Got Fascism? : Obama Advisor Promotes ‘Cognitive Infiltration’

Presidential advisor and long-time Obama buddy Cass Sunstein.

Your government appointees at work:
Cass Sunstein seeks ‘cognitive’ provocateurs

By Marc Estrin / The Rag Blog / January 11, 2010

Cass Sunstein is President Obama’s Harvard Law School friend, and recently appointed Administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs.

In a recent scholarly article, he and coauthor Adrian Vermeule take up the question of “Conspiracy Theories: Causes and Cures.” (J. Political Philosophy, 7 [2009], pp. 202-227). This is a man with the president’s ear. This is a man who would process information and regulate things. What does he here propose?

[W]e suggest a distinctive tactic for breaking up the hard core of extremists who supply conspiracy theories: cognitive infiltration of extremist groups, whereby government agents or their allies (acting either virtually or in real space, and either openly or anonymously) will undermine the crippled epistemology of believers by planting doubts about the theories and stylized facts that circulate within such groups, thereby introducing beneficial cognitive diversity. (Page 219.)

Read this paragraph again. Unpack it. Work your way through the language and the intent. Imagine the application. What do we learn?

  • It is “extremists” who “supply” “conspiracy theories.”
  • Their “hard core” must be “broken up” with distinctive tactics. What tactics?
  • “Infiltration” (“cognitive”) of groups with questions about official explanations or obfuscations or lies. Who is to infiltrate?
  • “Government agents or their allies,” virtually (i.e. on-line) or in “real-space” (as at meetings), and “either openly or anonymously,” though “infiltration” would imply the latter. What will these agents do?
  • Undermine “crippled epistemology” — one’s theory and technique of knowledge. How will they do this?
  • By “planting doubts” which will “circulate.” Will these doubts be beneficial?
  • Certainly. Because they will introduce “cognitive diversity.”

Put into English, what Sunstein is proposing is government infiltration of groups opposing prevailing policy. Palestinian Liberation? 9/11 Truth? Anti-nuclear power? Stop the wars? End the Fed? Support Nader? Eat the Rich?

It’s easy to destroy groups with “cognitive diversity.” You just take up meeting time with arguments to the point where people don’t come back. You make protest signs which alienate 90% of colleagues. You demand revolutionary violence from pacifist groups.

We expect such tactics from undercover cops, or FBI. There the agents are called “provocateurs” — even if only “cognitive.” One learns to smell or deal with them in a group, or recognize trolling online. But even suspicion or partial exposure can “sow uncertainty and distrust within conspiratorial groups [now conflated with conspiracy theory discussion groups] and among their members,” and “raise the costs of organization and communication” — which Sunstein applauds as “desirable.” “[N]ew recruits will be suspect and participants in the group’s virtual networks will doubt each other’s bona fides.” (p.225).

And are we now expected to applaud such tactics frankly proposed in a scholarly journal by a high-level presidential advisor?

The full text of a slightly earlier version of Sunstein’s article is available for download here.

Marc Estrin. The author gets in the last word.

[Marc Estrin is a writer and activist, living in Burlington, Vermont. His novels, Insect Dreams, The Half Life of Gregor Samsa, The Education of Arnold Hitler, Golem Song, and The Lamentations of Julius Marantz have won critical acclaim. His memoir, Rehearsing With Gods: Photographs and Essays on the Bread & Puppet Theater (with Ron Simon, photographer) won a 2004 theater book of the year award. He is currently working on a novel about the dead Tchaikovsky.]

UPDATE: See Rag Blog Scoop about ‘Cognitive Infiltration’ Stirs up Internet Storm by Thorne Dreyer / The Rag Blog / January 16, 2009

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57 Responses to Got Fascism? : Obama Advisor Promotes ‘Cognitive Infiltration’

  1. Except for the Orwellian NewSpeak, nothing really new here, is there? Every movement for social change in this country has felt the sting of such divisive, deceitful tactics.

    Doesn't anyone ever consider that the best cure for dirty lies is clean government?

    I routinely refer people with quetions about right-wing rumors to fact-checking sites such as snopes.com.

    • jane smith says:

      “I routinely refer people with questions about right wing rumors to fact checking sites such as scopes”

      I think you just MADE the point the author did by saying you think SNOPES is some sort of real fact checking site when its actually a CIA sponsored disinformation site!! Are YOU an infiltrator??

