Welcome back to the Trenchant Edges, the Newsletter where we crawl through sewers of the fringe to find gold hiding in the bullshit.
And welcome to the Trenchant Edges for the first time for the 70 of you who joined the list since I was unbanned from facebook. We have fun here. Edit update: I’ve been banned from facebook for another 30 days. This time for making a joke about fact checking a dick joke corona varient.
Today’s the last part of our Qanon Trilogy. In part 1 we zoomed back and looked at the roots of totalizing conspiracies in the anti-mason and anti-Semitic responses to the French Revolution and followed it through various reactionary movements down to the present day.
In Part 2 we took a look at some of the many intractable problems with Qanon’s narrative and why so many people were primed not to care at all. Including the pervasive involvement of child pornography profiteer Jim Watkins of the website 8chan/8kun.
Today we’re going to take the ideas we discussed around project management and see how Qanon measures up.
A quick tangent first: Occam’s Razor
The Principle of Parsimony
Old William of Ockham is best known for his principle he stated as, “Numquam ponenda est pluralitas sine necessitate” which I’m assured translates as “Never posit pluralities without necessity.”
This intellectual shortcut is sometimes misused to reject what one finds to be wild speculations, but it’s value is much narrower than that.
Parsimony is mostly an aesthetic virtue. Where it really helps is in choosing between two hypotheses explaining the same thing about as well, with roughly equivalent predictive power.
Thus, if you have two theories that do the job about as well, if you pick the simpler one you’ll have few places where some flaw in your logic or reality will prove you wrong.
That’s kind of a rare circumstance though. Rarely do two theories explain the same set of phenomena, fit the facts equally as well, and produce the same quality of predictions.
It’s probably more common in pure mathematics, but I wouldn’t know.
There are two reasons to bring it in here.
It’s commonly misused
Project Management knowledge serves roughly the same purpose.
Let’s use UFOs as an example: UFOs are natural phenomena/hallucinations/hoaxes/ignorance/etc is a simple, parsimonious explanation that accounts for the vast majority of the cases/evidence.
Some UFOs are alien craft visiting us from beyond earth because nothing we know about the laws of physics or engineering matches the behavior of these lights in the sky is a much bigger ask, but it’s not really a competing claim for Occam’s razor because they’re explaining different sets.
The first theory is about the, say, 90% of explainable UFO sightings, and the second is about the say 10% of unexplainable UFO sightings. Neither really has much in the way of predictive power.
That makes them more arguments about what should be counted rather than competing explanations of the same thing. So Occam’s razor doesn’t apply.
Plans are useless, but Planning is Indispensable.
Of all Qanon’s claims, perhaps none fills me with more dread than the phrase, “Trust the plan.”
The idea is that Donald Trump and his allies have spent the last 20 years creating a perfect plan to completely remove all the bad people from power. And only their super elaborate and secret plan can save us from the “elite pedophile democrats”.
When looking at the earliest Q drops, they’re a lot messier than this plan.
The first reference to something that might be The Plan took more than 50 posts and 5 days from Q’s first post. And it’s a bible quote.
"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."
Jeremiah 29:11, for those of you reaching for your bibles. ;-)
Reading Q’s posts, one really gets the sense none of this is really formed at the beginning. There are some disconnected sketches, but the pieces don’t really form a picture until later.
This is the key to understanding the whole movement: Q isn’t in charge. Q just injects information into a social network that produces hypotheses and the most compelling of those survives and reproduces selfish meme style.
So the noting of a Capital Letters The Plan doesn’t really come from Q. It’s the Q-interpreters.
When does the phrase, “Trust the Plan” first appear in one of Q’s posts?
September 2018, almost a year after Q started posting.
That’s, uh, pretty weird, right?
The “Who Is Q?” Tangent
At this point we need to discuss what looks like a pretty basic fact of the Qanon hoax: There are at least two distinct Q authors.
This chart comes from a machine learning multivariate analysis done by Orphanalytics in December 2020. I only really understand the broad basics of their methodology, in that they fed chunks of text from Q posts to let the machine figure out what similarities they had with each other.
