No one conspiracy theory is worse than all our conspiracy theories
May 15, 2020 1:14 AM   Subscribe

QAnon is a pro-Trump conspiracy theory, yes, but it’s also more important than you might think. Adrienne LaFrance, The Atlantic's executive editor, spent more than a year trying to make sense of the movement and its followers and has a long and disquieting full report.

Their newsletter got the best pull quotes and supplied three ways to understand QAnon:

1. It’s a real-time participatory conspiracy theory.
"The eventual destruction of the global cabal is imminent, Q prophesies, but can be accomplished only with the support of patriots who search for meaning in Q’s clues. … Surely there are people who know that Q is a fantasy but participate because there’s an element of QAnon that converges with a live-action role-playing game."

2. It’s a mass rejection of reason and Enlightenment values.
"In the face of inconvenient facts, it has the ambiguity and adaptability to sustain a movement of this kind over time. For QAnon, every contradiction can be explained away; no form of argument can prevail against it."

3. It’s not going anywhere. In QAnon, we are witnessing the birth of a new religion.
"Among the people of QAnon, faith remains absolute. True believers describe a feeling of rebirth, an irreversible arousal to existential knowledge. They are certain that a Great Awakening is coming. They’ll wait as long as they must for deliverance."
posted by k3ninho (61 comments total) 45 users marked this as a favorite
 
I’m sorry but as much as Pizzagate is reprehensible bullshit
he gave no indication that he had stopped believing the underlying Pizzagate message: that a cabal of powerful elites was abusing children and getting away with it.
this is not.

Q and Pizzagate and the shit the republicans spread just serves to take away from the fact that there is a “cabal of powerful elites” abusing children and getting away with it, and it’s fucking bullshit because they’re manipulating a lot of people who have been abused as children into falling for these bullshit conspiracy theories involving some guy posting on 4chan or whatever the fuck it is.

Epstein was a powerful elite, and the people he was conspiring with? Hanging out with on his pedophile jet, taking trips to his pedophile island? That shit was real. And we’re never going to find out who all was behind it. And that disgusts and angers me more than anything else in the world. There is no grand conspiracy, because abducting, manipulating, and trafficking children is so mainstream that people don’t even bat an eye about it. It’s just one gigantic joke, and now this Q Anon shit made it an even bigger joke to people. It’s depressing.
posted by gucci mane at 1:38 AM on May 15 [76 favorites]


-This is the most post-modern administration in American history
-Time as Ideological Simulation
-Stories vs. Reality: Your Life is Not a Hero's Journey
-Neal recommends reading A Culture of Fact by Barbara Shapiro
-As A Matter of Fact: "This is a timely book, coming onto the scene as many modern scholars question the existence of a fact free from theory, and when social constructionists argue that truth, including the truth about facts and their establishment, is determined socially by communities and therefore varies significantly from time to time and place to place."

re: conspiracies...
-Eric Weinstein: Why is Still No One Asking These Questions about JEFF EPSTEIN (The Construct - Jeffrey Epstein)
-GOOG AI directs me to interview with Ari Ben-Menashe on Jeffrey Epstein
-So no, #Qanon creeps. It's not #Pedowood. It's #PedoLago.
-Erik Prince and Betsy DeVos are siblings: "It's possible this family has done more damage to America than any other."
posted by kliuless at 2:22 AM on May 15 [15 favorites]


All Your Conspiracy Theories R Belong To Us™

What's wanted is a metanarrative about these. Surely there are some floating about already, that just need harnessing by an intragalactic propaganda team. Plan 9 From Outer Space has surely contaminated all global water supplies by now, and free will has already been replaced by nanocomputers embedded in us since 1809. All we can do is wait for the inevitable system malfunction to unleash feral cats on government pigeons.

https://imgur.com/r/InfowarriorRides/SUWF13w
https://pigeonsarentreal.co.uk/pigeon-drone-the-surveillance-technology/
posted by rustipi at 2:58 AM on May 15


QAnon is somewhat unique as conspiracy theories go because usually they posit the cabal and its various crimes, and they're overwhelmingly powerful but can be defeated by variously knowing they exist and telling everybody, or maybe through violence. Q posits both that everybody you, the prototypical Fox News viewer hates- the Democrats, Hollywood liberals, everyone Fox News puts in front of you and tells you is ruining your life and humiliating you- is a child-murdering pedophile, which is par for the conspiracy course. What's different about this one is that, unlike most conspiracy theories, it also has the messianic Christian element that the savior is here, he is quietly working to overthrow the darkness, and soon all will be revealed and everybody you've been trained to hate and resent will be executed and your smug liberal nieces and nephews will finally have to shut up if not go to jail themselves and your life will, somehow, become immensely better.

I'm not reiterating the content of the conspiracy theory for kicks- I want to point out that that fusion of messianic thought into conspiracism is not normal; conspiracism normally either tells you that action is useless (because They are too powerful) or that action is necessary (because They can be overthrown if We just get the word out), but QAnon proposes that action is unnecessary because all you have to do is sit back and wait for Trump to kill everybody you don't like. Sure, get the word out, but it doesn't matter- Trump will kill everybody you have negative feelings toward and save the innocent children either way. It fits the evangelical Christian embrace of Trump as God's chosen and makes it accessible whether you believe in the evangelical framework or not.

