After the crazy events of the last few weeks, it's been hard to not be bombarded with the subject of conspiracy theories and weird terms like QAnon, redpilled amongst others. Six months ago I had no idea what any of these terms meant, as I had assumed these fringe movements and opinions were saved for the murky underbelly of the internet. Now, we can't escape them. They're in full force, storming government buildings and killing people in their wake.
What I did want to look into was why these people believe this stuff, and how they got there. After all, you can't tell an ordinary, level-headed person that the government is made up of reptiles and instead of passing legislation, actually serve as a cabal of devil-worshipping, human-sacrificing monsters. The conspiracy has to start from a place of scepticism, mistrust, and ultimately, anxiety.
Lantien (2017) describes the characteristics of conspiracy theorists as generally having 'openness to experience, distrust, low agreeability and Machiavellianism'. One of these sticks out as a bit of an over-generalisation, being low-agreeability, but for argument's sake, I'll include it here. A distrust often described as 'questioning' in a Descartes-like sense, is one of the key indicators of conspirators. Distrust of everything - the media, politicians, celebrities, science and ultimately each other.
What really binds these people together is a shared sense of a different reality to what the ordinary person assumes and knows to be true. It serves as the ability to take the everyday, mundane thing and make it into something meta with layers of significance. They won't listen to the rate of Covid-19 deaths or ICU numbers, they won't be swayed by job losses or market values crashing, they won't believe in climate change research as they simply will not believe anything factual. They are on a totally different planet than everybody else, and you cannot expect societal cooperation when a portion of those in society are not rotating in unison with the rest. You cannot convince somebody that the earth is round if they have decided that everything they learned in school was a lie and that the earth is actually flat. Scientific evidence over centuries and the proof of something so simple, yet so contested, cannot and will not budge that person once they've decided to go down that path of denial.
These theorists live in an almost gleeful alternate universe where the world operates as some kind of action movie, and they are the heroes or undercover informants who know what's really going on.
The need for 'alternative thinking' and conspiring often comes from a place of fear, distrust and anxiety. In times such as now, when the world is gripped in a pandemic, climate emergencies and civil unrest, it is often exhausting and upsetting to accept the current malaises as they are. I don't blame people for questioning the reality, for looking for reasoning when it seems there are none.
But the problem starts when a person begins to extract narratives from thin air as an alternative reality, thus seeing life differently from everybody else. Once a person sees this reality as fact, it is very hard to bring them back down to earth again once they begin to revolt against the norm. It's a blissful ignorance that they have concocted as a remedy to the quite scary world we live in right now.