The overall study has several additional charts, one focused on the differences between short and long Q posts and the other comparing the Q-canon with the works of Alexander Hamilton. The latter being about demonstrating the distinctness of style between Hamilton as a control group and the two Q authors.
Q1 is the original author of the Q hoax. From about Oct 28th 2017 to 1/12/18.
Q2 is probably Jim Watkins, the porn baron who stole 8Chan from its founder and started 8kun. Or maybe some combination of Jim and his son Ron.
The idea here is that soon after Q moved to 8Chan, the admins of 8Chan took control of the account. Jake Hanrahan's Q clearance podcast does a thorough breakdown of the hijacking.
And you don’t really need machine analysis to see the difference.
Q1 rarely used all caps, mainly asks questions or references famous phases, and regularly brings up Operation Mockingbird (CIA plot to control media). 9x in about 500 posts.
Q2 frequently goes ALL CAPS, often makes longer declarative statements, regularly uses the Qanon slogans, and only mentioned Operation Mockingbird once in almost 4500 posts.
To our usual distinction of Hypothesises about conspiracies vs Conspircism, Q1 seems like they might actually have a real, time-bound specific group of people involved in the plot deal. They’re frequently wrong and often misinformed or actively lying, but they do often reference real events that should make people trust the stateless.
Their predictions, such as they were, were pretty vague.
It’s surprising how quickly Q2 dove into conspiracism. A lot of the earlier mentions were dropped.
Within a few months, it really starts to feel more like the Qanon we know.
The Myth of The Plan
A fun thing to practice is trying to imagine an actual meeting where a conspiracy is planned.
Comedy aside, it’s a useful exercise to get a sense of how reasonable a particular combination of methods and goals might be.
Let’s imagine it’s the year 2000 and Donald Trump has recently discovered the elite pedophile ring in the government and media.
He’s pulled together his inner circle, the people he knows he can trust.
I want to write this out, but I’m not going to because it’d be really easy to slip into mocking the idea.
At this point, Trump has recently run for president under the Reform Party. His father died a year earlier, giving him something like $418 million dollars in additional net worth.
Long story short, some of what Donald Trump did after this point makes sense. The Apprentice was a pretty good move. A hit reality show brought a lot of money and even more exposure. And positioning himself as a business genius would cement one of the cornerstones of his eventual campaign.
But if he was looking to get political influence to do the kind of thing it’s alleged, which is a kind of coup, a lot of his behavior makes less sense. Trump mostly spent the 00s cashing in on his image of wealth and fame trying to make more money and to get more famous.
It wasn’t really until the anti-Obama birther conspiracies came up that he really took a turn towards the political in the public eye.
One could justify even that racist mess if you were trying to position yourself as an anti-Obama. It certainly worked for that.
But Trump didn’t really chase politics seriously until years later. Someone looking for this kind of power would be hunting for allies in the power structure. Making friends with Generals and retired generals, talking with policy wonks.
A billionaire can easily host dinners and the like to gain influence in some social strata. Think about how Jeffery Epstein gathered top scientists to chat with.
But Trump didn’t even ask Roger Stone to start introducing him to people until he was considering his 2012 campaign.
Point being, *maybe* you could argue Trump was planning something from around 2010. But nobody’s plan to save the world from criminals in charge includes just letting them do whatever they want for 15 years before trying to get in the club.
That’s a bad plan.
Now, maybe I’m incorrect on some of these details. And Trump did spend way more time after 2012 building a foundation for his 2016 election run than he’s given credit for.
But the idea this plan has been around forever, has worked out perfectly so far, and has been calculated to the Nth decimal place with 12th Dimensional chess powers doesn’t pass any kind of test.
The only way it makes sense is if you look at his election in 2016 as a miracle.
Which is wasn’t.
For all the flack and credit Trump gets for “not being a politician” he ran the unironically best campaign. He played the eminem card to get attention, said a lot of things people wanted to hear playing to deeply seated white racism, isolationism, and anti-establishment attitudes.
He got literally billions of dollars worth of free media coverage by being the most entertaining candidate.
And he ran against a candidate who’s weaknesses were easy for him to exploit with decades of propaganda groundwork laid against her. And plenty of dubious choices that had nothing to do with the vast right wing conspiracy slandering her.
