Saturday, 23 September 2017

Nibiru is Coming

















This is the end, beautiful friend. This is the end, my only friend, the end. There are one of two ways you could be reading this. Deciphered and translated from a charred server drifting among splintered asteroids some millions of years after these words were written. Or as per normal via your favoured internet-enabled device. As 23rd September draws to a close there's nary a rogue planet in sight (let alone the earthquakes and volcanic eruptions that would occasion its approach, though I'll grant you the severe weather ...). Yes, Nibiru, the fabled phantom planet beloved of conspiranoids and Bible code saps was due to wreak devastation upon the Earth today, if not collide and smash us into smithereens. The ways things are going some might regard this as a mercy denied, but I'm not one of them. What interests me is the persistence of such obvious bullshit beliefs like this one.

Social being conditions consciousness. If what you encounter during the course of your own experience runs against the ideas you have in your head, they're going to be heavily modified by or discarded in light of that experience. The pernicious character of conspiracy theorising, however, works because they operate at a level of abstraction and remove from experience. They disregard the rules of evidence and, in fact, take the absence of evidence as evidence of their claims. It makes them nigh-on impossible to refute as counter-arguments merely confirm the original claims, or invalidates the critic as part of the conspiratorial apparatus. Take our friend Nibiru for instance. Despite claims of its imminent coming on several occasions, the planet's studied refusal to bring human civilisation crashing down is merely a consequence of reading the Bible numbers wrongly. Take it from the claim makers, Nibiru exists. Have faith! And ignore NASA and 400 years of modern astronomy who have consistently conspired to keep the truth of its existence from the public.

We've visited the well spring of conspiracy theorising before, that their strength lies in their simplicity. You can take together the complex mess of the social world and weave it into a narrative of manipulation by self-serving elites. A matter of reducing shades of grey to black and white. My friend Andrew Wilson, for instance, researches how fringe-of-the-fringe beliefs have totally mainstreamed, with some ugly political consequences. The fertility of conspiracy is thanks to the context in which we live, one that is marked by great uncertainty and risk, a seemingly rapid (and bewildering) pace of technological and social change, and an emphasis on the individual as the agent responsible for its own fate. If you are told and positioned by the social world as being on your own, you as a subject of that society become the most exalted figure within that individual universe. Your fate is your responsibility, yet you are also the ultimate authority and therefore the arbiter of what is right. Old Lyotard was certainly onto something when he diagnosed postmodernism as "incredulity toward metanarratives". Or, in plain English, the fragmenting of the dominant ideas (religious, political) that guided the understanding of the world for untold millions of people.

The default condition of thought in contemporary societies is therefore not scepticism, but cynicism. Or, to put it more accurately, naive cynicism. This is the assumption that everyone is out for themselves, are self-obsessed and concerned with feathering their own nests, and would happily sell their relatives into slavery if they stood to profit from it. Where this sensibility informs our relationships with institutions, the latter are taken to be untrustworthy, uninterested in "little people" concerns, and conspire with one another to frustrate the individual and bolster the power and cash of various elites. It is the petit bourgeois mindset writ large, a logical outcome of the individuating cultural logics of neoliberalism, aided and abetted by the easy networking the internet affords the like-minded. Living in such times, it would be surprising if conspiracy theory and its truth-denying properties had not become a mass phenomenon.

Hence Nibiru, one conspiracy theory amidst an expanding market for bullshit. The economic, the political and the cultural conditions that comprise the social is permissive of and amplifies conspiracy theory, and shall continue doing so until society is reconfigured into a new set of relationships. That Nibiru doesn't exist, let alone is coming for us doesn't matter. Nibiru is always coming.

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

"The default condition of thought in contemporary societies is therefore not scepticism, but cynicism. Or, to put it more accurately, naive cynicism. This is the assumption that everyone is out for themselves, are self-obsessed and concerned with feathering their own nests, and would happily sell their relatives into slavery if they stood to profit from it. Where this sensibility informs our relationships with institutions, the latter are taken to be untrustworthy, uninterested in "little people" concerns, and conspire with one another to frustrate the individual and bolster the power and cash of various elites. It is the petit bourgeois mindset writ large, a logical outcome of the individuating cultural logics of neoliberalism, aided and abetted by the easy networking the internet affords the like-minded"

Although, in fairness, it has to be said that the bolded bit is pretty much what people are encouraged to do in our economic system. So it's hardly surprising that a lot of people believe it is true. ("It's not that I believe it myself, you understand, but it's all those other buggers, they believe it, so I have to behave this way to keep up. You know how it is, dog eat dog and all that.")

Also (and I don't claim to have great knowledge of this) hasn't the infant field of neuroeconomics pretty much concluded that (non-figurative) psychopaths are the only rational actors that would behave according to the way classical economists think people behave?

"Conspiracy theories" are, then, perhaps the dislocated expression of a non-verbalisable awareness that something very wrong is going on with the subject's immediate social environment. It must be the Freemasons... no, it's the CIA... no, the Rosucrucians... or perhaps it's the J- (let's not go there!)

Dialectician1 said...

"Old Lyotard was certainly onto something when he diagnosed postmodernism as "incredulity toward metanarratives".

