On the psychology of the conspiracy denier
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March 17, 2021 (Reporting for Beauty) — Why is it that otherwise perfectly intelligent, thoughtful and rationally minded people baulk at the suggestion that sociopaths are conspiring to manipulate and deceive them? And why will they defend this ill-founded position with such vehemence?
History catalogues the machinations of liars, thieves, bullies and narcissists and their devastating effects. In modern times too, evidence of corruption and extraordinary deceptions abound. We know, without question, that politicians lie and hide their connections and that corporations routinely display utter contempt for moral norms - that corruption surrounds us. We know that revolving doors between the corporate and political spheres, the lobbying system, corrupt regulators, the media and judiciary mean that wrongdoing is practically never brought to any semblance of genuine justice. We know that the press makes noise about these matters occasionally but never pursues them with true vigor. We know that in the intelligence services and law enforcement wrongdoing on a breathtaking scale is commonplace and that, again, justice is never forthcoming. We know that governments repeatedly ignore or trample on the rights of the people, and actively abuse and mistreat the people. None of this is controversial.
So exactly what is it that conspiracy deniers refuse to acknowledge with such fervor, righteousness and condescension? Why, against all the evidence, do they sneeringly and contemptuously defend the crumbling illusion that 'the great and good' are up there somewhere, have everything in hand, have only our best interests at heart, and are scrupulous, wise and sincere? That the press serves the people and truth rather than the crooks? That injustice after injustice result from mistakes and oversights, and never from that dread word: conspiracy? What reasonable person would continue to inhabit such a fantasy world? The point of disagreement here is only on the matter of scale. Someone who is genuinely curious about the plans of powerful sociopaths won't limit the scope of their curiosity to, for example, one corporation, or one nation. Why would they? Such a person assumes that the same patterns on display locally are likely to be found all the way up the power food chain. But the conspiracy denier insists this is preposterous. Why?
It is painfully obvious that the pyramidical societal and legal structures that humanity has allowed to develop are exactly the kind of dominance hierarchies that undoubtedly favor the sociopath. A humane being operating with a normal and healthy cooperative mindset has little inclination to take part in the combat necessary to climb a corporate or political ladder. So what do conspiracy deniers imagine the 70 million or more sociopaths in the world do all day, born into a 'game', in which all the wealth and power are at the top of the pyramid, while the most effective attributes for 'winning' are ruthlessness and amorality? Have they never played Monopoly? Sociopaths do not choose their worldview consciously, and are simply unable to comprehend why normal people would put themselves at such an incredible disadvantage by limiting themselves with conscientiousness and empathy, which are as beyond the understanding of the sociopath as a world without them are to the humane being. All the sociopath need do to win in the game is lie publicly whilst conspiring privately. What could be simpler? In 2021, to continue to imagine that the world we inhabit is not largely driven by this dynamic amounts to reckless naivete bordering on insanity. Where does such an inadvertently destructive impulse originate?
The infant child places an innate trust in those it finds itself with - a trust which is, for the most part, essentially justified. The infant could not survive otherwise. In a sane and healthy society, this deep instinct would evolve as the psyche developed. As self-awareness, the cognitive and reasoning abilities and skepticism evolved in the individual, this innate trust impulse would continue to be understood as a central need of the psyche. Shared belief systems would exist to consciously evolve and develop this childish impulse in order to place this faith somewhere consciously - in values and beliefs of lasting meaning and worth to the society, the individual, or, ideally, both. Reverence and respect for tradition, natural forces, ancestors, for reason, truth, beauty, liberty, the innate value of life, or the initiating spirit of all things, might all be considered valid resting places in which to consciously place our trust and faith - as well as those derived from more formalized belief systems.
Regardless of the path taken to evolve and develop a personal faith, it is the bringing of one's own consciousness and cognition to this innate impulse that is relevant here. I believe this is a profound responsibility - to develop and cultivate a mature faith - which many are, understandably, unaware of. What occurs when there is a childish need within us which has never evolved beyond its original survival function of trusting those in our environment who are, simply, the most powerful; the most present and active? When we have never truly explored our own psyches, and deeply interrogated what we truly believe and why? When our motivation for trusting anything or anyone goes unchallenged? When philosophy is left to the philosophers?
I suggest the answer is simple, and that the evidence of this phenomenon and the havoc it is wreaking is all around us: the innate impulse to trust the mother never evolves, never encounters and engages with its counterbalance of reason (or mature faith), and remains forever on its 'default' infant setting. While the immature psyche no longer depends on parents for its well-being, the powerful and motivating core tenet I have described remains intact: unchallenged, unconsidered and undeveloped. And, in a world in which stability and security are distant memories, these survival instincts, rather than being well-honed, considered, relevant, discerning and up to date, remain, quite literally, those of a baby. Trust is placed in the biggest, loudest, most present and undeniable force around, because instinct decrees that survival depends on it. And, in this great 'world nursery', the most omnipresent force is the network of institutions which consistently project an unearned image of power, calm, expertise, concern and stability.
