Hey, as a professional psychic I’m familiar with my character + profession being dismissed + ridiculed by science, academia, law + the medical establishment.
This is why I fully understand how important it is to remain curious about ‘accepted norms and societal truths’.
We must question assumptions, stereotypes and not take all things at face value.
However, when personal difficulties turn chronic + seemingly unsolvable, conspiracy theories – i.e. notions that offer a simple explanation, a common enemy and a glimmer of hope – become highly seductive.
Certain factors make people more vulnerable to conspiracy theories:
- Social isolation
- Difficult economic circumstances
- Poor mental health.
If you combine any of those with a lack of purpose, the right conspiracy theory may become highly attractive. It can be a ‘one-size-fits-all solution’ to helplessness + powerlessness.
Add the drip, drip, drip of social media + an unchecked news feed algorithm. Suddenly, you have recipe for alienation, even radicalisation.
When it happens with friends, family + acquaintances, it’s like watching someone succumb to an addiction.
It can be painful for everyone concerned.
Conspiracy Theory vs Reality
The problem is that, often, there’s a grain of truth in many of these ‘conspiracy theory’ ideas.
They tap into something that many of us are feeling on a deeper level.
A sense of injustice, inequality and disillusionment with political, corporate + economic systems.
Yet, many conspiracy theories are inflated by biased personal opinions, here-say, rumor and flimsy evidence.
Their mass appeal is due to a psychological phenomenon known as ‘splitting‘.
Conspiracy Theories and ‘Splitting’
Splitting is whereby the primitive part of our brain breaks complexity down into a black and white solution.
This = all good.
That = all bad.
You can see it played out and released in football matches, sports and most recently the last US election or UK Brexit vote.
Unfortunately, the truth is usually much more complex + overwhelming, and global problems less easy to resolve, individually or collectively.
Conspiracy theories unite people against a common enemy (the ‘all bad’). They give people a sense of belonging, purpose, identity and psychological relief.
They can boost self-esteem. The ego is reassured by knowing ‘the secret’ and being part of a possible solution (the ‘all good’).
Unfortunately, in 2020, I lost as many people to conspiracy theories as I did to Covid 19.
Conspiracy Theory Addiction Consequences
The consequences for our societies became especially clear in January 2021, evidenced by the storming of the Capitol in the US.
Yet, the consequences for individuals can be equally devastating:
- increased economic hardship as they ‘opt-out’,
- mental + emotional deterioration,
- indifference about everyday matters +
- a complete lack of motivation to look at, seek help for or otherwise deal with, their own ‘real world’ problems. Mundane matters that affect security: housing, work, financial, legal and physical health.
Conspiracy theories that start as a distraction can become all-consuming. They can pull you down rabbit holes into catacalysmic story-scapes of mythic villains and heroes.
These plots and sub-plots are better than any book or movie.
Gradually, they demand more and more of your time + attention, in order to keep abreast of the latest opinions + developments online.
The latter is carefully curated and served to you through digital media, re-enforcing your beliefs until a theory becomes your religion.
You feel inclined to disconnect from anyone who doesn’t ‘believe’ or share your vision.
Conspiracy theories hijack our natural human empathy.
For example, we all care about ending child sexual abuse. But did you know that according to a 2003 US National Institute of Justice report, 3 out of 4 adolescents who have been sexually assaulted were victimized by someone they knew well?
1997 research by Frank W. Putnam, MD + Professor of Pediatrics and Psychiatry at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, found that sexually abused children were victimised by:
Not a baby-eating Democrat in sight. Instead, a far more complex problem without an obvious solution.
And while QAnon supporters rallied against Domino’s Pizza or millionaire trafficking rings, it was widely reported that 4,300 children were separated from their families at the Mexican border between July 2017 + June 2018.
Conspiracy theories have a way to diffuse well-meaning action, so that it is aimed at the wrong target and becomes ineffective.
People have plenty of valid reasons to feel angry, frightened, frustrated and betrayed.
The world is controlled by global elites. The biggest global transfer of wealth occurred during Covid 19. The 1% – the world’s wealthiest – go unchallenged. Meanwhile the most vulnerable (migrants, the poor, the unemployed) are scapegoated.
There should be concern around the evident centralization of world political and economic powers. The systems and machinery surrounding the powerful drive economies into the climate emergency + ultimate destruction.
Governments consistently show themselves to be incompetent. Corporations have proven to be untrustworthy.
Yet, unfortunately, succumbing to a conspiracy theory addiction will not help you to become the freedom fighter you could be.
Addictions are alienating.
Instead of bringing people together, conspiracy theory addictions divide. They pit families and communities against each other. Unity becomes fragile, because all interaction is based upon personal beliefs.