  2. Anonymous says:

    Yes, what Mariann says, as usual. Nothing really new here. Same old Same old. Except maybe now with zanier fonts and better music.

    A bit embarassing to have voted for these guys and their friendlier fascism and to be forced to find comfort in the slim threshold between Obama’s cognitive dissonance attacks and Bush’s skull-cracking of dissidents, though they’ll merge to some degree inevitably.

    – L. Piltz

  3. Marc Estrin says:

    Nothing new,for sure. But it remains important to continue to look behind the curtain of our Transparency-Openness-Hope-and Change president, since so many on the left are still making excuses for him and his administration.

  4. Pollyanna says:

    Marc — I think a lot of people who had so much hope for electoral change with Obama are now simply stunned into inactivity. If such a great-sounding candidate turned out to be all smoke and mirrors, what is to be done? The lack of a principled, organized Left, with well-known, credible, responsible leadership, is a real problem. Our two-party system has so effectively hogged all the oxygen, there is no serious challenge to the status quo.

    Of course the lack of Left leadership has also been effectively manipulated, with genuine grassroots folks facing every kind of discourgement, and ego-driven power trippers receiving what little media
    exists for the left at all.

    We’re going to have to go beyond blogging, ya know, at some point. But all of the, for lack of a better word, mechanisms, have become so tainted; “a life of public service” attracts only those who want to feast at the trough.

  5. But if you have the truth on your side, why not just disprove the conspiracy theo…….Oh, I see!

  6. Anonymous says:

    so here we hear mostly about this “not being new” ,,, the point is that it exists, also good to remember …not every one “woke up” the same time as you, perhaps to some it is a new enlightenment… and snopes (LOL….) is really where I would put my faith for truth- NOT

  7. Anonymous says:

    If you take a look at DKos lately, you have to wonder if that is what is happening there. There are bloggers who will post the same meaningless “Yes you are!” “No I’m not” arguments ad nauseum, make ad-hominem attacks on anyone who criticizes Obama, and target and stalk anyone from FDL .

    Photo-diaries of the President are prevalent. And the same pro-Obama people rec one another, no matter how obscure the comment. Now, accusations that this one or that one is paid are flying. And people are leaving in droves.

    I’ve actually become suspicious that the Obama people hijacked the blogs during the primaries, and managed to convince people that Obama was something he obviously wasn’t, succeeding in derailing Hillary. And by the way, I wasn’t even a HIllary fan, so this is not sour grapes.

    You can call me paranoid, but only the paranoid survive!

  8. H4wK says:

    what the above one said 🙂

    there really is no telling in how big this sh*t really is unless you’re on top of it (and i mean that quite litterally).

    for all seeking truth, remember this: if you can’t beat em, join ’em… and i don’t mean, become like them, i mean, use their tactics on them, infiltrate, dismantle from the inside… that’s basically what they try, and to some extent succeed in, to do with the so called conspiratorial groups…

    problem is, these groups are already so divided geologically that it’s hard to mount any type of defense… or the conspiratorial groups should raise a genuine revolutionary “governing force” and a following strong enough to actually perform a coup on the headpieces needed… (and i’m not talking about the presidents and kings, i’m referring to the people who inform them on what they can and can’t say/do)

  9. Petr Buben says:

    911 is a controlled demolition, let it happen and make it happen, pretext for wars self inflicted wound inside operation. ….. This per irrefutable scientific evidence, and per common sense too.

    I mean – have you seen the footage of WTC controlled demolition on 9/11? Towers pulverized with the speed close to free fall, 10 floors per second.
    Nanothermite high military explosive was found on the site, just as pools of molten steel, burning for weeks.
    Steel buildings, 3 at 1 day, cannot collapse pulverized unto itself as a consequence of office fires or airplane impacts.

    We need new investigation.

    http://ae911truth.orghttp://911blogger.comhttp://911truth.org
    http://twitter.com/911newshttp://911UnitedWeInvestigate.blogspot.com
    http://WorldNewsRecord.wordpress.com

  10. OzarkMichael says:

    I found this via a link from a conservative blog.

    I have an observation. Cass Sunstein is rather more liberal than most Americans. Most liberal people think of the term ‘extremists’ and the connotation usual is: “Right wing extremists”.

