The derangement of the modern human
The rise of extremism and conspiracy theorists.
Have we failed these people or is it inevitable?
Punishment and condemnation have their place, but what if you want to pull someone back from the fringes of society? Surely, you have to entertain a sense of empathy, understanding and care – due to the nature of these types of people they’re likely to be volatile, vulnerable, sensitive and/or hostile – but this is something the average person seems unable or at least unwilling to do. After all, lending a helping hand to those you deem least deserving is always the most difficult task.
“Why and how have these people ended up here?”
I mean, where do you honestly start with a discussion like this? People are so quick to judge, demonise and dehumanise people, small wonder that some are pushed to the edges. The more you isolate people, the more likely these people will fall prey to opportunists. Extremist groups seek out the isolated, the disillusioned, the weak, the vulnerable, the angry, and technology has made it far easier for this process to occur (and more covertly which is the dangerous thing).
However, as I said last week, freedom of speech is not freedom from consequence, so, while there may be an element of victimisation it's imperative to not forget about personal agency and responsibility – very easy and convenient for some to think these don’t apply to them. As we know though, history is awash with extremely persuasive snake oil salesmen who could sell condoms to a monk.
“If people cannot write well, they cannot think well, and if they cannot think well, others will do their thinking for them.” – George Orwell
As I wrote in my article “Overwhelmed and Exhausted”, we are not designed to care about so many things. This, combined with the rate of change we’re currently experiencing, is deranging us and making it difficult to understand and remember what it is to be human i.e. the acceleration of change outstrips the capacity to adapt. In amongst the chaos, along come individuals or groups who claim to know things with 100% certainty and/or offer “new” knowledge, perspectives and predictions usually highlighting how you’ve been wronged/tricked/deceived and how you will be rewarded at some future point and/or obligated to fight for what’s yours/right.
As the majority of us have lives to lead, work to do, familial and friendship relations to maintain and occasionally do something for leisure and enjoyment, we don’t have an abundance of time to ascertain the level of truth in everyone’s claims. As a result we use what psychologists call heuristics; to the layperson these are effectively mental shortcuts which we use to solve problems and make judgements/decisions to reduce cognitive overload and make efficient use of time.
Once again, our inherent flaws as humans are preyed upon by the manipulators – sowing a seed of doubt even if that seed turns out to be a cyanide pill. Extremists and conspiracy theorists capitalise on a time-poor and mentally deficient society. Who has the time for an analytical dialogue using logic and reason, why not jump straight to an emotionally loaded monologue that is bound to generate an impulsive response thanks to said heuristics.
The Covid-19 pandemic has placed a lot of the global population into a situation from which they had no personal experience and little to no knowledge of similar historical events that affected the world in this manner. So, what happens when you have no comparative data, effectively, in which to adjust your worldview, outlook and day-to-day functioning? Well, you go looking for answers. We saw what being isolated did to the average person, imagine what it does to the not so average?
“Government and media distrust are the feeding ground to luring people away from a healthy level of scepticism into extremist and conspiratorial views.”
In the worst of these cases we see things like the tragedy that befell police (and an innocent neighbour) in rural Queensland late last year when three people set up an ambush at a property and fake-called police to it. Completely unaware, two police officers were shot dead walking up the driveway of the house followed by the arriving neighbour. The offenders were killed by police and the siege brought to end later that night. Since the horrific massacre, details of the trio's conspiracy theories and their spiral into anti-authoritarian delusion have come to light. One of them was even a former school principal! A former educator and leader of young and vulnerable minds ends up dying an extremist cop killer…just let that sink in.
It’s not just the mentally unstable who can fall for this, but I do know that some people are beyond help. Although, I feel that a significant amount of people deemed “beyond help” could avoid such life paths if the help got to them a lot sooner. Put another way, if you knew where you’d end up, you wouldn’t want to go in the first place. You don’t lessen the likelihood nor impact of extremist or conspiratorial views by pushing it underground. It may be more convenient and immediately satisfying, but I guarantee the future results will be far worse.
As an addendum to this piece, I’d like to include a little non-exhaustive dot point list of things to take note of.
· When you don’t know who you are or what you want, you increase your likelihood of being taking advantage of by opportunists.
· A lack of logic and reason (and critique) of the ideas being put forward.
· Unyielding certainty usually manifesting in “us good, them bad” – you have been poorly treated/haven’t gotten what you deserve and this is why and by whom.
· A lack of social and community involvement and/or heavily online-orientated existence -> isolated/disillusioned/vulnerable people.
· Technology advancement – niche online groups/medias, echo chambers.
· “Bad actors/useful idiots” and poor education/knowledge.
· The “a broken clock is right twice a day” thinking – false acceptability of extremism/conspiracy.
· Government/media lies -> but we tell the truth – the self-fulfilling prophecy.
· The just because you’re anti the status quo doesn’t make you inherently “smarter” or “better” – starts from the premise that we’re inherently being lied to (see above).
· The “I’m right, just not yet” – sell yourself that your delusions haven’t come true yet, but they will.