We must not be blinded by the psychological wounds and triggers that make certain theories seductive and all consuming. Without self-awareness, we are all open to manipulation and exploitation by the very forces we believe we are fighting against.
RECOVERY GUIDELINES + TIPS:
If you or anyone you know have fallen down the conspiracy rabbit-hole, it can help to consider the following:
Review if you were experiencing any of the following risk factors at the time the theory took hold:
• Isolation / alienation
• Economic difficulty
• Lack of professional fulfillment in work
• Lack of purpose / direction
• Lack of emotional support system
• Low quality of life, e.g. environment
• Depression or anxiety
Some things that can help recover context, perspective and mental health include:
Go on a media detox – if the prospect of a week or two without social media or your favourite news channel seems tough, then consider whether that’s a sign of an early stage addiction.
Don’t give up on fact-based journalism – high quality news reporting and investigation still exists (The Guardian, for example).
Check your sources: is a ‘fact’ scientifically validated or reported by a trusted academic / research-based publication or organisation?
Remember that most conspiracy theories have a seed of truth in them. That is what makes them so plausible.
Beware of disaster capitalists + opportunists: It is not just the mass media that has an agenda, there are master manipulators with audiences, book deals, speaking tours, etc, who are making a comfortable living off these half truths.
Avoid the cult of personality + ‘opinion social media’. Opinions are cheap – just because someone confidently gobs-off on YouTube or Facebook, it doesn’t mean they have any greater access to truth, or any journalistic credentials.
Watch how emotive a speaker is. Truth does not persuade, cajole or shout. Look at the delivery of excellent truth teller Akala.
If you feel low, anxious or isolated, get support – access low cost therapy or talk to someone who is a good listener.
Reach out and ask for help or more contact with loved ones. Make this a Facetime, Skype or Zoom virtual coffee if meeting up in person is impossible.
To help family members or friends who are at risk, you need to access whether to intervene or offer empathic support from a distance. Listening with empathy, and holding a safe space to discuss deeper feelings, can help people feel less alone.
Wherever you are on the Conspiracy Chart (top), try to accept with people who hold different views from your own, without judgement or defensiveness. Engage but avoid the temptation to debate.
Pay attention to how much your weekly conversation time is about conspiracy theory topics. For example, how frequently do you converse about other subjects, i.e. those not about about resisting the powers that be or freedom fighting? How much do you talk with people about day to day problems, emotions or things going on in their lives, or your own? Are you speaking on ‘issues’ or ‘the news’ more than 30% of the time?
Ditto, watch out for a preoccupation with ‘them’ or what is ‘other‘: an outer projecting of an internalised enemy or conflict.
Examine any parts of your past and childhood that could make you vulnerable to conspiracy theory addiction, particularly trauma (ACEs) or chronic stress. For example, an adult child with unresolved trauma may find comfort in conspiracy theories that normalise feelings of paranoia or alienation, and help him avoid confronting a difficult past.
Conspiracy Theory Resources
The Conspiracy Chart from Abbie Richards helps highlight the slippery slope and brings more awareness.
Personally, I’m on the speculation line. I’m open to UFOs and NSA mass surveillance, for example, as there is cold, hard evidence for both. However, ‘global warming hoax’ is a dangerous, if convenient, way for people to switch off about the environment.
It’s also clear there are economic + ‘dark’ corporate forces controlling many political arenas and the media. Similarly, it’s evident we have huge mega-corporations trashing the environment and wreaking social havoc globally.
But conspiracy theories about ‘Reptilian Overlords’ and the ‘Illuminati’ only turn powerful elites into comic book villains.
While the 1% are hidden in plain sight for anyone who cares to look, conspiracy theories and conspiracy theory addictions only distract people from meaningful social activism + creating change.
Where are you on the Conspiracy Theory Chart?
Extreme right-wing views + the wellness community have merged in an increasingly dogmatic toxic spirituality, The Observer, 17 October 2021
Opinion: It’s shocking to see so many leftwingers lured to the far right by conspiracy theories – George Monbiot, The Guardian, 22 September 2021.
Conspirituality Podcast – A weekly study of converging right-wing conspiracy theories and faux-progressive wellness utopianism.
Leonie Dawson Podcast: The Nazi Episode (AKA: I can’t believe we have to actually talk about this shit in 2020!)
Please, Please, Please Don’t Mock Conspiracy Theories by Whitney Phillips in Wired, February 2020. An intesting perspective on exactly why many conspiracy theories slip under our fact-checking radar and have deep resonance.
Article copyright Amy Garner 2021. See my copyright notice and disclaimer.
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