You know how some people think the world is ruled by blood-drinking reptilian shapeshifters from outer space?

a bunch of pictures vaguely suggesting that politicians and pop stars have vertical slit pupils

Maybe not. Maybe your life is so fortunate. Maybe you never find yourself, in what was once a perfectly normal conversation about how cute and stupid babies are, or which basketball player is the tallest, or the inane archaic rituals of a desperately backward post-colonial island nation, maybe you never find yourself having to defend the monolithic global power apparatus by saying “no, our human society is only ruled by a fraternity of snotty pink cowards, not by a secret alien vampire civilization that lives underground! We’re not barbarians!”

Somehow, I meet people like this all the time . Often it’s the same people that used to be really into zombie apocalypse prep. It’s that half-ironic belief in an outlandish metaphor that allows them to talk about the real, brutal pain of life in late capitalism.

Sometimes they actually mean “Jews rule the planet,” and the lizard people thing is just another low point on the downward spiral of their reasoning. Almost always, it comes from the deep need to feel that someone, somewhere, even someone evil, is in control.

This is the pattern behind all conspiracy theories: the world is not chaos and strangeness, there is a logic to it, and you can know what it is, because you’re special .

This is a trap, and it’s an occupational hazard for the cognitive security practitioner. Our basic premise, dark wizards are fucking with your mind , is a staple of INFOWARS.cop and all the other mouth-breathing NWO freaks. The reptilian alien vampire thing is just a new coat of paint on the same old fascist bikeshed. How do we distinguish our battle, against real technologies of control and surveillance, from the paranoia of these reactionary fuckwits?

The difference between conspiracy theory and cognitive security is that of faith vs belief .

Faith is when you take an idea about the world and use it to measure and judge all new information. It’s a form of terminal knowledge. Faith – from latin fides, “trust” – is about fidelity. Replicate the meme, at all costs. Faith focuses all of your cognitive biases toward continued faith . Any episode of cognitive dissonance is an opportunity for you to warp the incoming data until it fits the model, then congratulate yourself on seeing through the Illusion to the Real Truth of the Faith.

Cue, action, reward. Contradictory fact, rationalization, false epiphany. It’s a faith habit.

Belief , as I’m using it here, is an expectation that influences your behavior. A given belief exists in a relationship to other beliefs. It’s a weighted probability, a bet, a gamble. The probabilities of different beliefs are interrelated: I believe, very strongly, that the sun will come up tomorrow. I also believe that the tomatoes on the windowsill will fruit better if the sun comes up tomorrow. So I expect that the tomatoes will fruit well. When a wind in the night knocks the tomato pot right off the balcony, I don’t expect that the sun will never rise again. But if eight AM passes, and nine AM passes, and ten, and it’s still dark outside my window, my ideas about the tomatoes (and a lot of other things) will be up in the air.

Contradictory fact, reweighting expectations, new belief. If new and contradictory and well-supported facts don’t change your beliefs, then you don’t have a belief habit. You have a faith habit.

Cognitive security is all about pragmatic beliefs. We can change our own habits, we can change our own expectations, we can change our own worldviews. It’s very hard, if not impossible, to see the world As It Is. We mostly experience reality through our worldviews. If you change the view, you change the world. At least, the world as you experience it.

And what else is there, really?

For instance, I still don’t believe that the Royal Family of Britain is a secret gang of shape-shifting blood-sucking aliens. But what if it’s a useful metaphor?

There was something super creepy about the media barrage for the wedding this weekend. The only reason I got sucked into watching the thing – oh yes, I did watch the thing – was a nasty little dark pattern on video-sharing site “Youtub”.

You know the little Youtub button, in the top left corner of their page? It’s the customary spot to put a logo button that leads back to the homepage. This is what the button has always done in the past, and what it does today. But, for the day leading up to the Youtub Live event The Royal WeddingTM , this button would subtly shapeshift into a button that lead to a Royal Wedding portal, thus trapping the user (me) in a endless loop where the door marked EXIT only leads back into this hellish room full of bored people in ludicrous hats.

I wish I’d got screenshots of this, because naturally it’s vanished, and for some reason searching “YOU TUB ROYAL WEDDING NASTY BUTTON” isn’t pulling it up.

It was a classic bait-and-switch . Despite its glossy, impersonal software aesthetic, it was the same as every other sleazy sales trick. At the moment when I was open to options, looking for a broad-spectrum view of my viewing options, they presented me with 16 different angles on the same religious-feudalist bullshit. It was choice theft.

To be fair, my usual Youtub homepage is just Contrapoints lectures and “24/7 lofi chill hop relax music to study gaming or sleep” mixtapes. It gives me no other options. It knows me so well.

The prediction algorithm is already based on these dark patterns. When I go to a friend’s house, on their account, and search for a video I like, it shuffles in more videos that it knows I watch, so that we’ll watch it longer. “Skip ad in 4” is like Pavlov’s bell for people. They salivate, their pupils dilate, their fingers twitch and hover over the button. Autoplay is a fucking crime.

Not to mention the radicalization effect , and the procedurally generated videos for babies