DO YOUR OWN RESEARCH … I often see this posted in connection with various non-mainstream narratives around things like COVID19, vaccines, 5G, the Epstein case and paedophile rings, aliens, Bill Gates and much else.
As a seeker after truth, I’m all in favour of people doing their own research, but I want to be absolutely clear about one point – typing something into Google or Youtube is NOT the same as doing useful objective research. Not at all, not by a longshot.
Why? Because Google etc have no interest in whether something is true or not. So the links/URLs that come up when you go Googling are determined by what other people have clicked on and what Google thinks you are most likely to click on. That means it’s going to prioritise the most sensational stories that give you the biggest emotional response.
For example, suppose you Googled your old Head Teacher from school and a page of links came up. Most might be very conventional but maybe there is one where they are accused of being a secret neo-Nazi recruiting students into a cult. Of course you are going to click on that link first. (And it’s the same with all the big tech platforms – they want you to keep clicking because that’s the way they make money.)
Now, you may think to yourself, “I’m smart enough to know when a story is bullshit or when it is based on something substantial”. But do you? A lot of us are conditioned by our education system to think that something is more likely to be true if it is written in a kind of academic way and has lots of references in it to other articles and books. But how do you know that those other articles and books have any credibility? There is a huge ecosystem of alternative narrative articles, websites, podcasts, books and journals, and they all cross-reference each other, so that at first glance it looks like there is a huge amount of research that has gone into any of these stories.
It’s not a new phenomenon. I first came across this in pre-internet days when a neighbour lent me a book The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail (1982) which claimed that Jesus didn’t die on the cross but had gone on to father a secret blood-line which included French kings and continues to this day (if that sounds familiar it’s because these themes were picked up in the Tom Hanks film The Davinci Code). At the time I’d been studying a lot of theology and church history and I was familiar with the range of mainstream academic research in these areas. What really struck me about the book was the extent of its footnotes and references which made it look like a well-researched academically respectable tome. And yet there was NO ENGAGEMENT with the mass of mainstream academic research. None at all! All of the papers, journals books cited were from this alternative narrative ecosystem. And now this new book would go on to become another seemingly authoritative publication which new papers and books would refer to. I smelled a rat and I’ve been smelling rats like it ever since.
I get why the alternative narratives are so compelling – it’s because so many of us have lost trust that the mainstream is telling us the truth. Late-stage capitalism has seen a massive collapse of the old media structures. Good investigative journalists used to be employed by newspapers which were funded by advertising. Now all the advertising revenue has gone to Facebook and Google etc who don’t employ investigative journalists and who are not interested in truth-telling. What remains of the old media has largely been bought up by multi-millionares who use it to advance their own agendas (with a few honourable exceptions including The Guardian). Meanwhile politicians have found that they can lie with impunity and even benefit from a sense of chaos and distrust that some of them deliberately stir up (I’m looking at you Trump and Putin especially). And the trust that people used to have in the institutions of Science and the Universities has been seriously eroded by the steady creep of market forces into those institutions.
Also, there’s a great sense of belonging and community that comes from embracing these alternative narratives. We can be part of the small and special group who see the truth behind the lies! And that can feel really good!
A talk I listened to recently compared the current COVID19 pandemic with a psychedelic trip. We are, collectively, in an altered state of consciousness – perhaps a heightened state of consciousness in which everything that was there under the surface before is now emerging, magnified. In this altered state a lot of people are questioning the old mainstream story of “this is how the world is”, just as the old familiar world seems to crumble before our eyes. It’s very tempting at this time to latch onto the first alternative explanation that comes our way. As one person put it, diving into conspiracy theories is like a necessary Rite of Passage. It’s like in the film The Matrix when Neo takes the red pill and dives deep down the rabbit hole.
I think it’s great that so many people are taking the Red Pill. I just hope that they won’t stay content with the first alternative narrative that comes their way.
So to conclude, DO YOUR OWN RESEARCH – but do it properly! There’s a real skill to this and it takes time and effort to learn your own biases and the biases of others, to learn how to discern good research from bad, to learn who are the sources and communities who can be trusted, and to risk going against the group-think of whatever bubble we find ourselves in.