What I worry about in particular is Fox and Friends or Sean Hannity or Tucker Carlson deciding to start chatting about it on-air- the notion of Trump, whose brain seems mostly to contain whatever he last saw on Fox News, deciding that the best thing to do is talk about Q or, god forbid, start arresting liberals he doesn't like, is all too plausible.
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:44 AM on May 15 [54 favorites]


My concern is the Trump presidency has enabled so many extremist groups and moved them from the fringes to the center of everyone's attention. The genie is out of the bottle and even if Trump loses in November (assuming there's an election and that he actually relinquishes the office) they're not just going to shrug their shoulders and head back into the shadows. Our future now includes QAnon, Nazis, the KKK, all those Christians hoping for Armageddon (and/or actively working to bringing it on), and more all part of our reality.
posted by tommasz at 6:08 AM on May 15 [17 favorites]


...we are witnessing the birth of a new religion

Not so new, maybe. It's always sounded like bog-standard Gnosticism to me.
posted by jquinby at 6:25 AM on May 15 [2 favorites]


It’s a mass rejection of reason and Enlightenment values.

Which is, after all, the logical conclusion of what passes for conservative thinking, given cleek's law that "Today’s conservatism is the opposite of what liberals want today, updated daily."

Since conservatives have no real core beliefs -- or at lease, they dare not admit that their core beliefs amount to "redistribute the rest of America's weath to the top 1%" -- they have to define themselves in opposition to liberals. Since liberals believe in reason and Enlightenment values, conservatives must not, QED.

Which is why, by the way, that conservatives don't mind obvious hypocrisy. The hypocrisy is the point -- they reject the notion of acting consistently with one's expressed beliefs, because liberals think people should. It's Okay if You're A Republican is the dominant principle, not only because it lets conservatives off the hook for their multiple failings but because it expresses contempt for liberals, which is the one true goal.
posted by Gelatin at 6:36 AM on May 15 [49 favorites]


It's not #Pedowood. It's #PedoLago.

The Kevin Spacey accuser who conveniently committed suicide might say it's very obviously both.
posted by Space Coyote at 6:37 AM on May 15 [3 favorites]


i personally think there is some kind of conspiratorial state of mind that seems to make people prone to believing basically any conspiracy theory — seeing patterns everywhere, both paranoid and gullible at the same time.

people seem to get there in different ways — sometimes drugs or episodes of obvious actual mental illness can make everything seem interconnected and highly meaningful, but it’s not always these.

But I sincerely believe that many/most QAnon believers are functioning in a different mental state than somebody who can see through it. I think the article is correct to argue that political ideology is not the right way to make sense of it.
posted by vogon_poet at 6:54 AM on May 15 [3 favorites]


"The eventual destruction of the global cabal is imminent, Q prophesies, but can be accomplished only with the support of patriots who search for meaning in Q’s clues."

This is genius-- this is a meme expanding itself.
posted by Nancy Lebovitz at 6:56 AM on May 15 [1 favorite]


So kind of like the Satanic Panic, but with Democrats instead of teenagers, rock bands, and blindsided daycare operators?

The human appetite for sniffing out witches is truly never sated.
posted by thivaia at 7:21 AM on May 15 [13 favorites]


What I find astonishing about QAnon is two related things.

One, that they are able to keep the conspiracy theory plates spinning even though so many of them have crashed to the ground. So many deadlines and promises have come and gone, unfulfilled, but they are masters at just spinning up new plates to keep people occupied.

Two, that no one knows who Q is. And that a plausible explanation is it's someone basically trolling, knowing what they're writing is nonsense but not quite able to stop. This article is the first one I've read that even has some plausible idea of who might know who Q is (the scumbag who gives Q a platform).

I want to believe Q is some RISD student prank gone terribly wrong, taken on a life of its own. I think mostly I want to believe that because it would allow for a big reveal. Honestly, that seems unlikely.

(Tripcodes are a hell of a thin way to authenticate yourself!)
posted by Nelson at 8:02 AM on May 15 [2 favorites]


I want to point out that that fusion of messianic thought into conspiracism is not normal; conspiracism normally either tells you that action is useless (because They are too powerful) or that action is necessary (because They can be overthrown if We just get the word out), but QAnon proposes that action is unnecessary because all you have to do is sit back and wait for Trump to kill everybody you don't like. Sure, get the word out, but it doesn't matter- Trump will kill everybody you have negative feelings toward and save the innocent children either way.

This is key. It's not unusual to feel like you, as an everyday person, are being squeezed senseless by corporations and politicians and billionaires -- because, frankly, you are. Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump both push that message, the idea that you are downtrodden because THEY have not been defeated yet, but are diametrically opposed as to who THEY are and what should be done about it, naturally.

One of the things that deflates a true believer is when specific actions and timeframes are promised and not delivered upon. (We're gonna Build That Wall. We're gonna deliver Hope and Change. We're gonna Ban All Abortions Forever. We're gonna Reform The System. We're gonna Listen to What You Want.) If these remain in the promise stage forever, it's disheartening. Where Q excels is that it keeps the goals shifting and cryptic, but on a sufficiently massive scale that it seems natural that it's difficult to show progress -- the Enemy is hapless enough to be defeatable by a ragtag bunch of anonymous message-board posters but massive and powerful enough to require extreme caution, as is typical. Q hints that progress is continually being made, that victory really is imminent, without the burden of showing that progress.