    Yet as I read the comments here everyone seems to think that his envisaged governmental internet “infiltration” campaign would be aimed at the Political Left.

    Any comments?

    Either way, make no mistake… the methods used against one side now could easily be used against the other side tomorrow.

  11. Anonymous says:

    I know this off topic but I am trying to drum up support for my blog. It is to stop the mandatory inoculation for H1N1 virus that is coming down the pipeline. Please go to http://www.stopmandatoryinoculation.blogspot.com

    Please link this to your magazine and please got to the site and show your support

  12. Anonymous says:

    Its good to keep writing about this stuff. We get corporate media pumping out stories on Tiger Woods 24/7….People need to keep these thoughts and writings coming. It may not be “new” to some, but there are many people that this info is new. We can never write too much about it. You won’t see it on corporate media.
    http://www.americanpendulum.com

    I re-printed the article to the above site…so more will see it.

  13. Anonymous says:

    There is no longer a left or a right. There are Americans and there are their enemies. Can it be any more plain that there is no longer a pretense made that government will operate by constitutional principles.

    The constitution doesn’t LIVE. The intent of the governments actions, as well as those scoundrels who have taken it over, is to make clear that they are at war with Americans.

    Do you accept their use of raw power as being your guide?

  14. Anonymous says:

    Of course, if any of you’d like to actually READ the whole article being discussed before decrying it in your comments, you’ll realize that it’s being grossly mischaracterized here.
    “what Sunstein is proposing is government infiltration of groups opposing prevailing policy”??!? No. Nowhere in the paper does it say anything about groups opposing prevailing policy; this is simply a paranoid extrapolation you’ve made yourself.

    Seriously people, go read it. Estrin is trying to portray it as some kind of call-to-arms for the unleashing of spies onto the internet, when it’s actually a fairly sedate examination of various responses to both extremist thought groups and conspiracy theorists.

    Also, a little side point, it’s an academic journal, okay? When they use phrases like “cognitive diversity” they’re citing specific technical terminology within their field – so when you stick your own little bunny ears around it as if to suggest that it’s an invented euphemism for something more sinister, that’s just weak. (That goes too for the guy at the top who called it ‘Newspeak’)

  15. Anonymous says:

    the problem with these lunatics is they think we are stupid and have an IQ of 50
    The Empror has no clothes .The sooner they relize this we can get on with our lives

  16. Anonymous says:

    Hey guys;

    Forget it. The system is set up to make slaves of us all. The only method we have is to remove our support of the system. That means do not give your money to any business you feel is working against your best interest. And only you can know that. Do not buy pharmaceuticals, do not buy Walmart junk, do not buy coke-a cola, do not buy processed food, stop going to McDonalds…it’s death food, do not go to stupid movies, don’t buy new cars, buy good used cars, I own a 1991 Volvo best car I have ever had and still have, don’t buy a mortgage you can not afford, don’t use a credit card unless absolutely necessary, and then pay it off immediately, they get no interest payment from you, don’t buy the “latest in anything”, I buy designer clothes at thrifts, people think I’m well off, you have to sever the head of the beast, remove their ability to control by doing the opposite of what they are trying to get you to do. Don’t by anything that is advertised, and above all do not believe in anything that comes from the mass media, or Obama’s mouth..especially from his mouth, financial news, Christian materialism, or anything else that sounds stupid. Think for your self. You ARE smarter than you think. We the people are really just everyone else who is not hypnotized by the hype. Disengage, set yourself free. It is really quite easy. remember the movie “Merlin the magician”? He was always trying to defeat Moab, everytime he thought he had her she countered with some other form of distress for him. One day he realized that that was his problem…he was trying to interact with her to defeat her but to no avail. What did he do? He turned his back to her and walked away. She soon dried up and blew away. Turn your back on the bulls**t. Don’t engage it. Walk away and follow your heart. They will soon disappear.

    Truth goes to truth always.

  17. kcdoehring says:

    This is Stalin 101. The communists employed this methodology of destroying their enemies within and abroad as far back as the 20s. KGB histories show that it was used regularly and was quite successful at varying levels. Is Obama a communist? I don’t know. The process of discovery has shown him to be at the very least very sympathetic to the far left in our country. Appointees of his have openly admitted to being inspired by communists and some have spouted principles that are attributable to communists. So Quack Quack draw your own conclusions.

