THE PLOT THAT WASN'T

The explosion of conspiratorial thinking, including among liberals and the far left, is one of the most troubling developments of the last few years. There are many reasons people are attracted to conspiracy theories, not the least of which is the way they make the world vastly more interesting than it really is. "9/11 happened because the U.S. made the terrible decision to throw money and weapons at every radical jihadist willing to fight the USSR in Afghanistan, plus nobody realized the incredibly obvious fact that cockpit doors should be locked" is, if simplified, a 100% correct explanation. But it has a number of drawbacks.

For one, it requires a half-decent knowledge of history. By "history" I mean anything that happened more than a week ago, and I think we can agree without undue cynicism that most Americans' (most people, really) grasp of history is tenuous at best. The percentage of people who could give a half-accurate summary of the Soviet war in Afghanistan, and the US role in it, is in the low single digits. And most of those few people got their understanding from one half-awake viewing of the highly fictionalized version in Charlie Wilson's War with Tom Hanks.

More importantly, though, it's just boring. It's a boring story when it's told this way. "Some well-educated potential terrorists realized that cockpit doors are unlocked and that, as long as you aren't interested in taking off or landing, flying a modern commercial airliner can be done adequately without too much training" is not satisfying. When things happen, especially traumatic things, we want there to be some Big Plot to explain it. There isn't. There rarely is.

Add in ideology and motivated reasoning – our inherent want for certain things to be sinister because we dislike them – and the widespread seeding of ideas on the internet and we are living in the golden age of crackpot theories. QAnon might end up being the most representative aspect of this era when people study it in the future.

There is a certain subset of center-left or center-liberal people who have hatched a million strange conspiracy theories about Bernie Sanders, almost all of which have to do with Russian Propaganda, the Kremlin, Russia, Russians, and some sort of orchestrated (Russian) effort (by Russia) to create the impression that (Russian Operative) Mr. Sanders (a Russian) has a fan base when in reality he has none. In fairness to these folks, Sanders is not being treated differently – everything, in their new worldview, is a Russian plot. If something happens that is not fundamentally in line with their understanding of the world, Russia is behind it.

This manner of thinking struck me when I saw this dull Tweet from Mr. Sen. Sanders a few days ago:

If you are interested in understanding why Bernie Sanders has the dedicated following he does, that is your explanation. Unlike any other Democratic could-be with a national profile, he regularly makes reference to organized labor. No one else with a similar level of visibility does. In fact, most other possible candidates or nationally recognized leaders in the party – even Warren, who is pretty far left – run away from labor (which current orthodoxy holds is a dinosaur from earlier days) or just pays lip service to it. They mention "unions" in the abstract when they want union donations, and that's about it.

It strikes me as funny, but not incredible, that some people choose to ignore the very simple, obvious explanation – He talks about a thing some people like, and other people don't talk about it! – in favor of something convoluted and sinister. Maybe it's just more exciting that way. Maybe it helps them make sense of the world in some way I don't understand.

These things simply do not need complicated explanations unless you go looking for one. Why do people like Beto? Well, he's good looking, he's good speaking to crowds, he's pleasantly neutral (which allows people to project their own beliefs onto him), and he raised a lot of money. Why do people like Bernie? Despite his complete lack of personal charisma, he talks about things other candidates don't, and there is a subset of voters who don't care about candidate personality at all. Pretty simple.

My point is not – since I can already see people reading four sentences and rushing to the comments – that Bernie is awesome and you should love him. I simply do not think it should be – can be – any kind of mystery to understand why he has a following. He does some simple things that other candidates and national political figures don't. If other people did those things and were sincere about it, his fans would likely gravitate to those candidates as well. This isn't complicated.

26 thoughts on “THE PLOT THAT WASN'T”

  • Yeah, making shit complicated makes it a lot easier for the idiots who dragged us through the shit to walk away blameless and, often, far richer.

    I don't really give a fuck how complicated shit is, if it's not a pack of lies.

    I hated Trumpligulamygdala before he metastasized from a penile wart to, prolly, the most dangerously delusional Whites Only House occupant since they built it.

    Never been a BernGarJill fan. Edgy people who like to be power brokers don't do it for me.

  • For some reason (money, Reagan), politicians stopped referencing working workers who work in any fashion. I guess social media helps in that regard.

    I noticed Beto got similar pushback a few days ago…the twitter machine was all "ha ha ha beto gets his teeth cleaned that's like showing your penis and asshole to everyone ewww stinky" which completely missed the point.

    What I don't think people appreciate is that social media is an like adding nitro to politics…it moves everything faster than it should reasonably go. Thus while I adore Elizabeth Warren, I think her candidacy is inevitably doomed. Same with Bernie. The sell-by-date of politicians is much quicker now than usual, unless they're corporate grandpas like Biden.