And why not? Turn on the news and watch an orange dingbat commanding a powerful nation. It's not too hard to buy that anything is suddenly possible. But if I was going to find myself transplanted into an Illuminatus!-esque world of conspiracy, intrigue and insanity, I would much rather have chosen one involving the _good kind_ of kinky sex cults and such.
posted by delfin at 8:08 AM on May 15 [8 favorites]


As I've said before, Bill Clinton felt bad about standing by while the Rwandan genocide happened. The right wing extremists took notes. They have been emulating the media environment that made it possible ever since. QAnon-like conspiracy theories and the groups that push them are the natural and inevitable result of that conscious choice.
posted by wierdo at 8:12 AM on May 15 [6 favorites]


I used to think that if the originator of QAnon or the people who have since taken it over wished to make amends, they would insert increasingly outlandish ideas into Q's message until it became utterly impossible for any but the truly insane to take it seriously.

Then I read about JFK Jr. having faked his death in preparation for being Trump's new Veep, children's brains being harvested for adrenochrome with 'evidence' that Hillary Clinton consumes it frequently, and Bill Gates spending billions on a fake pandemic as a pretext for injecting everyone with a tracking-nanochip "vaccine" fulfilling Mark of the Beast prophecy, and I considered that maybe that had already happened.
posted by delfin at 8:16 AM on May 15 [14 favorites]


I guess we should have known that someone would build a weaponized ARG.

QAnon won't be the last, either.
posted by aramaic at 8:16 AM on May 15 [7 favorites]


One, that they are able to keep the conspiracy theory plates spinning even though so many of them have crashed to the ground. So many deadlines and promises have come and gone, unfulfilled, but they are masters at just spinning up new plates to keep people occupied.

If memory serves me correctly, that very phenomenon was the subject of a book that helped define the concept of cognitive dissonance: when objective reality clashes with certain people's belief system, rejecting the belief system in light of contradictory evidence is more painful
than simply expanding and elaborating the belief system.

While anyone is subject to confirmation bias, because modern movement conservatives hold as true many beliefs that are objectively false, one might expect they are likely more susceptible to cognitive dissonance because they already are accustomed to rejecting objective reality.

Which also partly explains their rejection of Enlightenment values: What's the point of intellectual rigor when it only tends to tell you that what you believe isn't true?

See also: Young Earth Creationism.
posted by Gelatin at 8:19 AM on May 15 [9 favorites]


In some ways, this reminds me of Scientology, the lengthy levels of indoctrination before they drop the Xenu bomb on you. How sunk cost fallacy works against you at that point -- I've spent all this time and effort and money on trusting these people, I've believed that they are the one true truth, and now THIS? Would they throw something this insane at me if it WASN'T true? -- and you either bolt, at which point they already have your money, or you go all in and good luck to you.

Whoever holds the keys to these tripcoded accounts has a lot of power in their hands. The amount of damage that a single post declaring "NOW is the time for YOU to STRIKE!" and giving marching orders could cause is not to be underestimated.
posted by delfin at 8:21 AM on May 15 [10 favorites]


"The Kevin Spacey accuser who conveniently committed suicide might say it's very obviously both."

The author who married into European royalty and said that he was groped by him as an adult? His suicide appears to be related to other issues and not convenient to Spacey given that the actual charges against him were being brought by the mother of a teenager in CA.
posted by Selena777 at 9:05 AM on May 15 [3 favorites]


I see all this Qanon, Flat Earth, and general conspiracy nonsense as mostly just the unwanted side effects of the phenomenon of the internet and making information widely available. Many people gain intelligence from it but some portion of the population gets more deluded from it. Eventually the deluded ones will die off, they're not sustainable.
But in the meantime I don't doubt that certain devious agencies exploit these people, and how easy it is to misinform them, for whatever reasons.
posted by Liquidwolf at 9:15 AM on May 15 [4 favorites]


Which also partly explains their rejection of Enlightenment values: What's the point of intellectual rigor when it only tends to tell you that what you believe isn't true?

In the Age of Trump, nothing means anything anymore. The distinction between facts and opinions has been erased, and the only test of a proposition is whether performatively asserting it is consistent with one's tribal identity.
posted by acb at 9:27 AM on May 15 [13 favorites]


In February, Jim (Watkins) started a super PAC called Disarm the Deep State, which echoes Q’s messages and which is running paid ads on 8kun.

