Updated: Aug 2
Trump, Truth, and the Post-Pandemic Quantum Age: Navigating Fuzzy Reality Amid Conspiracy Theories and Disinformation
By Professor “Pro” Lyrical (Dr. Peter Michael Plourde) Lyrial@professorlyrical.com
Abstract: This article explores the impact of conspiracy theories amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, 5G, quantum computing, AI, and the war on truth, offering a unique Hip Hop perspective. The proliferation of conspiracy theories, including the rise of flat-earth beliefs, poses challenges as disinformation (and misinformation) spreads through better 5G technology, with grifters capitalizing on sensational and factually incorrect videos that satisfy society's thirst for blame and accountability for events often out of control and without suitable explanations. Drawing inspiration from George Orwell's iconic novels "1984" and "Animal Farm," I now shed light on the chilling parallels between his dystopian society and our contemporary landscape. This article also delves even deeper into the persistent challenges of disinformation and the Orwellian-like erosion of truth exemplified by the violent attack occurred on the U.S. Capitol by individuals seeking to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election and the influence of Trump and his consequential indictments.
The Rise of "Alternative Facts"—Are We Well Again or Are We Orwellian?
The phrase "alternative facts," famously used by former U.S. Counselor to the President (Trump), Kellyanne Conway, during a Meet the Press interview in January 2017, further echoes Orwell's notion of "doublethink" (Seaton, Crook, & Taylor, 2017). The defense of former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer's false statement about the grandly overestimated attendance numbers of Donald Trump's inauguration (despite obvious evidence to the contrary) exemplifies the erosion of truth and the deliberate promotion of contradictory information as equally valid, mirroring the controlled state of mind prevalent in Orwell’s "1984" (Seaton, Crook, & Taylor, 2017).
During Trump's presidency, a concerning narrative emerged, depicting the media as enemies of the people—painting the media as liars despite his documented mountain of “mistruths” uttered throughout his time in office. His administration's attempts to silence critical voices created an information vacuum, fueling distrust in mainstream media. This atmosphere allowed for the perpetuation of disinformation and the rewriting of history, even in the aftermath of the insurrection. Despite recent arraignments and accountability measures, some individuals still view Trump as a viable candidate, underscoring the lasting impact of misinformation on public opinion.
Yet even Trump is not immune to the pressure of his base and the power of various mistruths along the way. When former President Trump had first revealed that he received a COVID-19 booster the disclosure drew hefty boo-birds from his audience during "The History Tour" interview show in Dallas (Colvin, 2021). Despite taking credit for vaccine development, Trump displayed caution about promoting vaccinations to his base, which includes conspiracy-laden anti-vax sentiments from a multitude of supporters (Colvin, 2021). His decision to receive the booster shot privately reflected the vaccine's continuing unpopularity among his supporters, leading him to continue playing to their sentiments while tacitly acknowledging the vaccines' historic significance in saving lives worldwide.
The Capitol Attack and the War on Truth
The attack on the Capitol on January 6, 2021, stands as a stark example of the dangers of the erosion of truth and the propagation of conspiracy-driven narratives which have now been thoroughly debunked centered around perceived voter fraud emanating from paranoia and lies. The Capitol rioters, many of whom were driven by false beliefs and misinformation, posed a significant threat to democracy and societal stability, vividly calling to mind the perils depicted in “1984” as well as in the movie "Don't Look Up," where a massive asteroid approaches Earth, and only a small amount of scientific minds raise concerns about the impending catastrophe—hello flat earthers (don't front and act like you'd look up either)!
Popular consensus is that Trump is less popular than ever; however, his base rarely loses too much steam, despite whatever debacles he is facing (Seaton & Taylor, 2023). Trump, of course, is facing multiple criminal cases that have drawn significant attention from the public and media. In March 2023, he was charged with thirty-four felony counts related to hush money payments to Stormy Daniels and later indicted on thirty-seven felony counts for mishandling classified documents and impeding investigators (Politico, 2023).
The legal scrutiny doesn't stop there. In a shocking development, a grand jury in Washington returned a four-count indictment against former President Trump on charges of trying to overturn the 2020 presidential election and subvert lawful votes (Doyle, 2023). The formal accusation from special counsel Jack Smith is the result of months of investigating Trump, hearing testimony from allies, aides, and officials, all the way up the presidential succession order to former Vice President Mike Pence (Doyle, 2023).
