Sunstein calls for “cognitive infiltration” of dissident groups

Cass Sunstein, drunk with his little thimbleful of power he got by being given a job in the Obama administration is really letting his statist colors show through. Sunstein takes a page out of the Bush administration’s playbook and suggests that the government should engage in “cognitive infiltration” of disfavored political groups. (source)

Cass Sunstein, a Harvard law professor, co-wrote an academic article entitled “Conspiracy Theories: Causes and Cures,” in which he argued that the government should stealthily infiltrate groups that pose alternative theories on historical events via “chat rooms, online social networks, or even real-space groups and attempt to undermine” those groups.

As head of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, Sunstein is in charge of “overseeing policies relating to privacy, information quality, and statistical programs,” according to the White House Web site.

Sunstein’s article, published in the Journal of Political Philosphy in 2008 and recently uncovered by blogger Marc Estrin, states that “our primary claim is that conspiracy theories typically stem not from irrationality or mental illness of any kind but from a ‘crippled epistemology,’ in the form of a sharply limited number of (relevant) informational sources.”

By “crippled epistemology” Sunstein means that people who believe in conspiracy theories have a limited number of sources of information that they trust. Therefore, Sunstein argued in the article, it would not work to simply refute the conspiracy theories in public — the very sources that conspiracy theorists believe would have to be infiltrated. (source)

When the Bush administration infiltrated anti war groups, it did so merely to gather information about the people in those groups. When word of that hit the streets, the Left freaked the fuck out — as it should have. Where the hell are these free speech advocates today?

Cass Sunstein — one more reason that I will not be donating to the Obama re-election campaign, nor will I be voting for him in 2012. CHANGE does not mean replacing stupid petty fascists with simply intelligent petty fascists.

H/T: Dillsnap Cogitations

10 Responses to Sunstein calls for “cognitive infiltration” of dissident groups

  1. J DeVoy says:

    This isn’t anything new in and of itself, though, and is just a more sophisticated form of the propaganda the US has used from the Creel Commission in World War I through McCarthyism to delegitimize, shunt and disband dissenters.

    What is interesting is that Sarah Palin has done something very similar with the Tea Party movement. I don’t know who her handlers are, but she’s effectively casting herself as the movement’s figurehead, which is far beyond what she’s capable of doing on her own. Moreover, some people seem to be buying it, which makes even less sense. Palin’s attempt to win over small-government conservatives is belied by her anti-male and textbook Neo-Con, statist objectives (which I doubt she’s smart enough to implement).

    To the end that her core goals – a large, interventionist government – are indistinguishable from Obama’s but for the ends they aim to achieve, Sunstein may be on to something.

  2. jesschristensen says:

    I don’t know if I’m willing to attribute Sunstein’s proposal to the Obama administration, in the sense of assuming that the paper is either endorsed or accepted by Obama or other top officials. I think that government appointees and their offices probably produce a lot of stupid, ill-conceived papers in the course of their work, and that a lot of those papers end up in the trash bin.

    That said, the paper itself (which can be downloaded here: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1084585) appears to be quite poorly constructed. The lack of adherence to even basic principles of academic/prfessional inquiry is maybe surprising, but at the very least troubling.

    As premises, the authors (Sunstein and Vermeule) state:

    1. “a conspiracy theory can generally be counted as such if it is an effort to explain some event or practice by reference to the machinations of powerful people, who have also managed to conceal their role”; and

    2. “Our focus throughout is on false conspiracy theories, not true ones. Our ultimate goal is to explore how public officials might undermine such theories, and as a general rule, true accounts should not be undermined.”

    The logical errors contained within just these two statements are enough to send the paper directly to the recycle bin.

    • J DeVoy says:

      2. “Our focus throughout is on false conspiracy theories, not true ones. Our ultimate goal is to explore how public officials might undermine such theories, and as a general rule, true accounts should not be undermined.”

      Kind of like MK Ultra and other government activities that poisoned U.S. citizens? The CIA extensively experimented with LSD, dropping it into others’ coffee and wanted to see if it could lead to the mind control of another person. http://www.cracked.com/blog/five-fun-facts-about-the-cia-and-lsd Other tests on military personnel indicate experimentation on citizens by the government. http://motherjones.com/politics/2009/05/uncle-sams-human-lab-rats So, while some conspiracies are false, the government’s own past acts engender suspicion. But that’s also distinct from David Icke territory, which holds that the world is managed by a super-structure of intermarried families that are reptiles with the purest reptilian bloodlines, as we are all descended from extraterrestrial lizard-like beings. (Icke does deserve some credit, though, for being thorough in compiling anthropological records relating to his theory.) I don’t consider that a mainstream conspiracy theory, the likes of which motivate people like Joseph Stack.

      • jesschristensen says:

        Yup. The paper does address the MK Ultra conspiracy, noting that its true. The paper also makes the (I think, correct) point that there is a dilemma in conspiracy theories that presume that all consequences (of whatever the incident is) are intended consequences. That is, in fact, a cognitive error that some conspiracy theorists make.

        Nonetheless, the broad statement that a line of thinking is a “conspiracy theory” if it questions whether or not those in power have taken harmful and deceptive actions, and have sought to conceal those actions from the public, is not only internally logically flawed, but also quite hostile to both the first amendment and basic principles of democracy.

  3. blueollie says:

    :) “I don’t know if I’m willing to attribute Sunstein’s proposal to the Obama administration, in the sense of assuming that the paper is either endorsed or accepted by Obama or other top officials.”

    Agreed. But Mr. Randazza: they way you are going, I doubt that you’ll be able to vote for ANYONE in 2012! Really, given our two party system, sometimes the choice really is between waterboarded or being broken on the wheel. ;)

    • I am certain that I will neither vote Republican or Democrat in 2012. And… I am equally certain that I would likely not want the actual Libertarian or Socialist nominee to be president. For example, I wouldn’t have actually wanted Bob Barr to win in 2008, but I do wish that I had voted for him.

  4. as says:

    how terrifying!!! Thanks for posting! and i guess the free speech advocates are wherever all the guantanomo patriot act hating lefties were when Obama announced we would now hold people indefinitely without trial. sigh. it’s a pity that even civil liberties concerns are seen through a democrat vs republican lens now.

  5. Mark Kernes says:

    It’s not correct that Bush had his underlings infiltrate anti-war groups “merely to gather information about the people in those groups.” There were agents provocateur a-plenty, though not all succeeded in actually provoking illegal acts on the part of the groups.

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