In my view, this is how conspiracy deniers are able to cling to and aggressively defend the utterly illogical fantasy that somehow - above a certain undefined level of the societal hierarchy - corruption, deceit, malevolence and narcissism mysteriously evaporate. That, contrary to the maxim, the more power a person has, the more integrity they will inevitably exhibit. These poor deluded souls essentially believe that where personal experience and prior knowledge cannot fill in the gaps in their worldview - in short, where there is a barred door - mummy and daddy are behind it, working out how best to ensure that their little precious will be comfortable, happy and safe forever. This is the core, comforting illusion at the root of the conspiracy denier's mindset, the decrepit foundation upon which they build a towering castle of justification from which to pompously jeer at and mock those who see otherwise.
This explains why it is that the conspiracy denier will attack any suggestion that the caregiving archetype is no longer present - that sociopaths are behind the barred door, who hold us all in utter contempt or disregard us completely. The conspiracy denier will attack any such suggestion as viciously as if their survival depended on it - which, in a way, within the makeup of their unconscious and precarious psyche, it does. Their sense of well-being, of security, of comfort, even of a future at all, is completely (and completely unconsciously) invested in this fantasy. The infant has never matured, and, because they are not conscious of this, other than as a deep attachment to their personal security, they will fiercely attack any threat to this unconscious and central aspect of their worldview.
The tediously common refrain from the conspiracy denier is, 'there couldn't be a conspiracy that big'. The simple retort to such a self-professed expert on conspiracies is obvious: how big? The biggest 'medical' corporations in the world can go for decades treating the settling of court cases as mere business expenses, for crimes ranging from the suppressing of adverse test events to multiple murders resulting from undeclared testing to colossal environmental crimes. Governments perform the vilest and most unthinkable 'experiments' (crimes) on their own people without consequence. Politicians habitually lie to our faces, without consequence. And on and on. At what point, exactly, does a conspiracy become so big that 'they' just couldn't get away with it, and why? I suggest it's at the point where the cognitive ability of the conspiracy denier falters, and their unconscious survival instinct kicks in. The point at which the intellect becomes overwhelmed with the scope of events and the instinct is to settle back into the familiar comforting faith known and cultivated since the first moment one’s lips found the nipple. The faith that someone else is dealing with it - that where the world becomes unknown to us, a powerful and benevolent human authority exists in which we have only to place our faith unconditionally in order to guarantee eternal emotional security. This dangerous delusion may be the central factor placing humanity's physical security and future in the hands of sociopaths.
To anyone in the habit of dismissing people who are questioning, investigative and skeptical as tin foil hat wearing, paranoid, science-denying Trump supporters, the question is: what do you believe in? Where have you placed your faith and why? How is it that while no one trusts governments, you appear to trust nascent global governance organizations without question? How is this rational? If you are placing faith in such organizations, consider that in the modern global age, these organizations, as extraordinarily well presented as they are, are simply grander manifestations of the local versions we know we can't trust. They are not our parents and demonstrate no loyalty to humane values. There is no reason to place any faith whatsoever in any of them. If you haven't consciously developed a faith or questioned why you believe as you do to some depth, such a position might seem misanthropic, but in truth, it is the opposite. These organizations have not earned your trust with anything other than PR money and glossy lies. True power remains, as ever, with the people.
There is a reason why Buddhists strongly advise the placing of one's faith in the Dharma, or the natural law of life, rather than in persons, and that similar refrains are common in other belief systems. Power corrupts. And, in the world today, misplaced and unfounded trust could well be one of the greatest sources of power there is.
Massive criminal conspiracies exist. The evidence is overwhelming. The scope of those currently underway is unknown, but there is no reason to imagine, in the new global age, that the sociopathic quest for power or the possession of the resources required to move towards it is diminishing. Certainly not while dissent is mocked and censored into silence by gatekeepers, ‘useful idiots’, and conspiracy deniers, who are, in fact, directly colluding with the sociopathic agenda through their unrelenting attack on those who would shine a light on wrongdoing. It is every humane being's urgent responsibility to expose sociopathic agendas wherever they exist - never to attack those who seek to do so. Now, more than ever, it is time to put away childish things, and childish impulses, and to stand up as adults to protect the future of the actual children who have no choice but to trust us with their lives.
This essay has focussed on what I consider to be the deepest psychological driver of conspiracy denial. There are certainly others, such as the desire to be accepted; the avoidance of knowledge of, and engagement with, the internal and external shadow; the preservation of a positive and righteous self-image: a generalized version of the 'flying monkey' phenomenon, in which a self-interested and vicious class protect themselves by coalescing around the bully; the subtle unconscious adoption of the sociopathic worldview (e.g. 'humanity is the virus'); outrage addiction/ superiority complex/ status games; a stunted or unambitious intellect that finds validation through maintaining the status quo; the dissociative protective mechanism of imagining that crimes and horrors committed repeatedly within our lifetime are somehow not happening now, not 'here'; and plain old fashioned laziness and cowardice. My suggestion is that, to some degree, all of these build on the foundation of the primary cause I've outlined here.
Originally published at Reporting for Beauty. Reprinted with permission.
Tim Foyle is an Englishman who loves cats, nature, music, food, humanity and truth. You can follow his writings here: reportingforbeauty.substack.com and on Twitter: @timfoyl