  18. Anonymous says:

    entertaining to see how many self-proclaimed intellectuals in our nation, who were snowed by modern-but-not-so-complicated campaign marketing, finally begin to wake up. i made the educated decision and voted for obama because he had a blog! and a blackberry! and he’s a gym rat! oh, and he is brilliant like me!

    now it’s beginning to be revealed what a dangerous group this guy is a faceman for. should have never made it out of the primaries, but did because the “intelligent ones” were manipulated by shiny objects just as easily as the middle america slobs they despise and constantly point to as sheep.

    acetone will help get that silly hope and change sticker off your prius, but it will be harder to erase the humiliation the left will face as this presidency rolls onward.

  19. Anonymous says:

    Look up Operation Mockingbird sometime and you will see that the international central bankers have been engaging in psyops on US and world citizens going back to the 1950s. It’s much more prevalent today. What I want to know is… since we are on a sinking ship, how does one play the winning hand and get paid to write psyop material online? Who does one need to know?

  20. Joe says:

    Anon@5:00 AM:

    So, if we re-word that sentence to read: “what Sunstein is proposing is government infiltration of groups that espouse views that are critical of the government, or that the government considers ‘extreme’ or ‘conspiratorial,'” would that still be okay with you?

    I mean, yeah, he didn’t propose jailing dissidents, but do you really want this kind of busybody heading up the “Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs”? I can’t say I do.

  21. the pair says:

    As another commenter said, nothing new here – for people that follow propaganda. Sunstein is just the latest in a long line of Bernays wannabes trying to “manufacture consent” but doing it in such an arrogant, ham-fisted manner that it’s almost laughable.

    I say “almost” because he’s part of a (God knows why) well liked and trusted administration and has lots of Serious credentials to make him seem Serious and Smart to people that still think any connection to Harvard = instant Genius. He’s like Karl Rove with a brain and a boss above 20% approval in the polls.

    The way Serious people respond to “conspiracy theories” says way, WAY more about them than it does the target of their pompous derision in any case. As one of my favorite authors once said, “What really worries me are Establishment Deniers.”

  22. I have invited both authors to an already-scheduled panel discussion in St. Louis on the subject of
    “9/11 and the Left.” I will let you know if there is a response from either.

  23. Wes says:

    Police already do this kind of stuff. They will be undercover and dress like “extreme” protesters at a peaceful rally with regular police there, and then they’ll get all uppity and stir things up with the police, get hauled away (to protect them), and then the police get to disperse the now-non-peaceful protest.

  24. arnie says:

    Just as it’s worth considering the effects this tactic is of sowing mistrust in the community, I think it’s important to keep in mind how a similar tactic of mistrust played into the terrorism of fear that became all too pervasive after 9-11.

    Personally, I think it’s dangerous for people to fall into this kind of thinking because this is what hystericizes and paralyzes communities– distracts people from doing their work because they’re too preoccupied with trying to figure out who the plants are in their respective movements. In other words, beware of the finger pointers…

    When it comes down to it, as soon as you begin to think someone is a CIA operative, it’s probably best to realize that the murmuring voices you hear in the quiet of the night, are not your neighbors but your dental implants or the residual effects of Operation Monarch….

  25. Philip Kindred says:

    If I understand the threads I followed, correctly, Mr. Estrin is the one who first noticed this? If so, then kudos to him for that. I take notice of his list of writings now and I hope others perform the same courtesy.

    But the white paper was published in 2008; why had no one noticed it (including myself), with such inflammatory content, until now? This underlines a concept conveyed by Chomsky — that there are distinctly different levels of propaganda designed for different levels of intellectual strata . .

    That’s right, brilliant Harvard Law minds must also be inoculated, in a special way, you know; to resist the treacherous siren call of asking questions that the government would rather not be asked . . . it is a slippery slope, to be sure.

    Were they to allow their thought to stray too far over the ledge, why, then, the “diversity of their networks of information,” which they have worked so hard for, declines: Then the crippled epistemology sets in, and they find themselves turning to “people who all think alike,” “saying the same thing to each other,” like Paul Craig Roberts, Cynthia McKinney, and Max Cleland, to name three here in Georgia.

