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    November 2021
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  • RSS Paul Krugman: Conscience of a Liberal

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    The Confluence

  • RSS Suburban Guerrilla

    • Find a river
      But I do not know where she lies And I do not know if she cries Or laughs at me Oh Lord, Oh Lord, Oh Lord I wanna find my baby Oh I wanna find a river.
  • RSS Ian Welsh

    • The Ukraine Crisis Is Just A Chance To Acknowledge Choices Already Made
      I read two fairly good articles this week. One, in Foreign Affairs, makes out the maximalist Russian case: Putin also believes that Russia has an absolute right to a sphere of privileged interests in the post-Soviet space. This means its former Soviet neighbors should not join any alliances that are deemed hostile to Moscow, particularly NATO or the European […]
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QAnon Offers Its Followers an Escape from Insignificance

You may have seen or read a little bit about that even weirder, if that is possible, fringe of the QAnon cult, which went down to Dallas awaiting the return of John F. Kennedy , Jr., who was then going to announce his support for Donald Trump to return to office. No other comment on this particular insane delusion is necessary.

What may be worthwhile, is to try to comprehend why so many people have eagerly flocked to the QAnon insanity. Not that we want to “understand them” in some New Age way, but they are out there, and some of them are probably dangerous, and so we should seek to figure out why they joined, why they persist in it, and why the conspiracy theories and the delusions seem to increase in scope.

Of course, that is what they say about hard drugs, the very limited knowledge of which I have obtained from reading about. Supposedly, an addict needs a larger dose, or an increase in effect, as the earlier levels do not continue to give them what they are seeking. That is a physiological effect, but there is also the psychological component, the search for a greater impact, a more powerful vision, something to exceed the previous experiences. This would be more common with something like LSD, than with the opiates, where the physiological effect is what is sought.

Cults are not hard drugs, but many people, including those who write about such things, like to use the analogy. The team “addiction” is overbroadly used, I think, with regard to so many things, but it may be the easiest way for us to try to understand what is going on.

I am not minimizing that aspect, but I like to try to understand it in more psychological and existential terms. Why do people join what we outside them call cults? Why are there all these literally insane conspiracy theories being voiced and believed, with regard to virtually every subject? Why do they, instead of going away, seem to morph into even more bizarre and unsettling “theories”?

One of my earlier essays here was with regard to QAnon, and some of my thoughts as to why various people are drawn to it. Without ever in the slightest sympathizing with these people, I wrote that I can perceive a certain appeal in being part of a group which agrees with you, where you can share your weirdest thoughts and get praise for them. And then the excitement of imagining that you are learning and discovering exciting new facts, so much better than dealing with the humdrum of daily life, particularly for those who essentially have no intellectual stimulation.

It is both ironic and inevitable that what we call “The Information Age” or “The Computer Age” should have led to this. I am far from knowledgeable about how computers work, but I think I can understand at least some of the cultural effects. What computers have done is to provide a different view of the world, akin to looking at the other end of the telescope. A world which seemed so immeasurable and diverse, now contracts so that one can theoretically communicate with anyone in it.

And while it might provide some people with the sense that they can have “friends” all over the world, it also creates the unsettling sense in people of being mundane. There are ten billion people or so out there, with similar thoughts, similar goals, the same tastes in music or desserts. That may initially be satisfying to know, but it ultimately could cause one to not feel very special, particularly if one lacks much of a sense of self.

And most people want to feel special in some way, not just be a metaphorical grain of sand on the beach. And if one indeed has never had much of an intellectual life, has never thrilled to being able to understand how the politics, social life, and art of a particular historical era all fit together; or had the excitement of finding a theme in a novel which ties it together in a new way, there is very little to provide the sense of uniqueness that one might crave. Of course, some paint their hair or skin a variety of colors, to fulfill a need for being special, but styles get copied very quickly, and then the excitement might go away.

But if one could join a group of people who essentially shared your view of what is going on in the world, and how it needs to be fixed, that can be rewarding. And then, when there is a group which avidly anticipates the new revelations of a mysterious person who calls himself “Q,” because he has a “Q Clearance,” which he says is the highest government clearance one can have, it becomes even more exciting.

