Wednesday, August 9, 2017

On the bright side, he's probably not smart enough to be a Russian agent

The fringe is a strange beast. Almost by definition, it consist of splinters, belief systems that are highly diverse and often mutually exclusive, seemingly sharing only improbability. Furthermore, the members of those groups are often incapable of functioning at what we would generally call a normal level of competence. The very idea of a coherent fringe that can be channeled and useful directions would seem to be absurd.

But contradictory beliefs often mask similar, or at least compatible, personalities. It is remarkably difficult to reconcile flat earth and alien invasion theories, but adherents of both can frequently find common ground in their sense of isolation and, more to the point, persecution by society in general and the scientific and academic establishment in particular.

I'm not sure it makes much sense to impose a left/right ideological framework on fringe groups before, say, 1980. Not only do you find them at every point on the political spectrum, most of them can't really be described in those terms at all, like rowing complex numbers into a discussion that requires real solutions. After the Reagan era, however, the conservative movement started making consistently effective use of these groups. The movement was fundamentally and often explicitly Straussian, misinforming the base to drum up anti-goverment feelings was a logical step.

The system works great until the misinformation starts flowing in the wrong direction. Here's how we put it earlier.

I know we've been through all of this stuff about Leo Strauss and the conservative movement before so I'm not going to drag this out into great detail except to reiterate that if you want to have a functional  institution that makes extensive use of internal misinformation, you have to make sure things move in the right direction.

With misinformation systems as with plumbing, when the flow starts going the wrong way, the results are seldom pretty. This has been a problem for the GOP for at least a few years now. A number of people in positions of authority, (particularly in the tea party wing) have bought into notions that were probably intended simply to keep the cannon-fodder happy. This may also partly explain the internal polling fiasco at the Romney campaign.

Which leads us to this piece from Ars Technica by Eric Berger
On Thursday, the space subcommittee of the House Science Committee held a hearing to look into NASA's forthcoming big-ticket planetary exploration missions. Those missions include a Mars 2020 rover, a Europa flyby mission, and potentially a follow-up lander to the Jovian moon Europa.

[California Republican Dana Rohrabacher ] asked, "You have indicated that Mars was totally different thousands of years ago. Is it possible that there was a civilization on Mars thousands of years ago?"

 [Kenneth Farley] calmly answered, "So the evidence is that Mars was different billions of years ago. Not thousands of years ago."

"Well, yes," Rohrabacher says. As if duh, of course he knew that.

"And, umm, there would be, there's no evidence that, uhh, I'm aware of," Farley continued, gamely trying to answer the question.

"Would you rule that out? See, there's some people... Well, anyway."

"I would say that is extremely unlikely," Farley responds.

That exchange would be troubling enough on its own, but Berger goes on to speculate that the cryptic “some people” might have referred to this.
On Thursday (June 29), a guest on Alex Jones' radio show named Robert David Steele claimed that Mars is inhabited — by people sent to the Red Planet against their will.

"We actually believe that there is a colony on Mars that is populated by children who were kidnapped and sent into space on a 20-year ride, so that once they get to Mars, they have no alternative but to be slaves on the Mars colony," Steele told Jones, the founder of the controversial InfoWars website.

 "Look, I know that 90 percent of the NASA missions are secret, and I've been told by high-level NASA engineers that you have no idea," Jones told Steele, who the show billed as a "CIA insider." "There is so much stuff going on."

Jones went on to add that "clearly, they don’t want us looking into what is happening; every time probes go over, they turn them off."
Just to be clear, I'm not saying that Rohrabacher got this directly from Jones, but that informationn from sources like Jones are likely to flow in unexpected directions, which is, in many ways, worse.

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