Was just listening to some friends, trained as biologists, who host a podcast of their own.
Over the past few years, they've been drawn increasingly out of their specific academic field and into the deeper, weirder waters of vaccines and the New World Order.
I hadn't heard any of their stuff in a while, so I was curious where their inquiry had been taking them.
To me, they sounded more measured and more deferential to evidence, research and published findings than they might have a year ago, during the disorienting G-forces of their rapid accent in the hottake-o-sphere.
Between hot mics on podcasts and twitchy fingers on Twitter, it's hard to stay provisional when all the incentives optimize for the outrageous and the outraged.
But then, one of them admitted that they were "part of a group of people who had been fighting in parallel the same amorphous, well-resourced, diabolical enemy, (and I hate to describe it in these terms), but the way it behaves leaves no doubt by those who have been targeted by it, that there is ‘a something,’ [even if] I don't know how it works."
Which is when a little light bulb went off in my little brain.
"Ah!" I thought. "This is the storyline that so many of their listeners are actually listening for! I'm willing to bet that large numbers of their audience glaze over when they put on their scientists' hats to discuss the pros and cons of spike proteins and furin cleavage sites (or evolutionary adaptation of sex roles in tit mice), but perk right up when they hear hints and insinuations of Malevolent Design.”
What is "Malevolent Design?" you might ask.
Well, as far as I can figure, its closest kissing cousin is Intelligent Design.
That's the Half in/Half out theory that set up shop between Creationism ("and the Lord said, let there be light!") and Evolution (Darwin and Galapagos tortoises).
In a nutshell, Intelligent Design posits that there's simply no way that the beauties, mysteries and "fearful symmetries" (William Blake's term) of nature could've happened by blind chance.
The prevalence of sacred numbers like Pi and the Golden Mean, the wildly improbable Goldilocks Zone of intelligent life in our universe, the uncanny adaptations that David Attenborough is always banging on about (like fish who have evolved eyes on their tails to confuse predators) simply could not have occurred by random mutation and blind chance.
Intelligent Design includes religious folks looking to soften their stance, but it also snags the New Age and SBNRs ("spiritual but not religious") types who yearn for a smidge more enchantment in their worldview than cold evolution would allow.
So too with Malevolent Design. It lures people in from all sides of the political spectrum, from full blown MAGA Deep State folks, to psychedelic podcasters, to Intellectual Dark Webbers to Pastel QAnon/New Age manifesters, to micro-chips-as-Mark-of-the-Beast Evangelicals.
But what unites them is a conviction that there's simply too much patternicity to be random accident. As our biologist friend noted, "there is ‘a something,’ [even if] I don't know how it works."
We know the term for that excess of patternicity––it's called apophenia. I wrote about it in Recapture the Rapture. I have also mentioned it a few times in newsletters because it keeps cropping up as a core psychological factor in how we're making sense of things these days.
But in a nutshell, apophenia is triggered by an excess of dopamine in our systems––an overwhelm of salience ("pay attention, this matters!") and an overriding of normal skepticism.
It's the "there's too much of a consistent pattern of behavior here to ignore" observation that demands an answer. And the most viscerally satisfying answer is almost always "someone is up to something shady!"
And visceral Truthiness beats cognitive Truthfulness, as Colbert reminded us way back in 2005 on his very first episode.
This maps right onto the Malevolent Designers.
Whether it's WHO/CDC folks in cahoots with Big Pharma, or the World Economic Forum "By 2030 you'll own nothing and be happy" New World Order takeover, we are increasingly skittish about who's pulling whose strings.
(Hint: They are always pulling ours)
(That WEF meme, BTW, featured above, is inaccurate and hysterical. The phrase "You'll own nothing..." was part of a 2016 slide deck of Top Ten futurist predictions, which included other less sinister sounding statements like "we'll need to get much better at welcoming climate refugees." And it wasn't even WEF chairman/Supervillain Klaus Schwab who said it. It was coined by a Danish woman politician and concluded with "and many of your packages will be delivered to your front door by drone" which when you think of subscribing to Spotify and Netflix instead of owning CDs and VHS, AirBnB couchsurfing and Uber ridesharing instead of home and car ownership, is a pretty obvious prediction).