The indictment outlines three conspiracies that targeted the core government function of holding a free and fair election. First, Trump is accused of a conspiracy to defraud the United States, with prosecutors describing his use of "dishonesty, fraud, and deceit" to obstruct the electoral process (Doyle, 2023). Second, the formal accusation asserts an actual conspiracy to obstruct the election's official proceedings, specifically the counting of Electoral College votes on January 6 (Doyle, 2023). And finally, it cites a conspiracy against voting rights, alleging that Trump and his co-conspirators willfully sought to disenfranchise voters (Doyle, 2023). Notice how actual conspiracies usually involve a small number of people not hundreds, thousands, or millions that would have to be involved if secret elites were keeping the truth hidden that the Earth is flat.
The indictment also highlights the involvement of six unnamed and unindicted co-conspirators who aided Trump in his attempts to overturn the election and cling to power, some of whom have been identified, including Rudy Giuliani and attorney John Eastman (Doyle, 2023). President Trump not only failed to "drain the swamp" as promised but, in fact, flooded it out like a platinum and ice medallion with numerous controversies, conflicts of interest, and ethical lapses. His administration saw the appointment of former lobbyists and industry insiders to key positions, raising concerns about corporate influence on policymaking. Unprecedented use of presidential pardons and disregard for ethical norms further deepened the perception of favoritism and cronyism, exacerbating the swamp-like atmosphere.
In navigating the challenges of disinformation and misinformation, the pursuit of truth and accountability ("Facts" and "No Cap") is vital for all administrations. President Biden, along with Vice President Kamala Harris, faces the responsibility of addressing historical context and public perception, drawing from their experiences in the Obama administration. By fostering a culture of transparency and media integrity, they can effectively combat falsehoods and promote #facts in reporting, building a society grounded in truth regardless of the leadership in office.
COVID-19 and 5G Conspiracy Theory—Misinformation is Missed Information
During the COVID-19 pandemic, 5G technology faced conspiracy theories linking it to the virus (Lyrical, 2020). Over time, many of these theories were debunked while 5G's benefits became evident, fostering connectivity across social media. However, a troubling surge in misinformation persisted, amplified by radical individualistic celebs like Kanye and Kyrie pushing such narratives.
Critically evaluating arguments and promoting informed analysis are crucial in combating falsehoods. Encouraging diverse voices with expertise in STEM to actively engage in countering misinformation can balance the rhetoric and strengthen society. While avoiding blind reliance on appeals to authority, seeking out expert opinions when readily available can bolster informed decision-making. In an age of advancing technology and AI, involving scientifically knowledgeable individuals becomes vital to address public fears and uncertainties responsibly. Empowering experts, instead of baselessly dismissing them, equips society to navigate potential risks and ensure a more resilient and equitable future. Encouraging diverse voices from STEM backgrounds enriches innovation, ensuring advancements are developed with sensitivity to different perspectives and societal needs, leading to a more resilient and equitable future.
The Impact of Quantum Computing
The past decade-plus has witnessed an explosion in technological capability, leading to rapid reshaping of the digital landscape. Quantum computing is the next big technical phase shift, promising to transform the very underlying framework and technical architecture across which all groundbreaking advancements have played out. These superpowered computers, utilizing principles of quantum mechanics, can perform incredibly sophisticated operations by exploiting parallel processing capabilities. Quantum technology and quantum computing hold immense potential to revolutionize various fields, such as communication, drug development, and climate modeling, by tackling complex problems with unprecedented speed and efficiency, leading to positive impacts on society. As quantum advances, society will become forever changed.
Quantum computers are rapidly approaching commercial viability, offering the potential for groundbreaking advancements and transformative impacts on various industries. However, this incredible power also comes with significant risks. Alongside advancements in computing power and artificial intelligence, Ruha Benjamin (2019), a renowned scholar and author, cautions against the potential negative consequences of what she refers to as "The New Jim Code." As technology companies like Google and others continue to gather vast amounts of data from users, concerns about privacy and security are heightened (Lyrical, 2020). Companies line up to purchase aggregate data, raising questions about how this information could be used and potentially exploited. Benjamin (2019) highlights the urgent need to address racial biases and discrimination ingrained in these emerging technologies. If left unaddressed, these biases could perpetuate historical injustices and further exacerbate existing societal inequalities.
Moreover, the potential of quantum computing to crack existing encryption methods raises concerns about data theft and misuse in the wrong hands. This poses a significant challenge to maintaining privacy and truth in an increasingly interconnected world.
