Dear fellow downwardly mobile, declassed and deskilled middle-aged suburban white kids,
I get you. Our lives didn’t all turn out the same but I imagine there are common threads. Our demographic being what it is, a fair number of us just barely avoided a heroin overdose, ended up one DWI short of a prison stretch, bought a house we couldn’t afford, threw some money into a landscaping business or got a license in a building trade to support kids we were too young to have. We’re killing ourselves in ways that are easier to ignore than to walk away from, and people talk about us being privileged when it doesn’t feel that way at all. Life is hard and that feels like a scientific fact.
So again, I get you, and I want to talk about the conspiracy stuff.
I doubt that most of you are lunatics. Maybe you’re doubling down on opposition against the idea that people who are more powerful than you want you to do something. And there are others who come across a lot of information shared by friends and family about dangers associated with these things, and then you repeat that information, and it all goes around in a circle.
While I don’t particularly want you to die, you’re within your rights to engage in behavior that endangers you. This is normal: People we care about get through their days by doing things that are terrible for them. The endless memes that fly around on social media are loaded with false equivalents, and maybe the examples I’m about to offer are that, but since everyone else is doing it I will too.
It’s sad when someone insists on drinking themself to death, but it’s monstrous when they get wasted and drive around. They’re an accident waiting to happen, everyone knows it, and I think it would be difficult to find anyone willing to cheer the behavior on.
Same deal with smoking. Go ahead, smoke. Even if you don’t get cancer the later years of your life will be miserable, but whatever. Smoke. But if you’re smoking inside with your kids in the room you’re an idiot and an asshole, and if you’re smoking in an airplane they’ll land the fucker.
There are laws that prohibit these things, and lucky for everyone, there’s no way to smoke on a plane without others noticing right away. And if you drift between lanes at 2 AM with a cop behind you you’re going to get pulled over.
Exposing other people to your dangerous behaviors is stupid and selfish, and unlike with the two examples above, in the context of COVID, there’s no way to let people know you’re endangering them.
Except, of course, when you loudly announce it any time anyone suggests that you might mildly inconvenience yourself for the benefit of others, which is what happens any time the prospect of wearing a mask for five minutes raises its head. And god forbid someone asks you to devote a single hour of your life to receiving an injection that, despite the disinformation campaign launched against it, will increase your chances of surviving an illness and will also diminish your chances of transmitting it to someone whose health is compromised and might die or suffer lasting impacts should they get sick.
But the thing that worries me most is the fact that right wing extremist organizations are actively trying to recruit you by pushing COVID conspiracy theories. I pay a lot of attention to right wing social media, and vaccine conspiracy is the common denominator of all white supremacist organizations and avowedly (like, they call themselves this) fascist groups.
Now, I won’t lie: I think MAGA is as dumb as shit, but the thing that really worries me about it is that it’s holding itself together with a conspiracy theory that refuses to fall apart no matter how ludicrous it is, and it’s currently hand-in-hand with COVID disinformation.
In regard to any given conspiracy theory, lots of people will say that it’s stupid, and lots of people will say it’s crazy, and lots of people will say it’s predatory, and it is often all three things at the same time. But I don’t think that’s all it is, because it ignores desire as a motivator. At a certain point, it is necessary to accept that people want the conspiracy to be true.
So, this is my fear: If you’re willing to believe these conspiracies then you’re going to be willing to believe similar conspiracies, and you’re going to reach a point where you can’t believe anything that doesn’t validate them. Because conspiracies of this size need millions and millions of people to work, and you’re going to arrive at a point where you’re not going to be able to have faith in others and you’re going to abandon any hope for the future.
The vibe I get from COVID conspiracies is that of Helen Lovejoy (see? I’m a middle-aged suburban white guy) wailing “Won’t someone please think of the children?” Because it’s parents that have been the shock troops of COVID conspiracies, and it goes hand-in-hand with protests against books and curriculum that teach history that doesn’t stop at this single sentence: George Washington was awesome.
So, the thing that happens with COVID conspiracy theories is that any time anyone who you like gets criticized it’s Soviet-style censorship, and any time the possibility of a mask or vaccine mandate gets raised you put yellow stars on and panic as you share fake articles about FEMA camps.
