On January 6th, 2021 I watched people storm the American Capitol. It was a disgusting display of people motivated by lies and anger. It was a pathetic display as the fools streamed themselves and photographed themselves, meaning the world could find them. It was a foolish display as it awoke law enforcement and the public to their horrific activities.
I watched people threaten my Congress, following the debunked lies of “President Trump” and his enablers, and turn it into a show. It came close to being a snuff film.
Experts and amateurs alike will analyze what happened for years and ask, “how did we get here?” This column series is my small contribution to that effort because I’ve come to realize a painful truth.
Conspiracy theories are creative acts, and we must understand them as such. We must understand them as those caught up in them do not, and those exploiting them often do know they’re making things up.
On the surface, Conspiracy theories may seem as ridiculous as they are sinister. How can someone believe such nonsense? How can someone draw connections between such unrelated people and events? What leaps of imagination are people making to have faith in such elaborate foolishness?
Now, consider that we may enjoyably believe nonsense. We will happily embrace fictional worlds of ninjas and starships, sorcerors and superspies, and so on. We will take out our dice and our manuals and play a role-playing game, forcing new characters out of numbers and checklists. We use our imaginations all the time, exercising, stretching them, growing as people – and having fun.
There is only one difference between those spinning foolish conspiracy theories and the lofty heights of epic fanfic and Role-Playing Campaign. That difference is the former doesn’t always know – or admit – they’re making things up. Ask yourself how often, as of late, believers in conspiracy theories are sneered at as LARPers – but how close it truly is.
Your last Round Robin Writing Exercise is very close to what your average Conspiracist does.
Conspiracists are misusing their creativity to trap themselves in a fantasy world. It’s every warning about Dungeons and Dragons from thirty years ago; only the real danger was people believing tales of fraudulent elections and Satanic cults.
Worse still are those lying to them to sell books, T-shirts, and whatever. The conspiracy field is filled with grifters – it always has been if one is historically aware. In modern times they have more platforms to spew their fictions from, though thank gods there’s less over time as of late.
Conspiracy theories – and the violence that follows them – result from a series of malicious and ignorant creative acts.
In understanding this, I hope we can find new ways to battle falsehood – and help people find healthy creativity. But to do that, we must admit something simple.
The border between a conspiracist and a creative is very, very thin.