Stupidity and a Blind Willingness to Embrace the Wildly Improbable

Oprah Winfrey, along with other celebrities, has just had to deny having been arrested for sex trafficking.

Occam’s Razor is sometimes overused (with unintentional irony) but it should certainly apply to one of the fundamental dilemmas of our time: the willingness of many people to believe the unlikely. Occam’s principle suggests, to paraphrase, that “the simplest solution is most likely the right one”. This concept can aid those trying to decide if it’s likely that the human condition is the result of a talking snake convincing a putative “Adam and Eve” to eat a forbidden apple; it is simpler to deduce that such a wildly improbable claim, requiring the belief in numerous associated myth structures, is too improbable to be true. Occam can certainly help you answer the question, “Is a wealthy Nigerian Prince desirous of giving me many hundreds of thousands of dollars if I first give him one thousand dollars?”

And we should be able to apply it to intricately ridiculous conspiracy theory claims, like David Icke’s “Powerful people are really reptoid aliens from another planet”, easily dismissing that absurdity, and the now almost fashionable Q-ANON idiocy; the claim that, to summarize, there is “a worldwide cabal of Satan-worshiping pedophiles who rule the world, essentially, and they control everything. They control politicians, and they control the media.” Now, the most simple and direct way to address the claim remains, Is it probable? But this is an age distorted by a device that empowers stupidity: the internet. The internet has many grand uses, but (in the absence of critical thinking) it can overwhelm people with so many titillating falsehoods that they are prone to devour any assertion that excites them. And if that assertion involves celebrities it becomes much tastier.

Hence Q-Anon invokes celebrities to advance its fictions: Oprah Winfrey has just had to deny Q-Anon based internet “news story” reports that her home was raided and she was arrested for pedophile sex trafficking. Another fake Q-Anon inspired source claimed that Tom Hanks’ quarantine in Australia was not because he has coronavirus (he does) but because he’s been arrested as part of a pedophilia ring. Hilary Clinton has been targeted by Q-Anon falsehoods numerous times. Is it coincidence that the celebs targeted are liberals? It isn’t. Q-Anon is associated with the lunatic-fringe right-wing.

No one buying into these false stories thinks to ask if it’s simply probable that Tom Hanks was arrested as part of a pedophilia ring. Probability does not figure into their worldview.

And what is stupider–than embracing the ridiculously unlikely?