To navigate these challenges and embrace the positive potential of quantum computing and emerging technologies, it is essential for successive generations to actively engage in understanding the science behind these innovations. By fostering a deeper appreciation of quantum science and encouraging responsible technology use, we can collectively shape a future where technology is harnessed for the greater good and ensures a more equitable and just society.
Quantum Gains STEAM
As an Associate Professor of Mathematics at the University of the District of Columbia (UDC), I have played a significant role in designing the world's first AS degree program in Quantum Literacy at UDC-CC. This innovative program, spearheaded by our UDC-CC Dean Hamilton, was partially funded as grant sub-awardees from the NSF Convergence Accelerator in conjunction with Morgan State University and its National Quantum Literacy Network (NQLN). Additionally, I serve as a Subject Matter Expert with NSF funded Quantum STEAM (QuSTEAM), a network of college and university faculty collaborating with industry employers to offer quantum curriculum and professional development for instructors across all disciplines. My own tangential seat at the table is one that grants me access to important discussions allowing me to better interpret and evaluate fact from fiction. We are actively developing ways to ensure that one’s high school math level is not an insurmountable barrier from bringing others who are interested to the table as well.
My work with both our UDC-CC and QuSTEAM teams attempts to also be more culturally relevant by tapping into similar methods of incorporating aspects of the arts into our curriculum, even looking to “correct” factually incorrect quantum concepts as they appear throughout pop-culture while also comparing known science with more speculative ideas emerging across quantum sci-fi and the comic universe. Making science-correct comics, and welcoming science filled poetry, dance and other artforms in the classroom is a promising first step. Moreover, acknowledging the role of faculty and students connected to QuSTEAM and their contributions to quantum science with an arts and culturally relevant lens is crucial in increasing diverse participation in the future of quantum. Hopefully, others continue to follow in this same light.
Using Hip Hop Culture, Books, Movies, and Comics as a Metaphorical Bridge
As a rap artist and spoken word poet (Professor Lyrical, 2023), I have often used my Hip Hop background to discuss advanced ideas and concepts in a relatable manner in the classroom, through my lyrics on records and in videos, on panels, and on various stages and other platforms—including social media. Drawing inspiration from George Orwell's novels, one such connection arises from the lyrics of "Animal in Man" by rap group/activists, Dead Prez, which echo themes of betrayal and erosion of truth during the Trump presidency (Dead Prez, 2000). Like George Orwell's novels, which portrayed dystopian societies mirroring real-world politics, the Trump administration witnessed an erosion of truth and a war on facts (#FactsOnFacts), culminating in the Capitol attack. "Animal Farm" serves as an allegorical reflection of this era, where the animals overthrow their human masters only to see the rise of corrupt and oppressive leadership, mirroring the rise of authoritarianism during Trump's tenure. The song lyrics emphasize the primal instincts in humans, making them susceptible to manipulation and misinformation, just as social media echo chambers fueled conspiracy theories during this period.
The parallels between "Animal Farm"/"Animal in Man" and the Trump administration are striking. In Orwell's novel, animals overthrow their human farmer with hopes of a just society under clever pigs' leadership. However, as power corrupts, the pigs become human-like, betraying promises, and manipulating facts to maintain control. Similarly, during the Trump administration, accusations arose of obscuring facts with "smokescreens," contradictory statements, and political theatrics to consolidate power (Russo, 2017). The term "alternative facts" and media spin became subjects of public discourse, echoing Squealer's manipulations in "Animal Farm" (Russo, 2017).
The lyrics of "Animal in Man" mirror the theme of power's corrupting influence, as the animals resist their oppressive farmer. References to manipulating public perception, using propaganda, and blurring lines between animal and man draw further parallels to the Trump era. The song's lyrics, "This is the animal in man, this is the animal in you, coming true," reflect the idea of succumbing to animalistic tendencies in the pursuit of power, like Orwell's themes (Dead Prez, 2000). Both works highlight the political landscape under the Trump administration, exposing the war on truth and reality's manipulation for control. Orwell's foresight in anticipating fake news and manipulative propaganda remains relevant in the era of "alternative facts" and media spin. These powerful allegories warn against unchecked authority, the erosion of truth, and emphasize the need for critical thinking amid political manipulation—and that is #BigFacts!
