“I am I said to no one there. And no one heard at all not even the chair. I am I cried. I am said I and I am lost and I can’t even say why. Leaving me lonely still.” –Neil Diamond
We talk a lot about bigots and bigotry, but at the heart of the Q’Anon conspiracy is fear and loathing. Fear is always at the root of hatred and bigotry. There’s also a certain amount of self-loathing at the heart of every conspiracy theory and cult. The most dangerous time is when something shakes that single-minded faith. That happened this week.
According to the Q orthodoxy, Donald Trump was supposed to remain in power somehow. First, he was supposed to win reelection. Then, he would find a way to invalidate the election. When that failed he would declare martial law and remain in power. On Wednesday, that all came tumbling down as Trump slinked out of Washington.
On some level, watching the collective reaction to reality is fascinating. Clinical psychologists probably love the exercise. Some double and triple down on the belief structure. They simply shift the final apocalyptic moment further down the road. That’s convenient. Others abandon that conspiracy and immediately link up with another one. Finally, there is a group that wakes from the stupor a whole lot worse for wear. A large part of them feels betrayed somehow.
We make generalizations all the time about who succumbs to these things, but there is never a hard and fast rule. Sometimes they are stereotypically uneducated and underemployed. Yet, others are very educated and otherwise somewhat successful people. The whole point is where one ends up and not necessarily the path it took to get there.
It’s a lot like watching the show The Biggest Loser. Occasionally, they populated the show with former athletes. It made you wonder how someone could have been a world class athlete at some point and wind up weighing more than 300 pounds. It can be overwhelmingly depressing to consider what was once possible with our bodies that some of us have let go. I used to be able to run a sub six minute mile in high school. I’ve run marathons and half marathons, but I’ve never come close to that again. In just the past few years, I really haven’t been able to run.
The same thing happens with our brains. I love watching people on social media brag about this degree or that degree from this institution. They could have graduated from Harvard or Hollywood Upstairs Medical College. It really doesn’t make a difference. If you don’t use your brain regularly it starts to soften. It gets weaker. You become susceptible to these kinds of things.
It’s also not necessarily a left wing thing or right wing thing. Populism seems to find its way into both ideologies. What they have in common is a framework to explain why you aren’t as far as you think you should be. Sometimes that dilemma is imagined and sometimes it’s very real. Some people legitimately have been left behind by the economy and by elites. Some people just think they have.
You can always spot a populist when they tell you it isn’t your fault. They point to a group or individual for you to direct your anger. That group or individual is never yourself. That’s the whole point and that is why coming out of the stupor is so dangerous. By the time you get to a certain age it becomes increasingly difficult to meet your expectations of how your life was supposed to go. It is never impossible. They just want you to think that it is.
There is always a kernel of truth in what they are telling you. Some people have made it harder for regular folks to succeed. Over the past forty years there have been countless new millionaires and billionaires. Just in the last year there have been an astonishing number of new billionaires. That’s not a mirage. That’s very real.
The question is who is responsible. The trouble with conspiracies is that they try to simplify everything. There is no one clear answer. Part of it is us. We have the power to make our lives better, but we either choose not to or we need a little help along the way. Part of it rests at the feet of those in power. There have been real policy shifts that have caused this to happen. People would be smart to look into that because often the people selling you the bill of goods are those really responsible.
A part of it is a fact of history. We don’t deliver milk or ice door to door anymore. There are any number of industries that have simply gone away. Politicians didn’t do that. We didn’t do that. It is just part of the evolution. We adapt or die.
So, I think everyone (or almost everyone) has empathy for the feeling that the world is passing you by. Most of us feel it at one point or another when we don’t get the job we want or wake up one day and realize that the career path we chose isn’t as fulfilling as we thought. Maybe married life is not what we thought it would be. Maybe we look around at people we perceive to be less than us that are somehow more successful. These feelings are all too real to dismiss. The problem is when we don’t do the hard work to overcome them, reconcile them, or make our situations better. Conspiracies rob us of our ability to do that. They feel good in the moment, but you wake up one day with the worst hangover of your life.