Like many organized religions, the grift is the thing.
posted by pilot pirx at 9:58 AM on May 15 [9 favorites]


This phenomenon is predictable on some level. Assume a large swath of poor evangelicals who donate money from their TV couches and are suddenly persuaded after the civil rights movement to support the elite GOP and its money men. They vote and vote for decades but then they get poorer and more desperate. What to do? Double-down of course. Chase the losses with a new solution that speaks directly to one's failure as a political being without directly addressing it, because the emotional pain is too great otherwise. Only a conspiracy can fill this void. The key is that these would-be adherents were already born and bred to see the world in two-values of black and white. There was no middle-ground to reason from or to weigh the evidence by. Faith was certainty, and doubt was error. It's the most simple form of mind control out there, as if living in opposite land where bad decisions are made for us and the only question is how much do we give to the cause based on self-worth as a true believer. Facts are irrelevant, so reasoning is absurd when they attempt it. It's very hard to begin to recover from this mindset because the internal moderating skills are not even present. They have been relying on external moderation such as semi-educated pastors and quasi-educated doctrinal committees that decided the intellectual state of their parents before they were born. Now that Christianity has failed to address the modern world and has politically betrayed most of them, there is nothing to make sense of their distress. So they fall prey to the backstop symbols of salvation and end-of-times, which were traditionally something to fear, but now offered as an earned reward. They are now willing submitters to an anonymous suggester. The thought that it could be Satan has not entered their head because they don't see themselves in the middle of good or evil anymore, but at the extreme edge of goodness, incapable of error, where the normal mainstream is the threat. The point is not about God or Satan, but that there was always only one extreme to ensnare us.
posted by Brian B. at 10:03 AM on May 15 [12 favorites]


This is key. It's not unusual to feel like you, as an everyday person, are being squeezed senseless by corporations and politicians and billionaires -- because, frankly, you are. Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump both push that message, the idea that you are downtrodden because THEY have not been defeated yet, but are diametrically opposed as to who THEY are and what should be done about it, naturally.

Fascism and mild social democracy are not even vaguely the same thing except insofar as neither meaningfully challenges capitalism, and to equate them is wildly inappropriate and verging on either grossly slandering social democrats or whitewashing the horror of fascism.
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:10 AM on May 15 [7 favorites]


Eventually the deluded ones will die off, they're not sustainable.

There has been zero evidence of this in my half century of life. They seem to be a very renewable resource. Particularly, as people live longer, dementia is on the rise and many of the boomers hoard wealth.
posted by srboisvert at 10:12 AM on May 15 [27 favorites]


Fascism and mild social democracy are not even vaguely the same thing except insofar as neither meaningfully challenges capitalism, and to equate them is wildly inappropriate and verging on either grossly slandering social democrats or whitewashing the horror of fascism.

That's not even remotely what was said.
posted by srboisvert at 10:13 AM on May 15 [16 favorites]


There has been zero evidence of this in my half century of life. They seem to be a very renewable resource. Particularly, as people live longer, dementia is on the rise and many of the boomers hoard wealth.

A half century isn't necessarily long enough to see it. I'm talking Big Picture.
posted by Liquidwolf at 10:24 AM on May 15


I think it would be a big mistake to believe that the left or center-left, due to natural virtues, couldn't end up with their own version of a conspiracy theory like this.

There are lots of social media grifters who spend all day spinning weird conspiracy theories for center-left Democrats. And of course within the left-left you've always had conspiratorial thinking and a religious feeling about a new Messianic age that's just around the corner. The ground for it isn't quite as fertile, yet, so the conspiracies aren't as weird and don't spread as far. But the pieces are basically there.

I do think things are particularly bad right now and that we're in some kind of social media version of the 18th century Gin Craze. Eventually people will learn to moderate their relationship with new, addictive sources of unreliable information. But I think some percentage of people will always be susceptible and I don't think it's only people on the political right.
posted by vogon_poet at 10:59 AM on May 15 [18 favorites]


“You may never get to touch the Master, but you can tickle his creatures.”
― Thomas Pynchon, Gravity's Rainbow
posted by chavenet at 11:13 AM on May 15 [3 favorites]


Thanks for posting. I've avoided trying to understand QAnon because...well there are plenty of other things to worry about. But last week a car in our neighborhood started displaying prominent WWG1WGA and Q stickers on the back of it, and I made the mistake of looking at Nextdoor today for the first time in ages and very first post was all deep state / "vote out the county manager because he didn't stand up to the scientists / wake up sheeple" bullshit . I mean. Just ugh. It seems like standard nut jobbery until you realize you're in the middle of it. I'm gritting my teeth and forcing myself to read the article in full.
posted by inflatablekiwi at 11:32 AM on May 15 [5 favorites]


Eventually the deluded ones will die off, they're not sustainable.

I'm pretty sure that's what Claudius said about the Christians.
posted by betweenthebars at 12:04 PM on May 15 [18 favorites]


I can’t recommend looking at Next Door, ever, but especially when you yourself live in a benighted, Red place. It’s like looking at a Bosch and seeing your own house there. Shudder.
posted by Don.Kinsayder at 1:16 PM on May 15 [19 favorites]


Not really sure there is anything going on here more than you would find in the Weekly World News or the Spotlight 20 years ago (regarding Q). Technology and distribution channels have affected it, but that sort of impact isn't limited to conspiracy theories. 20 years ago dril would be about as well known as Mitch Hedberg.
posted by 99_ at 1:51 PM on May 15 [1 favorite]


I don't think any 20th century conspiracy theory approached this level of complexity. Admittedly it incorporates basically every 20th century conspiracy theory somewhere.

