Why we need consequences for being wrogn
Was a secret cabal of Satan-worshiping, cannibalistic pedophiles running a global child sex-trafficking ring about to be exposed and arrested by Donald Trump during the Storm, which was to have happened before January 21,2021? Is Angela Merkel Hitler's granddaughter? Was JFK Jr assassinated to make room for Hillary Clinton's ambitions, and did he somehow survive and become the mysterious all-knowing "Q"?
It turns out none of this was true, even though perhaps millions believed it and shared stories far and wide about the secretive conspiracies that threatened the nation. Q made one of the biggest mistakes conspiracy theorists can make- putting an actual date, time, and action out there that could easily be proven or disproven by everybody. Had they not committed to a date, they could have kept their conspiracy going for decades.
The same downfall happened to the followers of Harold Camping, an evangelist who predicted the end of the world multiple times, most recently in 2011. Camping's followers sold all of their possessions expecting to be raptured on May 21st of that year, only to be told that there must have been a miscalculation.
Why do so many of us keep falling for bogus stories, outright lies, and hopeful visions that have no basis in science, history, or fact?
Before we get to feeling too superior to the gullible Q fanatics, it's worth pointing out some of the many times ordinary people have been fooled by those who want to abuse their trust:
1- “Despite a never-ending stream of research on the possible health hazards of smoking, there is no proof of a cause and effect relationship between cigarette smoking and various alleged smoking diseases”
(Dr L Blackman, Director of R&D, BAT 11/81)
2- "My colleagues, every statement I make today is backed up by sources, solid sources. These are not assertions. What we’re giving you are facts and conclusions based on solid intelligence." Colin Powell to the United Nations as he accused Iraq of developing weapons of mass destruction, an assertion that turned out to be false.
3- "It looks like the coronavirus is being weaponized as yet another element to bring down Donald Trump. Now, I want to tell you the truth about the coronavirus … I’m dead right on this. The coronavirus is the common cold, folks." Rush Limbaugh on his radio show early in the Covid-19 epidemic.
4-"This is far and away the strongest global economy I've seen in my business lifetime." Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson one year before the biggest recession in 80 years.
5- "My fellow Americans: - As President and Commander in Chief, it is my duty to the American people to report that renewed hostile actions against United States ships on the high seas in the Gulf of Tonkin have today required me to order the military forces of the United States to take action in reply. The initial attack on the destroyer Maddox, on August 2, was repeated today by a number of hostile vessels attacking two U.S. destroyers with torpedoes. The destroyers and supporting aircraft acted at once on the orders I gave after the initial act of aggression. We believe at least two of the attacking boats were sunk. There were no U.S. losses." President Lyndon Johnson speaking to the nation about an incident near Vietnam that greatly escalated the war. It turned out that much of what the nation was told about the event was wrong.
Tobacco companies continue to sell cigarettes, Rush Limbaugh continued to spread disinformation about Covid, Colin Powell and Hank Paulson became elder statesmen, and the Vietnam War raged on for nearly a decade more, with the Pentagon hiding the truth that the war was unwinnable for years. When you get it wrong, you need to make things right again.
I keep thinking about the studies of Phillip Tetlock, the political psychology pioneer who conducted forecasting tournaments in the late 20th century. Experts in their fields were asked to predict events year after year to see how accurate they could be. According to Tetlock, not only were the "experts" no better at predicting the future than random guesses, the more famous and well-known of the experts were the worst predictors.
After failures like the Great Recession, the Iraq war, and 9/11, it's not that much of a surprise that so many gave up on the experts and fell into the dark, conspiratorial rabbit holes of 4chan, YouTube, and Facebook. There is a crisis of confidence in all institutions that comes from an irrational exuberance from experts of all types, especially in the media and in politics. There is an astounding lack of awareness about what people don't know for sure (aka Dunning-Kruger's effect). Into this hole of chaos comes people wanting to exploit the confusion like televangelists, cable-tv personalities, and extremist politicians who are more than willing to fill our heads with stories that don't fix anything, but make us feel better.
Unlike the Q conspirators, today's "experts" don't face any consequences when they are wrong because things move on so quickly, and they aren't stupid enough to predict exact events on exact dates. Everything has a cost and a benefit. Outrageous claims get you attention, clicks, and publicity, but there's precious little cost to anyone when those claims turn out to be wrong.
More than anything, we need accountability for leaders who lead us down the wrong path- either knowingly or unknowingly. Cable tv pundits too. Perhaps a reliability score should be developed that has to be put on the screen every time they say something. Only by publicly admitting that they were wrong, and honestly re-evaluating their assumptions can leaders prove worthy again of our trust. The New York Times has been wrong many times and has admitted it sometimes, but they rarely fire anybody. Rush Limbaugh and Alex Jones have made many outrageous claims that turned out to be wrong, but refuse to admit errors or apologize for fear of ruining their brand. Sometimes the apologies and corrections are quietly buried so that no one will see them, and that defeats the purpose.
The best example of people who were wrong that are now doing the right thing is the Lincoln Project. This group of former Republicans was horrified by the abuses and lies promoted by the Trump administration, and they actually did something about it. Founders like George Conway and Steve Schmidt have been interviewed all over and have apologized for their complicity in creating the direction the Republican party has taken, and have vowed to restore democracy and confront liars. Their political ads are among the most honest and hard hitting, in part because they saw the costs of dishonest campaigning up close. The Lincoln Project motto is "Dedicated Americans protecting democracy - holding accountable those who would violate their oaths to the Constitution and would put others before Americans."
As a believer in karma, I think anybody or anything can be rehabilitated, but it takes humility and awareness of the wrongs that you may have caused. Hopefully some of the Q fanatics will return to reality now that their fantasy is over, but I'm sure many will create a new fantasy to escape to. It's okay to be wrong sometimes. Hell, it's inevitable. If you aren't wrong from time to time you aren't growing or learning. But to double down on wrongness when others point it out is lunacy. To cling to our tiny bubble of information when the rest of reality contradicts it reduces us to smaller, lonelier, and wronger worlds from which we can't escape.