I often admit to people that I’m attracted to fringe ideas. This statement usually makes people pause, and ever-so-slightly withdraw to get a better look at me. I then try to cast myself in a better light by saying that it’s really just the concept of extreme beliefs that interests me, and how and why people adopt them. But people aren’t fooled. Only cranks obsess about extreme ideas, even in the abstract. Normal people have better things to do than to study arcane conspiracy theories, for any reason.
Ok, it’s not all that bad. I can usually get the person interested, and on my side, by providing the example of how <<insert other political side here>> can possible believe their crazy views, contrary to all available facts and reason, as evidenced by that crazy news outlet of theirs. We’re soon in agreement, and we work out the details of the other side’s craziness. Tribalism works.
Of course, it’s more difficult to turn the mirror around, and get them to see how the other side may think we’re crazy, and how they justify their accusations. All of a sudden, symmetry in the universe doesn’t apply here.
As you can guess, I’m blogging about this as I try to understand the otherwise confounding, often bizarre world of low-carb beliefs. Their gurus make incredible claims that all of nutritional science is wrong, that governments and scientists are lying to everyone, causing world-wide diabesity through their nutritional guidelines, for Big Pharma profits, while spreading some nefarious vegan agenda. (There are dubious hard-line vegan claims too, like meat gives you cancer, and the same governments and health organisations conspire to ignore it, etc.)
So what’s new about my understanding of these extreme points of view? Them. I recently discovered Jon Ronson’s Them: Adventures with Extremists, which pretty much was written for me. Ronson deeply embeds himself with various extremists from widely different camps, to study the common denominator that makes them tick. Ronson is sometimes described as a humorist, is himself Jewish, but takes the open-minded view of his subjects more as eccentrics than dangerous extremists. What do the London Jihadist, American Militiamen, Alex Jones, the ADL, and the KKK all have in common? In Ronson’s simplified thesis, they’re all convinced there’s a secret room where evil, all-powerful people conspire against them.
I’ve spent countless hours developing my own theories on what makes conspiracy theorists tick, which always includes deep analysis of distrust of government, wanting to believe it, alignment with political beliefs, etc. But trust me, the simplified, quasi-literal belief of “evil people in a room conspiring against you” is the most minimal, elegant explantaion possible. Note how it includes the very powerful tactics of personifying and demonizing the enemy.
Basically, it takes that visceral touch of envisioning actual people working against you, to push you over the conspiracy edge. In fact, this is the literal definition of a conspiracy. It’s a very believable, visual paranoia. Why else would my pet ideas or worldview be suppressed? How else could be intuition about diet be wrong? And as Ronson humorously points out in his book, there really are kind of rooms where powerful people work against you. (After introducing us to his anti-NWO eccentrics, he visits the ADL, who instantly and unconditionally labels them as dangerous anti-semites [who meet in secret rooms]. Then he visits a millionaire Hollywood director in the midst of no-cost-spared meetings to bring his anti-racist masterpiece, American History X, to the screen.)
And of course, you can find a similarly-minded community that will confirm all your fears and beliefs about the conspiracy, and how to fight them. It all makes sense, especially when considering all the disparaging comments posted by low-carb’ers about “the anointed” like Ancel Keys, the Harvard School of Public Health, or dietitians, and how they’re committed to their lies, to save face, or because they’re working for Big Pharma. And sure, the National Food Policy Conference disinvited Big Fat Surprise author Nina Teicholz so they could draft the USDGAs without her pro- saturated fat input. In their room. Made secret from the LCHF crowd. And on and on.
So you run with your ideas, and highlight the science that supports your biases. Everything else is wrong, especially when it’s argued by one of your evil opponents. You can’t trust anything they say or do. They’re lying, because they’ll never admit to their mistakes, because of big Wheat, or big Grain, or big Sugar. Carbs make you fat. It’s insulin, not total calories, that causes weight gain.
The alternative explanations are much less likely than the conspiracy against your Galileo-like revelations. Epidemiology isn’t a real science, with no real place or purpose. Except for pushing the murky agendas of governments and public health organizations. No coincidence is too small to confirm your suspicions. And your ideas only sound crazy to outsiders, because they don’t know what you know.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not complaining about anyone’s views and beliefs on nutrition. How we eat is a very important, personal thing. And outside of academia, it doesn’t even bother me how people want to interpret nutritional science, unless they’re just opportunists (which is virtually impossible, except for the true psychopaths) . I appreciate true passionate causes. And anyways, low-carb’ers don’t hold secret meetings.