(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘conspiracy

“Behind the hieroglyphic streets there would either be a transcendent meaning, or only the earth”*…

Gerardo Dottori, Explosion of Red on Green, 1910, oil on canvas. London, Tate Modern. [source]

A crop of new books attempts to explain the allure of conspiracy theories and the power of belief; Trevor Quirk considers them…

For the millions who were enraged, disgusted, and shocked by the Capitol riots of January 6, the enduring object of skepticism has been not so much the lie that provoked the riots but the believers themselves. A year out, and book publishers confirmed this, releasing titles that addressed the question still addling public consciousness: How can people believe this shit? A minority of rioters at the Capitol had nefarious intentions rooted in authentic ideology, but most of them conveyed no purpose other than to announce to the world that they believed — specifically, that the 2020 election was hijacked through an international conspiracy — and that nothing could sway their confidence. This belief possessed them, not the other way around.

At first, I’d found the riots both terrifying and darkly hilarious, but those sentiments were soon overwon by a strange exasperation that has persisted ever since. It’s a feeling that has robbed me of my capacity to laugh at conspiracy theories — QAnon, chemtrails, lizardmen, whatever — and the people who espouse them. My exasperation is for lack of an explanation. I see Trump’s most devoted hellion, rampaging down the halls of power like a grade schooler after the bell, and I need to know the hidden causes of his dopey rebellion. To account for our new menagerie of conspiracy theories, I told myself, would be to reclaim the world from entropy, to snap experience neatly to the grid once again. I would use recent books as the basis for my account of conspiracy theories in the age of the internet. From their pages I would extract insights and errors like newspaper clippings, pin the marginal, bizarre, and seemingly irrelevant details to the corkboard of my mind, where I could spy eerie resonances, draw unseen connections. At last, I could reveal that our epistemic bedlam is as a Twombly canvas — messy but decipherable…

Learn with @trevorquirk: “Out There,” in @GuernicaMag.

* Thomas Pynchon, The Crying of Lot 49

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As we tangle with truth, we might send rigorous birthday greetings to Gustav Bergmann; he was born on this date in 1906. A philosopher, he was a member of the Vienna Circle, a a group of philosophers and scientists drawn from the natural and social sciences, logic and mathematics, whose values were rooted in the ideals of the Enlightenment. Their approach, logical positivism, an attempt to use logic to make philosophy “scientific,” has had immense influence on 20th-century philosophy, especially on the philosophy of science and analytic philosophy… even if it has not, in fact, eliminated the issues explored above.

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We might also send birthday greetings in the form of logical and semantic puzzles both to the precocious protagonist of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and to her inspiration, Alice Liddell; they were “born” on this date in 1852.

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“History is much more the product of chaos than of conspiracy”*…

Believers in the “Tartaria” conspiracy theory are convinced that the elaborate temporary fairgrounds built for events like the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco in 1915 were really the ancient capital cities of a fictional empire.

In 1908, architect Ernest Flagg completed the Singer Building in Lower Manhattan, a Beaux-Arts showstopper made for the Singer sewing machine company. From a wide base, a slender 27-story tower rose, topped by a mansard roof and a delicate lantern spire.

Every inch dripped with sumptuous detail inside and out; vaulted roofs, marble columns with bronze trim, window mullions with spiral fluting. The lobby was said to have a “celestial radiance.” A book was written just about its construction. For a year, it was the tallest building in the world at 612 feet, and a celebrated landmark for decades after that.

But not for too much longer. Despite its great height, the pencil-thin tower lacked office space. In the 1960s the company sold its ornate headquarters; demolition proceeded in 1967. It’s the tallest building to ever be peacefully demolished.   

By any account, it’s a fantastical tale: Once the tallest building in the world and a New York icon, knocked down in just a handful of decades.  

For some, it’s too fantastical to believe … or perhaps not fantastical enough. A dedicated group of YouTubers and Reddit posters see the Singer Building and countless other discarded pre-modern beauties and extant Beaux-Arts landmarks as artifacts of a globe-spanning civilization called the Tartarian Empire, which was somehow erased from the history books. Adherents of this theory believe these buildings to be the keys to a hidden past, clandestinely obscured by malevolent actors.

Who? Why? To what possible end? As in many other, more high-profile conspiracy theories, this baroque fantasy doesn’t offer much in the way of practical considerations, logic or evidence. But it’s grounded in some real anxieties, pointing toward the changes wrought by the modern world in general and modern architecture specifically — and rejecting both. 