  • I think the key to Bernie's popularity is the "sincere" you threw in at the very end. He seems totally genuine about what he believes and is earnest and unapologetic about it. The union support is just an example. The other liberal candidates might like unions too but you get the sense that they're carefully calibrating their messages.

  • @ Alex:

    Bernie is better at messaging; he would be a centrist or he would be removed as quickly as the RefucKKKliKKKlansmen could engineer it.

    Your choices in an election for most races at levels above county politics are one or the other of a Burnin'stoopitbatshitKKKrazzeepantz (R) and something not quite so bad D). Take the lower offices first.

    In every presidential election since 1968 which has featured a winner from the Party of GOD, the U.S. has been worse off at the end of their time in office.

  • 35 years of flying professionally and I'm still looking for the "Chemtrail On/Off" switch in the cockpit.

    Oh, and the wreckage at the Pentagon after 9/11 was definitely a Boeing 757. It was not a drone or a missile or a UFO or whatever else they claim it was.

    I spent 7 years on the 757, doing 2-3 preflight inspections a night 15-19 nights a month. I know what the pieces of a 757.

  • Still wear the Bernie 2016 button on my everyday bucket hat. Still get numerous comments, all favorable, from young men and women about Bernie. Red state Nebraska although a moderately liberal oasis in same.

    These people are largely check out clerks, other retail workers, and the occasional fellow customer. The gist of the comments is that they feel he is genuine in his advocacy for what he believes will help America and all Americans with particular attention to issues that younger people care about. There's also a sprinkling of, "Trump is a monster and Bernie would have won."

    Personally, I feel he is slightly to the right of Eisenhower and the 1956 Republican Party. Yeah, I'm that old. That passes for progressive these days and I'm all for it and him. Didn't stop me from voting for Clinton, not that it did any good in NE.

  • Why not both? He originally attracted support because he was willing to say things that resonated, especially with youth who were eager to spread the word on social media. He attracted more support once the Democratic nomination had shaken down to Hillary and the not-Hillary, which explains the fact that he got a lot of support from people who thought Clinton was too liberal. And then Russia, looking to weaken or defeat Clinton, invested a lot of resources into keeping the primary divisions alive and splitting Bernie supporters away from Hillary. He has a real following, but he also had it amplified by Russian propaganda efforts.

  • I recall the Afghan rebels being the good guys in one of the Bond films as well. It had Timothy Dalton in it.

    I don't want to look it up because it was probably a lot longer ago than I think it was and I already feel old.

  • @Major Kong – 1987's The Living Daylights! At one point, Bond comes across a mujahideen leader in prison, frees him, and discovers that the Soviets are buying opium from the mujahideen. Not sure that the mujahideen are "good guys" in the movie other than "the enemy of the Red Commie Russkies is obviously my friend"

    Dalton had two outings as Bond. Daylights was written for somebody else; the later License to Kill featured Bond as a killer because Dalton wanted to take the character that way. I liked it, most people didn't. The movie ends with Bond saying to the Bond Girl, "I know a great restaurant in Karachi."

    I bet if I watched it again knowing what was actually happening in Afghanistan from 2001-present I would be depressed. At least it would probably be more accurate than anything starring Stallone.

  • I actually learned most of what I know about the USSR/Afghani war from reading Charlie Wilson's War which was at least a bit less fictionalized than the movie. (But the movie was done well enough that I felt that they did the book justice–more so than I though possible,)

    One other thing about Bernie. This isn't a schtick for him; he's been delivering the same message literally for decades. And during most of his career, he was viewed mostly as "that crackpot Socialist from Vermont." All of a sudden, he's taken much more seriously but he's the same politician he was when he was first elected to Congress in 1990. (And probably the same guy he was when he was mayor of Burlington for the decade before that.)

    FWIW, I've always liked and respected the guy. I just never envisioned a time when he would make it to the mainstream.

  • There is a fundamental difference between 'left' and 'right' CTs and their proponents. QAnon-nutters can hold high office and get airtime in spite of their obvious lack of fitness to serve (or to speak coherently with any respect for the idea of objective truth).
    The fringe left get called out for their wild theories by pretty much everyone, meaning they tend to 'die on the vine' before reaching national attention levels. Can anyone reading this remember even a single far-left conspiracy theory? Recall any public figure or journalist doing anything other than laughing about it?

