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Editorial, Arena no. 4: Post-Trump Fantasies

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 16/11/2020 - 11:12am in

Joe Biden has won, but the battle for America is just beginning. In at least three areas Biden will be up against impossible odds to deliver the America he hopes to. Appeals to decency, to rational policy, to law and common sense, and to a unified American nation will meet deep-set resistance, and not just because Trumpian politics will remain, which it surely will. Deep-going social and cultural divisions, American development assumptions, and moves globally on a Democrat-defined world stage will make it difficult for Biden to deliver ‘peace’.  

Just about everyone on the broad Left would be happy that Biden has won. Trump the man, Trump the performer, Trump who would incite racism and dally with neo-fascists was alarming for anyone who has a grasp of the political inclinations of this type—narcissistic, and thus unbounded in putting himself first, thin-skinned, vindictive, open to the blandishments of others, deluded, personally powerful. The carnivalesque Trump of spectacular performance similarly did not carry with a broad grouping—a ‘moral middle class’ perhaps; ‘liberals’, or the educated, who can ‘read’ a media performance. They have been aghast at the ‘tricks’ and sleights of hand, the pawing of the audience (‘I love you, Philadelphia’, ‘Oh, the women…’)—the joker Trump, who pretended to upend the social hierarchies and challenge the ‘know-it-alls’ but was the speaker of a debased ‘truth’. 

The hope for so many who read it this way, especially mainstream Democrats and anti-Trump Republicans, is that the Biden win will return politics to ‘normal’—that politics can again be ‘rational’, that the ‘centre’ can be retrieved. In this hopeful view, the institutions of state and government (‘American democracy’) remain to be reactivated as a space of debate and exchange across different but defined groupings and their representatives. Trump caused the descent into polarisation, Biden will govern for all; Trump fanned the irrational; Biden cares, and will reinstate policy and competence (especially around COVID).  

Of course the trouble here is that over 70 million people voted for Trump, and the vote again fell more or less fifty-fifty between contending forces—that odd norm of modern electoral voting. Biden might come to allay fears of racial and ‘left-wing’ street violence among some of these voters and thus win them over, but unless you want to confine this very large number of people to the category of ‘deplorables’; to see them as inherently racist, proto-fascist and irrationally prey to conspiracy theories; and as having no grasp at all of the policies of the Trump camp, there is little basis for hoping this division will end. From this point of view, far from Trump being the cause of polarisation he is better understood as a symptom, and of something deeper than a political division.  

*                     *                     * 

At the time of writing the threat of violence has been just that. There are guns on the street, but they haven’t been fired; Trump supporters are distraught at their election having been ‘stolen’ from them, but they seem focused on Trump’s various legal challenges. It remains to be seen how or if they will fall into line as the Biden win moves to the next stage of confirmation and convocation. And it certainly remains to be seen how they will take to Biden’s first policy interventions around COVID-19, surely a flashpoint for violence on the resonant theme of liberty.  

In the immediate lead-up to the election some commentators were likening the situation to civil war. While an exaggeration presently, this carries the implication of continuing lines of dispute and contest right from the heart of the American Civil War period—clear enough in the passions ignited around Black Lives Matter today. More generally, though, it speaks to a crisis in economy and society that has undermined the conditions of social life and altered the terms of self-understanding for various groups and classes. Once crucial to American developmental prosperity, on the inside of a whole historical trajectory of modern capitalism, the old white working class are now in large part cast out, suffering economically, as well as in terms of the dream they were promised and the identities they cling to. While the economic precarity and marginal status of black America have been constants in American history, globalisation has meant the restructuring of domestic economies, and its neoliberal administration has offered no love to those now on the losing side of history. The opening of China to Western investment, the export of American jobs, and the techno-scientific revolution that give contemporary capitalism its distinctive form are shaping an 80/20 society, where major sections of humanity are ‘surplus to requirements’. Trump’s policies, however dressed in appalling rhetoric and self-serving in terms of his own corporate benefit, pinpointed exactly this chasm, and voters responded, with Trump increasing his vote among Black and Latino Americans and even the LGBT community. The emergent divisions must remain a fundamental tension for any return to a Biden ‘normal’. On what basis do people engage in legitimate political contest if the assumption of a shared nation no longer holds? On what basis does the polity hold together if some of the people supposed to be represented through its institutions are effectively outside ‘legitimate’ consideration? While Trump’s extreme inclinations may have pushed towards collapse of the political compact, it is really the social compact that is in question. This is a layer of contradiction that the Democrats, on their record as unquestioning globalisers and neoliberals, remain unlikely to address in any significant way. 