  26. Anarcissie says:

    This post, or rather the article which it references, is hilarious. The idea of dealing with the spread of conspiracy theorizing by conspiratorially infiltrating groups of conspiracy theorists — well, all I can say is, thank God I’m a paranoid and can appreciate that sort of thing.

    I have taken care to plant stories about this in, I hope, fertile ground. Thank you very much for discovering it.

  27. Anonymous says:

    @Joe: No, because that’s /still/ trying to mischaracterize the paper by planting euphemism in there to imply something that it simply does not promote.

    Nothing in this whole story means that the CIA are going to be spying on your stupid little 9/11 chatrooms, or at least no more than they have been for the last 9 years.

    You’re trying to paint this picture of a crazy spy-obsessed brainwashing weirdo that’s sneaked into the Obama administration, and it’s just ridiculous.

    Anon@5

  28. c.hanna says:

    Andrew Johnson asks “isn’t this policy already in operation”?

    I’m with you Andrew. I think its been around now along time. And just like how At&T and others were spying and the laws passed to “ok” it. They were already doing it long before there was the big stink about it.

    Glenn Greenwald wrote about this also,
    read what he has to say folks.
    http://www.americanpendulum.com/2010/01/obama-confidant-spine-chilling-proposa/

    How could anyone doubt this info? Its all around us now…and getting worse….unless its stopped.

  29. judith says:

    Some of us already knew what Obama was about by looking at his resume and history, and we didnt vote for him and we arent aghast when he and his admin turn out to be the shoddy crooked Chicago pols they were in Chicago.

    We wished he would have changed into someone else on January 20, 2009, because we dont like seeing our country run by shoddy crooked Chicago pols, but we arent surprised.

    For those of you on the quest for “clean government,” or perplexed that your beloved Leftwing pols are doing the same things as your vilified Rightwing pols…. power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely. that’s why our Founding Fathers designed our system to provide checks on unlimited power. We now have one party running everything in the country. Most of you are pleased because it’s your party. But most of the people in it are crooks and they are plundering your pockets because they CAN, and they think it’s their right.

    Consider that maybe those who advocate for smaller government in general, and reducing it to the limited powers described in the Constitution, maybe we have a point.

  30. Anarcissie says:

    “… We now have one party running everything in the country. Most of you are pleased because it’s your party….”

    I don’t think the progs are too pleased any more. And assuming they walk, the Democrats may not be running the government after 2010.

    “Don’t blame me — I voted for Satan.” (Bumper sticker)

  31. Anonymous says:

    Nothing new here. they already do this. They are merely planning to publicly ‘let us know.’ It’s like all of their plans lately; they are implementing them in front of everyone, no longer hiding. They are either testing the American public to see what we will do, or they are using psychological warfare (Read: Make the American public feel overwhelmed, helpless, and as if there is nothing they can do). But there is something we can do. Use our voice, protest, write letters, spread the word. Keep using non-violent action to show them that there is strength in numbers and we have the numbers, not them.

  32. Joe says:

    Anon@5,

    We can quibble all day about how to characterize Sunstein’s proposals. But he did write the paper, which, in your words, is “a fairly sedate examination of various responses to both extremist thought groups and conspiracy theorists.” And my point is that the government has no business trying to regulate, or even attempting to influence, people’s thoughts. I don’t care how long it’s been going on.

    Oh, and since you keep bringing up “euphemism,” I’d suggest you check your dictionary or read Orwell’s essay “Politics and the English Language,” because a term like “cognitive infiltration,” aside from being a typically leaden piece of academic jargon, is a classic example. What does this mean, in plain English? Unless I was trying to perform some kind of gloss job on it, I’d say it means ‘Getting inside people’s minds.’

  33. Philip Kindred says:

    You – yes you who is reading this . . . What is your personal reaction to this news?

    News that a major policymaker blatantly advocates infiltration and repression (are these words are hyperbole?) of speech groups; groups which might publicize the possibility of corruption and conspiracy, which are, in the opinion of a nameless authority, groundless.

    Who can defend this, in such a way as to show it consistent with the constitutional principles and values which have preceded us in our republic?

    Now ask yourself if all this is dismissible as intimated by some above, because either
    a.) it has been interpreted out of context with the original white paper (I read it) or the more recent article; or
    b.) that what is proposed is nothing new, already in progress, old news, nothing significant.