And when “Q” tells his followers that what the rest of the people out there think or believe, is totally wrong, naive, and stupid, this is really thrilling. All those people out there: the professors , the pundits, the intellectuals, your neighbor, are totally wrong and unaware. But you, and your group, are being given a peek into the inner sanctum. All that sense you always had, that things are not what they seem; that there are shadowy malevolent figures pulling the strings, and cheating you out of those things you always knew you deserved, but which keep going to other people, was right!

You can’t wait for the next “Q Crumb.” And if his predictions do not come true, well, maybe they soon will; or they get changed into an even more exciting prediction; and the other one not materializing, was because the evil people interfered; but do not worry, Trump and his closest acolytes were prepared, and it all will result in an even more climactic result. In some sense, this is not unlike the promises of the con men, which I wrote about recently, but this is in a form which doesn’t look like the standard con, and it also has the advantage of playing into the preconceived views of its marks.

And what is the goal of Mr. Q? Well, I don’t know that there is just one of them, or if it is a group of people, or just what. I am sure that money goes to them, so that is one immediate and timeworn goal. And there may be something more insidious, an effort to control many people and get them to destroy civilization, to the extent that certain people will take over all the levers of power.

Who knows? It may have started as one thing, and evolved to another. I would guess that it was sort of a game for whoever started it. There are so many marks out there, people who pride themselves on being suspicious of every single thing they were told in school, from the moon landing, to the various assassinations of world leaders, to scientific findings, or health advisories; and yet wholly buy into anti-scientific, illogical nonsense.

But believing in it makes them special. It restores that sense of importance and power that they lost in the process of getting older and entering the world of disappointments and subtle insults, and things they don’t like or understand. They are special. Their group is special.

Ludicrously, they decide that Donald Trump, one of the stupidest, most venal and cruel people who ever existed, is the savior sent down to give them what they deserve. He will punish the devils in human form who keep telling them things they don’t want to hear, or helping people they hate. He, this bloated, sick-looking man whose virtually every body part is fake; who has never opened a book in his life, other than Hitler’s manifesto; who takes what he wants, as they so much want to do, is the person whom the god they profess to believe in, has sent down to fulfill their desires and save the world.

There is a strong element of religious fanaticism in these beliefs. Also racism, anti-semitism, misogyny, anti-intellectualism, anti-knowledge, anti-science; anger, hatred, violent fantasies. In regard to how Trump gives them an exemplification and validation of these impulses, he is indeed what they have wished for–except that he is the projection of who they are. They just never got to encounter anyone as loathsome to the people they hate, so they love him for it. It could have been someone else, but there he is. They have been prepared for this by decades of endless propaganda and hatred spewed out on radio and television.

Without their Q-Cult, they do not have anything to fulfill a certain part of them. And it’s fun. Most people slog along, worrying about bills, or living expenses, wondering how to give themselves a modicum of pleasure each day. The Q folks wake up excited; what will they learn today? When will Hillary and Nancy be burned at the stake? When will there be mass executions on the White House lawn? When will famous people of the past return to complete the circle; destroy their enemies, and bestow upon their group all the things they have longed for? That is something to look forward to wake up to each day.

So it can be compared to an addiction, or it can be viewed as adult children playing detective, or superhero. In the superhero stories, they mostly fight for the good, though I suppose that some of them have flaws. In the cults of the Far Right, there is virtually no moral responsibility, you can do what you want. Violence is also a drug, it seems for many of them to be the only fulfillment they can attain.

It is far from a pleasant thing to think about for the holiday season, but we don’t have to dwell on it. Just be aware of it, and try to comprehend out what people, and what psychological needs, are behind it. There have always been weird belief systems, and cults, but the Age of the Internet has served as the catalyst to bring together the crackpots and haters and sociopaths.

And where there are marks and suckers, there are always those who will exploit them. I have always believed that if everyone was required to read many classic novels in school, many more people would gain insights and empathy into the human condition, which is the antidote against the poison of ignorant credulousness and hate which “Q” and his followers share.

Even with all that, one can have a Happy Thanksgiving!