‘Liberty’, as one of the touchstones of the Trump campaign, will likely prove an especially inflammatory challenge to Democrat ‘reasonableness’. ‘Making America great again’, catchcry for a nation-focused program of boosting manufacturing and restoring pride to white working-class identity, was a drawing in. The Trump challenge generally, taken to be against globalisation (certainly not capitalism), was nationalistic, on the international-relations front described as isolationist. But this inwards move was at the same time elevated by a call to something higher, that paradoxical mix of American cultural particularity and the exceptionalism of its place in history. Born of the American Revolution, ‘liberty’ is a transcendent, projecting the soul and inner project of an essential America. If you can’t have jobs and can only afford crappy products at the local mart, at least you can be ‘set free’ as that individual carrier of the ‘rights of man’. ‘Liberty’ is barely present in the Australian lexicon, but it is a powerful reminder to Americans of their actually unique place in world history: the ascension of the New World to the centre of world history and its radical break from what went before, both the hierarchies of the old world and Indigenous claims to the land. In the fully libertarian frame, Americans are free individuals with rights bestowed on their persons, and in their defence, in priority over other communal identities, histories or bonds that might curtail such rights. From one angle the dignity afforded marginalised groups in the notion of liberty might be compensation for a benighted reality, but it is also a potent basis for identity, and acute and dangerous in politics. 

*                          *                          * 

The once pole stars of Left and Right have for decades been under pressure attempting to contain the range of concerns that are now in political contestation across contemporary polities. Those categories can no longer simply ‘slot’ over foundational class groupings that were an earlier, material undergirding of democratic representation. In the context of globalisation, neoliberal governance and high-tech development, the American white working class emerges into a reconstituted cultural setting in which a febrile identity politics plays a central role. At the same time as this reshaping of identities and the emergence of new lines of marginalisation has taken place, climate change has moved to centre stage, existentially, as a threat to humanity in general; politically, as a challenge in all its aspects to received political systems and their modern economic and cultural underpinnings.  

Biden’s climate-policy intentions are presently exciting hopeful commentary. Indeed, let’s hope a new climate regime will fall into place, and that Green jobs in particular will flow, but there is little evidence of Democrat inclination to reconceptualise growth, either domestically or globally, or forms of community that might re-establish more modest ways of living. While an America oriented to international climate agreements will make an important contribution, ‘Me? A socialist?’ Biden is not very likely to understand or seek to basically reform the hyper-destructive forces of contemporary capitalism. It would be to bring into question a whole system of taken-for-granted structures and practices, given all that climate change implies about the West’s deep-set view of nature, consumption lifestyles, and high-tech capitalism. The restructuring of work and consequent forms of precarity and redundancy, effected by that same clutch of forces, takes us beyond all the comfortable precepts and expectations of modern economic and social development: that ongoing growth is possible, that growth means jobs, and that this combination will satisfy our wants and needs. Democrat policy making and attempted technocratic fixes of the past forty or so years of neoliberal global capitalism have proven completely inadequate to fixing these ‘issues’; indeed they are implicated as causes. 

The expectation too that with stable government America will return us to saner global leadership internationally, including more open lines of communication than Trump on economic globalisation, can’t go unchallenged. On the one hand, globalisation will again be elevated to a value commitment—not just an economic policy—to ‘openness’ and cosmopolitanism. Despite its contribution to climate change and environmental destruction and to new and inhuman marginalisations in the poorest and the wealthiest nations in the world, unbounded globalisation, and America’s political guidance of such in again chummy world forums, will likely be the counter catchcry to Trumpians’ supposedly closed world view. And, while we might hope for the reignition of the very sane Iran deal, we can observe that the Democrats have gone to war with alacrity over recent decades, when Trump did not, tuned in, as he seemed to be, to a domestic population weary of war and loss.  

