Blog 8: The Honesty in the dishonesty behind Conspiracy Theories

The Kernel: The hangover from the current pandemic has now produced a secondary epidemic wave but of another type: Infodemic. This has led to conspiracy theories, protest rallies against the shelter-in-place orders, public defiance against these orders, and misinformation even from our governmental actors. In times of uncertainty, people gravitate toward certainty, even if this imperils them further. What started as an affront to our biological state is now waking up psychological states that risk endangering the former. Climate Collapse in many ways is the same product of this need towards certainty brought on by uncertainty. Unfortunately, as the planet furthers itself in reparation, we become more susceptible to false prophets who prey on the same vulnerability that pulls us into conspiracy theories. This writing explores, by using infodemic psychological responses, the link between our exoteric symptoms and our esoteric causes as a means to counteract this susceptibility that will also hinder our ability to deeply adapt.

The Details:

Preamble

The current coronavirus disruption has not only brought the world as we know it to a standstill but has also provided a breeding ground for conspiracy theories to flourish. This has stoked counter-movements and organized resistance to the state-mandated social distancing and mask-wearing in some cases. The general battle cry from these oppositional groups is that these practices draconianly go against their previous way of life. This messaging widens itself when protestors draw in constitutional rights as ways to legitimize their protest. The agitated agitates. And to further recruit you into their play, the messaging is then wrapped with gut-grabbing suggestions you have been played by the enemy of the people. Or that your weakness to the truth is from years of abdicating your independent mind to the controlling elites. Throw into that mix is a hero-salvation of humanity where one is in sole possession of a saving message; a slumbering savior complex ready to dispatch and serve humanity.

A quick internet search can give us a starting clue for this rise. One source1 writes that conspiracy theories help us ward off 3 key factors arising from the pandemic: anxiety, powerlessness, and uncertainty.

What conspiracy theories do is that it attempts to lay bare an imaginary machiavellian playbook of what the unknown can convincingly seem underneath its invisible cloak. We are pattern-making creatures. And as such, we search for patterns where there isn’t one (think back to the sepia image of Jesus on a toast). And the more desperate we are, the cruder we enact these pattern-seeking behaviors. As such, throw into the mix an invisible enemy, a loss of a way of life, and death, it is not surprising to see we are quick to supplant onto the unknown theories that help us flush out enough elements that make up a Macbeth play. Here we root out the protagonist, the antagonist, even minor bit players, the intro, the outro, and all acts in between with their accompanying twists and turns for our pressing agenda. Like stones laid out to cross the river of anxiety, we use these hatched-out elements to weave a plot for us to explain-out our unrecognized but displaced anxieties. Now armed with the specifics of a scape-goated story, we can now walk across while proclaiming an imaginary reduction of our anxiety of the unknown, an imaginary restoration of the power from now possessing foreknowledge, and an imagery downgrading of uncertainty to where we are no longer surprised at the surprise (much like the suspenseful moment in a movie you have watched for the umpteenth time). As such, conspiracy theories let us manage our distress delusionally. And when the agitation is widespread, conspiracy theories become ready-made conveyor belts that move the anxious into an imaginary place of make-believe equanimity.

The phenomena of conspiracy theory can thus be seen as the surface reactance to the fears and instructions of the 5-year-old in us that has us pulled by our nose.

In short, our minds use us rather than we use our minds. This leads me to an imagery of a 5-year-old boy sitting on my shoulders while covering my eyes and ears. Robbed of my independent ability to scan and process the world, I dutifully follow his instructions produced by the naivete, fears, and first impressions of a 5-year-old. But, however, in the we-use-our-minds scenario, my eyes and ears – and thus my deeper awareness– are freed while he continues issuing the very same brand of petulant instructions. I am now operating with a dual-process not present in the former case. The phenomena of conspiracy theory can thus be seen as the surface reactance to the fears and instructions of the 5-year-old in us that has us pulled by our nose.

Taming and breaking the tyranny of the 5-year-old to reach deep adaptation

Now that we have an insight into how our mind uses us in the dysfunctional management of distress, how can this pandemic inform and prepare us for the looming Climate Collapse already side-lined by the virus?

Just as people are distressed due to the pandemic, I also see the same trinity of anxiety, powerlessness, and uncertainty run the same 5-year-old child game with Climate Collapse. Here are some parallels and differences between the pandemic and Climate Collapse that provide fertile ground for our susceptibility:

I think the pandemic has shown us the craziness of hoarding when uncertainty disrupts our sense of the future. The virus has brought on a disruption to the current organization of human labor from the need for social distancing as means to slow down the person to person transmission. However, notwithstanding future pandemics, Climate Collapse impact is more grievous as it breaks the backbone of our food chain as a result of often irreversible climatic and land ruin. You can’t organize labor around in-arable soil and inhospitable climate. And thus there will be increasing Climate migration, an increasing hyper-densification of people around the limited food sources triggered by Climate Collapse. The pressures of demand increase from increasing people as the pressures of supply decrease from ever-diminishing planetary-carrying-ability.

