Tag: Conspiracy theory

The Freudian roots of Conspiracism

Money quote from an article at Slate. I think when you combine this with cognitive dissonance reduction, you begin to get at the roots of conspiracism.

Conspiracy theories arise not only when they “fit” with certain mixes of personality traits but also when they fill psychological and ideological needs. Freud long ago distinguished between “errors” on the one hand and “illusions” and “delusions” on the other…..Illusions and delusions are based on conscious or unconscious wishes….Although Freud is out of favor with many contemporary psychologists, modern cognitive psychology suggests that Freud was on the right track here. The tenacity of many conspiracy theories in the face of facts suggests that these beliefs are not merely alternate interpretations of facts but are rooted in conscious or unconscious wishes, in what cognitive psychologists call “motivated reasoning.”

Conspiracy theorists are people who have a deep-seated need to have the world explained to them in moral terms, and who wish for an authority figure to enforce its categories–a cult leader, a Pope, a king, a populist leader who epitomizes all of the national virtues. To allay the cognitive dissonance that this causes (we are a Democratic, Protestant nation, after all), they project those forbidden wishes onto their enemies: the Jesuits, the Illuminati, the Jews, international Communism, the Deep State, Islam.

The New World Order that they fear is a funhouse reflection of the New World Order that they secretly wish for–the dictator who will free them from tyranny.

More From my Plague Year Journal

6.4 So Tom Cotton is selling a narrative in which New York has fallen into the hands of elite white gangs of leftists, whose leaders drive Mercedes around the city ordering random attacks on minority business owners while its effete liberal mayor insists that the police stand down. Nice scenario for a low-budget post-apocalyptic movie starring some ex-wrestlers, but in reality, the NYPD has been running riot every night and the mayor, who won election as a police reformer, won’t stop weakly defending them. DeBlasio has been under siege from both the left and right for his pandemic response too–there is as big a crisis of leadership in this city as there is in Washington, and it’s frankly hard to understand.

There was a shooting a couple blocks from my house last night. Someone stabbed a policeman in the neck and grabbed his or her gun. Shots were fired and three police and the assailant are in the hospital. No one is saying yet whether he or she was a protester, a looter, antifa, white, black, pro-Trump, or anti, but you can be sure that there will be confident stories that they were all of those things before very long.

If we get to November without riot police or federalized National Guard or Bureau of Prison enforcers shooting bullets into a crowd, I will be amazed. If there is an election, Trump is going to lose it in an unprecedentedly huge way. I can’t imagine how he will leave office without violence–and for every Mattis that can quote the Federalist papers, there are a thousand angry cops. Trump is a cornered animal, and I am afraid the militarization in Washington is a rehearsal for the fall.

6.3 I more and more believe that the conspiracists get all the details wrong, but are right about one thing: that there is indeed a hidden explanation that unifies the seeming randomness of events. The deity that we worship as God is really a demonic ringer; the deep state framed Oswald; Trump is on a crusade to rescue America’s children from pedophiles. Their stories are completely nuts, of course, but they’re grasping at an intimation that things are not what they seem: That our great national experiment–with its melting pot, endless entrepreneurial opportunity, and love of liberty–is a flimsy front. Scratch the surface of most conspiracists’ writings and the hidden power turns out to be Jewish. But the critical race theorists have broken a real code: they’ve seen that America’s liberal humanism is built on a foundation of race supremacism, religious chauvinism, land theft, and chattel slavery. Some of the American dream is real, of course. Ethnicities have melted into the mass over time (very few of us think of people with Slavic features, like Melania Trump, as non-white anymore); anti-Papism is mostly a thing of the past in this once militantly Protestant country. Some Americans really have pulled themselves up by their own bootstraps, and we have a body of law that gives great deference to individual liberty. There are are real American heroes and role models, though pretty much all of them, like pretty much all heroes and role models everywhere, have feet of clay.

But we also–as most nations do–have a horrific past defined by rape and violence that is not even past. Its unacknowledged omnipresence is what gives Trump his strength; our desire to deny it distorts our thinking to the point that cognitive dissonance (like Freud’s repression) has come to define us. Harold Bloom was thinking of something else when he said that the American religion is Gnosticism, but I tend to think he got it right.

6.1 Call me naive or racist, but I had been under the impression that George Floyd had been caught passing a bad check. It wasn’t until I read about the 911 call this morning that I learned that a store clerk accused him of buying cigarettes with a counterfeit $20. You’d think we’d know about it by now if there was a counterfeit bill in that grocery’s cash register, so I’m guessing he was innocent.

I live a couple of doors down from Brooklyn’s very urban Flatbush Avenue. A couple of weeks ago, the guy at the pet food store told me that people try to pass him counterfeit bills almost every day, so I know it does happen. Some of them must get through, which means that if a citizen like me used a $100 bill to buy a big order of cat food, I might end up with one in my wallet. But I’m pretty sure the police would give me the benefit of the doubt if someone caught me trying to pass it.