    Just a couple of questions, rather than pedantic statements: In response to b.), I would ask: Isn’t the classic pattern of power grabs, of usurpation of freedoms by authority, that an advance will already be well-in-progress unofficially, before those with official capacity will make official pronouncements or even official proposals?

    So that it becomes a back-handed way of gaining acceptance, rather than a trial balloon (trial balloons would be advanced by those close to power, not IN power.) So that people can point out that the announced policy is underway already, and shrug it off, saying “sounds bad, but they’re already doing it, no real news.”

    In effect, is this not the defused reaction of potential opponents here?

    Doesn’t official rhetoric and doublespeak, in effect, explanations, always lag the actions of a new repression?

    To a.), above, I can only say read the source material yourself, the links are posted.

  34. TeleBob says:

    THIS IS FUNNY. Or it is a joke, that perhaps Sunstein doesn’t get?

    Let me get this right… Sunstein is proposing a little conspiracy of his own… ‘cognitive infiltration’ in order to get rid of ‘conspiracy theories’. Ahahahahaha.

  35. Petr Buben says:

    yes, there is even more we can do –
    1.VOTE – the less militaristic party, and we need runoff election, so that 3rd party can be elected
    2.Vote with money – do not buy or get service from communist militaristic bailout corporations

    Move you money from big bailout corporations – Bank of America, Chase.
    Use local institutions – http://MoveYourMoney.info
    http://911UnitedWeInvestigate.blogspot.com

    9/11 controlled demolition inside job pretext for wars

  36. Anon@5: The danger of Mr. Sunstein’s paper, is that, how do we not know that YOU are not one of Mr. Sunstein’s “cognitive infiltrators” paid by the government to enter discussion forums and try to create “cognitive dissonance” among those who do not like “cognitive infiltration”? Can you not see where the slippery slope begins? And where it inevitably ends?

    I do not say this lightly, but Sunstein’s paper suggests tactics against persons thinking disapproved thoughts that would ruin whatever credibility the government has left with the American people. The American people do not trust large portions of the government because – at least – large parts of the government are not worthy of trust. Papers like this – suggesting covert action to infiltrate and “deprogram” groups advocating disapproved thoughts – the contumelious disrespect that many government officials show towards the citizens who give them the very powers that they lawfully exercise – and the profuse number of secrets the government keeps, most of which are unnecessary – are the reason for that mistrust, along with the very public lying that some government officials do on a routine basis.

    As I hope everyone knows, something like this – confronting conspiracy theorists – might start off innocent enough, but it starts down a slippery slope that is not good to tread upon. The proposal to infiltrate conspiracy theory groups could easily turn into infiltration of groups opposing Administration policy. If one looks at history, it is quite obvious that abuses like this will occur, because the temptation to do so is irresistible, and the participants are veiled by secrecy.

    In response to this argument, you are barred from saying “just trust us” as a response – the American people don’t trust government with power like this! Power to manipulate the sovereign people that the government derives its lawful power from is usurpatious and tyrannical, no matter what end that power is used for; for power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

    If you want people to trust the government, Anon, create a government worthy of the public trust, and then we’ll talk. Until then, please excuse me if I say that I love my country, but fear my government.

  37. Anonymous says:

    The word “extremist” is a useful red flag. Nobody serious uses the word. It doesn’t mean anything. It’s a label you direct toward somebody you intend to destroy.

  38. Anarcissie says:

    Telebob — I think the interesting thing about Sunstein’s proposals, however theoretical, is their intrinsic absurdity, especially infiltrating groups of conspiracy theorists with — government-paid conspirators. Reassuring, eh? The fact that Sunstein is so troubled by conspiracy theories is itself interesting, because it seems he is unaware of their content, or unable to understand it because of his devotion to the established order.

    Mainly, though, the idea is funny.

  39. robert says:

    because it needed to be said again:

    Joe said…
    Anon@5,

    We can quibble all day about how to characterize Sunstein’s proposals. But he did write the paper, which, in your words, is “a fairly sedate examination of various responses to both extremist thought groups and conspiracy theorists.” And my point is that the government has no business trying to regulate, or even attempting to influence, people’s thoughts. I don’t care how long it’s been going on.

