- Another example of conservatives retelling history, from PragerU;
- How those with beliefs in subjective truths are more prone to conspiracy theories;
- How China is now using AI to sow disinformation to gullible Americans, and wondering how long it will be until people believe no ‘photographs’ at all;
- Another study about simply giving people money, and how this isn’t so different from governments who provide services like the military and libraries even to those who don’t pay taxes.
If you believe in a mythical past golden age, then you have to occasionally tweak real history to support the notion that there ever was a past golden age. Conservatives are good at this.
Salon, Amanda Marcotte, 13 Sep 2023: PragerU’s Confederate classroom propaganda: Co-opting history to prop up modern insurrectionists, subtitled “Abraham Lincoln is portrayed making arguments that sound like modern Proud Boys begging a judge for forgiveness.”
Noted especially for the first sentence.
It’s ironic that the team at PragerU hates communism so much since they produce dishonest agitprop that rivals anything the Soviet Union’s most shameless propagandists produced. The “curriculum” — a word that really overrates what’s now being used as educational materials in public schools in Florida and Oklahoma — is so overloaded with right-wing lies that debunking them all is nearly impossible. So many hats off to the team at Media Matters for combing through the extensive video library of the non-accredited right-wing disinformation mill run by Rush Limbaugh wannabe Dennis Prager. The cartoon videos aimed at children, which are also being considered for classrooms in Texas and New Hampshire, promote a wide-ranging amount of B.S. meant to poison children against reality: Videos that lie about climate change, glamorize genocide, fear-monger about urban life, and deny human rights abuses around the globe. There’s even a video in which an American bigot compares being criticized online to the plight of Soviet dissidents thrown in a gulag.
Her particular theme in this piece is the following:
It’s all terrible, but I want to pull on one thread that especially illustrates why it is that conservatives are so obsessed with rewriting the past. It’s not just that their snowflake-delicate egos can’t stand the idea that their white ancestors may have done bad things. It’s because lies about history are so useful for justifying ongoing lies about our present day. In this case, there’s an important connection between the “Lost Cause” mythology embedded in PragerU videos and the attempts to whitewash Donald Trump’s attempted coup that led to the insurrection of January 6.
Here’s a passage from today’s Morning Heresy blog from CFI, the Center for Inquiry.
Two newly released studies show people who believe that truth is “relative” are significantly more likely to be taken in by conspiracy theories and “bulls—t.”
People who believe the truth is subjective and individual are more likely to believe conspiracy theories, and to hold onto their conspiratorial beliefs even when faced with real-world evidence and facts that contradict their conspiracy theories. […]
And for people with a cultural belief system, cultural relativism was found to be linked to “bulls–t receptivity,” or the ability to gladly accept “nonsense from someone attempting to persuade or impress without concern for what is true or false.”
This is curious because it also seems true — from what I’ve gathered over the years — that people for whom truth is not “relative” but based firmly on unprovable non-evidential religious dogma are also more easily taken in by conspiracy theories than those of us with an evidence-based sense of the world. (Because those committed to a religious dogma have no sense of the evidence-and-conclusions nature of a reality-based worldview.)
Now China is actively sowing disinformation to Americans, because it knows how gullible Americans are. (The AI angle is almost incidental.)
NY Times, 11 Sep 2023: China Sows Disinformation About Hawaii Fires Using New Techniques, subtitled “Beijing’s influence campaign using artificial intelligence is a rapid change in tactics, researchers from Microsoft and other organizations say.”
When wildfires swept across Maui last month with destructive fury, China’s increasingly resourceful information warriors pounced.
The disaster was not natural, they said in a flurry of false posts that spread across the internet, but was the result of a secret “weather weapon” being tested by the United States. To bolster the plausibility, the posts carried photographs that appeared to have been generated by artificial intelligence programs, making them among the first to use these new tools to bolster the aura of authenticity of a disinformation campaign.
For China — which largely stood on the sidelines of the 2016 and 2020 U.S. presidential elections while Russia ran hacking operations and disinformation campaigns — the effort to cast the wildfires as a deliberate act by American intelligence agencies and the military was a rapid change of tactics.
Until now, China’s influence campaigns have been focused on amplifying propaganda defending its policies on Taiwan and other subjects. The most recent effort, revealed by researchers from Microsoft and a range of other organizations, suggests that Beijing is making more direct attempts to sow discord in the United States.
What’s new here isn’t just that the Chinese are becoming more aggressive; they’re using AI to generate ever-more plausible photographs to support their propaganda. Traditional internet jesters simply find photos online that can be taken as supporting their false claims, no matter how implausibly; their targets are not critical thinkers. Recent example: how time-lapse photos of a rocket launch were posted to support the claim that some kind of energy weapon was fired from orbit to start the Mauri fires. Because people have no idea what a real energy weapon would look like, or even if there is such a thing.
Thinking in the long-term– This use of fake photographs is a strategy that is bound to expire. The more they’re used, the more people will realize they’re fake, and the less likely people will believe in *any* photographs. What will happen then?
Another study challenging conservatives’ cynical views of human nature. This does not seem to be related to the similar Canadian study I posted about a week ago today.
Big Think, Ross Pomeroy, 11 Sep 2023: Researchers gave 200 people $10,000 each to study generosity, subtitled “Did they spend the money on themselves or others?”
• Researchers gave 200 people from seven different countries $10,000 each, with instructions to spend it all within three months and to document how they spent it. • Participants spent 68% of their cash prosocially, benefiting others and sometimes simultaneously themselves. • With members of the wealthy Baby Boomer generation beginning to pass away, an unprecedented transfer of wealth is about to unfold. The study suggests a significant amount of that money could be spent on the public good.
As I said a week ago in that article, about the idea of a universal basic income: There’s a mention here of a 2014 TED talk by Rutger Bregman (whose book I reviewed here) on Why we should give everyone a basic income.
I’m not sure I’ve mentioned this before, but in a sense the US, and probably most other nations around the world, provide a kind of “universal income” to all its citizens by what it builds with the taxes it raises, and provided even to those who don’t pay taxes (a key point). The military; the roadways; the post offices; the libraries. No country charges citizens for these services. They are, rather, a kind of ‘socialism,’ as the conservatives seem not to realize.