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  • Writer's pictureJ. Basil Dannebohm

Toxic Crusaders: The rise of the ultracrepidarian-turned-influencer

J. Basil Dannebohm

George Bernard Shaw once wrote, “Beware of false knowledge; it is more dangerous than ignorance." Ultracrepidarians are individuals who fancy themselves as experts in subjects which they know little to nothing about. While they may come across as confident, their perceived knowledge has its roots in a deep-seated personal insecurity of some sort. Such insecurities almost always stem from fear. Thus, what looks on the surface to be a pompous know-it-all is in reality an insecure individual who confuses opinions with facts for the purpose of deception. Such a person dabbles in conspiracy, speculation, and, at best, half-truths. You’ll find ultracrepidarians among religious movements, sports enthusiasts, politicians, scientists and everywhere in between.

If the last few years have taught us anything, it’s that ultracrepidarians are loud and abundant. Recent times have likewise given rise to an even more dangerous ultracrepidarian: the influencer. Consumed by ego and often fueled by fringe movements, many of them have descended so far down the rabbit hole that they have devolved into being full-on conspiracy theorists.

Remember during the pandemic when armchair experts, having no medical or scientific expertise, offered both conspiracies and cock-and-bull cures on social media? Not too long after came a similar group of armchair experts who professed that an election was rigged. There are a number of other ultracrepidarian-turned-influencer theories, most of which lack even the slightest shred of evidence to substantiate them. For example: Pope Francis is the Antichrist, Michelle Obama is actually a man, the government controls the weather, the NFL is rigged, mass shootings are “psy-ops,” the Clintons consume the adrenal fluids of infants, institutions of higher education are used for brainwashing, drag queens prey on children, “Jewish space lasers” created California wildfires, JFK Jr. is in hiding while he plans a triumphant return, the January 6th insurrection was a “peaceful demonstration,” Barack Obama is secretly running the country from his basement, books are dangerous, and so on.

The late Senator Bill Bullard of Michigan once said, “Opinion is really the lowest form of human knowledge. It requires no accountability, no understanding.” When called out for their opinion lacking any factual evidence, the ultracrepidarian-turned-influencer will typically defend a statement by citing their first amendment right. But as Soren Kierkegaard reminded us, “People demand freedom of speech as a compensation for the freedom of thought, which they seldom use.” Justifying a reckless opinion by citing the first amendment not only demonstrates a gross misunderstanding of the Constitution itself, but a deliberate attempt at some form of deception. Aldous Huxley wrote, “The deepest sin against the human mind is to believe things without evidence." Yet so many people believe opinions as factual information purely because the opinion expressed coddles their fears.

This is precisely why the deception waged by the ultracrepidarian-turned-influencer is often successful. It deliberately preys on the collective fear shared by the target audience. As Michael Liebowitz, co-author of Down the Rabbit Hole, once keenly observed, “It's hard to tell whether so many influencers, talk show hosts, politicians, etc., actually believe the ridiculous things they espouse, or are just catering to an audience.”

I’m sure you’ve heard the adage, "A lie can travel halfway around the world before the truth can get its boots on.” For ultracrepidarians-turned-influencers this is both a credo and a mission statement — they’re counting on it. Though Pythagoras advised us, “It is better to be silent, than to dispute with the ignorant,” when asked how Fascism starts, British philosopher Bertrand Russell replied, “First, they fascinate the fools. Then, they muzzle the intelligent." This is precisely why it’s imperative that one always be willing to truly consider evidence that contradicts their beliefs and admit the possibility that they may be wrong. Intelligence isn’t knowing everything; it’s the ability to challenge everything you know. The very freedoms outlined in the Constitution rely on such a challenge. As Maximilien Robespierre in his work entitled "Virtue and Terror" noted: “The secret of freedom lies in educating people, whereas the secret of tyranny is in keeping them ignorant.” Perhaps this is why some movements insist on banning books. For a more modern perspective of the same, reference Brandolini's law.

In 1792, Alexander Hamilton wrote a letter to George Washington that read, in part: “The only path to a subversion of the republican system of the country is, by flattering the prejudices of the people, and exciting their jealousies and apprehensions, to throw affairs into confusion, and bring on civil commotion. When a man unprincipled in private life, desperate in his fortune, bold in his temper is seen to mount the hobby horse of popularity it may justly be suspected that his object is to throw things into confusion that he may ‘ride the storm and direct the whirlwind.’” Such is the character of today’s ultracrepidarian-turned-influencer.

We live in a truly dystopian era that ominously resembles fictional literary works like 1984 and The Handmaid’s Tale. False knowledge and rhetoric that accentuates fear has, in large part, contributed to this twilight zone existence. Perhaps it was prophetic, then, that science fiction writer Octavia Butler advised:

“Choose your leaders with wisdom and forethought. To be led by a coward is to be controlled by all that the coward fears. To be led by a fool is to be led by the opportunists who control the fool. To be led by a thief is to offer up your most precious treasures to be stolen. To be led by a liar is to ask to be told lies. To be led by a tyrant is to sell yourself and those you love into slavery.”

Ultracrepidarians are in a word, liars. When they rise to the roles of influencers and leaders, they present not only an assault on our sense of reason, but an authentic threat to the very freedom and democracy they proclaim to espouse.

However, as British author and journalist Nick Cohen tells us, "Compulsive liars shouldn't frighten you. They can harm no one, if no one listens to them. Compulsive believers, on the other hand: they should terrify you. Believers are the liars' enablers.”

Verily, it’s not the ultracrepidarians, but the sheeple, which is to say blind believers, that should, frankly, scare the hell out of you. Long after the influencer takes their leave, it is the sheeple, the rhetoric, and the aftermath that fester and remain.


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