    A related theme in a different arena: guns and vaccines. Anti-vaxxers were originally a far-left 'purity' group, part of the set that thinks 'organic' is something other than a marketing term. Many on the religious right have bought in because they are already suspicious of science and modern medicine, but the idea is still 'left' in the sense that anti-vaxxers are openly mocked (as they should be IMO) as well as targeted by laws protecting public health at the expense of their beliefs.
    Contrast with guns. Not just one or two, but people who have personal arsenals that rival small countries and carry their weapons around in public. People that form militias, build camps, undergo paramilitary training and mount missions to places like the border with Mexico. People that occasionally kill people with guns, or sell/lose their guns to people who go on to commit crimes with them. Laws targeting this group are verboten, fought off with tens of millions of dollars, lawsuits and vicious influence fights. Even doctors risk reprisals for suggesting that perhaps gun violence should be studied like other causes of ER visits like car accidents and poisonings. Radical gun ownership is a 'right' idea and generally assumed to be valid (or at least not disqualifying in the way that it should be).

    These center-left people you speak of, I'm guessing you mean centrist Democrats that would have been Republicans a few decades ago and may as well still be. Anti-Sanders CTs are essentially right-wing CTs and as such are considered suitable for public discussion.

    In terms of Russian interference, recall that IRA was targeting the extreme positions in any given social circle. There were Russian trolls arguing for both Sanders and Clinton, then later for both Clinton and Trump. In liberal circles, troll farms used the most divisive and disruptive positions they could find.
    It certainly didn't help that Clinton and the DNC actually did work some shady arrangements to help keep Sanders out of the candidacy; of all the leaks and 'but her emails' bullshit to be used against Clinton, the DNC arrangement is the only one that had any meat.

  • Bernie's like Ron Paul. He may or may not mean anything he's been espousing for the last 40+ years–I simply don't know. I do know that he put his interests ahead of at least 63 million voters.

    Pat Leahy, that odious fucking old guard centrist* just rolled over and begged for the shitsammich that Bill Barr was tempting him with at the confirmation hearings, today. Oh, wait, he didn't, really. He should have punched him, I guess, but you can't have everything.

    * No, I don't actually consider him to be that.

  • I like Bernie.

    But it's a shame he's not a Democrat (as I have been for over 20 years). Or rather, it's a shame he only wants to be one when he needs the money and resources of my party to suit himself.

  • @ zero:

    In keeping with the theme of the post, I submit that there's a simple reason that anti-vax nonsense is treated differently than pro-gun nonsense – Money. Advocating against vaccines, if successful, has the potential to cost pharma a significant amount of money by closing off a whole segment of the industry. Advocating against guns, if successful, has the potential to close off an entire industry. Hence, it would behoove the powers that be to both make it acceptable to ridicule anti-vaxxers and strongly reject any meaningful gun control legislation.

    That said, the anti-vax movement is fucking stupid, and we desperately need real gun control.

  • my issue with unions is that they're not universally left-wing, and just supporting "labor" without a qualifier can frequently mean supporting right-wing positions. California teachers' union? Yes. Missouri police union? No.

  • @rustonite.

    Cops aren't workers. Police unions aren't workers' organizations. The left does not support police unions. The DSA had a VERY big internal fight about it last year.

  • "The left does not support police unions."

    Can't NOT have police unions unless you'd like to have other people not want to have teachers, steelworkers, etc.,.

    The problem is the people in the unions electing assholes for both their union officers and public officials.

  • Everybody has a right to a union. It's a right. Period. We don't strip the building trade guys in NYC of that right even though they are chuckleheads who advocate for the most right-wing position on every issue.

  • The far left has as many conspiracy theories as the far right, I think they are just less publicised at the moment because the far right is in the media so much.

    At least in Europe antisemitism has been popular in both far left and far right leaning circles. I don't know about the American left, but I'm guessing it's becoming popular there as well since the Free Palestine movements have become mainstream (fx the BDS movement), they tend to inspire antisemitism.

    Regarding Zero's comment, a public example is Jeremy Corbyn from Labour, he is still leader in spite of his antisemitic comments, I'm sure it's possible to find others.

    Another direction left conspiracies take is CIA and/or "your defense intelligence organization of choice" is behind "whatever event you don't like".

    Again it might just be a European thing, I don't know, but as far as I can tell small groups of whatever political leaning will tend toward fake news and conspiracies.

    The scary thing is how centrists have started believing all this, but individualism and fluidity is to blame there, I think…

  • Bernie represented a cult of Brooklyn-infused dyspepsia with the radicalism of Eugene Debs, but he eventually gravitated towards a strange species of self-aggrandizement that slowly contaminated the validity of his original message (perhaps a byproduct of septuagenarian superstardom). Unfortunately, his most unhinged followers became rabid anarchists instead of rational pragmatists.

  • Emily Beauvais says:

    "The percentage of people who could give a half-accurate summary of the Soviet war in Afghanistan, and the US role in it, is in the low single digits…"

    Hey! That's me! I can give at least a half-accurate summary.

    "And most of those few people got their understanding from one half-awake viewing of the highly fictionalized version in Charlie Wilson's War with Tom Hanks…."

    …hey now…..

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