TAG | conspiracy theories
It was perhaps not that surprising that Pope Francis would look to involve himself in the controversy over ‘fake news’. The terms in which he did so were, however, unexpected….
The Guardian reports:
Pope Francis has lambasted media organisations that focus on scandals and smears and promote fake news as a means of discrediting people in public life. Spreading disinformation was “probably the greatest damage that the media can do”, the pontiff told the Belgian Catholic weekly Tertio. It is a sin to defame people, he added.
Using striking terminology, Francis said journalists and the media must avoid falling into “coprophilia” – an abnormal interest in excrement. Those reading or watching such stories risked behaving like coprophagics, people who eat faeces, he added.
The pope excused himself for using terminology that some might find repellent. “I think the media have to be very clear, very transparent, and not fall into – no offence intended – the sickness of coprophilia, that is, always wanting to cover scandals, covering nasty things, even if they are true,” he said. “And since people have a tendency towards the sickness of coprophagia, a lot of damage can be done.”
He also spoke of the danger of using the media to slander political rivals. “The means of communication have their own temptations, they can be tempted by slander, and therefore used to slander people, to smear them, this above all in the world of politics,” he said.
Now let’s scroll back to a passage in a speech that the pontiff gave in Bolivia last year:
“The new colonialism takes on different faces. At times it appears as the anonymous influence of mammon: corporations, loan agencies, certain ‘free trade’ treaties, and the imposition of measures of ‘austerity’ which always tighten the belt of workers and the poor…”
As I observed in the course of a post on the Corner:
Not for the first time with Pope Francis, we see traces of conspiracism (a demagogic standard, I’m afraid to say) in his use of the phrase ‘anonymous influence’ and the suggestion of dark works by ‘corporations’ and ‘loan agencies’.
Not for the first time….
During the course of his notorious Lampedusa speech on immigration in 2013, Francis conjured up images of dark forces at play.
Writing in Law and Liberty not so long after, Anthony Daniels had this to say:
The Pope’s use of a term such as ‘those who take the socio-economic decisions in anonymity’ was strong on connotation but weak on denotation, itself a sign of intellectual evasion. Who, exactly, were ‘those’ people? Wall Street hedge fund managers, the International Monetary Fund, opponents of free trade, African dictators? Was he saying that the whole world economic system was to blame for the migration across the Mediterranean, that the existence of borders was illegitimate, that Denmark (for example) was rich because Swaziland was poor, that if only Losotho were brought up to the level of Liechtenstein (or, of course, if Liechtenstein were brought down to the level of Lesotho) no one would drown in the Mediterranean? There was something for everyone’s conspiracy theory in his words…
And then there were Francis’ comments (reported by ABC) in the wake of the murder of an elderly French priest by Islamic terrorists earlier this year:
Pope Francis says the world is at war, but is stressing that it’s not a war of religions. Francis spoke to reporters on the papal plane en route from Rome to Poland, where he began a five-day visit Wednesday. Asked about the slaying of an 85-year-old priest in a Normandy church on Tuesday, Francis replied: “the real word is war…yes, it’s war. This holy priest died at the very moment he was offering a prayer for all the church.”
He went on: “I only want to clarify, when I speak of war, I am really speaking of war … a war of interests, for money, resources. … I am not speaking of a war of religions, religions don’t want war. The others want war.”
As I noted at the time on this site:
[A]s for the Pope’s claim that “religions don’t want war”, I can only suggest that he spend more time with the history books and, for that matter, some of the less benign passages in various sacred texts.
The final insult both to the truth and thereby to the victim is Francis’ resort (yet again) to conspiracy theory, with his references to some shadowy conflict over “interests, for money, for resources”.
Demagogues typically resort to conspiracism out of delusion or malice, as a device to mislead and, often, to draw the audience’s attention away from what is really going on.
Pope Francis is not in a position to lecture anyone on fake news.
Pope Francis gave a speech at the EU parliament last week. There were the usual leftist themes that we have come to expect from this pope (“we encounter certain rather selfish lifestyles, marked by an opulence which is no longer sustainable”, “uncontrolled consumerism” and so on) complete with the hints of dark conspiracies that remind us that Francis’ thinking remains heavily influenced by the Peronist Argentina of his youth:
The true strength of our democracies – understood as expressions of the political will of the people – must not be allowed to collapse under the pressure of multinational interests which are not universal, which weaken them and turn them into uniform systems of economic power at the service of unseen empires.
And there was the jibe directed at Europe’s failure to live up to the Vatican’s natalist expectations:
In many quarters we encounter a general impression of weariness and aging, of a Europe which is now a “grandmother”, no longer fertile and vibrant.
