Category Archives: Culture

No Going Back, No Going Normal

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

I talk about what I miss from before the pandemic. When discussing this with my girlfriend, she noted that trying to go back was useless. What you have to do is decide on a future and try to make it.

That resonated with me for two reasons I want to discuss.

The first is because we find it easy to get lost in nostalgia. Humans are creatures of history, and I sympathize when people remember “the way things were.” However, all of us know that the past wasn’t as great as we (or others) remember, as sure as we can’t go back. Even if we could go back to another time, we would be different people.

The second, deeper reason I connected with her statement was “build the future” is a lot better than the talk of “the new normal.”

The “new normal” is a deception. It is a deception because the “new normal” will be changing for some time to come. It is a deception because some things will be new and some will be old. It is a deception because “normal” will be different for many people – “normal” is not one size fits all.

Normal is a lie.

But deciding to build the future? I resonate with that because it means I choose – and making a choice means asking what you want? A lot like Agile (hey, you knew I’d bring it up), you have to ask what’s valuable and worth your time.

I don’t know precisely the future I want. I have most of the picture, but the pandemic has changed some things. I do know it won’t be “normal.”

But it’ll be mine.

Steven Savage

Conspiracies and Creative Inoculation

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

Teaching people to write, draw, and more can protect us from conspiracy theories. Let me explain since such a statement requires a lot of explanation.

In my last few posts, I explored how Conspiracy Theorists activities are a creative act, how their actions mapped to my creative theories, and the theorists’ motivations. People wanting a sense of power and real power turn to conspiracy theories, fueled by their creative energies. I think this view of conspiracy theories having a creative element provides additional ways to protect ourselves from them.

In David Niewart‘s excellent book “Red Pill, Blue Pill,” he explores the current grip such theories have and ways to cure it. You should get his book, but his recommendations include empathy, how to work with people, and how to inoculate people against disinformation. I’d add teaching people to use their creativity is part of that inoculation.

Previously I identified three ways creativity helps spread conspiracy theories:

  • People’s creativity is harnessed to spin theories – often to serve their egos and insecurities.
  • People maliciously use imagination to create wild tales to manipulate others – for profit and their egos.
  • Of both of them, there is an addictive rush to using creativity.

So let me propose that we inoculate people against conspiracy theories by encouraging them and teaching them to use their creativity. Allow me to go into detail:

Creativity is about communication. When one learns about creativity, one learns both how to communicate and how communication works. They will better understand what people are trying to say – and identify manipulation.

Creativity teaches one how their mind works. When you learn how to be creative, analyze your art, and understand yourself, you see how you think and imagine. One is better armored against deceiving oneself.

Creativity lets one see how others are creative. A person versed in creative acts – combined with good information practices – can easily detect conspiracy theories. In short, one knows how others imaginatively manipulate information.

Creative experience also lets one find healthy and responsible ways to use their creative ability. The conspiracy world bursts with failed actors and scriptwriters, the ambitious, and those feeling unappreciated. A healthy appreciation for creativity may give them healthy outlets.

(If you’re one of the people who’ve been annoyed at less emphasis on the humanities, this sounds familiar I am sure.)

Will encouraging creativity solve everything? Hardly. This is merely a useful addition to what we have to do, albeit a fun one.

As for how to implement this, such detail is a post of its own – and one requiring more thought. Let me give some starters.

  • Each of us who is a creative can support and encourage others to use their skills.
  • We can push for creative and media education, alongside information health.
  • We creatives can increase awareness of responsible and irresponsible creativity – my posts are a humble example.
  • We can share our knowledge with those fighting disinformation.
  • Also, encourage teaching the humanities, as noted.

Hopefully, my own work has provided a useful clue for readers. Certainly, it’s given me something to think about and to explore in future posts. For now, we creatives can use this as an additional tool in our arsenal as we battle conspiracy theories – and remember each person we help grow may be further armored against them.

