Hermione Luck / Chief Columnist
Conspiracy and Reality
May 29, 2020
Recently, I was sent an article by a psychiatrist friend that piqued my interest. The article, authored by Reed Berkowitz, is a fascinating look at how conspiracy theories can be part of a bigger trend wherein life is literally becoming a video game.
Those of you who read me regularly know that I’m not a bigtime fan of video games. Aside from the huge screen time issues and what this might be doing to the brain, my main concern has always centered on the abundance of violence these video games can suggest, especially for young boys.
I now have an equally pressing concern for how the spread of conspiracy theories often reflects the same rabbit hole and the dangerous alchemy of infusing reality with fantasy.
A conspiracy theory often begins by trying to create the fog of war. It makes people heroes by attaching itself to heroic goals like saving the republic from the elites, or the children from the pedophiles. It begins with a series of statements that could be true, as in most anything could be true.
And then, with a community of like-minded support, it graduates from ‘maybe’ to ‘probably’ to ‘pretty sure’ to ‘that’s a fact’.
Berkowitz is an alternative reality game creator, specializing in video games that are commonly called ARGs and LARPs. These group games start on a computer and finish in the real world. They are pre-planned experiences adorned with rabbit holes where the deeper you go, the more you find out. They are exciting and provocative.
With Q and his conspiracy motherlode, recruitment to the cause hinges on going down similar rabbit holes depending upon a phenomenon called “apophenia”, perceiving a connection or meaningful pattern between unrelated or random things. Here is a simplified example of that occurrence. Berkowitz writes of creating an ARG which brought people to a specific location, a basement where something was hidden.
Unbeknownst to him, there were small wood scraps on the floor of that basement which formed a perfectly shaped arrow, and these arrows pointed to a blank wall in the basement. The participants in the game decided that the arrow was related to the solution and to the final truth of the game.
The participants then found what they believe was a second clue – tools nearby the wall. They concluded that the object they sought was behind the wall, and this became their truth, even though it remains behind the wall, and would so remain.
The spread of conspiracy theories relies on a ‘breadcrumb trail’ which puts a rumor or thread of truth out there, and then encourages people to run with it. Along the way, numerous unrelated observations are folded in.
The community echo chamber in which conspiracy proponents live invariably goes viral. The truth of the exercise is not discovering the story, but creating it. Berkowitz postulates that when someone actually comes to embracing this ‘truth’, there’s a sense of accomplishment and relief similar to what many psychologists call the ‘aha moment’.
Research suggests that this experience can release a pleasant flow of the neurotransmitter dopamine … no wonder conspiracies are so popular. The new drug of the masses.
Let’s make our own conspiracy – let’s postulate that doctors give you Covid. Let’s create our own trail of breadcrumbs. You go to the doctor without symptoms because your adult children insist that you should be checked for Covid.
After an examination, you find out you don’t have Covid. Two weeks later you get Covid without contact with anyone except at the grocery store. How did you possibly come down with the virus?
For years, you’ve been reading a number of random articles about how the elite are conniving to rule the world, and you realize that doctors are part of the elite … strike one. Then you remember that the doctor took a swab sample from your nose and he could have put anything up your nose while he was in there … strike two.
Then another random fact is added – a lot of doctors are either Jewish, immigrants, or minorities … strike three. You proceed to go into a chat room to share your discovery. All the random facts that support your discovery seemingly validate pre-existing fears – that the elites are taking over, that Jews have always pulled the strings, that minorities are part of the plot. Once your discovery makes the rounds on the Net, it morphs into a conspiracy – that your Jewish doctor with the black wife gave you Covid. For my part, I’m not sure what is worse – doctors giving you Covid or life becoming a video game. This I do know … brace yourself. The ride is far from over…