Over at the XX Committee, John Schindler picks up on that, correctly noting that low fertility is not only a European “problem” (his word, not mine), but then goes on to argue this:
Francis’s analysis of Europe’s population problem, which is really a deep crisis of civilizational pride, identity and meaning, manifesting in a lack of will to even reproduce, is difficult to refute…
On the contrary, it couldn’t be easier. Declining birth rates can be a response to economic pressure, certainly (as was evident, say, during the Great Depression or in Eastern Europe during and after the Soviet collapse), but it’s a stretch to see it as evidence of Europe’s civilizational decline. British birth rates, for example, began to drop in the later Victorian era, a time when its national self-confidence stood at a zenith that was, broadly, to endure until 1914:
The decline in birth rates, identified as stage three of the demographic transition, took place in England from around 1870 to 1920. In 1871 the average woman was having 5.5 children but by 1921 this had fallen to 2.4 children.
(Office of National Statistics)
Smaller families is what people want when science and the likely survival of their existing children give them the chance to make that choice. And as we enter an age where, thanks to automation, the demand for labor—as we are already seeing—is ebbing, that’s not such a bad thing.
That’s not to say that the transition to a lower birth rate is without its problems. It isn’t (who pays for the old?), but they will not be solved by more people: the unemployed will not be able to pay for the retired. Mass immigration is not the answer.
On that topic, Francis had quite a bit to say, using the hideous tragedy of the drownings at sea of would-be immigrants (“We cannot allow the Mediterranean to become a vast cemetery.”) as (in essence) an argument for Europe to adopt an even more open immigration policy than it already has, something he has done before, perhaps most notoriously in his speech on the Italian island of Lampedusa, a performance that ‘Theodore Dalrymple’ (Anthony Daniels) quite right rightly described as a display of “moral exhibitionism”.
Meanwhile, Schindler notes:
“Why aren’t hundreds of asylum seekers drowning trying to get to Japan?” asked one analyst, pointedly, a year ago. After all, Japan is a very nice country with a most advanced economy and a desperate shortage of people. But refugees don’t try to reach the coast of Japan. For the simple reason they know they will be turned away. Preferring to preserve its native population, Japan turns away virtually all refugee claimants, while Australia lets many of them in, with generous benefits to boot. South Korea, like Japan, is not open to more than few refugees despite a serious birth dearth, so few come. In 2014, any developed country that pursues a permissive policy towards refugees is going to get more of them, perhaps many more.
And finally, when it came to the pope’s comments on the current unhappy state of the EU, many euroskeptics seemed to enjoy the thought that the pope was one of them. They were wrong.
Writing in the Daily Telegraph (link via EUReferendum), Christopher Booker explains:
The Pope’s address to the European Parliament seemed devastatingly critical. He spoke of how “the great ideas which once inspired Europe seem to have lost their attraction, only to be replaced by the bureaucratic technicalities of its institutions”.
He described it as looking “elderly and haggard” in “a world which frequently regards it with aloofness, mistrust and even, at times, suspicion”. He observed how it had lost the trust of its citizens, who see it too often as “downright harmful”.
Reading the Pope’s speech in full, however, he doesn’t seem to have grasped the EU’s real nature at all: in particular, why the core principles on which it was set up were inevitably destined to bring it to its present dismal pass.
Somehow the pope seems to have missed the fact that the EU was a profoundly post-democratic project. How it was sold (peace, reconciliation and so on) bore little relation to what it really was.
The seduction of conspiracy is the way it orders chaos.
Hmmm, that sounds like another phenomenon I could mention, which makes this entertainingly ironic :
In the summer of 1964, the English philosopher and logician Bertrand Russell—past 90 years old then and possibly the most famously rational person on the planet—read the early accounts of the Warren Commission Report with mounting alarm. None of the important questions, he thought, were being answered. There was the matter of the parade route being changed without explanation at the last minute, so that the motorcade passed Lee Harvey Oswald’s workplace; the geometrically confounding arrangement of entry and exit wounds; the curious fact that an alibi witness who helped get an alternate suspect released from custody turned out to be a stripper at Jack Ruby’s club. The logician went to work. Meticulously, Russell documented the discrepancies between each first-person account and the divergences between each report in the media. He gave his document a modest, scientific-sounding title (“16 Questions on the Assassination”) and a just-the-facts tone….
Bertrand, Bertrand, Bertrand.
Just another reminder that the impulses that played such a part in the creation of religious belief will always be with us.
Here’s the Guardian in full “wacky Americans” mode:
About one in four Americans suspect that President Barack Obama might be the antichrist, more than a third believe that global warming is a hoax and more than half suspect that a secretive global elite is trying to set up a New World Order, according to a poll released on Tuesday.
The survey, which was conducted by Public Policy Polling, asked a sample of American voters about a number of conspiracy theories, phrasing the questions in eye-catching language that will have the country’s educators banging their heads on their desks. The study revealed that 13% of respondents thought Obama was “the antichrist”, while another 13% were “not sure” – and so were at least appeared to be open to the possibility that he might be. Some 73% of people were able to say outright that they did not think Obama was “the antichrist”.
