And now a word from a mental health expert (me!) about conspiracy theorists.
If you’ve ever met a paranoid schizophrenic, what stands out most about them is how sickly rational they are. They can tell you exactly why they believe someone is poisoning their food, listening to their phone calls, following them around, trying to have them sterilized, recruiting them into the CIA, or whatever they believe. They can give you times and dates, lists of names, locations, every detail you could ever imagine. They can and do provide contradictory evidence to everything you suggest that might refute their beliefs.
The problem with their story is not lack of detail and information. It is that their thought processes are in the service of their delusions. They interpret everything as evidence that they are uncovering something dark and sinister. If you disagree or give counter-evidence, they will merely assume you are part of the conspiracy, or that you are the one deluded, and summarily dismiss you. They are indefatigable in their assertions and beliefs. It just so happens that what they believe is happening, what they can actually prove is happening, is in fact not happening.
People with schizophrenia often have what we call delusions of “reference.” Delusions or ideas of reference are when one assumes ordinary events in the world are related directly to one’s self and one’s destiny. Such as, for example, “Sandy Hook was a government conspiracy with the ultimate aim of taking away my guns.” I am certainly not claiming that conspiracy theorists are paranoid schizophrenics. I am saying that there is less difference between them and schizophrenics than most Americans, or they themselves, realize. Many conspiracy theorists are pretty bright people. Then again, many paranoid schizophrenics are bright people as well. Both conspiracy theorists and schizophrenics are people whose thought processes are in the service of their delusions.
“They want to take away my guns.” “They want to take away my rights and freedoms.” “They want to make my religion illegal.” “They want to make me a slave.” “They want to raise my taxes and take all my money.”
Though they exist, you will find very few highly educated conspiracy theorists, especially highly educated conspiracy theorists who have spent substantial time in leadership. In my next post, I will explain why that is. And no, it is not because education and leadership are part of the conspiracy.
Conspiracy theorists of all kinds, we hear your “evidence,” and the comparisons to Hitler and the Third Reich. We see the memes you post on Facebook, the seemingly irrefutable “logic” you weave together, Glenn Beck’s charts. We see one of your spokespeople, Wayne LaPierre, spouting his zany ideas. But it just so happens that what you believe is happening, what you think you can actually prove is happening, is in fact not happening.