But that sneaking suspicion that our podcasting friend had is persistent, and intensifying. And once you start noticing those otherwise inexplicable Omens of Millennium, you start seeing them everywhere. Images in inkblots. Ghosts in the Machine.
Here's where a comparison with ecosystem of Intelligent Design is useful because Malevolent Design matches its structure exactly.
On one extreme you've got fundamentalist creationists who insist God made the world in six days (famously kickin' it on the seventh), and that the fossil record is merely a trick to test our faith. #suckitdinosaurs
And on the other extreme you've got Richard Dawkins evolutionists, who insist that everything that's ever happened is a combination of survival of the fittest and random chance mutations in an otherwise indifferent universe.
But in the middle you have the Intelligent Design folks––not comfortable deferring to a beard-and-sandals AllFather, but sympathetic to Einstein's insistence that "God doesn't play dice!"––that there is more order here than mere chance could ever explain.
And for the question of Who's Pulling the Strings? (i.e. megacorporate global takeovers and engineered pandemics) there's also a spectrum.
On one extreme you've got Full Tinfoil Jacket types, spooked by an international cabal of adrenochrome sipping Satanists. It's full blown spiritual warfare for these folks.
And on the other, Blue-pilled sheeple of the normcore bent, insisting that we should change the system with our votes and our wallets (and American Idol votes). It's business as usual as the Lamestream Media and our high school civics classes would suggest.
But in the middle, you have the Malevolent Design folks––not comfortable assigning all the weirdness to truly supernatural evil, but sympathetic to the broader politics of suspicion where something is going on here, even if I can't quite put my finger on how it all works.
So this was the question I'd like to ask my biologist colleagues: “if you come down on the side of Evolution over Intelligent Design (which I assume you would), if you refrain from assigning supernatural deus ex machina explanations for the miracle of life on earth no matter how complex or confounding it appears, then what is different about your willingness to entertain theories of Malevolent Design in the realm of mere mortals?”
Because here's the thing––I've listened to some arguments for Intelligent Design that have sounded quite persuasive. They make a compelling emotional case for embracing awe and wonder in the face of the undeniable beauty of creation, and they refuse to reduce it all to randomness and brute survival. It feels truthy to me. I like the sounds of it.
But I bet if I sat down with those same evolutionary biologist friends in their academic wheelhouse they'd help me calibrate my thinking. The first thing they’d do is to knock down the straw man arguments of "evolution says all this magic is random chance and brute survival" and they’d argue convincingly for an updated vision of evolutionary theory that isn't frozen in time with Darwin's Origin of the Species. Their more informed and considered perspective, would provide a way to reconcile most of my What Ifs and What Abouts and come away better informed, even if a little less certain.
And that "better informed but a little less certain" actually has a name too!
It's called Epoché.
(I'm tellin' you, the ancient Greeks got all the best words)
It came from the Skeptic philosophers––not the ones who believed in nothing, but the ones who believed that life was irreducibly messy and unknowable at its core, and that suspending judgment and "withholding assent" were keys to a credible life of the mind.
Our contemporary version might be simply "don't get out too far over your skis!"
So what if we apply Epoché to the symptom of Apophenia (aka overheated pattern recognition)?
One of the key unlocks is to ask ourselves the same question we might have asked about Intelligent Design vs. Evolution.
Just because there's a clear pattern of evidence, does it have to be coordinated by someone at the center (man or God?)
If you believe there’s a sinister wizard behind the curtains, no ifs ands or buts, then you're in the tank for Malevolent Design. Its Truthiness hath seduced thee!
But if you remember our recent riff on egregores (those shadowy magical entities that have now arisen from our algorithmically ad-spend incented digital echo chambers to control our behaviors, or if you read Slate Star Codex's famous post Meditations on Moloch)––the sentient spirit of capitalism that unleashes Game Theory dynamics on us all, or if you dug Wired editor Kevin Kelly’s book What Technology Wants (describing a conscious Technium shaping us) then you have already wrapped your head around the notion that startlingly coherent behaviors can emerge from otherwise random incentives and constraints.