Steven Savage

Creative Paths And Conspiracy

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

Last post, I stated that conspiracy theories are creative acts, even if they have malicious or pathological motivation. It’s essential to realize this because seeing them as such helps us identify and counter them. In this post, I’d like to digress on a bit of history because this will let us look at a useful diagnostic tool.

I had followed conspiracy theories for decades, first out of an interest in the paranormal, then to understand politics and the human condition. From 2015 onward, it became necessary for sheer survival in chaotic times. Over the years, I began to see Conspiracy theories fit specific patterns, and in 2020 I realized the patterns fit my Five Forms of Creativity.

My Five Forms of creativity were a system I’d made to classify the different ways people create. The Five Forms were a tool derived from my work on Seventh Sanctum and had proven useful professionally. I wrote them up in their own book, The Power of Creative Paths, and they appear again in Chance’s Muse.

Seeing conspiracy theories slot into this simple system confirmed to me that there was a vital element of creativity in conspiracy thinking. It also meant analyzing them as such might provide useful insights. This column is a dignified brain-dump of my attempts to do that.

I realize that this is dangerously close to me having a corkboard with random articles connected by red string. I am staying aware of that, and as I’ve noted, the Five Forms are just a tool for classifying messy reality. But any skepticism isn’t merely acknowledged; it’s appreciated.

So let’s get to the theory.

THE FIVE FORMS OF CREATIVITY:

The five forms of creativity I identified are:

  • The Combiner – Combiners shuffle familiar ideas around in familiar patterns. This is “madlibs creativity” and the opposite of the Fuser.
  • The Fuser – Merges ideas, blurring lines and creating something new. Fuser creativity spawns stories of “Time-Travelling Art Thieves,” and the opposite of the pattern-driven Combiner.
  • The Expander – Expanders pile ideas on top of each other in wild yet surprisingly stable structures. You’ll see this in parodies and life sim games, and it’s the opposite of The Reducer.
  • The Reducer – Reducers streamline ideas, strip them down, and even create new ideas by removing parts of others. Minimalist music like Devo or The White Stripes are good examples. The opposite of The Expander.
  • The Mapper – Mappers create by symbolism and metaphor, strange and profound-seeming connections and relations spun together. They are a unique form of creativity and have no opposite. Grant Morrison’s run on The Doom Patrol is a good example.

Now, with a system for classifying creativity, I’d like to attempt to explore what forms of conspiracy theorization appear in each form. With that, we may spot such thinking better and analyze the source or whom the source is imitating.

On to the Brain-dump.

COMBINER

Combiner creativity is madlibs, shuffling words into common patterns to create meaning. It’s both syntax and semantics, putting various “trigger” words in distinct orders that lead people to interpret things in certain ways.

In the conspiracy theory world, this is the world of headlines and pithy quotes. “Obama attacks heterosexuality with help of UN” is a joke headline where you could easily swap around a few words to have “Hillary attacks freedom with help of Dr. Fauci.” Any time pursuing a trash conspiracy news site exposes you to these headlines, as will breathless tweets.

Combiner creativity usually only speaks to those likely to respond to the patterns and the words invoked. If you see Combiner Conspiracy talk, it’s talking to the faithful – probably to manipulate them or show affinity. Except for clumsy efforts to fit in, when you see this kind of creativity used for conspiracy talk, it’s by someone who knows what they’re doing.

Where I’ve seen it: Years ago when I jokingly said I could make a conspiracy headline generator. That has haunted me since, as all it would take would be a simple Combiner generator.

FUSER

Fuser creativity is when you combine two ideas into one. It’s the novelist that creates a book about “Legal Dramas And AI Lawyers.” It’s the cook that finds harmony between Indian and Mexican cuisine.

When it comes to conspiracy theories, Fuser creativity is the world of “everything is one.” This is when UFOs are vehicles of the Illuminati, or every Lawyer is also part of the Church of Satan. Fuser creativity is a stock in trade of conspiracy thought, and you’ve probably seen it many times.