One need not look too far in our history to see how the world was once gripped in a limited calorie (and energy) consumption state. My general sense of this WWII period of rationing was that people willingly accepted their austerity, an acceptance greatly aided by having the psychological fact there was a specific enemy to their liberties and way of governance. However, unlike WWII, there is no bogeyman in, nor a fixed timetable for, Climate Collapse. This non-specificness will make WWII seem like a swim across the predictable and fixed walls of a 100m pool, compared to what feels like in the middle of an ocean Climate Collapse will have us swim in with no psychological land reference to mark the end of the tunnel for one’s patience, endurance, and tolerance for pain and suffering.

 

We develop collective compassion–a think slow process–having touched our own grace of self-compassion.

Given these interminable conditions, I don’t think it is a far stretch to see our 5-year-old demanding membership into groups of roving bandits of eco-disaster opportunists so as to stay ahead of the disaster curve. It is easy to fall for the tricks of the mind in periods of scarcity, competition, and the breakdown of a fair distribution of basic needs. Case in point (and in jest), toilet paper is the new cultural gold bullion. And thus, how can we not add to the climate-induced dystopia looming like a distant cloud? How can we inoculate ourselves so that our eyes and ears don’t get covered by that 5-year-old tyrant in us when Climate Collapse exact its ever-increasing effects?

I think the simple act of being aware of the 5-year-old in us, who by the way embodies our primal urges with its self-centered demands, pries open his hands from our ears and eyes. This awareness interrupts our lurch reaction, a reaction that is greatly aggravated by the same trinity of anxiety, powerlessness, and uncertainty. We think slow in moments even when we are getting barking orders from above to think fast. But this slowing down often can only come from deeply acknowledging our darkest shadow, which simultaneously shines a much-needed light on it, unstitching its hegemony from the fast fabric of self. And when we can do that for ourselves as an act of self-compassion, we can also do that for our neighbors, or better still, for strangers in distress. We develop collective compassion–a think slow process–having touched our own grace of self-compassion. We become less susceptible to the manipulative demands of our 5-year-old mind each time when we get the slightest glimpse of the world between his tyrannical fingers or the slightest unencumbered sound into the world and its humanity.

We bear witness to ourselves and to others, so as to hold each other in a circle of deep humanity.

And this is how we start taming the bewildered, the confused, and the anxious voices within. We invite the darkness up from the basement of self, an act that can be difficult when it encounters our adult-coping selves. This can range from Not feeling as a coping mechanism all the way to Too much feeling from seeing threats where they aren’t in real life. In addition, Denials and Veils used for a continued cohesion of self can often pose additional obstacles for this beginning stage of deep adaptation. This is simply made worse by the same trinity of conditions behind conspiracy theories.

What we are invited to experience is simple but can be daunting to many. We are asked to invite these uncertain and fearful voices into our private space. From there we offer them, as well as their transformative properties and possibilities, to the public spaces as a catalyst and as the needed space for others to feel their stirrings of this radical self-acceptance. We bear witness to ourselves and to others, so as to hold each other in a circle of deep humanity. Our hairs may be burning (thanks to our 5-year- old trying to overcome our ignoring), but we can land the plane of climate collapse as humanely as possible but only together.

Paraphrasing Ken Wilber, we often have to travel on the outward arc of our ego-personality self before we can travel on the inward arc of our psycho-spiritual self. Let’s speed up this outward-inward path process by radically embracing ourselves fully along with processing our shadows for radical and deep adaptation. Though we might not dislodge the 5-year-old from our shoulders, at least we have taken his matches away.

In summary

We are change embodied. Thus, we hold the seeds of the anti-dote while the fires of the dote surround us. The deepest path to the planetary holism, a state that supports us as well, is through us. The fire is the planet’s way of preparing us for our inner rebirth rather than to paralyze us into further inaction. 

After all, we cannot give the Planet what we haven’t given to ourselves. And with that, the Planet is seeking for itself what it is required for ourselves: a free and clear path for the innate processes to restore the balance necessary for deep change.

Please click here for more on our Bearing Witness project.

Footnote:

1 Washington Post article, May 5, 2020, Conspiracy theories run rampant when people feel helpless. Like now., https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/2020/05/05/coronavirus-conspiracy-theories-pandemic/

Resources:

Cook, John et. al., 5/18/2020, Coronavirus, ‘Plandemic’ and the seven traits of  conspiratorial thinking, https://phys.org/news/2020-05-coronavirus-plandemic-traits-conspiratorial.html

Young, Emma, 10/17/2017, Believers in conspiracy theories and the paranormal are more likely to see “illusory patterns”, https://digest.bps.org.uk/2017/10/17/believers-in-conspiracy-theories-and-the-paranormal-are-more-likely-to-see-illusory-patterns/

Jarrett, Christian, 4/5/2017, Why more highly educated people are less into conspiracy theories, https://digest.bps.org.uk/2017/04/05/why-more-highly-educated-people-are-less-into-conspiracy-theories/?fbclid=IwAR2jBt2u45DQ8dbArzBj9fGB8D5ChhmXW0M5TCUFRZnUGdoxMBUReM4aImc

One Reply to “Blog 8: The Honesty in the dishonesty behind Conspiracy Theories”

  1. This is so very eloquently stated.
    It’s timely and offers very clear advice for addressing anxiety and fear…in the face of false prophets in an age of infodemia.
    Self-recognition is the path to freedom from burdens…from the figurative child on your shoulders.

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