In what is a polarised culture and society, not just a polarised politics, what can we hope for? Is a politics that joins people rather than separates them—materially, not simply through empathy or myth—possible? Where are the fault lines that might illuminate the causes of the general shift that is today creating fear and unrest, fuelling anxieties and bellicosity over contending identities? This is a small and perhaps contentious example, but shouldn’t we be trying to bring divergent forces together? While from the Left one might hope for and talk of the exhaustion of neoliberalism, with the radical Right its constituency can be appealed to with cries to ‘drain the swamp’. They are hardly coterminous, but they can be made to dovetail as more or less cogent critiques of governmental and political objectives and style. Beyond this they may both be made to point to those deeper turns in economic life and society within a more-than-ever predatory capitalism that swallows community and ungrounds ways of life. 

12 November 2020 

Begin Owning Your Online Content

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 11/11/2020 - 12:22am in



One of the challenges of social networks is that these platforms are meant to serve as the pipes that connect us with others digitally. Since many of us do not have one digital hub that we use as our online home, we use profiles on these networks (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIN, Mastodon) to assemble bits and pieces of content that ultimately add up to some pictures of us.

We never have a complete picture of our digital identity, including what we’ve learned, what we currently think, and what we want to learn. Instead, we have a constant staging of our identity in which our audiences consume and judge us based on our last message. There is no desire to scroll back and look at the last 5 to 10 pieces of content from an individual to see if what they’re saying is credible, sincere, or relevant.

Most important, when we spend time writing that perfect post that will capture everyone’s attention, it is quickly lost in the fire-hose of information online. The algorithms that negotiate that content will determine who sees your content, and for how long. Your content now is far more valuable to the social network as a data point on you that they can sell to others to finetune advertising.

If you want to begin owning your content online, you need to start thinking differently about content, audience, and identity.

Content, Audience, & Identity

Start thinking about pieces of content, your audience, and what this all says about your identity as you participate online.

Sebastian Greger

You can control the type, format, amount, or regularity of content you create and share. The algorithms and social platforms generally dictate your audience…unless you do something about this.

If you reverse the model, you begin with your identity. You may have one identity you want to broadcast across different social networks. You may want different identities for different spaces.

If you want a different audience you need to change the signals you’re sending to social platforms and users. Share different types of content. If you want to attract or join a different audience, you need to switch up your identity and content.

Lastly, your content will help determine what is valued by your audience, while also building your identity. Is your content valuable and insightful, or is it just noise? Is your content conversational and inviting to others? How will your audience perceive your message…and is this your intent?

Publishing & Syndication

So now you put a lot of time, resources, and energy into creating great content. You should want to get the most out of that effort. You’ve identified the type of identity you want to create. You’ve sketched out the audience you’d like to attract.

To maximize your effort, you could publish your content on your website. You then syndicate this work to social networks, or other websites, attribute it to you, and link back to your website.

The IndieWeb community has been thinking about these intersections for some time. They’ve even developed some terms to make sense of these approaches: POSSE (Publish Own Site, Syndicate Elsewhere) and PESOS (Publish Elsewhere, Syndicate into Own Site).

Owning Your Content

As I create and share online, I think about what difference it makes what platform I use, where I share things, and whether or not “sharing” really makes a difference. I routinely switch up my signals to see what this does to my content, identity, and audience.

As you create and/or curate a digital identity, take the time to think about content, audience, and identity as you participate online. Make logical decisions about publication and syndication to ultimately take the next steps to write yourself into existence.

This post is Day 45 of my #100DaysToOffload challenge. Want to get involved? Find out more at

Photo by Barthelemy de Mazenod on Unsplash

The post Begin Owning Your Online Content first appeared on W. Ian O'Byrne.

Transnational Francoism

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 23/10/2020 - 6:14pm in

Bàrbara Molas discusses Transnational Francoism: The British and The Canadian Friends of National Spain as part of the TORCH Network Conversations in Identity, Ethnicity and Nationhood. Bàrbara Molas is a PHD Candidate in History at York University

Protect Your Center

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 17/10/2020 - 1:55am in



I want to stay as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you see all kinds of things you can’t see from the center.

Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

In identifying new opportunities, there is often a chance that we’ll let this derail us and lead us astray from our true goals.

We also need to consider our center when we think about new challenges, opportunities, or problems that we encounter.

This is sometimes identified as having an internal vs external locus of control.

Be careful as you identify and test out new opportunities to connect, research, and build. Many times we’re super quick to say yes, yes, yes. Everything looks new, beautiful, and stellar. It’s not until you jump in do you realize the time suck or pit that it truly may become.

Over the last year(s) I’ve spent a lot of time working on a couple of initiatives that I thought would pan out and offer more opportunities. I have benefited from these experiences in the people and insight that I’ve gained. I did not explicitly gain in the ways in which I thought I would. It makes me wonder if I still should say yes, and jump in…but be a bit more cautious and protective of my time…or should I adopt the “Hell yes, or no” mentality.

I need to protect and maintain my center…but still remain willing and open to new opportunities.

Photo by Hulki Okan Tabak on Unsplash

This post is Day 29 of my #100DaysToOffload challenge. Want to get involved? Find out more at

The post Protect Your Center first appeared on W. Ian O'Byrne.

Be the Documentarian of Your Life

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 16/10/2020 - 12:46am in



The chief trick to making good mistakes is not to hide them — especially not from yourself.

Daniel Dennett

In Dennett’s book, Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking, he suggests that we need to build up our cognitive toolkit to help solve wicked problems. He expands on this in this interview in Brain Pickings.

The basic gist is that mistakes are good things, and that we can’t try and hide them from ourselves.

To do this, we need to (as suggested by Dennett) become the documentarian of our lives. We need to serve as the factual record of our lives, and use digital tools to archive our processes and products. Lastly, these resources are rocketfuel, and can lead to new inspiration. They can help us in novel situations, and perhaps can help others as well.

Document Your Thinking

Part of this toolkit involves you becoming the documentarian of my your life. I actively document my learning online. I not only document my successes, but my failures. Most of my blog posts and writings are an active process in which I’m trying to make sense of the world and my work.

This is evident in my series of posts about digital badges. It’s also evident in my posts on web literacy and other work. I’m trying to bring this to my work and thinking with my work in a variety of areas. A basic mantra of “let’s think openly online.”

I’d extend Dennett’s thinking by suggesting that in a networked culture, we should identify times to openly document our thinking online, and share all…especially our mistakes with others.

Mistakes are Golden

If you are not making mistakes, you’re not taking enough risks.

Debbie Millman

As you document your thinking, you’ll get some things right…you’ll get some things wrong. If we’re building and breaking things on the bleeding edge, we will not if we got it right until much, much later.

In fact, some of the times I’ve been labeled as wrong, months or years later I’ve been shown to be correct…or at least somewhat correct. This provides little to no salve for my ego, but it helps me check my notes over time.

The documentation of our process and product is great for innovation. It helps in metacognition. It helps as we reframe failure in our lives. This is great for tracking and understanding your thinking.

This is one of the main reasons why I regularly blog, publicly…online. I want to save some space for those opportunities for inspiration.

This is Rocketfuel

Writing each day and documenting your life is a powerful tool for making sense of the world.

This process is helpful for me because the process of writing each morning gets my brain pumping and keeps me focused on tasks at hand. We spend too much time pumping out witty social media status updates that hopefully will go viral. After the day has passed, we never look back at this trail of breadcrumbs to see if we actually learned anything. Are we making our lives better?

Having a space, or a suite of tools to document your life and decisions made allows you to come to some sort of clarity about goals/work/life. It also helps my brain churn and think about new problems or challenges that may arise.

There are some things that I’ll get correct. Many things that I’ll get wrong. There is also a tone in my messages that (hopefully) suggests that we’re figuring this out together. They provide fertile ground for new ideas, and new innovations.

These trials and tribulations, a documentation of your hits and misses along with the thinking behind it might be of use to someone else. This is great for your identity and verification of claims made.

You have the opportunity to take notes about how human you really are.

Photo by Inja Pavlić on Unsplash

This post is Day 28 of my #100DaysToOffload challenge. Want to get involved? Find out more at

The post Be the Documentarian of Your Life first appeared on W. Ian O'Byrne.

