Thursday, June 4, 2015

Anti-scientism and pseudointellectualism

Many commenters have noticed and talked about, especially during the past decade or so (and at an increasing rate) how anti-scientism is on the rise in many parts of the western world. These are your typical modern conspiracy theories and denialism (such as climate change denialism, anti-vaccination, anti-evolutionism, all the typical conspiracy theories, and so on) getting more and more widespread acceptance in the general public. In general, science is for some reason more and more distrusted, and its claims attributed to a conspiracy. Many such commenters have been saying how we are, essentially, going back to the dark middle ages.

Nowadays, almost invariably, if someone writes eg. a newspaper article online on this subject, the comment section will be filled with people supporting the denialism and the conspiracy theories, often with a very smug and "knowledgeable" tone.

These anti-science attitudes are often described as superstition. I, however, would describe it as pseudointellectualism. It's precisely that smug tone, the kind of tone that implies "you clearly don't know what you are talking about, you have been duped, clearly you haven't studied these things like I have", that emanates from all those pro-denialism comments that makes me think so.

Conspiracy theories and denialist movements make people feel smart, knowledgeable and intellectual. They give people the sense of being above deception, that they can't be deceived and mislead, that they are too smart for that. They like the feeling of being smarter than the scientists, to see through their "deception", to be above them, rather than subject to them. Many of them also love to be able to use fancy terms and refer to higher notions, like they knew what they are talking about. In other words, they love being intellectually superior to the masses, who they think are being duped into believing falsities.

This is pseudointellectualism. The self-notion of intellectual superiority, based on completely false and fallacious claims and notions, and without any real accurate knowledge, experience or relevant background in the subjects being discussed.

They also project onto themselves the work made by others (ie. the conspiracy theorists and denialists.) Whenever some such person says something like "I have studied this subject", or "I have done the research", or "I have read all the relevant papers", you can be pretty much certain that they have not. Instead, what they have done is see or read someone else's claims, thought "this guy has clearly done a lot of work and research on this subject and knows what he's talking about", accepted those claims, and then projected that perceived "study" and "research" onto themselves, as if they had done it personally, when in fact they haven't.

Quite ironically, all these people who feel being intellectually superior to the masses and above the possibility of being deceived, are in fact being deceived, and they are falling for it hook, line and sinker.

Conspiracy theorists and denialists are, essentially, so-called spin doctors. In other words, they are experts in spinning the details of events and claims to make it appear to the inexperienced as if the exact opposite is true, or that the claims are much more dubious than they really are. They are like magicians, experts at misdirection and making you see things or not see things as they will. They will cherry-pick details and present them out of the larger context in a manner that makes it look like they support a completely different narrative, usually hiding the actual explanation (or, alternatively, "poisoning the well" against it).

These "spin doctors" are seldom able to fool the experts, because the experts obviously know the subject a lot better than that, and have a lot of experience and knowledge about it. However, the average person is not an expert, because that requires years of hard work and study, and that's why they are much more easily fooled. And since believing in these conspiracy theories makes them feel intellectually superior to the masses, makes them feel like they are "in the loop" and above deception, they are often very willing to believe without question.

While being naive and deceived, which is the big irony here. It's the age-old con-artistry: Make the mark believe they are in control and making all the decisions, like they are above everything else, when in fact they are just being manipulated by the con-artist.

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