Reporting about QAnon theorists at Trump events was generally framed today as "point & laugh at weird conspiracy cult," omitting detail & background about what's driving conspiracy theories. Specifically, we need to start recognizing conspiracy thought as inherent to capitalism.
We already know some of the psychological predilections that correlate with conspiracy thought. Narcissism is one. Conspiracy theorists score high on narcissism - they want to believe they hold secret knowledge about the world. It doesn't matter if the "knowledge" is nonsense.
Fear is another motivator for conspiracy thought. Reducing complicated, frightening societal forces down to a single, identifiable proximate cause is a way to feel in control of a situation, even if the identified "cause" is demonstrably nonsense (such as vaccines & autism).
Because conspiracy thought serves as a psychological buffer - increasing value of the self thru narcissism, protection from fears of an uncertain world - it doesn't HAVE to make sense. That's why it's hard to reason with conspiracy theorists. Facts are not at play, only emotion.
But like mental illness, conspiracy thought is something we cannot depoliticize. It ebbs and flows depending on societal circumstances. Right now we're seeing an apex of conspiracy theories due to our disastrous economic conditions, environmental circumstances & uncertain future.
Conspiracy thought is a form of protective magical thinking. Afraid of being shot? Make up a story that shootings don't really happen & it's all fake. Then you're safe! Afraid of your baby getting an injection? If vaccines cause autism, you're protecting your baby by opting out.
People are more willing than ever to latch on to conspiracies as any explanation for the fear & lack of control they feel. Is this an excuse for racist, anti-Semitic bullshit? OF COURSE IT'S FUCKING NOT, but we must theorize about why these beliefs are prevalent to combat them.
We must move toward a new, politicized understanding of conspiracy as a product of capitalism. Conspiracy theories provide convenient ways to "understand" the complexities of a world of capitalist oppression. That's why they often involve already-marginalized, scapegoated targets
Anti-Semitic, anti-freemason, & anti-immigrant conspiracy theories share the same central concept: narratives that blame identifiable targets for control or misappropriation of wealth & capital. Are you poor? Scared? It's because of the Jews! Or masons! Or immigrants! Not bosses.
When combined with nationalism & the fetishization of a nostalgic past-state that never really existed, conspiracy theories can become dangerous & weaponized. That's what we are seeing now - huge engagement levels, "mainstreaming" conspiracy, retreat into false narratives.
Most conspiracy thought at its heart can be traced upwards to these often racist currents of who is allowed to control wealth & capital. Even theories that have no explicit surface racism like antivax often have an implication of "who is profiting, exploiting or controlling us?"
Anti-Semitism, central to many conspiracies, has always had bullshit themes about Jewish people using wealth to infiltrate & manipulate government. The incredible opacity of the movement of global capital makes these simplistic, racist arguments seem sensible and appealing.
This is why conspiracy theories are a gateway to alt-right & fascist thought. The mysterious, uncontrollable, out-of-reach movement of capital, desire to retake institutions from an imagined enemy, & scapegoating of the marginalized are central & inalienable to conspiracy thought
Conspiracy theories are a slip 'n slide to the alt-right, even the seemingly innocuous ones, because research shows that if people believe in one they are vastly more likely to eventually adopt others. It is most effective to intervene early if you can.
Don't put off someone's belief in the New Coke or water fluoridation conspiracies as a charming quirk. A year later that person will want to tell you all about black helicopters. Talk gently. Show evidence. Give alternatives to fear-based thought: organizing, community action.
There is more to say about constructions of reality in conspiracy thought, but that's not for this thread. Suffice to say, conspiracy thought is
1) inherently always political
2) shaped by societal forces.
It's not harmless & is likely going to get worse before it gets better.
Like mental illness, it benefits the capitalist structure to keep conspiracy theories depoliticized & treat them like a harmless freakshow. It's up to us to point out constantly that capitalism is hurting us, our brains, our friends & neighbors in ways we rarely even think about.