Writing For Yourself

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 13/10/2020 - 10:19pm in



To gain your own voice, you have to forget about having it heard. – Allen Ginsberg

In many of my blog posts, I’m taking time and space to give my brain an opportunity to think through things. In the process of writing, in the process of getting ideas and putting them down on paper, I take time to open my my head, and dump the thoughts out on paper…actually here into pixel.

Most of the ideas I share are half-baked…or less than that. Some of the ideas will go on to become other things, but some live and die here on the screen.

I say that they are half-baked, but that is only half true. There is something about a line, idea, or thought that I’m trying to crystallize and get out into a full fledged idea. It is a lot less organized than the full peer-reviewed publications that I also complete. In many cases, these thoughts of my own are viewed more often than those publications that are more valuable.

Someone may come across these at some point and try to make sense of them. Someone might see this and try to look for breadcrumbs to lead us out of the tunnel. This process is my own attempt and finding the breadcrumbs, scattering them, and trying to figure out if this is a map to something better.

In writing, publishing, and sharing online, there is often the question about the WHY of blogging. The audience of blogging. The purpose of blogging.

As I work with colleagues and students, I wonder if part of blogging is writing for yourself. I do it to document my thinking and ideas. I do it to make sense of the world, and archive that experience.

I do review these posts, and string them together. Sometimes they lead on to something bigger, different. But not every time. Sometimes they’re ideas that need their moment so they can get out of my head, and I can move on to something new.

Yes, it is in the public. But, I do it for my own benefit.

Photo by Shawn Appel on Unsplash

This post is Day 26 of my #100DaysToOffload challenge. Want to get involved? Find out more at

The post Writing For Yourself first appeared on W. Ian O'Byrne.

Building Up Your Digital Identity

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 08/10/2020 - 10:47pm in



In starting up, or building your digital identity from basic scraps, or nothingness, the first step is to begin thinking about the role or representation you’d like to have online.

Write out six words to represent you…and the identity that you’d like to have online. These six words could be individual sentences, a phrase, etc. It’s totally open-ended.

Write out the six words and identify the what, why, and how you’d like to represent yourself. These six words may change over time as we develop and build up your online identity…and that is okay.

After identifying the profile of your digital identity, start to build up a hub for all of your content. This hub will be a website with blogging features. The thinking will be that this will be your one spot, or one URL online that people can use to see your work grow and evolve over time.

This spot, your digital identity, and the aesthetics of this will evolve over time, and that is perfectly fine. As you build up the website, or add a social network, or start blogging, you’ll explore and identify new features or opportunities you’d like to add to your overall identity.

The idea of evolution and maturation of your digital identity is also a key element as you need to consider that you’ve already built up a lot of content online and offline. You have content that exists in files on computers that have never been shared. You also have pictures, audio, conversations, interpersonal connections that exist offline.

You need to consider ways to go backwards and cherry-pick the “good stuff” from the past and add it to your identity. You also need to identify ways to create and archive digital copies of your current and future work so that it can join your evolving digital presence.

The end goal is to have one hub (that you control) that serves as the best representation of who you are, or who you would like to be. This is not what others write or say about you. This is not the picture that algorithms and social feeds paint of you. This is the you that is written into existence.

The benefit is that you can go back through your feed to archive, revisit, and rebuild lessons learned from your past. This is also important as people can get to know you when you first meet.

When you meet someone new, they meet you in the middle of the story. As humans in a networked society, we quickly go back and Google them to learn more about them before or after we meet. With one hub that you actively build over time, you can send them a string of posts that indicate what you’ve learned, built, and broken. You also give them the opportunity to view the identities that you want to present.

Create the “you” that you want them to meet.

Cover Image CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 by Stefano Corso

This post is Day 23 of my #100DaysToOffload challenge. Want to get involved? Find out more at

The post Building Up Your Digital Identity first appeared on W. Ian O'Byrne.

Sitting Between Life and Death

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 07/10/2020 - 1:39am in

The boundaries which divide Life from Death are at best shadowy and vague. Who shall say when one ends, and where the other begins?

Edgar Allan Poe

As our world become increasingly digitized, and social networks link friends across the spaces and lines of our lives, an interesting phenomenon occurs as people die.

