A useful metric to measure the degree of corruption and degradation of a ruling class would be to plot the distance between official truths and actual truth. The greater the distance between official truth and reality, the greater the degeneracy. North Korea, for example, makes fantastical claims about the ruler, while Switzerland barely notices it has a president. The former is a madhouse run by a cult of personality, while the latter is the model of sober-minded, popular governance.
Another possible metric for measuring the health of a society would be the number of popular conspiracy theories and the degree to which people accept them. The Y-axis would be the number of popular conspiracy theories floating around in general conversation, while the X-axis would be the intensity of belief. The Turks have loads of conspiracy theories and they really believe them. The Swiss, of course, have never been in to such theories and are regarded as skeptical by nature.
There is an obvious argument against using such a metric, as it could simply be a proxy for the general intelligence of the population. Stupid people are more prone to believe fantastical explanations for events than smart people. The QAnon stuff, for example, is a clever mocking of the sorts of people inclined to believe such things. It’s a very clever person with too much time on his hands having fun at the expense of those who are not so clever. Dumb people tend to fall for conspiracy theories.
The thing is, smart people tend to control public discourse in a society, either through owning the means of public discussion or through their influence. A healthy society would have a healthy smart fraction that provides believable and reasonably accurate explanations, so that conspiracy theories are unnecessary. For example, 1950’s America had its tin foil hat crowd, but they were objects of mockery. They did not have millions of paying customers to their internet video operation.
The conspiracy metric would pick up two important factors. One is the size and influence of the smart fraction and its willingness to shape public debate. North Koreans probably have loads of wacky theories about their society, because the smart North Koreans spend all of their time lying to them about what’s happening. That and making sure they don’t get on the wrong side of the tubby cult leader. North Korea has a smart fraction, but it is exceedingly corrupt and paranoid.
That’s an important part of conspiracy theories. The reason they appeal to stupid people is stupid people struggle to understand things. The conspiracy theory allows them to have a simple answer for observable phenomenon. This is an important part of the human animal. We evolved for a very long time, paranoid about what was lurking in the bushes, under the water and in the shadows. Recognizing patterns and creating useful explanations for those patterns is our nature.
In the modern age, that need to fear the dark is still there, so it expresses for many people as belief in harmless conspiracy theories about UFO’s and secret government agencies that run things from the shadows. Even smart people struggle to accept that serendipity and fate are often the powerful forces behind events. People need to know why things happen. If there is no rational explanation for why something happened, then they will gladly accept an irrational one.
Of course, con-men often play on this reality to get people to believe some nonsense that aids the con man in his schemes. Government is also fond of using conspiracy theories to promote their interests. Getting people to believe, for example, that a secret agency using special software can read your e-mail in real-time has enormous benefits to the security state. It causes the people they are tracking to act in ways that are more easily monitored and more easily detected.
If you are a small group of people with an enormous amount of power, people will eventually notice it. Trying to hide this fact is a waste of resources, so the better course is to own and amplify this reality. If you can turn your opponents into aluminum hat wearing nutters, that directs attention away from the truth and onto the conspiracy theorists. All of those theories about secret government programs and 4-D chess, cloak and dagger operations serves the interests of the state.
That’s another reason the conspiracy metric would be useful. The more corrupt the government, the more likely they are to foster conspiracy theories. Of course, people with a corrupt ruling class are more inclined to believe bad things about their betters, so the metric would pick up that side as well. The conspiracy metric would be capturing one aspect of social trust. That is the horizontal bonds that bind the ruling class of a society to the layers beneath them.
Now, the major flaw, at least at this stage, is measuring the number and degree of conspiracy theirs in a society. It’s another one of those things that we can sense, but we struggle to define. We know the difference between pornography and art, in a general sense, but drawing the line is difficult. The same can be said for the line between conspiracy theory and simple suspicion. We can easily identify the extremes but figuring out where to put the line is difficult.
Maybe like the truth gap between official reality and actual reality, the conspiracy index does not have to be precise. We don’t need an exact number to see that the official truth from the current ruling class is much further from reality than in the past. We have enough examples to know the gap is much bigger. The same can be said for the conspiracy metric. QAnon would not have fooled people 50 years ago. We have more stupid and paranoid people today than back then.
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