A Lot of People Are Saying | Russell Muirhead

Summary of: A Lot of People Are Saying: The New Conspiracism and the Assault on Democracy
By: Russell Muirhead


Delve into the thought-provoking book, ‘A Lot of People Are Saying: The New Conspiracism and the Assault on Democracy’ by Russell Muirhead, which explores the differences between classic conspiracy theories and the new conspiracism. The book investigates how this new form of conspiracism discards the need for evidence and explanation, focusing on simplistic assertions and allegations that bear no connection to reality. Learn about the three mental processes that lead to a conspiracist mindset and understand why assent, repetition, and scapegoating are essential for the propagation of these unfounded claims. Moreover, discover how this phenomenon undermines American democracy, political parties, expert knowledge, and the very concept of ‘knowing’ something.

The Evolution of Conspiracy Theories

In the past, conspiracy theories were based on evidence and aimed to expose powerful and malevolent people. However, a new form of conspiracism has emerged, characterized by baseless allegations and simplistic assertions. Unlike classic conspiracists who were motivated by ideology and aimed to inspire action, the new conspiracists do not offer solutions or alternatives. Instead, they delegitimize people, organizations, and institutions they target. This new form of conspiracism offends common sense and represents a departure from the principles of fact-finding and providing evidence that appear to support claims.

The Three Mental Processes Behind Conspiracist Thought

The idea that events happen randomly, with no deliberate intent, is difficult for humans to accept. Professor Quassim Cassam explains in his book “Conspiracist Mindset” that there are three mental processes behind the human tendency to turn to conspiracism, which range from aversion to randomness to confirmation bias. When a momentous event fails to meet the human instinct of proportion, people can discard facts and truth in favor of coherence. Conspiracism also relies on a concept called “it’s true enough,” which helps to widen the reach of conspiracist thought through repetition and assent, and target those considered responsible for the problem.

Trump’s Conspiracist Claims

The success of the new conspiracism is driven by Donald Trump, who uses it to affirm his own reality and impose his worldview on others. When the President publicly asserts a claim, it gains added validity, and agreeing with his view of reality is seen by some Americans as an expression of loyalty and patriotism. People’s assent to his claims may not mean they believe his version of reality, but rather that they submit to his position. The dangerous by-product of this submission is that Trump is succeeding in imposing his worldview on a whole nation and beyond.

The New Conspiracism

In the book, it is argued that modern democracy depends on political parties and expert knowledge. While political parties promote pluralism and legitimate opposition, the new conspiracism attacks opposition candidates and parties and insinuates they are a danger to the nation. This undermines the democratic concept of “loyal opposition” and delegitimizes political parties as democratic institutions. The author cites Trump as an example, who currently aligns with radical conservatism but won the election without the backing of the national Republican leadership or its donors, therefore eroding the party’s political impact and power to represent their supporters in government.

Trump’s Paradoxical Relationship with Facts and the Press

The book explores how President Trump distrusts government agencies, experts, and knowledge-producing institutions, yet charges them with finding facts to support his conspiracist claims. If facts do not align with his worldview, he rejects them, thereby casting doubt on the integrity of the agencies and institutions that produce proof. Trump’s aim is to destroy the legitimacy of the press as an independent source of knowledge by representing it as an organized conspiracy. All this is achieved through the absurd claim of “fake news,” which erodes people’s trust in the independence and objectivity of mainstream media, absolving the government from accountability.

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