The bottom right corner says "Nothing is random. Everything has meaning." which I think quite clearly sums up the mental processes that lead people to believe in this stuff.
posted by vogon_poet at 2:09 PM on May 15 [6 favorites]


Not really sure there is anything going on here more than you would find in the Weekly World News or the Spotlight 20 years ago (regarding Q)

The Q conspiracy is different because it posits a conspiracy of evil *and* a conspiracy of good, both equally secret. It's fascinating because it's an attempt to both incorporate an explanation of why everything is bad, but also to excise from the bad Trump, who is not allowed to become part of the bad conspiracy but is doing nothing to solve it. The answer has to be that in fact he is working to fix it but he has to do this in secret with the help of his co-conspirators for ... reasons. It's a fascinating example of incorporating another level of delusion in order to resolve a contradiction which would require one to abandon a strongly held belief (trump is good) because of the obvious fact that trump is bad.
posted by dis_integration at 2:31 PM on May 15 [17 favorites]


That's not even remotely what was said.

Indeed. Backpedaling and rephrasing for clarity.

It should be impossible to vote for Bernie Sanders in a primary and then for Donald Trump in an election without suffering a major head injury in between. The two movements, as I had said, are diametrically opposed in their major aims. And yet... I have encountered people like this.

Without re-litigating any election or its primary, which is a floggable offense in these parts, these are people whose philosophies are as much or more establishment/change than left/right. More interested in Throwing The Bums Out and replacing American government with something entirely new than in electing people who wish to use the current system to their (and presumably, your) advantage. Prone to sweeping dismissals of all politicians as corrupt and unworthy of office, the system as broken, and desiring the Craziest Bastard in the Room to come in from the outside and throw out the money-changers and clean house.

These people are not what one might call... serious thinkers. These are people who thought well of Bernie not because of anything he wanted to do, but because he was Not Hillary, and were certainly not any large percentage of Bernie's actual support base. But "burn it all down" is certainly not a terribly unusual thought process for many Americans.

QAnon is tailor-made for this mentality. It paints everyone outside of Trump and his lapdogs as corrupt pedophile enablers (or pedophiles themselves), uses Trump's continued term as "proof" that he is making progress and preparing for The Storm, and gives them a sense of impending victory Any Time Now without specifying what form it will take or when it will happen. They think they're watching their fantasy play out in real-time right in front of their eyes.
posted by delfin at 2:55 PM on May 15 [2 favorites]


Eventually the deluded ones will die off, they're not sustainable.
I don't think selection works that way, like, at all. And if it did, I suspect it might actually favor the deluded.

Also an uncharitable reader could easily see this statement as advancing some kind of social darwinism.
posted by Horkus at 2:58 PM on May 15 [1 favorite]


We live in an age of conspiracy theories, and there have been many before this. I don't think there are more on the right than on the left, just that right now, the right are more dangerous. One of my colleagues is a leading 9/11 fabulist. I don't know him personally, but I understand he is otherwise very well liked. He will never stand in front of a state capitol with guns. My Facebook feed that I only lurk on is full of radical leftists who imagine the reason Bernie isn't president already is a huge conspiracy, but their worst crime is that they don't vote. (And also that they secretly love McDonalds).

Ages ago, my ex was fascinated by all the myths that Dan Brown popularized, but which were common lore in a specific subculture during the -80's. I listened. Once, when he told my granddad about it, my granddad just reached into his shelf for Anatole France's At the Sign of the Reine Pédauque I still have it somewhere. My ex didn't get the point, but it easily cured already skeptical me.

I think conspiracy theories thrive when reality is incomprehensible. Humans want to make sense of the world, and when the world doesn't make sense, people are open to ideas that make sense of the senseless. We are living at a time where almost everything we learnt growing up is no longer valid, regardless of where you are from. But for people with conservative values, the clash is bigger. When I was 19, I knew about limits to growth, but my cousin's friend Brad, from suburban Connecticut, had never heard about it, and he was a Reagan campaign volunteer. I have no idea where Brad is today, (I even googled him before posting this), but I'm pretty sure he has abandoned all connections to reality, since he was already on that track way back then.
posted by mumimor at 3:07 PM on May 15 [11 favorites]


Eventually the deluded ones will die off, they're not sustainable.

The deluded ones' reaction to COVID-19 suggests that they (and the rest of Trump's base) will suffer a much larger die-off in the next 6 months than those of us in the 'reality-based community'. Which makes the Republican Party's voter suppression mission even more urgent.
posted by oneswellfoop at 3:13 PM on May 15


^ And the midterm elections after that, because the forthcoming vaccine is a Pelosi plot to weaken their patriotism (and contains hormones to make them cry).
posted by Brian B. at 3:34 PM on May 15




So, basically we're living in the world of "Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius" meets Philip K Dick.
posted by Omon Ra at 6:11 PM on May 15 [9 favorites]


too literary - i'm living in the world of my high school - and the people i loathed are in charge, talking shit about each other and acting out foolishly while the school's on fire - and gaslighting the rest of us like mad

"but the school can't be on fire - the high temperature was 69 today and everyone knows that's not hot enough to start anything burning"

"it's because you don't use enough deodorant - everyone knows that if you don't use enough, your nose gets overwhelmed with your awful smell and soon everything smells like smoke to you"

"no, the reason you can't see across the hallway is it's very humid today"

and of course, a certain percentage of people don't want to hear the truth and want to be lied to, so they'll suck up whatever q has to say to them

it's not what people believe that should scare you - it's what they WANT to believe
posted by pyramid termite at 7:13 PM on May 15 [7 favorites]


I think QAnon resembles the Epstein scandal and the stories of Trump's assaults on vulnerable women young and older alike because it is designed, both consciously and unconsciously, to cover the Epstein and Trump stuff up, in the specific sense of substituting itself for the Epstein/Trump business, so that when a person who sees themselves as moral and also believes in QAnon runs into something that would have reminded them of Epstein's or Trump's sexual assaults, they think of QAnon instead, and are able to avoid having their support for Trump undermined against their will.

