Category Archives: Politics

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

No Real Heroes

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

Americans say they love heroes. It’s obvious that’s a lie for too many Americans – we hate heroes and want false ones.

Real heroes are messy people because they’re real humans with flaws and problems. We idolize them but can’t tear our eyes away from the feet of clay every idol has.

Real heroes are creatures of time, of a particular era. As we’ll all too aware, those we admire become less admirable in time. Real heroes are ones we too oft grow out of as persons and as a culture.

Real heroes are a challenge to us because of their reality. Their very existence is a reminder we can do better and be different- while being flawed. If someone with flaws can do great things, why haven’t we?

Real heroes have real results, but also messy results. The extraordinary actions of heroes challenge us to do better. The mistakes and flaws of their choices require us to confront uncertainty about people. Heroic efforts aren’t clear-cut and morally simple, and they force us to think.

Real heroes don’t have the signs of success we want. They may not be rich or good looking, or charming. Doing the right thing doesn’t always pay well, and people who get their hands dirty don’t look clean.

Real heroes don’t fit our template. Real heroes aren’t always the gender we want, the age we want, and or the ethnicity we want. Real heroes remind us that heroism isn’t confined to people like us.

There are many admirable people with us and passed on, but their lives challenge us. To sort the good from the bad in a person is an effort, and when we do so, we confront ourselves. Our simple images of a hero don’t survive contact with history, nor do the images of ourselves.

We hate real heroes, so we often seek false heroes. We find some person who has the right pose, the right words, and follow them instead. We worship the fakers, the actors, the deceivers, and the grifters.

Fake heroes are clean. They present the way we want, act the way we want, say the things we want. There’s no moral ambiguity – unless you look at their actions.

Fake heroes often have money and fame, and the right looks. They have all the worldly things we want, and we decide that’s heroism. The image is there – as long as you don’t ask how they got there.

Fake heroes don’t have any apparent ambiguity because they lie about it or cover it up. Fake heroes are an act, and we don’t have to deal with moral complications because we buy into it. Fake heroes are so much easier.

Fake heroes fit all we expect. They’re the right age, right sexual preference, right skin tone, etc. Fake heroes are a confidence game that looks just enough like us that we’re confident in believing in them.

We so prefer fake heroes in America. They’re so much easier, and the internet and media will help us find them or turn them out for us.

This presents a challenge in a troubled time. But we need to rise to it or drown in false heroes and false faith. We need to know who to trust.

The hero might even be us, flawed as we are, temporary as we are.

Steven Savage

After the Coup

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

I write my blog posts a week ahead of time, usually on a Tuesday or Wednesday. On Wednesday January 6th I didn’t write anything because there was a coup in my capitol. You probably saw the whole thing with the screaming, Congress hiding, all egged on by Trump.

It was sad, shameful and very nearly the end of my country. We got close to murder of Congressmembers. Congressmembers encouraging the mess suddenly were melting down in light of what they did. My country was humiliated in media.

I didn’t blog then, obviously.

I spent days trying to track what was going on.

I had flashbacks to 9/11 (there’s a story there: I worked at an insurance company when it happened).

I soldiered on, as did everyone else.

And know what, if you felt you had to push yourself during it? If you felt you had to keep up with everything? You didn’t, and depending on your mental and physical state, you don’t now.

But why are you reading this? Because I love to write. It means something that I write, and I feel better doing this.

Do what you gotta do – and don’t do what you don’t need to.

Regular posting next week, probably.

Steven Savage