Plunging Into the Abyss
As even our smartest friends fall to conspiracy fever, we have to accept it’s not about logic or politics, but addiction
It comes in waves. A friend here, a co-worker there, getting curious about one conspiracy theory or another until they follow one too many trailheads, and end up over the edge. It’s a casualty of living in disorienting times, we tell ourselves. It will eventually pass.
But the hardest part is when the people we’ve traditionally looked to for their brilliance and insights fall into this paranoid trap, as well. They leave us wondering how this could happen to people smarter than ourselves. As Kurt Andersen tweeted over the weekend, “Strangers turning en masse these last decades into crazed crackpot conspiracy theorists has been bad enough, but an educated, talented, funny, sweet, cosmopolitan old friend plunging into that abyss is a really disturbing, depressing Invasion of the Body Snatchers experience.”
Many of us have been mourning the loss of some of our smartest friends to extremism. I would say “extremism on both sides,” but right now I am really just referring to the side we used to call Q or alt-right, which has now settled into a widespread belief that the compromises required to live together in society are an affront to human liberty.
Yes, most of these people still do believe that Trump is returning as president sometime in August, that Biden lost the election, that Obama and other Democrat operatives hacked voting machines remotely from Italy and Germany, that Covid was developed intentionally in a lab, that most versions of the vaccine are laced with nanobots, that the global pederasty rings are still about to be revealed, and that certain factions in the military are ready to take over when they get the signal. But these beliefs are not really the part that’s so distressing to those of us on the more conventional side of reality.
No, the disturbing part — at least to me — are not any of the particular fantasies they’re hanging onto, but the stiffness and intransigence of it all. The angry, dogmatic manner…