It's an important tool for minimizing the cognitive dissonance of continuing to be a Trump supporter in the face of his obvious corruption and clear history of sexual predation.
posted by jamjam at 8:37 PM on May 15 [16 favorites]


A friend from musical jam sessions, a retired geologist, moved to the East Coast and he's now bombarding me with links to conspiracy videos, most of them Q-inspired. I've protested and appealed to reason, scientific and otherwise, but he says, "Do your research!" I had to block him on Facebook. It's a disturbing experience to see an otherwise rational friend descend into such a malignant rabbit-hole!
posted by Agave at 9:41 PM on May 15 [3 favorites]


... so, the thing of it is: they were never rational. They just did a good job of pretending. The insanity and raving foaming-at-the-mouth racism was always there, they just did a better job of hiding it.
posted by aramaic at 9:59 PM on May 15 [1 favorite]


they were never rational. They just did a good job of pretending. The insanity and raving foaming-at-the-mouth racism was always there, they just did a better job of hiding it.

This isn't true. We wish it was, because it would make a lot of things easier. But for anyone who has spent serious time close to white nationalist and other racist movements, they can tell you that a lot of people who end up marching with tiki torches were actually quite rational at one point. They had decent-to-good analysis, including class and race. They've read Zinn and Chomsky and at one time thought it was profound.

But with a lot of people, at some point, something happens that threatens to (or actually does) destabilize their life. Maybe they got cheated on. Maybe they got fired and ended up living in their car while seeing other people keep their jobs who should have been fired instead. Maybe there was a global pandemic that left them isolated and financially precarious.

And the white nationalists and the gamergaters and qanon have answers for why this happened to you, they can show you how you didn't deserve any of this, how there are forces at play that have led to the circumstances of your pain and struggle. And they have very convincing arguments about how Zinn was wrong about this, or how these feminists have gotten honest people fired over honest misunderstandings, and if they're wrong about those things then maybe they're wrong about everything.

It happens all the time. It is much easier to walk around thinking that people wrapped up in fucked up things were always, on some level, fucked up. But criminals aren't really born criminals, racists aren't really born racists, and pizzagate types aren't really born believing in pizzagate. People end up in bad places for a lot of reasons, and a lot of the time it is because their community and society failed them in an extremely painful way, and someone told them that they understand how they feel, and they know how to make sure that never happens again.
posted by Jairus at 12:37 AM on May 16 [35 favorites]


While the QAnon nutjobs have clearly been goaded across the event horizon of an informational black hole, I think more generally it's actually quite common to see appeals to reason and Enlightenment values from conservatives and other right-wingers. I think we're all familiar with mantras like "don't be a sheep, think for yourselves", "facts don't care about your feelings", "a conservative is a liberal who has been mugged by reality" etc. etc. In certain circles the term 'Enlightenment values' is itself a dog whistle for Western hegemony / white supremacy.

I think for most of us reality is first and foremost a network of shared beliefs and justifications. Much of what we hold to be clear and certain at first sight turns murky and contingent on closer examination. There is always room for doubt. It's easy to get lost once the only thing you're still certain of is that you're on the right track.
posted by dmh at 12:47 PM on May 16


Extreme political views lack metacognition.

Radical political views of all sorts seem to shape our lives to an almost unprecedented extent. But what attracts people to the fringes? A study from researchers at University College London offers some insight into one characteristic of those who hold extreme beliefs—their metacognition, or ability to evaluate whether or not they might be wrong.

“It’s been known for some time now that in studies of people holding radical beliefs, that they tend to… express higher confidence in their beliefs than others,” says Steve Fleming, a UCL cognitive neuroscientist and one of the paper’s authors. “But it was unknown whether this was just a general sense of confidence in everything they believe, or whether it was reflective of a change in metacognition.”

He and his colleagues set out to find the answer by removing partisanship from the equation: they presented study participants with a question that had an objective answer, rather than one rooted in personal values.

They studied two different groups of people—381 in the first sample and 417 in a second batch to try to replicate their results. They gave the first sample a survey that tested how conservative or liberal their political beliefs were. Radicalism exists on both ends of the spectrum; the people at the furthest extremes of left and right are considered “radical.”

After taking the questionnaire, the first group did a simple test: they looked at two different clusters of dots and quickly identified which group had more dots. Then they rated how confident they were in their choice.