My Mother passed way too early at the age of 30. This event set forth a chain of events in my own life in which I’m cognizant of my own mortality, and to some extent (try to) live for the day. Most times this is a struggle and I don’t actually live each day to the fullest because there is also a fear that at any point life will/could fall apart. These two elements keep me in a constant state of neurosis…but I digress.

This has also brought about this need that I have to be remembered. As an angry adolescent, I wanted to be remembered after I die. Not just by friends and family, but I also wanted others to know me, or my work, or my name. Because my Mother may have been a blip on the radar, I wanted to be remembered.

I don’t think it’s a case of vanity, although I’m sure there is a subtle dose of that. I think there is also some desire to write myself into being, but also make up for time lost by my Mother.

I think you can learn a lot about life by knowing that you will die.

Because of the time period in which she died, there is relatively little documenting her life. A handful of scattered, yellowed photos. A half dozen lost home videos that can only be viewed on machines that don’t exist.

Looking and listening for a story unremembered is like the daily ritual of an archeologist.

What do you live for? How do you want to be remembered after you have passed?

What…if anything will your digital breadcrumbs say about you when you’ve stopped logging in?

Photo by Luke Southern on Unsplash

This post is Day 21 of my #100DaysToOffload challenge. Want to get involved? Find out more at

The post Sitting Between Life and Death first appeared on W. Ian O'Byrne.

The Extended Emotional Body

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 21/08/2020 - 5:26am in



The simplest way to think of identity and identification is that it creates an enlarged emotional body.

If someone I identify with is hurt, I hurt. This suffering shows up on brain scans, it’s not theoretical.

If, on the other hand, I completely don’t identify with someone else, their pain doesn’t both me. This is why, for example, most slave societies say that slaves are sub-human. Plato believed most slaves were meant to be slaves, and that slavery was only wrong if someone was not naturally a slave. Race theory and so on.

The Romans were refreshingly honest about this, “You’re a slave because you, or the people from whom you are descended lost a war.” They also made it very possible to stop being a slave, perhaps because they didn’t think of slaves so much as “other.” It wasn’t an intrinsic category, you just had bad luck.

This extended emotional body goes beyond people. You can identify with animals and feel pain when they are hurt (Nietzche went insane when a man whipped a horse savagely). You can identify with plants, or with objects and ideas.

People piss on Korans and Bibles and burn flags precisely for this reason: It hurts people they want to hurt. People tell you your ideals are wrong to hurt you or to protect their ideals from harm so they won’t be hurt. Be really aggressive to a believer about how “God isn’t real.” It hurts. Tell an American patriot his country is evil. Etc.

Conversely, if another person we care about does well, we’re happy. If the country we identify with wins a war we may feel good. Or, if we think the war is wrong, we may feel bad. The extended emotional body created by identification gives us vast possibilities for increased happiness. Check in on a sports fan when “their team” wins the championship.

Identification with people and objects and ideas we really have nothing in common with is a large part of how we scaled our societies to grow beyond the number of people we could personally know well. We’re all Americans or Germans; or we’re all descended from the same ancestor; or we all believe in Zeus, and thus won’t attack another worshipper of the greatest of all Gods, let alone the wanderers who are under his sacred guard.

Identity, however, leads to a wide variety of pathologies. We don’t actually know these people, they don’t actually know us, and as for the ideas, well, they may be bad for us, but because we identify with them, we can’t see that clearly.

Identity makes it hard to find truth, because when we discover that something we identify with isn’t what we thought it was, maybe it’s not good or even perhaps, that it doesn’t even exist, it hurts. Humans avoid pain.

Identity also allows us to be manipulated. Odds are, your interests have essentially nothing in common with those of the people who run the Democratic or Republican parties, or the CEO of the company you work for, or the leader of your religion. But many many people identify with these organizations or people and acquiesce to their authority, even when that authority is terribly harmful to them.

Identity is a prosthesis. It lets us do things we can’t do without it. But beyond identifying with people we personally know and like, it isn’t natural, and it is very easily abused.

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Why Are Conspiracy Theories So Appealing?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 13/07/2020 - 10:05pm in

While some people believe conspiracy theories to belong to a group, others do so to assert their uniqueness.