Everything we know about the history of architecture (and the world) is wrong? Zach Mortice (@zachmortice) takes us “Inside the ‘Tartarian Empire,’ the QAnon of Architecture.”

* Zbigniew Brzezinski

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As we contemplate cabals, we might send ultra-modern birthday greetings to Michael Hopkins; he was born on this date in 1935. An architect, Sir Michael was (with his partner Norman Foster and with Richard RogersTerry Farrell and Nicholas Grimshaw) one of the leading figures in the introduction of high-tech architecture into Britain… and thus, presumably part of the conspiracy the Tartarians tout.

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“Everyone loves a conspiracy”*…

An anonymous image used as the face of the Luther Blissett Project

As the US Capitol was overwhelmed by Donald Trump supporters in early January, one figure stood out: with his painted face, bare chest, fur hat and American flag-draped spear, Jake Angeli became one of the most photographed rioters of the day. He is also known as the “QAnon Shaman” and has been seen waving a “Q sent me” placard in other protests.

QAnon is America’s most dangerous conspiracy theory, and if you pull hard enough on its threads, the whole tangled mess lands, somehow, at the feet of a group of Italian artists. It might sound like a conspiracy within a conspiracy, but, as Buzzfeed first reported in 2018, chances are that QAnon, at the start at least, took inspiration from an amorphous organisation of leftist artists who, for most of the mid-1990s, called themselves Luther Blissett after the 1980s English footballer.

They used the Watford and England striker’s name as a nom de plume, perpetrating countless media hoaxes, pranks and art interventions. They started raves on trams that turned into riots, they released albums, wrote books and manifestos, they mocked, questioned and undermined the mainstream, and they grew and grew until hundreds of people around the world were calling themselves Luther Blissett.

In the process, with their media-jamming hoaxes, they helped lay the groundwork for QAnon, a conspiracy theory about a secret satanic cabal of child abusers which controls the world. During the 2016 presidential elections, it famously gave rise to the rumour that Hillary Clinton ran a paedophile ring in a pizza parlour, Comet Ping Pong. More recently, QAnon has become a mainstay of far-right protests and riots, including the US Capitol insurrection.

Among Luther Blissett’s original ranks you will find leading contemporary artists including Eva and Franco Mattes, critical theorists such as Matteo Pasquinelli, and writers like Stewart Home.

The Luther Blissett Project (LBP) was an exercise in anonymity, in group creativity, in forcing left-wing ideals into the mainstream. And it would have remained a neat quirk of 1990s Italian cultural history if the group had not also released Q, a best-selling novel translated into multiple languages and published across the world.

The links between QAnon and Q extend far beyond alphabetic similarities. The book follows a subversive heretic as he joins a series of revolts across 16th-century Europe. Throughout, he is pursued relentlessly by a Papist agent called Q, a figure who manipulates facts and spreads disinformation to sow seeds of doubt in society and help maintain the dominance of the church, infiltrating and sabotaging every revolt, every uprising.

Sound familiar? It should, because the Q of today’s QAnon has a similar origin story, and similar methods. QAnon’s Q is a supposed White House insider, who in October 2017 began posting farfetched but incredibly popular “insider” information from the White House on the 4chan message board. Paedophilia, the Rothschilds, an impending “storm”, QAnon has multiple targets and beliefs…

From ritual abuse to secret government insiders and media hoaxes, the links between QAnon and LBP are striking. The LBP ended in 1999, with five of the founding members (Roberto Bui, Giovanni Cattabriga, Luca Di Meo, Federico Guglielmi and Riccardo Pedrini) going on to form the Wu Ming Foundation, a writer’s collective. Wu Ming 1 (all the authors use Wu Ming as a nom de plume) thinks the similarities are too obvious to ignore: “If they are coincidences, well, there’s a huge amount of them and they’re impressive,” he says…

An anonymous left-wing art group known in the 1990s as Luther Blissett are wondering what they have unwittingly helped create: “QAnon: the Italian artists who may have inspired America’s most dangerous conspiracy theory.” (Soft paywall: do read it all.)

For more on conspiracy theories as a cultural and political phenomenon: “The enduring allure of conspiracies.”