People with radical political opinions completed this exercise with pretty much the same accuracy as moderate participants. But “after incorrect decisions, the radicals were less likely to decrease their confidence,” Fleming says.

posted by Brian B. at 1:03 PM on May 16 [8 favorites]


Perhaps the most unsurprising result I've read in months. But good to have evidence for prior beliefs.
posted by Justinian at 1:28 PM on May 16 [2 favorites]


Lemon Demon's Touch Tone Telephone
posted by wobh at 7:54 PM on May 17


The notion that radicalism is an objective concept rather than one inherently defined by the present state of the Overton Window is nonsense. It is impossible to talk about "radicalism" in objective terms without inherently reifying the current set of socially/politically acceptable views as legitimate and nonradical (despite that everything you believe, yes, you, would be considered radical in several societies past and present), and as the Window slides ever-rightward as the far right accumulates and steals more and more power, I would think ostensible liberals would resist such validation.
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:09 AM on May 18 [3 favorites]


After reading the paper, I was not left much the wiser as to the actual definition of the relevant terms (the text of the instruments are not included, but could perhaps be tracked down by following the various hand-wavey citations). From the language the authors use, however, as well as their seemingly unquestioned operationalization of extremism in terms of deviations from the mean, one gets the impression that they expect people to form political beliefs by simply learning what their neighbors think and copying that. From that standpoint, of course, deviant political beliefs can only be the result of some sort of cognitive failure.

One might ask, "why bother having beliefs at all in that case?" Which is perhaps the same question they would ask, but with a different emphasis.

On reflection, though, I'm a little unclear as to how metacognition relates to conspiracy theories. Is there any good authority on this point?
posted by Not A Thing at 6:54 AM on May 18 [1 favorite]


The notion that radicalism is an objective concept rather than one inherently defined by the present state of the Overton Window is nonsense. It is impossible to talk about "radicalism" in objective terms without inherently reifying the current set of socially/politically acceptable views as legitimate and nonradical...

It still gives information if only those who are outside the Overton window (and are only radical by today's standards) also lack metacognition. It has the same political relevance as current events do. One could argue that psychology and political philosophy are also subjective, because the psyche may or may not exist, and politics is usually not based on wisdom to achieve results. I note that the Overton window recasts the linear left-right political spectrum as based on more or less freedom, which can be measured comparatively. Here is how they might rank European parties as radical, listing them as populist and anti-elitist, which may imply an authoritarian or totalitarian leaning to earn the radical moniker, or cultural radical. This is more in line with the horseshoe theory of the political spectrum.

On reflection, though, I'm a little unclear as to how metacognition relates to conspiracy theories.

Conspiracy theories without substance are delusional and therefore lack metacognition, implying the need to dictate reality rather than observe it.
posted by Brian B. at 2:51 PM on May 18


"... I would think ostensible liberals would resist such validation."

The only way for me to approach an answer to your comment is to first say that epistemology in some form has been my life obsession. It is deeply, critically important to me—arguably because of childhood trauma—to comprehend the world and be able to discern what is "true".

That said, after a lifetime of formal and informal study, what I can say with assurance is that at best this is a careful and self-aware practice which necessarily exists within some limiting social context. I once said that I am both emphatically a philosophical relativst and emphatically not a philosophical relativist, depending upon context. Truth is elusive, especially if you wish to essentially possess it. On the other hand, there's no avoiding belief—it's necessary to function. You can't avoid thinking that you know things. My roots are in empiricism and, once I passed through the long phase of being fascinated with rigor and limits, I've settled back into being comfortable with making do with what is best described as an informed empiricism that is greatly defined and limited by the social context within which it exists. I can't have the certainty I want, but I've made my peace with that.

My time on MetaFilter has been interesting and informative in that I've been able to closely observe over more than fifteen years the processes and limits of what those researchers call "metacognition" within a social context of my peers. One thing that has really struck me—and disappointed me, to be honest—is how limited and unimaginative most of this metacognition really is. I've watched opinions that were popularly risible here in 2005 become unquestioned now in 2020.

An extremely illuminatimg example of the limits, in practice, of metacognition in individuals and groups has been the growing awareness here of the fragility response—but almost without exception, only in others and not oneself, and then only with regard to a privileged class that the group has formed the consensus that it actually exists. What is so striking to me is that the behavior is so regular, so structurally straightforward, that it ought to be extremely easy to abstract and then be recognized to apply whenever and wherever it exists. But that hasn't been the case!

Paralleling my lifelong interest in epistemology has been an interest in the philosophy and history of science. And, I think, most thoughtful people in high school notice how frequently new ideas seemingly occurred independently of each other around the same time. The more you study the history of science, the more you develop an intuition about why that happens.

It's because the success of human cognition can only be appreciated, can only be understood, as a collective and historically contingent process. To "know" something, it has to be thinkable; and to be thinkable is conditioned upon some social context.

Thus, in response to your objection: consensus is sovereign. This is—I write with the awareness of the irony—a difficult truth.

I'm not happy with this. I'm driven by a fear of being wrong—not for social reasons, as is more common, but because "knowing" things gives me a sense of control, that with knowledge comes agency. If I'm wrong about something, then I am less in control of my fate (so demands my subconscious) and therefore it ultimately is more frightening to me that I may not recognize when I'm wrong, than it is frightening to me that I will lose social status if proven to be. The latter sucks, but the former is much worse. That being the case, the idea that "being right" is unavoidably mediated by social consensus is quite upsetting.

But, you see, refusing to recognize this is the case would be worse. I can only approach truth asymptomatically and doing so requires an awareness of this.