Public Enemy's album "Fear of a Black Planet" offered powerful insights into racial tensions and social injustices during the George H. W. Bush presidency where Eurocentrism played a prominent role. Today, with the rise of conspiracy theories and truth erosion in the Trump fan base era, those lyrics seem even more relevant, urging us to learn from the past and strive for a more inclusive and equitable society. Addressing Eurocentrism in science involves promoting inclusivity, recognizing traditional knowledge systems, and fostering collaboration between scientists from diverse cultural backgrounds (Roy, 2018). By embracing a more global and inclusive approach, we can gain a richer and more holistic understanding of the natural world. Encouraging diverse voices in the conversation also helps diminish the influence of conspiracy theories and discord (as well as in Discord, Clubhouse, etc.) in shaping public opinion on explosive topics.
Another clear example of critical thinking in hip-hop is Kendrick Lamar's album "To Pimp a Butterfly," released in 2015 during the Obama presidency. The album fearlessly addresses themes of racial identity, systemic oppression, and the complexities of being black in America. Songs like "Alright" and "The Blacker the Berry" confront racial injustice, advocating for resilience and unity. Kendrick Lamar's work, like Chuck D's, stands as a testament to hip-hop's power to provoke meaningful conversations about social issues and racial inequality, making an impact that resonates with listeners and sparks important discussions. Inviting our young people to suggest playlists with their own examples helps center their voice in the discussion, or better yet, create their own song lyrics as well that express similar sentiments. These tactics can overspill into science and math classrooms as well, where creating rap songs, battles, or movie shorts can help illuminate complex ideas to make them more palatable. This approach is echoed by a vast number of my colleagues in academia (search #HipHopEd) who understand the value of ensuring Hip Hop culture is not separate from the culture of academe.
In the realm of Hollywood, mathematical physicist Spiros Michalakis has served as a science advisor to films like Ant-Man and Captain Marvel. Similarly, as Disney/Marvel now tries to get its science right (or better) and more inclusive (Black Panther, Miles Morales, Ironheart, Ms. Marvel), we can more effectively utilize cultural influences such as Hip Hop, movies, music, and comics as a metaphorical bridge to introduce complex concepts in STEM and quantum science. By using familiar cultural touchpoints, we can motivate young people who may otherwise be marginalized from these fields to develop their overall literacy and understanding. This approach aims to make scientific ideas more accessible, fostering curiosity and eventually backfilling with correct math and science, even if some aspects may be more Hollywood than pure physics.
The Sigma—Fighting Mis & Disinformation and Navigating a Fuzzy Post-Pandemic World
Recognizing the dangers of potential political leaders and the erosion of truth and privacy, we must also acknowledge that these challenges predate any specific presidency. Prior and current administrations, including Obama's and Biden's, have also contributed to a surveillance state, and faced criticism for their media relations and transparency. Approaching these issues with open-mindedness and recognizing the complex web of factors contributing to the erosion of democratic values is vital. As technology advances and quantum computing looms on the horizon, society must collectively confront the challenges of disinformation. Conspiracy theories demand a unified effort from all stakeholders—citizens, governments, media, and tech. A society well-informed and adept at distinguishing facts from cap is a society poised for progress and enlightenment.
Utilizing cultural influences like Hip Hop and Hollywood can serve as a metaphorical bridge to introduce complex concepts in STEM and quantum science, making them more accessible via STEAM, and fostering curiosity among young minds—particularly those Black and Brown faces often underrepresented in the STEM discussion. Moreover, social media platforms must assume greater responsibility in monitoring and regulating the content shared across their venues. Algorithms designed to promote engagement should not inadvertently amplify disinformation or misinformation or stigmatize the underrepresented in science-based discussions. Transparent policies for content moderation and user data protection are necessary to maintain public trust.
As we grapple with the fallout of conspiracy theories and disinformation, it is essential to stay vigilant in the pursuit of truth. The events of the past years have demonstrated the profound impact misinformation can have on society and the democratic process. We must not only heed the wisdom of our elders but also respect and value the voices of younger and often more vulnerable populations. Equipping individuals with media literacy, critical thinking, and digital citizenship from an early age is crucial in discerning fact from fiction—this is another benefit derived from continued exposure to problem-solving found within fields such as mathematics and science disciplines as well as various social sciences and creative endeavors (Lyrical, 2019). A collective commitment to media literacy, critical thinking, and transparent information dissemination is the key to steering our society toward a well-informed, #facts-based reality.
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