Conspiracy Knowledge and Desire

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I’ve been thinking about the relationship between information and desire. There are at least three positions that are immediately relevant: 1) I want to be a reasonably informed person; 2) I want to be reassured that I am not alone and have a good supply of support for what I believe, but I want this support to be factual; 3) I want to believe a story about the world that confirms my suspicions. The third position seems to stress some combination of confirmation bias, plausible “believability” (what counts as truthiness), and closed-loop insulation from correction.

The last part is the most brilliant of the conspiracy strategies; whatever info might burst the bubble of the desired becomes part of the attempt to disguise the conspiratorial truth. So if a story contains early unconfirmed details aired as speculation as a story develops, then the later denial of these details becomes part of the conspiracy. “No evidence for it? That’s what they want you to think!” And who is they?

In this case I want to suggest that, for those of us who know we need to be the first with just a touch of the second and none of the third, “they” is really a way of thinking. To dig further, there are two things you can consider. One is this piece by Simon van Zuylen-Wood from

Photo published for This Is What It’s Like to Read Fake News For Two Weeks
This Is What It’s Like to Read Fake News For Two Weeks

The other thing would be to read some work by the late Robert Anton Wilson, who got that the conspiracies we believe in are not about the world but about us. He turned fear into a hilarious game of Schrodinger’s Cat and Maus.

Be warned, though, that Wilson offers a kind of performative skepticism that challenges not just your beliefs, but the idea of belief itself. For me, though, it perfects the balance between how we know, how we believe, and how we desire.

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Ralph Beliveau
Media Arts Area Head
Associate Professor, Creative Media Production
Beliveau@ou.edu @ralphbeliveau

Dr. Beliveau is on faculty for the Gaylord College and affiliate faculty in both Film and Media Studies and Women’s and Gender Studies. He co-authored Digital Literacy: A Primer on Media, Identity, and the Evolution of Technology (2016) and co-edited the forthcoming collection International Horror Film Directors: Global Fear (December 2016). He writes and teaches about media education and literacy, race, horror media, documentary, rhetorical criticism, video production, film, popular culture, music & cultural studies, and documentary theory production & history. He has written about network society, documentary rhetoric, horror media, The Wire, African American biographical documentaries, Alex Cox, Supernatural, Richard Matheson, Night Gallery, Italian film, and Paolo Freire and media literacy. He previously taught Radio/TV/Film at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh and broadcast journalism, popular culture, and rhetoric while doing graduate work at the University of Iowa. Beliveau ran an FM radio station and cable television studio in Chicago and worked in Los Angeles in independent film and television production. He served as editor of the Journal of Communication Inquiry, chair of the Cultural and Critical Studies division of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, and chair of the Student Documentary Competition for the Broadcast Education Association. Beliveau is part of the team of faculty who leads the British Media Tour annually and also taught Italian Popular Film and Literature in the Journey to Italy program in Arezzo. Beliveau earned his B.S. from Northwestern University and Ph.D. from the University of Iowa. More can be found at http://www.ralphbeliveau.com/.

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