What Makes the Conspiracy Virus as Dangerous as COVID
William J. Bernstein in Conversation with Andrew Keen on Keen On
The coronavirus pandemic is dramatically disrupting not only our daily lives but society itself. This show features conversations with some of the world’s leading thinkers and writers about the deeper economic, political, and technological consequences of the pandemic. It’s our new daily podcast trying to make longterm sense out of the chaos of today’s global crisis.
In this episode, Andrew is joined by William J. Bernstein, author of The Delusions of Crowds, to discuss Bitcoin and the GameStop/Robinhood saga, ISIS, and conspiracy groups like QAnon.
From the episode:
Andrew Keen: In the age of COVID, are we living in a particularly conspiratorial time? Is all this connectivity stoking, compounding, the paranoia, the delusion of the crowd? Or is this really no different from the past?
William J. Bernstein: Well, it’s very different from the past in the sense that the vector of the virus has become much more potent. Let me explain that analogy: I don’t see a lot of difference between the COVID epidemic and the epidemic of conspiracy theories that we’re seeing. All infectious diseases have an infectious agent. The virus in terms of COVID, or Yersinia pestis in terms of the Black Death. But they also have a vector, which is how the disease is spread. So with the Black Death, it was fleas and rats; with COVID, it’s people coughing on each other.
And with delusional narratives, the vector is the medium that they’re transferred through. So starting with Gutenberg, when you started seeing a rash of mass delusions that were spread via the printing press, all the way to the present, when we see mass delusions being spread through social media. And social media is an enormously powerful vector. It’s as if we’ve gone from a world where you’ve got a couple of people coughing and they’re widely separated, and now they’re in a tiny room and they’re coughing on each other. And of course, that’s 4chan. That’s Twitter. That’s Facebook.
William J. Bernstein is a neurologist, financial theorist, and historian whose books include A Splendid Exchange, Masters of the Word, The Birth of Plenty, and The Four Pillars of Investing. He is the co-founder of the investment management firm Efficient Frontier Advisors, and has written for publications including the Wall Street Journal and Money magazine. He was the winner of the 2017 James R. Vertin Award from CFA Institute. He lives in Oregon.