Planning is Indespensible
This whole thing just kinda falls apart. Part of why Qanon is compelling is because Q starts off with implanting and magnifying doubt. It’s about putting someone in a paranoid mood and telling them that there’s a savior.
If you’re already primed to like Trump, it’s an easy sell. You probably already disliked the Democrats and many Republicans.
But project management isn’t about broad conceptual aims. It’s about taking a vague idea, ruthlessly clarifying it and dragging it down to earth.
The quote I keep going back to, from General Eisenhower, about plans being useless is the bedrock of my thinking about project management.
See, plans have to change because reality is unpredictable. When I initially was looking into Q in 2018 with a burner youtube account, I found lots of decoders trying to sell the idea that the plan was perfect and had been worked out so long ago that it couldn’t help but be successful.
In a way it reminded me of the Issac Asimov series Foundation, where a mathemetician figures out how to predict the future for sufficiently large numbers of people and creates a thousand year plan to create the best possible and longest lasting society at the end of it.
But even in that fiction, even with magic future science, the plan was constantly in need of correction and maintence.
It’s certainly possible that this curated certainty is merely an artifact of the decoders and Q gurus rather than anything to do with Trump.
But watching Trump’s behavior over the last 5 years has convinced me of one thing: This man is not a planner. He’s an opportunist.
What’s the difference? Let me tell you a story.
I’m bad a chess. I know the basics, but I can’t really plan more than a move or two in advance so I constantly get wrecked.
But I’ve also beaten lots of people better than me at chess. Not all the time, but frequently enough that there’s something there.
Because I’m bad enough that good players tend to stop really paying attention halfway through the game and make mistakes. I usually can catch those and sometimes can turn them into game-changing moves.
I’m an opportunist. Show me an unprotected throat and I know where to bite.
Trump’s got the same instincts, but honed over twice my lifetime. It’s why he often bungles shit. And it’s why he often bounces back.
He’s narrowly specialized in a high risk-high reward strategy: Status optimization. Everything he does is to come off as the biggest and best and yugest person in the world. It’s why he’s got the best words. And that confidence is infectious.
Let’s go back to planning: One way to plan is by creating a series of steps from where you are (A) to where you want to go (Z).
That’s fine for predictable, linear processes. Put in one X and get two Y out.
But the real world, particularly in something as ephemeral as politics, you can’t rely on B happening before C. Or even happening at all. It’s tricky.
In that case you’re better off with a simple, broad strategy and looking for mistakes your opponents make.
And the 2016 campaign was filled with them.
Remember that time Hillary called a third of the country deplorables? She went a long way to losing the election in that moment.
We can also tell that Trump isn’t a planner because he wasn’t able to find any evidence of Biden tampering with the 2020 election.
If he was a planner, he’d have rigged the election for Biden and caught some people working in the act. But that’d have taken months or years of preparation to set up and execute without being caught.
He could have done it. Instead he just assumed the election wouldn’t be any more secure than 2016 and he’d be able to find enough inconsistencies that he’d be able to at least sell courts on his claims.
Instead the electoral boards tightened rules around the country and he was left trying to demand election margins in the tens of thousands be changed based on irregularities in the dozens or hundreds. At *best*. And a lot of those irregularities went for him.
The point of planning as a discipline is it teaches you what problems you might run into so you can prepare.
My favorite version of this motto is Prior proper planning and Preparation prevents piss poor performance.
So much more specific and fun than Prior planning prevents poor performance.
Anyway, I don’t know if it prevents piss poor performance. But it’s certainly good to avoid many obvious mistakes.
And with yet another prophecy about Trump magically being president this month on either the 5th, 13th 18th, or I guess pick any day you feel good about, we’ve got some more obvious mistakes nobody avoided.
Because Qanon, even more than regular conspiracy theories, is an engine for sensationalist bullshit. It’s a whole economic ecosystem for magnifying the Id of lonely Trump supporters who are terrified that Trump losing means that Satan will rule the world forever.
Anyway, I’m tired of this nonsense.
Be seeing you.