I think it's clear that, with regard to politics, I find radical leftism both more credible and felicitous than radical rightism. I have no more patience for reflexive, lazy "both-sideism" than do you. But I have known more leftist nutty conspiracy theorists than rightist. That's probably because the rightist versions have always been familiar and easy to detect and therefore steer clear of; but not-infrequently the leftist versions have caught me by surprise amongst my peers.

In far fewer words, it's partly a matter of temperament: "radical" by definition is merely something that is well outside consensus; being far outside consensus is uncharacteristic for the cautious; and being cautious is necessary for intellectual rigor. People find their way to radicalism for various reasons—some are attracted there while others are driven there. I never relish my own radicalism about anything... but many people do. It's worth considering why that is.

I had sort of hoped that this long comment would have segued into a recounting of my sister and brother-in-law, both Christian evangelicals, reading this Atlantic article about QAnon and then sitting their young teen son down to read and discuss it.

I wanted to connect these dots: that although my sister and I have very different religious beliefs, we are very similar and, especially, I was a strong influence on her; that while she is not at all having a crisis of faith in the Trump era, she is having a crisis of community; that while she has shared many things with her close friends and fellow believers, she is coming to understand that her faith is much less socially determined for her than it is for her peers and much more a matter of personal effort; and that, therefore, she is increasingly "radicalized" with respect to her faith community. In experiencing this difficult challenge, she's been forced to grapple with how it is that people believe the things they say they believe, how they get there, that their process may be very different from hers in upsetting ways. Every extended conversation we've had for the last four years has included her relating something Trump or someone else said, followed by the plaintive cry that she just doesn't understand how so many people have become so unhinged.

I'm not sure what she wants from me. A few weeks ago, I apologized to her that maybe I led her to think that most people were more careful and consistent in their worldviews than they really were. Not that I didn't understand this, just that I never made it clear. Or maybe because I was such an influence, there's perhaps a subconscious accusation: you didn't tell me that this would suck. Also, perhaps, I did her a disservice—one size doesn't fit all and the needs which drove my psychology which drove my cognitive style were and are not the same as hers. I don't enjoy being outside consensus when I am, but it doesn't distress me very much. That's a bit unusual and I think it's unreasonable to expect that of other people.

As I get older, I find that I recognize that knowing things, being "right", mostly didn't result in the outcome I had wanted. I did thusly assert agency in one respect, but failed to recognize how limited it has been in other respects. At the risk of being insipid, much has fallen away and left kindness to others as a bedrock principle, much more so than the virtue of knowledge. As ever, though, it's a standard I should hold myself to, first and foremost, before I find fault in others for its apparent lack. I think my sister and I are in full agreement that this, at least, is a reliable method for evaluating beliefs like those of these QAnon folk and their fellow travelers.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 1:36 PM on May 19 [10 favorites]


I can't remember where I read this, but some people have been putting forth the idea that the appeal of Qanon is similar to alien abduction, and it has its roots in childhood sexual abuse. Confronting ones own abuse is incredibly difficult and painful, but the idea that Aliens, or Democrat Elites are to blame is easier to get a handle on for some people.
posted by chaz at 1:09 PM on May 20 [1 favorite]


Also, can someone direct me to where the Qanon latest theories are posted?
posted by chaz at 1:10 PM on May 20


Twitter.
posted by The corpse in the library at 5:58 PM on May 20


It should be impossible to vote for Bernie Sanders in a primary and then for Donald Trump in an election without suffering a major head injury in between. The two movements, as I had said, are diametrically opposed in their major aims. And yet... I have encountered people like this.
So, if your goal is the destruction of the current state of capitalism you could go the nice way and elect socialists or the horrible way and elect fascists hoping this will radicalise the population into rising up and overthrowing them.
You have to be a certain section of society in order to remain largely unaffected by the horrible way but if you squint you can see why this could be a logical position held by privileged individuals.

As for the current prevalence for outrageous conspiracy theories.
The NSA really did spy on everyone and still do.
There really was a large group of powerful men who prey on the young and vulnerable, and still is.
The financial industry really did conspire to defraud and cheat causing a global financial collapse.

Now, how you get from there to Bill Gates is trying to chip everyone is possibly difficult to understand, but if you squint...

I don't understand how someone thinks 5G is the real pandemic because it's literally impossible but I can see how someone who has seen everything since Florida in 2000 may not need that much of a nudge to get there.
posted by fullerine at 1:03 AM on May 21


That's a little too much squinting for my taste. There's a basic breakdown in reason behind that type of thinking, and you don't give people a pass on it just because their politics agree with yours.

Take the idea of putting fascists in power to bring about revolution. Even if you put aside all the suffering that brings to the people you supposedly care about, all that does is give fascists a chance to consolidate power. If that breaks the chaos creates opportunity for other people who want power, who will have their own goals in mind. It's not likely to help real people in any way, but it is something you can promote that makes you feel good about yourself and requires no actual effort.
posted by InfidelZombie at 9:22 AM on May 21 [1 favorite]


> Truth is elusive, especially if you wish to essentially possess it... I can only approach truth asymptomatically and doing so requires an awareness of this.

Am fond of this Andre Gide quote: "Believe those who are seeking the truth. Doubt those that find it."
posted by kliuless at 7:42 PM on May 22 [3 favorites]


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