A Bright, Vibrant Blue Diamond
A Bright, Vibrant Blue Diamond
John Æonid, Reflections in a Personal Web Site
John Æonid, Reflections in a Personal Web Site

Emergent Phenomena and what Sociologists Might Say About Conspiracy

Dec. 19, 2020, John Æonid — DRAFT, INCOMPLETE, NOT PROOFED

There's a topic that academics occassionally like to point out as false and I find frustrating.  It's the notion the some people are visual thinkers and some are verbal thinkers.  The like to say that's not true.  And technically they're right.  But, it is a technicality.  They're quibling over the way to read the statement.  They are taking the statement as meaning that visual thinkers and verbal thinkers are two types of thinkers; and if you read it that way, it is a false statement.  But, I never read it that way.  I am certainly capable of both verbal and visual thinking.  I never thought that because I favored one over the other that I should think of myself as being a type—when it's just a kind of preference.

So let's pick apart this concept of type.  It seems there's this subtle academic interpretation of that word.  A thing that is said to be a "type" is somehow taken to mean that it can only be that thing.  But, there are exceptions to this.  In Psychology, there are lengthy explanations about how personality types only indicate leanings—and should never be taken as absolute pigeon holes.  So, why can't it be understood that types of thinkers only means a preference—not a pigeon hole.

I personally think of myself as a visual thinker, even a spatial thinker.  That doesn't mean I can't think verbally.  Look, I'm writing sentences here.  I'm not visualizing the words.  I hear them as I type.  When the give us those appitude tests, many of them are graded with two scores, one for verbal and the other for non-verbal.  It should be no surprise that I my enjoyment of visualizing the way things work is associated with the relationship between those two appitude scores.

All of that was just to point out that the way the people quible over things reveals much about what the thinking behind a thing is.  When it comes to conspiracy theories, I think there is a kind of anthropomorphism involved.   That is, people often need to put a face on things, sometimes a human face and sometimes even an animal face.  It's a matter of an what people think is an apt metaphor.  And, much of what we hear in a conspiracy theory is really just trying to make the metaphor the reality.  It's a common mistake.

Elsewhere, I've written about how our minds are really a kind of virtual reality or holodeck in which we run through various scenarios as we decide how we're going to act.  This is tied to the notion that we can imagine or anticipate other people's possible thoughts.  We also have a fair amount of our brain power devoted to being able to read facial expressions.  It's just natural that this is engaged when we start working out scenarios that involve people or other actors.  It's not something you can turn off, and much of it happening beneath your conscious view.  (TODO: More thought on what George Lakof might say about the metaphor for "beneath" as it applies to consciousness, possibly the murky dephts beneath a lake [ha, Lakeoff] or the currents in the abyss beneath the oceans.  And then, the mind is invisible when it's perfectly quiet.)  So, this something that you need to keep in mind when you imagine who it is that might be lurking behind that claim of a conspiracy, particularly if you want to avoid being fodder for propaganda.

Sociologist are people who study how society and cultures behave.  And, this often overlaps with Economics.  Much has been written about the behavior of consumers.  Of course there has; there's money in it.  Some of what has been written has been about the psychology and behavior of individual consumers.  Other perspectives have been about how consumers behave as group or population.  This group behavior is then the realm of the Sociologist. 

Being human, Sociologists have that same faculty to put a face on a thing.  But, they're supposed to be trained to recognize the tempation and avoid it.  Yes, they'll get called out for it through an peer review process.  They can't get away with putting a face on a group behavior and then assume that there is a single person or some kind of cabal behind it.  But, those regular fold who haven't had that training are vulnerable to claims to do have a face put on it.  And without that training, they may not believe it when experts point out the flaws in the propaganda.

Emergence is a concept of how a thing may not be a thing in itself but something that arises out of some other complexity.  It can be the behavior of a thing, which includes the way groups behave.  Consumers are those people who go and buy things (at the retail level).  Any behavior of a group of consumers could or would be an emergent behavior.  Can we put a single face on a group of consumers or all consumers?  Only if we treat it metaphorically.  Unfortunately, there are times when something is presented metaphorically but it doesn't get taken that way.  There are times when people expect to find that there really is a person or a cabal behind something that was just meant to be taken metaphorically.

Propagandists love this.  They get away with a lot because of this.  The rise of conspiracy theories in mainstream culture is evidence that the propagandists have gotten really good at this.  Now, do I dare put a face on the propagandists as if there was a person or cabal behind them.  No, but the propagandists do behave like a conspiracy—as an emergent behavior. But, it isn't some cabal.

Typically, propagandists have a political bias.  But, many of them are independant and don't coordinate in some explicit fashion.  Oh, they may chat in the same echo chambers, but they don't all have some formal agreement to work together.  It's just that it's become fashionable to spout conspiracy theories, and you'd be lucky to browse the news on the Internet and not hear some reference to some conspiracy theory or another.  They've discovered that flooding social media with such material is turning people into converts.  So, it's become the popular thing to do among propagandists.  They've learned that it earns them a following, and it pays their bills.  But, it's not a conspiracy in truth, but it behaves like one.  It's an emergent behavior.

One conspiracy theory of interest is the one referred to as "the duocracy".  That's were two political parties, for whatever reason, appear to be getting nothing done on purpose.  Is there really coordination behind closed doors to do nothing?  Probably not.  Can I prove it.  No.  But, the alternative explanation that it's an emergent behavior is more plausable.  Besides, things do get done.  It just doesn't satisfy everybody.  And, I'll end this point here.  I'm doing my best here not to encourage any particular bias.  I'm much more insterested in giving people the tools so that they can think for themselves and not be manipulated by conspiracy theories.

Yet, I will admit and even proclaim that I am influenced by Zen and Doaism.  And, the teachings of Doaism typically open with statements that explain how the Dao, or The Way, cannot be accurately or completely described in words.  We also learn from Daoism of a thing called Yin and Yang.  And, that also cannot be accurately or completely described.  It's probamatic in that our minds often fall into the trap of binary thinking—drawing lines in the sand and labeling one side good and the other bad.  This is one of the topics that I've attempted to write articles on, and I have a number of different attempts that I've set aside.  Yin and Yang cannot be separated; it's a concept of contrasts within a unified whole.  And, it's natural that there be contrasts, but it's a mistake to exagerate the contrasts, particularly when their pushed to an extreme.  But then, how do you know when a thing has been pushed to an extreme?  I would say that where people have become divided to the point of embitterment something needs to be healed.  Oh, and there are conspiracy theories around the divide, even though it's more likely that it's just an emergent behavior, whether somebody profits from it or not.  Fortunately, there are those that are working to heal it.  And, that's good, because there would be an end to life if anyone managed to separate Yin and Yang.  But, that's not possible.  The tearing apart needs to be addressed, and the injury needs healing.

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