(kind of like how both beaches and dirt roads end up with those same horizontal ripple lines––without a bunch of zen rock garden gnomes raking them while we sleep)
So let's get back to Big Pharma/Plandemic conspiracy #1 and Davos/Great Reset conspiracy #2. (I'm told they pair well, but the hangover's a bitch).
Is it possible, is it Epoché-able, that Pfizer and Moderna are gonna seek to minimize liability while maximizing profitability while marketing the shit out of their newest blockbuster drugs and suppressing contravening studies and harms?
Well yes, glad you asked! See their record breaking Celebrex/Bextra multi billion dollar settlement for doing just that less than a decade ago.
Want something even more sinister? See Purdue Pharma's entire sordid history, culminating in the launch of an entirely orchestrated opioid crisis via Oxycontin and their super triply weasley efforts to duck restitution (and watch Dopesick if you weren't following that story as it unfolded in real time).
But let’s keep going––Big Pharma is just another Big Bogeyman, too easy a target to prove much.
Is it possible that our highest profile officials, like Anthony Fauci, Justin Trudeau, Joe Biden (keep filling in the roster depending on how much space you’ve got on your Fantasy FootCabal card) are some combination of well-meaning, bumbling, self-dealing, ass-covering political animals who are forever running traps between the public good, PR, and consolidation of their own power and funders, and are totally overwhelmed by the complexity and nobility required of this moment?
Seems almost plausible, doesn't it?
But what about the soldiers in the anti-vax trenches, the ones "fighting in parallel the same amorphous, well-resourced, diabolical enemy" that's violently suppressing all their efforts to speak truth to power? Surely there’s a There there to what they’re experiencing?
To be fair to those soldiers, there's abundant evidence of anti-Establishment perspectives like the Wuhan Lab Leak, or breakthrough infections, (or Roundup being not so great for kids and pets) getting ridiculed and outright suppressed before later vindication.
And...there's even more evidence that this has been going on for ages and ages!
There's absolutely no need to assign a Covid conspiracy to what is and has always been SOP (standard operating procedure) of the Powers that Be.
See: Erin Brokovich.
See: Big Tobacco.
See: Roundup Weedkiller settlements.
See: Exxon suppressing climate research.
See: Max Planck's "science advances one funeral at a time!"
Or you could just See: Thomas Kuhn's Structure of Scientific Revolutions and it would kind of explain the lot.
The point being, is anytime you get sucked over the falls into apophenia, or excess patternicity, apply a bit of that ol' time Epoché skepticism.
And ask yourself, does there absolutely, positively, have to be some mustache twizzling villain at the center of the plot to explain all the shitty or confusing things I'm seeing?
Could this be a host of micro adaptations, on the parts of millions of different players, all seeking to optimize for fitness and survival in a bafflingly complex environment that no one explicitly controls?
It's the same dynamics at play with the World Economic Forum.
(Definitely read Meditations on Moloch for a much deeper dive into the shitshow of market incentives and Game Theory multi-polar traps. TL;DR you can have recurring sociopathic behaviors without any actual sociopaths, with the net result that everyone is equally convinced that everyone else is psycho).
Isn't it possible that World Economic Forum represents a bunch of glad-handing elites looking to greenwash their own credentials, shape policy to their benefit, marinate in their self-appointed noblesse oblige, while transparently scheming to let the peasants eat just enough cake that they don't storm the castle?
Doesn't that kind of cover it? You only need to be reasonably douche-y to play that game. You don't need to be Arch-Villain Super Douchey.
Which is perhaps the most scary conclusion of all.
All that we're fixating on these days, convincing ourselves of Grand Plans and Evil Schemes, could be little more than these two things:
It's less comforting, it's definitely less Truthy.
It leaves us less certain, but better informed.
But it also reclaims our much heralded "sovereignty" and takes back our power from shadowy forces, driving agendas we can't possibly understand.
As it turns out, there's quite likely no one at the wheel. The diabolical enemy we face is us. Even if we don't know exactly how we work.
The only thing for certain, is that Malevolent Design ain’t intelligent design (it’s just the dopamine talking).
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