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I’m not a fan of most Isekai stories – stories of a person ending up in another world and are very prominent in manga and anime. Yes, there are wonderful genre classics like The Wizard of Oz and Fushigi Yuugi. There are good ones in today’s anime world, like the stellar The Faraway Paladin (watch it and prepare to cry). Too many of them get right up my nose as obvious power fantasies without much else beyond wish fulfillment.

Something else I’m not a fan of is conspiracy theories. I’ve watched them consume people’s minds, poison discourse, and lead to a violent attack on America’s Capitol. In a recent fit of contemplation and podcast-binging, I realized conspiracy theories are bad Isekai stories.

It is not a pleasant realization – and writing this made it more troubling.

First, both bad Isekai and conspiracy theories are about victimhood. The more pandering Isekai are about someone getting to be great, mighty, find revenge or whatever in their new world. Conspiracy theorists are also grievance-ridden and looking for someone to take it out on – and in their fantasies they hurt real people.

Isekai (good and bad) and conspiracy theories are oft about being special. That makes sense as a manga titled “I Went To Medieval Times And Died Of Disease” has a limited audience. However, in too many Isekai, the power trip is the point, leading to a story that only works if it pushes your buttons. I find this no different from how many conspiracy theorists believe they’re on a special mission from God or a secret agency to fight evil (when really they’re just toys of grifters).

Both Conspiracy theories and Isekai promise simplicity and are usually gamified. Many modern Isekai are based on game ideas and thus have obvious villains and heroic goals – defeat the Demon Lord, get the girl, etc. Conspiracy theories promise to make sense of the complex world and as scholars have noted resemble LARPS (Live Action Role Playing Games).

Finally, find a lot of bad Isekai dehumanizing and most conspiracy theories to be dehumanizing. Too much Isekai is about the hero you’re supposed to identify and a world of cardboard cutouts to knock around. Conspiracy theorists are glad to dehumanize people, sorting them into simple categories and wishing or bringing harm on people they’ve turned into props.

What I see in all of this is a need for escape.  The more pandering Isekai – as much as I critique them – are fulfilling a need.  Conspiracy theories fill similar needs but in a very destructive manner.  Somewhere in there is a mental place where someone starts a side into the darkness, and I wish I understood it better.

But at least with this insight, I have a chance to understand it a little more.

Steven Savage

Conspiracies and Creative Inoculation

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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

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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