions. Encouragement of pattern detection is rarely connected with pattern evaluation, and testing. The issue is whether the patterns noted are real or useful, or lead them to fantasy and delusion, and isolation from anyone who doubts the patterns.
- Because destructive power often tends to depend on false information, there are campaigns to discredit those people who actually have studied particular subjects for a long time to reinforce the idea that disbelievers in the others are virtuous. Even agreement between people who have studied the subject for a long time becomes evidence of conspiracy, not of the likelihood of what they are arguing.
- Anyone with a youtube channel can claim to have as much of the truth as those who study the subject, provided they say what you want to hear.
- With conflicting information and too much information, people tend to judge information by the information given by those they trust, who will share political, identity and other propaganda biases. This trust, and identification, forms an information group, that filters out information which does not express group biases. In other words what you accept (or even hear of) tends to become more limited, and that restricts information even more intensely.
- Because the social dynamics of information encourages to think/feel that information is a matter of status and identity, they tend to think that because they are competent in some fields they are competent in all fields, but they are actually depending on their information group for competence, not their own abilities
- Eventually everything collapses, because hardly anyone has any relationship to reality, just to their information hallucinations…
Fact checking and education may not help, because these actions are already framed politically and in terms of identity. If you don’t hear the results you want to hear, then it is easy to conclude the fact checkers and educators are biased, evil and part of the conspiracy against you.
Social information processing can be seen as a form of ‘defense mechanism’. Rather than admitting the world is complex and hard to understand, and that it is difficult to find adequate information to allow the definitive solving of complex problems, people defend the hard limits of their egos, by defending against (or denying) these difficulties. We pretend information and understanding is simple, that problems are simple (we only need more of what we have defined as good), and that confusion is generated by evil others (perhaps in a conspiracy), and by stupidity of others. If we shout at the others we are doing something useful. If we suppress something, we are doing so for general benefit. We are good sensible people. We understand everything important. Life is not the meaningless chaos, despair and threat, which it would be if we were wrong. We have found solid ground rather than shifting uncertainty.
This is unreal. Understanding is frequently provisional and difficult, and we are inevitably often wrong. We often look stupid because we believed something which turned out to be false. It is only an ongoing problem if we persist with that falsity. That is reality, and that is what we have to admit and deal with, and its hard.
However, the tendency to see information conspiracies to protect and make sense of what you believe, does not mean there are no information conspiracies at all… 🙂