In Nietzschean terms, postmodernists were out to show that no one narrative was any more true than any other narrative. 'Science' and 'reason' were stories and truth was up for grabs. Truth was simply the most dominant discourse. If we believe the story that people are only out to feather their own nests (your 'naive cynicism') then it becomes compelling. This story is told a million times: MPs expenses, banker's bonuses, sexual abuse scandals in the Catholic Church/BBC/FA, EU bureaucrat's 'jobs for the boys', police corruption, etc. The other compelling story of our times is 'individuation': we've become 'agency junkies'. As you say, we believe our fate is our responsibility, we are the ultimate authority and therefore the arbiter of what is right.

The postmodern curse has led us towards identity politics and a denial of 'structure' (or as po-mo calls it, metanarrative).

Speedy said...

Yes. Of course, this is also a form of narcissism and a very old one.

The age of Jesus was also the age of Apocalyptic Jewish culture, itself born of a conviction that the world was coming to an end. Why? One could posit it was because a supremacist identity cult (Judaism) was collapsing under the weight of its contradictions (Roman rule, corrupt leaders, failed rebellions).

Again, there was much talk of the Apocalypse during the plague years (I remember them well!) which were viewed as a punishment for sin - the idea being that the actions of human beings would bring about the end of the world.

To be fair, few believe these end of the world scenarios today, although I have always (call me controversial) had a certain scepticism for the human agency behind glocal warming. Not so much against the science (which has its own confirmation bias) but our tendency to place ourselves as greater than the world around us, when in fact we are no more than any other natural phenomenon.

Anonymous said...

You should really stick to subjects which you've actually studied. Your post illustrates the sterility of Marxist thinking, which reduces everything to one simple and utterly dreary dimension.

The "Bible Code" is nonsense, of course. "Nibiru" was popularised by Zechariah Sitchin, who was funded by David Rockefeller to research Sumerian writings. He may well have misinterpreted them- Sumerian is notoriously difficult to read, but like I say he based his ideas on far more evidence than the English Bible. The whole theme of cyclical destruction of civilisation goes way back in history, most civilisations have a tradition that the world is periodically destroyed and renewed. Hardly surprising when you consider the Ice Ages, for example.

As far as geologists are concerned, we're still living in the Ice Age, in an interglacial period between two cold periods, no different to previous interglacials, except that in this particular interglacial the whole of human civilisation has arisen. Geologists and climatologists (in whom I have substantially more faith than in economists) find no reason to believe that the recent (i.e. on a geological timescale) series of Ice Ages has come to an end.

During the last Ice Age, the glaciers extended as far south as Finchley, and the British Isles were part of mainland Europe. That's how come most of our ancestors were able to arrive on foot. Even the southernmost areas of England and Ireland had a tundra landscape, resembling northern Canada today.

Phil said...

The most sophisticated theory is always the one that explains the social world the best. There is nothing in your irrelevant excursion to support your opening contention. In fact, one might say it's a studied avoidance of the points being made ...

Mathias Alexander said...

I'm a conspirinoid and I've never heard of Nibiru. I looked it up on youtube and the videos share
a similar production style to lots of other things about the Nazi,s secret bases in Antarctica, the New World Order,
etc. Many of them are similar enough (to me) to suggest a common origin. I like to call this my metaconspiracy theory.
You might think that the huge number of such tales on the web translates to a huge number of people who believe them, but
where's the proof?

Skimming naive cynicism in wikkipedia then, it seems to just assume that there are no circumstances when it is
appropriate to have this attitude and that any appeal to reason about the need for cynicism is itself evidence of
unreason. Circular logic then.

And, the consequences of being deeply suspicious about motives and then being proved wrong, might be a lot less damging
to oneself than the consequences of han the consequences of being trusting and then being proved wrong.

You don't have to assume that everyone is out for themselves to find institutions to be untrustworthy. People
in institutions will do things that they would not do in their personnel lives, perhaps under pressure from
class interests. In your post "Post-Truth, Bullshit, and the Mandela Effect" you give examples of what might give
rise to this sensibility in the general public, so such things exist but its still dysfunctional to
watch out for them.

Anonymous said...

"The whole theme of cyclical destruction of civilisation goes way back in history, most civilisations have a tradition that the world is periodically destroyed and renewed. Hardly surprising when you consider the Ice Ages, for example."

Many years ago, I read a convincing argument that the Communist Manifesto was a document entirely consistent with Judeo-Christian millenarianism, offering tribulation as a prerequisite for a form of paradise on Earth.

(This was 20 years ago, but from what I recall the author wasn't trying to make snide points about Marx being the leader of a cult, or anything like that. It was fascinating. If I remember where I read it, I'll post details here later on, it was right up your street Phil).

Phil said...

Yes, I know about the strand of scholarship that tries to locate Marx and the manifesto in a tradition of Jewish messianism. While interesting and I suppose it built a career or two, I don't think it adds to or takes anything away from the powerful conceptual tools Marx developed to make sense of capitalism.

Speedy said...

Ha ha. "Finchley"! Best move to Peckham, then.

Mathias Alexander said...

This is the sort of thing you get "conspiracy theorist" for suggesting something like
this might be going on, which is fair enough since it involves a lot of people agreeing to do things that are a secret from someone else, a practice which believe
still exists.
https://www.ft.com/content/1411b1a0-a310-11e7-9e4f-7f5e6a7c98a2