The survey also showed that 37% of Americans thought that global warming was a hoax, while 12% were not sure and a slim majority – 51% – agreed with the overwhelming majority view of the scientific establishment and thought that it was not. The survey also revealed that 28% of people believed in a sinister global New World Order conspiracy, aimed at ruling the whole world through authoritarian government. Another 25% were “not sure” and only a minority of American voters – 46% – thought such a conspiracy theory was not true…
The Guardian being the Guardian, the questions the paper highlights are those that make the (presumed) right look nuts. It goes unmentioned that 14 percent of Americans apparently believe that believe the CIA was instrumental in distributing crack cocaine into America’s inner cities in the 1980s – and that another 30 percent are “not sure” about this dastardly plot.
More broadly, however, I always wonder whether people truly believe what they say they do in response to questions in surveys such as this. If as many as a quarter of all Americans really think that Obama is (or could be) the antichrist, wouldn’t they make a little more noise about it?
As for global warming, it’s impossible not to note the way that the writer goes to such pains to assert his own orthodoxy with additional commentary (“the overwhelming majority view of the scientific establishment”) that has no equivalent elsewhere in the piece, suggesting just a little defensiveness, something that might not be entirely inappropriate at a time when even the AGW true believers at the Economist can write this:
It is not clear why climate change has “plateaued” (see article). It could be because of greater natural variability in the climate, because clouds dampen warming or because of some other little-understood mechanism in the almost infinitely complex climate system.
Now, as I have written before, I am, to use that loaded term, no ‘denier’ (as conventionally understood, at least: I just believe that some of the AGW faithful need to ponder the implications of those words “infinitely complex” with a little more care). I certainly don’t think that AGW is a “hoax”, as that word is conventionally understood. That said, my guess would be that many of those who used that term were merely using it as a way to express their all too understandable suspicion that “global warming” has, for some, become something of a racket, based on a “consensus” that is not quite so soundly based as the public is usually told.
And then we come to the ”sinister” global conspiracy. The Guardian’s writer spiced up the actual question (adding that adjective, and removing the qualifier that the plan was to take over the planet “eventually”) which was as follows:
Do you believe that a secretive power elite with a globalist agenda is conspiring to eventually rule the world through an authoritarian world government, or New World Order, or not?
That’s something of a stretch, to put it mildly, but read another way, there is plenty of truth to the idea that a supra-nationalist class is moving away from the idea of sovereign national democracy, and replacing it with regimes and treaties that are, if not authoritarian, certainly post-democratic. The EU is the most notorious example, but some of what the UN has been aiming at, whether it be with regard to climate change, the control of narcotics and, recently, firearms could be seen that way too. It’s melodramatic to describe this as a conspiracy (and much of it is being done in plain sight), but it is a reality, and it’s not too hard to imagine those who disapprove of it, wishing to register their discontent by labeling it with language more normally used for dark intrigue and shadowy cabal.
Then again, some people are just nuts. Take a look at the full survey. It’s a good read…
Over in the Corner, I take a look at some smart commentary on the Obama-is-a-Muslim poll findings.
The new survey from the Pew Research Center appearing to show that nearly one in-in-five Americans believe that Obama is a Muslim is as depressing as it is (regrettably) unsurprising.
Missing however was any data on how many now think that the president is the antichrist – or is that steady at 666 percent?
Right-wing criticism of Obama is not racial, but Obama’s kick in the pants to New York Governor David Paterson apparently is. Republican National Committee chair Michael Steele told CBS on Sunday:
I found that to be stunning, that the White House would send word to one of only two black governors in the country not to run for re-election.
Republicans denounce identity politics, except when they engage in it themselves. Steele is claiming either that Obama is going after Paterson because he is black or that Obama should not go after Paterson because he is black. The first proposition is ludicrous, the second, poisonous. Steele strikes me as intermittently unhinged, but his exploitation of identity discourse here is hardly sui generis. Sarah Palin parroted Hillary Clinton’s feminist blather in announcing her vice presidency: “It turns out that the women of America aren’t finished yet, and we can shatter that glass ceiling once and for all.” Her supporters regularly accused her critics of being anti-woman. I wouldn’t have been surprised, therefore, to have seen Limbaugh or some other Republican luminary, instead of Steele, play the race card against Obama for his anti-Paterson campaign.
Is it too much to hope that Republican criticism of Obama stay within a zone of rationality and dignity? Yes, the Democrats demonized Bush, but that doesn’t mean that Republicans have to respond in kind. Why not be icily factual and coldly respectful, rather than hysterical and hot-headed? Both parties seem to have forgotten the Clinton and the Bush eras. Democrats, in portraying right-wing hyperventilation over Obama as a manifestation of covert hostility to blacks, forget the insane Clinton conspiracy theories that grew like kudzu even in the highest reaches of Republican opinionizing. Only this year has the right-wing obsession with the Clintons appeared to have finally and thankfully petered out. But Republican pundits, in portraying Obama as an unprecedented danger to the country—on Wednesday, Mark Levin announced: “We’ve never been in this situation before at least in modern times . . . They intend to use the system against you”–forget their own dire warnings about the Clintons as the end of civilization. (more…)