I imagine you see the hypocrisy. Qanon was a fake secret mission to save children from sex slavery that was widely circulated in the same period of time in which children were sleeping under space blankets in DHS detention centers (this is still happening). They died of preventable illnesses and several of them were sexually assaulted by government employees. The Trump administration didn’t save those children, nor did it save the imaginary kids that Nancy Pelosi was face-fucking with a strap-on.
But maybe the hypocrisy is part of what feels good about it.
Conspiracy theories are exhausting. During my childhood, an influential adult in my life was very mentally ill, passing through lengthy manic episodes into psychosis. He had periods of time in which he simply could not shut the fuck up, and would speak endlessly about nothing. I would go on autopilot and simply nod and say ‘yeah’ every once in a while and that was all he required (later, I realized that I could just leave the room… he would continue talking in my absence).
Conspiracy theories work in the same way. Someone throws a million stupid things at the wall of the human mind and prays that something sticks. Because if you say everything some small bit of it might end up being true and then, amazingly, the rest of it might not be blatant lies and wish fulfillment.
The other tough thing about conspiracy theories is that there are indeed conspiracies. The Nixon administration really did orchestrate a burglary of the DNC offices. The Reagan Administration really did sell weapons to Iran to fund the mass-murdering Contras. People coordinate activity in secret. Definitely.
But that shit ends up in the light of day eventually. It’s impossible to keep a coworker from figuring out that you went out to lunch without him or to prevent kids from realizing that it’s not Santa Claus giving them presents. So if the Jews orchestrated 9/11 I would imagine there would be a plausible and compelling leak somewhere along the way.
Another trick that conspiracy theorists use to convince you of ludicrous things is that they find someone who agrees with them and who can say that they’re an expert.
Maybe they’re a doctor, or were involved in medical research at some point in time, or worked for a pharmaceutical company. They feed you what they want you to believe and they use a ton of expert knowledge that you’re not familiar with regarding research, regulation, and organization, and they’ll draw lots of connections between these things. And you will have no fucking idea whether any of it is true, but it will sound plausible. You won’t get to hear the fact-checking and so you’ll think they were trustworthy and not someone selling snake-oil.
Another thing about conspiracies? They happen for a reason, and the cost-benefit analysis makes sense.
Here’s a stupid and crazy thing, drooled onto a keyboard from retired psychiatrist and full time lunatic Peter Breggin, M.D.: “Are the predators mistaken and overly zealous or are they evil and bad-intentioned? How much of what they do involves a degree of blundering versus carefully planned destruction? How close are they with Chinese Communists, and how big a threat is the collaboration between globalist predators and Xi Jinping? Is Communist China one of many threats or is it the most dangerous enemy?”
Read that quote carefully.
What he actually said is that literally any motive, from satanic sadism to human error could be at play in a concerted effort between enormous corporations and the second largest national economy to destroy America. Dr. Breggin, apparently, for some reason, thinks that there is a global cadre of rich and powerful people seeking to rule the world through the regime of COVID politics.
What’s stupid about this? THEY ALREADY RULE THE FUCKING WORLD AND HAVE FOR HUNDREDS OF YEARS. And they don’t give a shit that people know. They do whatever they want in broad daylight. It doesn’t need to be uncovered or understood. It’s punishingly obvious.
And there’s a coordinated conspiracy? You ordered your kid’s playstation through Amazon, and it got slapped together in China. That’s not a conspiracy, that’s contemporary capitalism. Does it suck? Fuck yeah it does, and I’m right there with you. Let’s overthrow it.
And maybe that’s the thing about all of this. We’ve watched our real incomes decline and most of us didn’t realize our dreams. Life is a struggle, our marriages are frayed, the work we do is disappointing. We’ll never get to start fresh and learn new skills. Most of us are a few bad weeks away from a personal economic armageddon and there’s not much reason to believe that we’re going to be anything other than paupers when we’re too old to work. We feel powerless. Maybe believing in nefarious conspiracies makes the fact that we failed to fight for something better easier to accept.
But if we continue to take this ‘plandemic’ garbage more seriously than a need to get over our shit, band together with other people getting crushed by the same economic factors, and stop the actually existing and obvious conspiracy in which the rich and powerful rig the game and laugh at the plebes as they wave the flag, then we’ll continue to be the stupid marks that false saviors are happy to manipulate and rip off.