    Oh, and since you keep bringing up “euphemism,” I’d suggest you check your dictionary or read Orwell’s essay “Politics and the English Language,” because a term like “cognitive infiltration,” aside from being a typically leaden piece of academic jargon, is a classic example. What does this mean, in plain English? Unless I was trying to perform some kind of gloss job on it, I’d say it means ‘Getting inside people’s minds.’

    Bob…:D

  40. kulic(josh) says:

    anarcissie, thanks for pointing out da ironee so adroitly. made my evening a bit lighter.

    changing tack, one thing that annoys me in conversations referring to “conspiracy theories” is a lack of definitional precision and conceptual (ahem) rigah. say it not quite well defined, right? so we have to define it well before we can communicate about it ja? (this should be a script line for all such discussions, no matter who with, motivated by this episteme foundationing)…
    So. We verify that the participants have mutual normative understanding of:
    (1) human coordination in directed/planned activities,
    and
    (2) secrecy.
    We then define conspiracy as (1)+(2). By this convention, a large proportion of social and economic activity is to some extent conspiracy, of primarily benign nature, ie not ‘criminal.’

    it was Chomsky who pointed out the “conspiracy theory” code word dynamic, especially with respect to good Harvard folk. It’s essentially code for ‘bad non-obedient person.’

    Another irony i guess is how Chomsky wound up pouring fire on straw men wrt the ‘theory’ sets circulating here and there. A successful cognitive infiltration? Wouldn’t surprise. Who (or, what cognitive/neural/endocrine system,(to adopt a more clinically objective tonal) ) could stand up to the kind of attention likely would have been thrown at him in the last 10 years?
    these aren’t theories btw. i’m jist having fun with the idle conjecture machine. tinkering with likelyhoods, contingencies and that.
    much more than i meant to type,
    ejecting now…
    again thanks for the ironee recognition and words to effect it.

  41. Anarcissie says:

    I guess I see “conspiracy theory” as a literary or rhetorical category more than anything else. That is, it’s a particular mode of conceptualizing and writing characterized by an obsessive mode of attention to patterns, especially those felt to be threatening. In short, it’s the rhetorical equivalent (or representative) of paranoia. In this regard, it’s well to remember that “paranoids have enemies, too.” That is, conspiracy theorists may be correct — there are conspiracies out there.

    As I think you point out, much of our social order is quasi-conspiratorial, especially our system of political and economic leadership. The large gaps in our knowledge about them have to be filled by something, because that is the way our brains work. Hence the conspiracies. It’s amusing that our leadership is so imbued with conspiratorial thought that a faithful hanger-on like Sunstein can think of nothing better than another conspiracy to deal with the public response to his masters’ behavior.

  42. See my open letter to Vermeule re their suggestions.

    Snippet:

    We know the CIA lied about what they knew about Oswald to other agencies of the government just a month before the assassination because we have two communications drafted within hours of each other, by the same people, with one describing Oswald as older, fat and balding, and one describing him accurately. That’s not an accident, because the inaccurate description was escalated to nearly the Deputy Director’s level for approval, indicating, as one of the signees said on the record, sensitive information that was closely held and revealed only on a “need to know” basis. Those were the CIA officer’s words, not some screenwriter’s.

    Does that prove the CIA killed Kennedy? Of course not. But it proves people are not crazy to suspect such. And it proves people who automatically discount that either haven’t seen the CIA’s own records to this effect for themselves, and understood them, or that they are suffering from, to borrow your words, a “crippled epistemology.”

    What we really need is conspiracy literacy. People need to be taught how to evaluate evidence. There’s a hierarchy of evidence. For example, most people should believe sworn testimony over unsworn testimony, for example, if there’s a very real chance the person not only could but would be prosecuted for perjury. And to demonstrate why that caveat is needed, since there was no chance Richard Helms was going to be prosecuted for perjury when he lied about the CIA’s role in overthrowing Allende in Chile, he lied in his testimony. And while he was initially charged, it was dismissed, despite his outright admission of lying — calling it a “badge of honor.” Is it any wonder people imagine hidden conspiracies when they see this kind of behavior flaunted openly, instead of punished?

    What we really don’t need is what you suggested: “cognitive infiltration of extremist groups, whereby government agents or their allies (acting either virtually or in real space, and either openly or anonymously) will undermine the crippled epistemology of those who subscribe to such theories. They do so by planting doubts about the theories and stylized facts that circulate within such groups, thereby introducing beneficial cognitive diversity.

