Sunday March 28, 2021
He poked his head through my office door, back in the days when I still had an office. “Can we talk?” he asked.
And then, looking carefully around the office and up into the corners, “Is it safe?”
It turned out that he believed he was under constant surveillance. He wouldn’t be specific about who was doing it, but it had something to do with both the federal government and the Canadian Armed Forces. “They operate out of the military college in Kingston,” he assured me. “They keep an eye on me around the clock.”
“Even at night?”
“Twenty-four hours a day. Every day.”
“That means at least 15 shifts a week,” I guessed. “At least five full-time staff.”
“Ten,” he said. “They can’t trust just one person; he might start believing in me. So they have two, at all times, to keep an eye on each other.”
“But what if both of them sympathize with you?”
“They have people watching them, too.”
I tried expanding this exponential network of people watching other people.
“Half of Canada is watching the other half,” he declared. “And the other half is watching them.”
As Marshall McLuhan once said, "A point of view can be a dangerous luxury when substituted for insight and understanding."
Our conversation, 40 years ago now, came back to me this week as I read about the growth of QAnon in the U.S. From what I can see, QAnon displays the same kind of irrationality and paranoia.
Widespread belief in conspiracies is self-contradictory. A conspiracy requires vast numbers of people. Whose activities must be closely coordinated. Without anyone knowing about it.
Although conspiracy theories have been around forever, QAnon is relatively recent. It started with a single post, in October 2017, by someone anonymously claiming “Q-level” security clearance to top secret data.
Disclosure: I have not personally received QAnon mailings. Not yet, anyway.
But Robert Guffey has. An author who spent 24 years writing about conspiracy theories in the U.S., Guffey followed up sources that a correspondent assured him would provide unchallengeable truths about – well, let’s see:
· that the 2019 election results were a media con job.
· that COVID-19 is a hoax.
· that Dr. Anthony Fauci planned the pandemic three years ago.
· that Bill Gates is using COVID-19 vaccinations to implant microchips to control everyone’s mind.
· that Celine Dion is a high priestess in the Church of Satan.
· that Hilary Clinton manufactures “adrenochrome” – a fictional hallucinogen invented by satirist Hunter S. Thompson in a 1971 novel – by torturing children in a pizza shop.
· that QAnon’s “white hats” have seized control of Google to guarantee 100% accuracy.
None of these claims get support from any credible source. But what constitutes “credible”?
Because, as Guffey found out, if you Google these subject lines, the most popular references that pop up are QAnon posts. Which, of course, confirm their truth. Because the “white hats” have done their job on Google.
It’s circular logic. Q’s allegations must be true, because when you look them up, Q confirms them.
In religion, a similar logic is often cited: Everything in the Bible must be true, because certain verses say so. And those verses must be true, because they’re in the Bible.
Timothy Pettipiece of Carleton University, writing in The Conversation Canada, makes another connection. The Gnostics – an early Christian sect – believed that they had a hot line to God. They had insights, beyond any oral or written traditions such as the Gospels or Epistles.
That no one else saw things their way simply proved their belief that they had a special knowledge denied to others.
The desire to believe
Two quotes make the parallel about conspiracy theories:
Pettipiece: “Ancient Gnostics believed that the world we perceive is, in fact, a prison constructed by demonic powers to enslave the soul and that only a small spiritual elite are blessed with special knowledge — or gnosis — that enables them to unmask this deception.”
Guffey: “No amount of logic, common sense, or reason can combat such convoluted delusions. These people are clearly the product of incessant brainwashing, and yet they think everyone else in the country is mind-controlled.”
Did you know, for example, that Hilary Clinton must have conspired to cause that container ship to run aground in the Suez Canal? It’s obvious. The ship’s call signal is H3RC – her initials.
The problem isn’t that there may be conspiracies, real or imagined. The problem is that so many people WANT to believe in them.
Copyright © 2021 by Jim Taylor. Non-profit use in congregations and study groups encouraged; links from other blogs welcomed; all other rights reserved.
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I didn’t get much mail about last week’s column, on the link between power and a;;egations of sexual misconduct. Or else I lost some of it. Most of what I got was positive.
Pati Hill, for example, wrote, “This note comes to you as an expression of my admiration of your well-researched, insightful, balanced but sharp-edged contributions…. Critical thinking tempered by compassion seem to be slipping out of common usage and I appreciate that you apply both to your subject matter.”
I made the military a target in that column. James West has served in the U.S. military (and may still be doing so). He sent me a podcast from Stars and Stripe about an investigation into sexual misconduct https://www.stripes.com/podcasts/military-matters which he called “Uncannily timely.”
Tom Watson: wondered if there is “something in the primordial DNA of men to seek and hold power. Sometimes just power for the sake of power itself. Sometimes power over women -- the power to choose for the sake of procreation and the guaranteed continuation of their specific line. Then there's the ongoing urge of men in power to control what women can and cannot do with their bodies. I watched, this morning, an interview with Governor Asa Hutchison of Arkansas. Hutchison has signed into law a bill which radically restricts the rights of women to seek abortions. He made no bones about the fact that he hopes the bill is challenged and taken to the Supreme Court, for in that lies the hope that Roe v. Wade will be overturned—an almost-50-year turning back of the clock on the rights of women.”
Lois Hollstedt: amplified Tom’s thoughts: “Jim, it is not only power – it is also male attitudes that come from centuries of paternalism and the ownership of women as chattels, and is still visible today in men of all ages.
“Unfortunately, that message still lingers and is supported by toxic masculinity…from people who are insecure and feel inadequate and who need to find a way to make themselves OK …. They believe it is the way to be a real man…which is very sad -- Including, sadly, a few women.
“Over a 45-year career, in many leadership roles with power, it never occurred to me to use that power to victimize either the women or men I worked with. The respect I had for myself as a leader would be lost if I had misused that power.”
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