One of the more unusual phenomena to appear recently within the ranks of the Republican Party is the Qanon conspiracy theory. According to this theory, the chaos that has been appearing in the White House is somehow a mask for Trump’s main presidential strategy. In reality, rather than opposing special counsel Robert Mueller, Trump is working to bring down a global pedophile ring that includes a lot of famous people such as Barak Obama, Hillary Clinton and the billionaire George Soros. In other words, it is Democrats that are involved in this evil conspiracy. Supposedly this theory was postulated on social media by an important member of the American government. Some people believe it is Trump who is doing the posting.
Anyway, not only are the conspirators involved in a pedophile organization, but they are also planning a coup. Among other beliefs within this theory, there is the notion that certain Hollywood personalities are pedophiles. In addition, John Kennedy Jr. never really died in his plane crash, and he is now working with Trump to bring down the pedophile cabal that wants to take over the government. The theory is constantly evolving, making one new preposterous claim after another. And this is just the latest conspiracy theory to appear on the right wing fringes of the Republican Party. During the 2016 presidential election, the email account of John Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager was hacked, and the emails were revealed by Wikileaks. The New York Times wrote about one of the emails which connected Podesta with James Alefantis, the owner of the Comet Ping Pong, a pizzeria in the nation’s capital. Speculation began to grow that the pizzeria was the center of a child trafficking ring headed up by Clinton and Podesta. The notion of this supposed conspiracy was totally absurd, but that didn’t stop it from gaining traction for a while on far-right websites.
So what is generating these conspiracy theories today? In previous articles, there was discussion of what I considered to one of the main causes of all the mass murders that are occurring now. Modern technology is creating living environments where the fields of experience are increasingly frictionless and increasingly mediated. Particularly, as our fields of experience are increasingly filled with the screen reality of movies, television, video games computers, smartphones and tablets and also virtual reality. There are fewer and fewer organic experiential surfaces readily available that allow us to make, receive and preserve organic imprints. As a result, people are not able to have many rich vibrant life experiences, develop meaningful life narratives or prepare for death with a personal surrogate immortality People living in our modern technological societies experience both understimulation and overstimulation in the vacuum and tension pocket fields of experience. The vacuum of modern boxy architecture, frictionless car rides, smooth asphalt and concrete surfaces on the ground as well as screen reality and virtual reality. The tension pocket of overpopulated cities, noise pollution, air pollution, fast-paced highways, loud dirty construction sites. The tension pockets lead to burn-out and jadedness. The vacuum environments lead to numbness. And as screen reality and virtual reality occupy larger and larger spaces in our fields of experience, the vacuum environments begin to dominate in our minds. And we become more and more numb.
This serves as a backdrop for the growth of conspiracy theories in a modern technological society like the United States. Whereas mass murders are a way to fight numbness and feel alive by externalizing a lot of abrasive friction into the external world, creating what is usually a one-man tension pocket, and committing a crime based on this numbness, a conspiracy theory is a way of fighting numbness and feeling alive by internalizing a lot of abrasive friction, sucking in a tension pocket rather than expelling it, and becoming a victim rather than a victimizer. Rather than become the creator of a crime of numbness where one commits random acts of aggression to feel alive, one becomes the receiver of the aggression from an imagined focused crime of passion. And actually, whereas a random mass murder, as opposed to a terrorist massacre, is usually committed by a lone gunman, a believer in a conspiracy theory usually becomes a part of a group of people that is able to coalesce through social media. The imagined conspiracy which builds on an internalized tension pocket in the believer’s head does have the additional benefit of pulling a person out of his numbness through a secondary experiential pattern – the grounded camaraderie that comes with socially enjoying connecting with like-minded individuals.
Although Trump does not officially give his blessings to some of these extreme conspiracy theory groups, he does make enough provocative though vague statements that can be interpreted as giving his support. Certainly, Trump has been very paranoid in his reactions to the events and situations that occur around him. Trump is a perfect example of the fact that mass murders and conspiracy theories are two sides of the same coin. Not that Trump is a mass murderer. But he mentioned once that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue in New York and the support of his voters wouldn’t diminish. He felt free enough to toy with the idea of gratuitous murder. Just as he has felt free enough to verbally attack both individuals and groups constantly. And then there are all the conspiracy statements he makes. Muller and his team are supposedly carrying out a witch hunt in their investigation of Russia’s involvement in the 2016 elections. The Latin immigrants to the United States are supposedly members of the Salvadoran gang MS-13. There was supposedly a conspiracy to deprive Trump of an election by the majority of Americans who voted for president. And on it goes. Trump is a one-man antidote for all the numb Americans who live empty directionless lives. He is not a formal part of the conspiracy landscapes the way that Qanon is. But his barrage of informal statements has acted as a trigger to the formation of more formal right-wing extremists. And his statements act to provoke fear in those of us who worry about what happens, if someday, some of these conspiracy theorists act to defend themselves more forcefully against these unnatural fears.
(c) 2018 Laurence Mesirow