Category Archives: conspiracy theories

Conspiracies and Creative Inoculation

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

Teaching people to write, draw, and more can protect us from conspiracy theories. Let me explain since such a statement requires a lot of explanation.

In my last few posts, I explored how Conspiracy Theorists activities are a creative act, how their actions mapped to my creative theories, and the theorists’ motivations. People wanting a sense of power and real power turn to conspiracy theories, fueled by their creative energies. I think this view of conspiracy theories having a creative element provides additional ways to protect ourselves from them.

In David Niewart‘s excellent book “Red Pill, Blue Pill,” he explores the current grip such theories have and ways to cure it. You should get his book, but his recommendations include empathy, how to work with people, and how to inoculate people against disinformation. I’d add teaching people to use their creativity is part of that inoculation.

Previously I identified three ways creativity helps spread conspiracy theories:

  • People’s creativity is harnessed to spin theories – often to serve their egos and insecurities.
  • People maliciously use imagination to create wild tales to manipulate others – for profit and their egos.
  • Of both of them, there is an addictive rush to using creativity.

So let me propose that we inoculate people against conspiracy theories by encouraging them and teaching them to use their creativity. Allow me to go into detail:

Creativity is about communication. When one learns about creativity, one learns both how to communicate and how communication works. They will better understand what people are trying to say – and identify manipulation.

Creativity teaches one how their mind works. When you learn how to be creative, analyze your art, and understand yourself, you see how you think and imagine. One is better armored against deceiving oneself.

Creativity lets one see how others are creative. A person versed in creative acts – combined with good information practices – can easily detect conspiracy theories. In short, one knows how others imaginatively manipulate information.

Creative experience also lets one find healthy and responsible ways to use their creative ability. The conspiracy world bursts with failed actors and scriptwriters, the ambitious, and those feeling unappreciated. A healthy appreciation for creativity may give them healthy outlets.

(If you’re one of the people who’ve been annoyed at less emphasis on the humanities, this sounds familiar I am sure.)

Will encouraging creativity solve everything? Hardly. This is merely a useful addition to what we have to do, albeit a fun one.

As for how to implement this, such detail is a post of its own – and one requiring more thought. Let me give some starters.

  • Each of us who is a creative can support and encourage others to use their skills.
  • We can push for creative and media education, alongside information health.
  • We creatives can increase awareness of responsible and irresponsible creativity – my posts are a humble example.
  • We can share our knowledge with those fighting disinformation.
  • Also, encourage teaching the humanities, as noted.

Hopefully, my own work has provided a useful clue for readers. Certainly, it’s given me something to think about and to explore in future posts. For now, we creatives can use this as an additional tool in our arsenal as we battle conspiracy theories – and remember each person we help grow may be further armored against them.

Steven Savage

Jagged Little Pills: A Review of Red Pill, Blue Pill by David Niewart

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

David Niewart has written on extremism before, but the internet-fueled conspiracy theories poisoning our country require him to face an evolving sickness and the need for a cure. Red Pill, Blue Pill is a history, a diagnosis, and a hope for treatment for an illness – American’s emeshment in conspiracy theories.

The book is a passionate if ragged thing – it has the feel of something sent to market a few months early, and that’s understandable. There are sections that are too long, others too short, and formatting choices that I question (Namely, they’re too simple). However, this doesn’t really take away from the book.

This is a raw subject, and the lack of polish means there are rough edges that snare your thoughts and emotions. There may be parts here and there that are tough going, but also the blood and pain of the conspiracy theory world hasn’t been watered down. I’ll take a book that has hooks that catch my thoughts than something smooth and polished.

Neiwart walks us through some introductions and history, then individual cases of extremists. The cases are illustrative, and he describes them piecemeal, showing how multiple extremist attacks were similar. This section is informative but honestly too long. A few examples would have been enough, and anyone familiar with this material may find it overlong – or hard going due to the brutality of it.

Early on it’s like a horror film, as we see many stories head to one bloody conclusion. There’s painful inevitability.

Fortunately, past this overlong point, Neiwart goes into the history of conspiratorial thinking in the United States, hitting multiple high points. This section is powerful and well-researched, and it becomes apparent how much of current conspiracism is built around a few pillars. The same people and same theories pop up over and over, and you get a sense of how our Capitol being stormed was nearl inevitable.

From Alex Jones to Fox news and other grifters and opportunists, it becomes apparent how we’ve been grinding towards this – and didn’t stop it. We should have seen it.