    Been there, done that. It was called COINTELPRO when the FBI did it and Operation Chaos when the CIA did it. And neither worked. Which leads to my final question:

    13. Why would you suggest the conspiratorial infiltration of groups by government operatives as a means to combat conspiracy theory? Can you appreciate the irony there?

  43. Anonymous says:

    sorry I cant be as eloquent as he rest of you … this Cass f’er needs shot

  44. Anonymous says:

    The state of Vermont follows a Tort system meaning someone must be found to be at fault for causing the accident, and that person and their Vermont Car Insurance company is responsible for all the damages. You should be aware that the details of a tort system vary from state to state.

  45. Nell says:

    Definition: epistemology–
    n. Greek, from episteme(knowledge), and logos(discourse): The theory or science that investigates the origin, nature, methods & limits of knowledge. –That is from Websters New Universal UNABRIDGED(that means I had to build it its own table!) Dictionary. Without knowing much more, the term sounds like a kindness, & probably an inaccurate one, for that which he describes–

  46. Tyson Settle says:

    Why is the answer always about good government? We’re always undermining ourselves and throwing weaker and weaker resistance directly at an enemy who is stronger and stronger. They win because we need them, because we can’t function without them. We should be focusing on winning the hearts of those we can and forming new alliances. We should use the same tactics as them, covert operations. Does no one understand that “cognitive infiltration” only works on those who aren’t capable of organizing themselves, of making sound rational judgments and doing their own research? If our best plan is to create a message and enforce that message, then we aren’t asking for a world any better than the one that is ruining our lives. Yes, the government needs to change. But we can change it by changing our lives and our communities. If we become a new kind of citizenry, then the government will have to become a new kind of government.

    The choice to be a slave really is yours. It doesn’t mean that it’s a matter of “lifting yourself up by your own bootstraps.” It’s about choosing amongst unattractive realities, but realities they are.

    This tactic only works on the weak-minded and is designed to disrupt a phenomenon which is useless anyway.

  47. tangel476 says:

    The govt creates most of these kooky conspiracy theories. These days take everything with a grain of salt with what the govt says as well as conspiracy theory

  48. Voicu Marius says:

    Found your communication dynamics very valuable. I’m currently teaching two introductory college classes. Each one has half the students using blogs, the other half using wiki’s. So far, I think the wiki’s are more helpful for the students. But I didn’t know about the aggregator application. That would certainly help me to monitor what the students are writing, and I think that it would make the experience more lattice-like for students because it would make it easier for them to monitor each other’s postings

  49. Jorge Alarte says:

    Obama must be creful with new thecnologies

  50. Englisch lernen says:

    hm thats great We can quibble all day about how to characterize Sunstein’s proposals. But he did write the paper, which, in your words, is “a fairly sedate examination of various responses to both extremist thought groups and conspiracy theorists. thanks

  51. sunita says:

    It’s easy to destroy groups with “cognitive diversity.” You just take up meeting time with arguments to the point where people don’t come back. You make protest signs which alienate 90% of colleagues. You demand revolutionary violence from pacifist groups.

  52. irhanatim12 says:

    Great post. its a need of today’s generation, but i think it need more information about this topic, really not a bad but i wish it looks more complete..
    Bundle of Thanks…
    Great post. its a need of today’s generation, but i think it need more information about this topic, really not a bad but i wish it looks more complete..
    Bundle of Thanks…

  53. Michel says:

    Obama and company ,i mean the government should try to make new policies rather than to focus on such a matters.

  54. Colin says:

    Thank you for great article. Where else could anyone get that kind of information in such a perfect way of writing? I have a presentation next week, and I am on the look for such information.

  55. Anonymous says:

    It’s even simpler than anyone has said. It’s a public relations campaign. It won’t be the first or last time that an administration, or an advertiser, a brand or a candidate has used the tools of language to put itself in a better light and cast doubt on opponents. And yes, in fact diversity of source and opinion would be a breath of fresh air, like opening the windows and letting some sunlight into the bitter atmosphere of paranoia and conspiracy. Let the sunshine in.

  56. vpillsgold says:

    dqwat We can quibble all day about how to characterize Sunstein’s proposals. But he did write the paper, which, in your words, is “a fairly sedate examination of various respod!

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