On a different but related topic, my gut tells me that Trump and Karl Rove (who I would bet big money will end up running his campaign) believe that they have been dealt a winning hand. By pushing the pandemic out of the headlines, the civil unrest in blue cities has given them the opportunity to strike a decisive blow against anarchy and racial identity politics once and for all. I am expecting military deployments, monkey trials, curfews, and states of emergency for the rest of his term.

Whether voters reward Trump for the American carnage is an open question. My hope is that the hunger for normalcy favors Biden and the Democrats, but my gut also tells me that there will be a lot of state violence unleashed right around November 3, with an aim to discouraging voting.

Journal of the Plague Year

I turned on Rachel Maddow last night and saw the video of Iran’s Minister of Health at a press conference, frowning and mopping his brow as he stood next to some high dignitary who was assuring the nation that the virus was under control, and I felt like I was in a fever dream myself–a feeling that I’ve had repeatedly since November, 2016. The next day, the minister addressed the nation from the hospital, where he was being treated for COVID-19.

Back when I was promoting CULTS and THE NEW HATE, I used to try to explain the difference between conspiracies, which happen all the time, and global conspiracy theories.

Suppressing testing to keep the numbers of reported cases low in hopes of fooling the market and protecting Trump’s political standing = conspiracy.

Sinister interests using the media they control to spread false stories about a deadly epidemic in China, Korea, Iran, and Italy in order to crash the US economy and embarrass President Trump, possibly hiring crisis actors to pretend to be sick and dying = conspiracy theory.

Congressman Gaetz’s, Collins’, and the new Chief of Staff Meadow’s self-quarantines? That’s just poetic justice.

The President has lost his Marbles

Trump was never half as smart as he said he was, but even as recently as six months ago he was a lot quicker than he is now. Pretty much every word out of his mouth these days bears witness to his declining cognitive capacities, his inability to control his impulses, and his estrangement from anything resembling reality. He has become a walking, talking poster for the symptoms of early-stage (or not-so-early stage) dementia, but because his politics are so poisonous, his administration so corrupt, and the stakes for the world so high, we continue to talk about him as if he is strategizing instead of clinically devolving.

When I read this item at Axios this morning, I suddenly saw the elephant in the room. The headline is (after his Paris Accord decision, it actually reads like a punchline): “Trump Pitched Congressional Leaders on a Solar-Powered Border Wall.”

Trump floated the idea that the wall could be covered in solar panels and the electricity generated used to pay for the cost.

Trump said his vision was a wall 40 feet to 50 feet high and covered with solar panels so they’d be “beautiful structures,” the people said. The President said that most walls you hear about are 14 feet or 15 feet tall but this would be nothing like those walls. Trump told the lawmakers they could talk about the solar-paneled wall as long as they said it was his idea.

This happened yesterday–after he broke diplomatic relations with Qatar with a Tweet (stranding our military bases in now-hostile territory) and challenged Sadiq Khan to an IQ test. This is from the guy who thinks that climate change is a fraud, solar power is a waste (Solyndra!) and that our energy future is in coal.

What else happened yesterday? A story broke that he made his dopey son Eric steal from a cancer charity on his behalf (that was when he still had all his marbles). We learned that Russia maybe did do a little more to our election than just plant fake news stories. We also learned that Trump has turned on Jeff Sessions of all people, and that he is resentful of all the attention that his son-in-law Jared is getting.

The proverbial anthropologist from Mars would take one look at any of those stories and conclude that Trump is not just an authoritarian agent of Russia but cognitively and emotionally off the rails. If he wasn’t such a monster, his unraveling would be a tragic spectacle.

I know this sounds like a conspiracy theory, but I’m pretty certain that some very important figures in the military, business, the Republican party, and even Congress have noticed this too and have already started discussing how they can ease him out of power and install Mike Pence in his place. I would bet that Mike Pence (who I just learned from Jane Mayer’s DARK MONEY was Charles Koch’s favorite for president in 2012) is an active participant in those conversations–and maybe Jeff Sessions too. And I would further bet that they’ve decided that the best way forward is to give him enough rope to hang himself with–which in his case is his cell phone and his Tweeting compulsion.

Russia stole the election, the president they installed is not only a sociopath but mentally incompetent, and Mike Pence–the Evangelicalist tool of the Koch brothers–is about to become our next unelected president.

Why isn’t everyone else talking about this? Because I’m pretty certain that I’m not the crazy one.

Anti-Semitism and the Alt-Right

Back in 2008, I wrote a book that took a skeptical look at the phenomenon of paranoid conspiracy theory. Most of it, I learned, still follows the template that was laid down in THE PROTOCOLS OF THE LEARNED ELDERS OF ZION a century ago, which purports to reveal that organized Jewry is using socialism, popular culture, and its vast money power to undermine the moral and economic foundations of the Christian West, with the ultimate goal of ruling over it from a Davidic Superstate in Jerusalem. Dig past the surface of any subsequent New World Order conspiracy and you will soon recognize this same basic narrative, whether the antagonist is international Communism, the UN, race-mixing integrationists, or shape-shifting lizards. Since 9/11, Islamic Jihad and creeping sharia have been squeezed into the template as well.