Finally, Neiwart looks at modern extremism, the final result of these events. Its a bizarre, violent, yet disconnected culture of self-loathing, raging hate, and posturing personalities. Newiart takes us into the world of racism and weird economic theories with no grounding in reality – and people ready to kill for them.

The path he’s charted comes to an end, and the end is in an insanity that now seems obvious. There’s a strange sadness the book.

Fortunately, Neiwart ends by discussing remedies for it by experts. It is a hopeful ending – a chapter really – but it is a reminder our current problem requies all of us to help. Its all hands on deck to fight to turn our culture back from the brink of further meltdown.

You see the possibility – but the weight of what he’s shown will sit on your shoulders.

Do I reccomend this book? Yes it’s important reading for anyone that studies conspiratorial thinking, and who hopes to help friends and family out of extremism. It’s not the end-all-be-all on the subject, but it is good to get a sense of the history and what we can do. If you’re truly concerned with helping people out of extremism, this is a book thats a start, not the end.

We’re not anywhere near the end of dealing ith our problem – internet-fueled extremism of people far gone down violent rabbit holes. We have to get to work.

Steven Savage

Creativity, Conspiracy, and Motivation

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

In my previous blog post, I noted conspiracy theorists easily fit into my model of Creative Types. Because various presentations and forms of conspiracy thought fit my model, I think we can think of conspiracy theories as being a kind of pathological creative act. This leads to the question of why people engage in conspiracy theories.

Fortunately, as we’ve heard about incessantly since the media managed to pay attention to the online world, it often comes down to power.

Conspiracy theories give a sense of control.  A conspiracy theory explains a messy world, so you think you know what’s going on. You can bend your creativity towards “explaining” things and giving you that rush.

Conspiracy theories give you a target. Having explained the world, you can then figure who to blame. Of course, these targets are often ones of traditional bigotry, and you can harness creativity to explain why you hate people. One merely has to look at the mental acrobatics people go through to remain racist and sexist to see this in action.

Conspiracy theories make you the hero.  A conspiracy theory means you figured it out, that you are the hero. A conspiracy theory is a sick kind of Isekai power fantasy that runs inside your head. Your ego grabs onto your creative urge and rides it into the bloody sunset because it can make you the protagonist.

Conspiracy theories can give you power. Grifters and would-be grifters flock to conspiracy theories, and if you want to grift, it’s a world rife with targets. Grifters use their creativity to spin more stories, make money, and ensnare their victims. They may even believe their lies after a while, though I’d wager most of them don’t even think in “reality” after awhile.

Conspiracy theories can give you connections.  You meet fellow conspiracists in your endeavors, you share ideas. Such reinforcement feels good, so people do it – especially those alienated or disconnected. If you’ve ever seen conspiracy communities talk, they seem to take pleasure in exchanging ideas – and creating new theories. The social thrill has a “round-robin” writing element.

That’s it. Conspiracy Theories are about power and control, and creativity is damned easy to use to support them. Connecting ideas, finding explanations that fit, etc., are all creative acts. The Conspiracy theorist, from a podcast ranter to a lone person making a connection, is engaged in a creative act – an act of power.

(I’d like to thank David Neiwert and Stephan Lewandowsky, whose work informed my model.)

However, I think focusing only on power and just saying “oh, it’s creative as well” misses something. Creativity is fun, and people enjoy using it. The conspiracy theory world doesn’t only deliver a sense of power, explanation, or money but also offers a creative rush.

Think of all the times you made a piece of art or wrote a paragraph that feels right. Consider the settings you’re making with their crystal-clock clarity or a song you composed that hit all the right notes. It’s a rush, a high, and it’s compelling if not outright addictive.

Now pair that with the power one falsely feels believing in conspiracy theories. One has a sense of power, control, enemies to fight, money to make, and the creative rush on top of it. How many highs is that all at once?

Tell me how addictive that sounds now.

I’ve even wondered if some of the pushers of conspiracy theories and propaganda-as-news are so high on their supply they don’t see the evil they do. Are they lost the same way the rest of us might be in a videogame or a mystery novel? I’m not prepared to forgive those that spread this malice, but I wonder if we might understand it a bit better.

In summary, I think conspiracy theorists and the like are motivated by power and the rush of creativity – of finding the truth and explaining things. To help people out of this, we need to consider both.

Steven Savage