Creativity, Conspiracy, and Motivation

(This column is posted at 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

Creative Conspiracy: Deadly Fiction

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

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.

Steven Savage