* A man who should know: Dan Brown, The DaVinci Code

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As we get the joke, we might spare a thought for Charlemagne; he died on this date in 814.  A ruler who united the majority of western and central Europe (first as King of the Franks, then also King of the Lombards, finally adding Emperor of the Romans), he was the first recognized emperor to rule from western Europe since the fall of the Western Roman Empire three centuries earlier; the expanded Frankish state that he founded is called the Carolingian Empire, the predecessor to the Holy Roman Empire.

In 789, he began the establishment of schools teaching the elements of mathematics, grammar, music, and ecclesiastic subjects; every monastery and abbey in his realm was expected to have a school for the education of the boys of the surrounding villages.  The tradition of learning he initiated helped fuel the expansion of medieval scholarship in the 12th-century Renaissance.

Charlemagne is considered the father of modern Europe. At the same time, in accepting Pope Leo’s investiture, he set up ages of conflict: Charlemagne’s coronation as Emperor, though intended to represent the continuation of the unbroken line of Emperors from Augustus, had the effect of creating up two separate (and often opposing) Empires– the Roman and the Byzantine– with two separate claims to imperial authority. It led to war in 802, and for centuries to come, the Emperors of both West and East would make competing claims of sovereignty over the whole.

Pope Leo III, crowning Charlemagne Emperor

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

January 28, 2021 at 1:01 am

“The truth is far more frightening – nobody is in control”*…

 

It’s the conspiracy theory to dwarf all conspiracy theories. A smorgasbord of every other intrigue under the sun, the Illuminati are the supposed overlords controlling the world’s affairs, operating secretly as they seek to establish a New World Order.

But this far-fetched paranoia all started with a playful work of fiction in the 1960s. What does this tell us about our readiness to believe what we read and hear – and what can the Illuminati myth reveal about the fake news and stories we continue to be influenced by today?…

What the myth reveals about how fake stories spread today and about the psychology of their fiercest proponents: get illuminated at “The accidental invention of the Illuminati conspiracy.”

* Alan Moore

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As we believe that the truth is out there, we might send sultry birthday greetings to Mary Jane “Mae” West; the actress, singer, playwright, screenwriter, comedian, and sex symbol was born on this date in 1893. Known over her seven-decade career for her lighthearted double entendre and breezy sexual independence, she has been named 15th among the greatest female stars of classic American cinema by the American Film Institute.

Among her memorable mots:

Too much of a good thing is wonderful.

When choosing between two evils I always like to take the one I’ve never tried before.

To err is human, but it feels divine.

Between two evils, I always pick the one I never tried before.

I generally avoid temptation unless I can’t resist it.

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

August 17, 2017 at 1:01 am

“We are all fools in love”*…

 

The most common assumption about romance novels, buoyed by the success of Fifty Shades of Grey, is that they are anti-feminist. And though the so-called bodice rippers of the 1970s (in which men who look like Fabio ravish passive sweethearts) are still quite popular, the genre has also expanded rapidly in recent years to include fiction of the paranormal, gay, evangelical, steampunk, time travel and Gothic variety (and many more). Its female leads, in many contexts, have evolved with the times, rendering the notion that romance novels are full of oppressed, unthinking women, profoundly ignorant. Not only is the industry itself rife with female entrepreneurs; its heroines always get what they want. In fact, the only formula that rings true across all romance novels is the HEA: the Happily Ever After. It is unanimously believed to be the defining principle of the genre. “The women always win,” says [filmmaker Laurie] Kahn. “And that doesn’t happen in most places.”…

Find out “Why romance novelists are the rock stars of the literary world.”

* Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

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As we still our pounding hearts, we might recall that it was on this date in 1776 that the Illuminati was founded.  While the name has been given to a number of organizations– real and imagined– over the years, this first incarnation was real enough.  It was started by Adam Weishaupt, the only non-clerical professor at the Jesuit University of Ingolstadt– an experience that turned him into a rabid anti-cleric.  He first tried to become a Freemason, but couldn’t afford the initiation fees and dues; so he created his own organization– the Iluminatenorden, or Order of Illuminati.  In some ways a typical Enlightenment secret society, the Illuminati’s goals were to oppose superstition, obscurantism, religious influence over public life, and abuses of state power.  And like other secret societies with similar goals, it was pretty promptly outlawed by the State at the urging of the Church.  Still, rumors persisted– and persist still– that the Illuminati built a world-wide conspiracy of powerful folks who pull the world’s strings from behind the curtain.

The cover of an Illuminati pamphlet, featuring their “logo”: the owl of Minerva – symbolising wisdom – on top of an opened book

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

May 1, 2015 at 1:01 am

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