Fuser creativity with a conspiratorial bent is usually a good sign you’re seeing conspiracy thought. Multiple unrelated elements are said to be the facets of one dark gem of evil. A sign of an active conspiracist – a grifter – is when The Latest Thing In The News gets incorporated into being a facet of the conspiracy theory.

This is similar to the Expander approach, but it’s not a “pile on.” Instead it’s “this is one facet we haven’t seen before.” It’s more nuanced in an area often lacking said nuance.

Where I’ve seen it: Propagandist news and bottom-feeding grifters, always working the story of the day into a larger theory – and not letting it go.

EXPANDER

Expander creativity is the big pile-on of ideas. This is where you start with “fantasy adventure” and soon have a road trip with two wizards, one of which has a drinking problem, going cross-country to . . . you get the idea. Expander creativity is about distinct ideas cramming together to make wild connections – but you can identify them still.

In conspiracy-land this is common, and more so in the internet age. It’s what I’ve heard called “yes, and” conspiracy thought – where you hear a new idea and toss it into your pile of beliefs. Those giant flowcharts on the internet connecting everything are Expander creativity in action.

It’s also the “starter” conspiracy style of belief – also easily witnessed on the internet where you can watch ideas get joined together on Twitter or message boards.

Expander creativity in use is usually the sign of someone either believing anything or trying to control a narrative and incorporate other ideas – to “win” or gain allies or avoid cognitive dissonance.

Where I’ve seen it: For decades, but I’ve seen a lot more in the internet age.

REDUCER

Reducer creativity is a rarer creative form, and it’s often paired with other types to “reign them in.” Reducer creatives can take ideas and remove parts or strip them down to their essence. Though it can seem dull, consider the joy of a precise film that’s focused like “Versus” or minimalist music.

In the world of conspiracy, the Reducer approach simplifies ideas to justify conspiracy thought. Middlemen get cut out, inconvenient facts “forgotten,” degrees of separation less separated. The messiness of the world gets refined outward for a simpler – and wrong- viewpoint.

Reducer creativity takes talent, and in the conspiracy world, it’s used by people who know what they’re doing. They ignore inconvenient facts and streamline beliefs. They can take complex headlines and create half-facts. When you see this, someone’s probably good at this – and grifting.

Where I’ve seen it:  In the time of Covid I’d watch conspiracists claim relations among people and groups that existed only if you ignored multiple steps. Seeing simplified worldviews – that were wrong – became obvious to me.

MAPPER

FInally, we get to Mappers. These are the creatives of metaphor and symbolism, and rethinking. It’s “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou” and the Odyssey, or characters who represent the Seven Deadly Sins, or a book loaded with iconography. It’s unusual, mystical -and surprising.

In the conspiracy world, this is the symbol-hunters’ creativity, always looking for hidden meanings. They’ll become concerned about the color of a star’s shoes or that the sign on a pizza restaurant looks Satanic. They’ll see connections among the unrelated as they’re able to bring symbols and metaphors together to explain the nonexistent.

Mapping creativity doesn’t stand out one way or another because it is a standard part of conspiracy thought. I usually see it everywhere – it varies more by degree than anything else. Worries about the symbolism of gold fringe on a flag may seem simple, but it’s not much different than finding Moloch in toy advertisements.  

Where I’ve seen it: Well, everywhere.

CONCLUSIONS

That’s my attempt to see if my Forms of Creativity provide a useful way to identify conspiracy theories and thoughts. And honestly, I think there’s something there. It’s easy to map them, the mappings are distinct, and there’s some diagnostic advantage.

Because this maps so well, this strengthens my belief that conspiratorial thinking can be seen as a creative act. It’s likely I’ll explore this more in the future.

But next, I’d like to discuss motivations and creativity – taking the view that conspiracy thinking is a creative act, it what it means for common motivations.

Steven Savage