The alt-right is a loose movement, born on the Internet, that has brought together and catalyzed a lot of the people who subscribe to these conspiracy theories. I see it as a product of a kind of Intersectionality in reverse. For all their differences with each other, its members see themselves as victims of a hegemonic Cultural Marxism that seeks to undermine whiteness, the traditional state, traditional religion, and traditional masculinity, and replace it with a globe-spanning reign of totalitarian political correctness.

Among their number are anti-feminist mens’ rightists, War of Civilization Islamophobes, scientific racists, Christian dominionists, classic anti-Semites, self-styled Libertarians, and even some radical Zionists. Donald Trump, a casual trafficker in conspiracy theories, racist dog whistles, and vulgar sexism, was their chosen candidate in 2016. After his victory, he installed Steve Bannon—the former chief executive of the Breitbart Report, the premier platform of the alt right—in the West Wing of the White House.

The election and its aftermath have been enough to make anyone believe in conspiracy theory, but I don’t and you shouldn’t. As Masha Gessen wrote in The New York Times last week, “the 2016 election was unimaginable…but we seem to have fallen into a trap: The unimaginable, happening out in the open day after day, not only continues to dull our defenses but also creates a need to see a conspiracy big enough, a secret terrible enough to explain how this can be happening to our country.”

Conspiracy theory has more to do with theology or literature than it does with history-as-it-is-lived, which is to say, politics. Conspiracy theory sees history as a well-crafted story, in which every character knows his or her role, and every twist propels the plot forward to a certain end. Jews have often been its antagonists, but we are not immune to the conspiracist temptation ourselves.

After Trump issued a statement on International Holocaust Remembrance Day that undercut Jewish ownership of the Holocaust, many were quick to connect the dots between his election and the cemetery desecrations and bomb threats against JCCs that were being reported in the news. When Trump floated the ridiculous idea that his Jewish enemies were planting false flags to discredit him as an antisemite, many believed that he had proven that he was.

I believe that too, but now I also know that, for whatever reason, an Israeli Jew phoned in some of those bomb threats. We live in a world in which there are Jewish victims and Jewish perpetrators, Jewish by-standers and Jewish allies, and in which some Jew-haters are Zionists and many anti-Zionists are Jews. Reality requires us to hold all sorts of things in our heads at once. The fact that some of them seem to contradict each other doesn’t necessarily mean they can’t all be true. Reality is not an equation.

Most of all, reality demands that we acknowledge that everything that happens isn’t about us. Antisemitism was and continues to be a real thing, but it is not the only thing. At our present moment, Islamophobia and racism loom much larger.

We Have Met the Enemy and It is Us

A critical distinction and one that we should keep in mind as the JFK anniversary approaches: The problem with conspiracy theory isn’t that it believes that the government is not to be trusted.  The trouble with conspiracy theory is its simplism; its simple faith that by holding a mirror up to the power structure its shadow opposite can be discerned–that the enemy isn’t the hegemon we know, but a hidden hegemon that can be known.

Our big trouble isn’t that outsiders (Communists, Fascists, Jewish globalist bankers) have secretly subverted our otherwise flawless system–it’s that the system itself is systemically corrupt.

 


Conspiracy Theories: The Republicans’ Last Refuge

Though the GOP remains the “party of business” in its policies, its outreach to economic populists and neo-secessionist states rightists has created a coalition that includes groups that are openly hostile to Wall Street and other economic elites, that see the Federal Reserve, for example, as a critical node of the Jewish conspiracy. This is an idea that goes all the way back to the Fed’s founding in 1913; it was trumpeted by conspiracy theorists like Henry Ford in the 1920s and the Republican Congressman Louis McFadden in the 1930s; it even played a role in Richard M. Nixon’s thinking, though he was more of a classic paranoid than a conspiracy theorist.

The GOP’s alliance with the Christian right has brought premillennial dispensationalists into its fold—people who believe that the world is not only coming to an end, but that the sooner civil order breaks down, the sooner Jesus will return. Dominionists like Ted Cruz’s father, who believe that the U.S. government should be run on a biblical basis, are increasingly prominent in the GOP. As believers in the “substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11), it’s not surprising that fundamentalists would be especially susceptible to conspiracy theories.

For more, go to The Washington Spectator.

More on conspiracy theories

Here is my third and final Rewire Me post on the neurology of hate, paranoia, and conspiracy theories. As I said on Facebook, I would like to start a campaign to eliminate the term “conspiracy theory” as a descriptive/pejorative for this kind of paranoid thinking. Conspiracies–some of them very big and very evil–do of course exist; it isn’t crazy to believe in conspiracies per se. What is crazy is to believe that one global conspiracy suffices to explain everything. That’s what Fundamentalists and Extremists do.