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 Paths And Conspiracy

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

Last post, I stated that conspiracy theories are creative acts, even if they have malicious or pathological motivation. It’s essential to realize this because seeing them as such helps us identify and counter them. In this post, I’d like to digress on a bit of history because this will let us look at a useful diagnostic tool.

I had followed conspiracy theories for decades, first out of an interest in the paranormal, then to understand politics and the human condition. From 2015 onward, it became necessary for sheer survival in chaotic times. Over the years, I began to see Conspiracy theories fit specific patterns, and in 2020 I realized the patterns fit my Five Forms of Creativity.

My Five Forms of creativity were a system I’d made to classify the different ways people create. The Five Forms were a tool derived from my work on Seventh Sanctum and had proven useful professionally. I wrote them up in their own book, The Power of Creative Paths, and they appear again in Chance’s Muse.

Seeing conspiracy theories slot into this simple system confirmed to me that there was a vital element of creativity in conspiracy thinking. It also meant analyzing them as such might provide useful insights. This column is a dignified brain-dump of my attempts to do that.

I realize that this is dangerously close to me having a corkboard with random articles connected by red string. I am staying aware of that, and as I’ve noted, the Five Forms are just a tool for classifying messy reality. But any skepticism isn’t merely acknowledged; it’s appreciated.

So let’s get to the theory.


The five forms of creativity I identified are:

  • The Combiner – Combiners shuffle familiar ideas around in familiar patterns. This is “madlibs creativity” and the opposite of the Fuser.
  • The Fuser – Merges ideas, blurring lines and creating something new. Fuser creativity spawns stories of “Time-Travelling Art Thieves,” and the opposite of the pattern-driven Combiner.
  • The Expander – Expanders pile ideas on top of each other in wild yet surprisingly stable structures. You’ll see this in parodies and life sim games, and it’s the opposite of The Reducer.
  • The Reducer – Reducers streamline ideas, strip them down, and even create new ideas by removing parts of others. Minimalist music like Devo or The White Stripes are good examples. The opposite of The Expander.
  • The Mapper – Mappers create by symbolism and metaphor, strange and profound-seeming connections and relations spun together. They are a unique form of creativity and have no opposite. Grant Morrison’s run on The Doom Patrol is a good example.

Now, with a system for classifying creativity, I’d like to attempt to explore what forms of conspiracy theorization appear in each form. With that, we may spot such thinking better and analyze the source or whom the source is imitating.

On to the Brain-dump.


Combiner creativity is madlibs, shuffling words into common patterns to create meaning. It’s both syntax and semantics, putting various “trigger” words in distinct orders that lead people to interpret things in certain ways.

In the conspiracy theory world, this is the world of headlines and pithy quotes. “Obama attacks heterosexuality with help of UN” is a joke headline where you could easily swap around a few words to have “Hillary attacks freedom with help of Dr. Fauci.” Any time pursuing a trash conspiracy news site exposes you to these headlines, as will breathless tweets.

Combiner creativity usually only speaks to those likely to respond to the patterns and the words invoked. If you see Combiner Conspiracy talk, it’s talking to the faithful – probably to manipulate them or show affinity. Except for clumsy efforts to fit in, when you see this kind of creativity used for conspiracy talk, it’s by someone who knows what they’re doing.

Where I’ve seen it: Years ago when I jokingly said I could make a conspiracy headline generator. That has haunted me since, as all it would take would be a simple Combiner generator.


Fuser creativity is when you combine two ideas into one. It’s the novelist that creates a book about “Legal Dramas And AI Lawyers.” It’s the cook that finds harmony between Indian and Mexican cuisine.

When it comes to conspiracy theories, Fuser creativity is the world of “everything is one.” This is when UFOs are vehicles of the Illuminati, or every Lawyer is also part of the Church of Satan. Fuser creativity is a stock in trade of conspiracy thought, and you’ve probably seen it many times.

Fuser creativity with a conspiratorial bent is usually a good sign you’re seeing conspiracy thought. Multiple unrelated elements are said to be the facets of one dark gem of evil. A sign of an active conspiracist – a grifter – is when The Latest Thing In The News gets incorporated into being a facet of the conspiracy theory.

This is similar to the Expander approach, but it’s not a “pile on.” Instead it’s “this is one facet we haven’t seen before.” It’s more nuanced in an area often lacking said nuance.

Where I’ve seen it: Propagandist news and bottom-feeding grifters, always working the story of the day into a larger theory – and not letting it go.


Expander creativity is the big pile-on of ideas. This is where you start with “fantasy adventure” and soon have a road trip with two wizards, one of which has a drinking problem, going cross-country to . . . you get the idea. Expander creativity is about distinct ideas cramming together to make wild connections – but you can identify them still.

In conspiracy-land this is common, and more so in the internet age. It’s what I’ve heard called “yes, and” conspiracy thought – where you hear a new idea and toss it into your pile of beliefs. Those giant flowcharts on the internet connecting everything are Expander creativity in action.

It’s also the “starter” conspiracy style of belief – also easily witnessed on the internet where you can watch ideas get joined together on Twitter or message boards.

Expander creativity in use is usually the sign of someone either believing anything or trying to control a narrative and incorporate other ideas – to “win” or gain allies or avoid cognitive dissonance.

Where I’ve seen it: For decades, but I’ve seen a lot more in the internet age.


Reducer creativity is a rarer creative form, and it’s often paired with other types to “reign them in.” Reducer creatives can take ideas and remove parts or strip them down to their essence. Though it can seem dull, consider the joy of a precise film that’s focused like “Versus” or minimalist music.

In the world of conspiracy, the Reducer approach simplifies ideas to justify conspiracy thought. Middlemen get cut out, inconvenient facts “forgotten,” degrees of separation less separated. The messiness of the world gets refined outward for a simpler – and wrong- viewpoint.

Reducer creativity takes talent, and in the conspiracy world, it’s used by people who know what they’re doing. They ignore inconvenient facts and streamline beliefs. They can take complex headlines and create half-facts. When you see this, someone’s probably good at this – and grifting.

Where I’ve seen it:  In the time of Covid I’d watch conspiracists claim relations among people and groups that existed only if you ignored multiple steps. Seeing simplified worldviews – that were wrong – became obvious to me.


FInally, we get to Mappers. These are the creatives of metaphor and symbolism, and rethinking. It’s “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou” and the Odyssey, or characters who represent the Seven Deadly Sins, or a book loaded with iconography. It’s unusual, mystical -and surprising.

In the conspiracy world, this is the symbol-hunters’ creativity, always looking for hidden meanings. They’ll become concerned about the color of a star’s shoes or that the sign on a pizza restaurant looks Satanic. They’ll see connections among the unrelated as they’re able to bring symbols and metaphors together to explain the nonexistent.

Mapping creativity doesn’t stand out one way or another because it is a standard part of conspiracy thought. I usually see it everywhere – it varies more by degree than anything else. Worries about the symbolism of gold fringe on a flag may seem simple, but it’s not much different than finding Moloch in toy advertisements.  

Where I’ve seen it: Well, everywhere.


That’s my attempt to see if my Forms of Creativity provide a useful way to identify conspiracy theories and thoughts. And honestly, I think there’s something there. It’s easy to map them, the mappings are distinct, and there’s some diagnostic advantage.

Because this maps so well, this strengthens my belief that conspiratorial thinking can be seen as a creative act. It’s likely I’ll explore this more in the future.

But next, I’d like to discuss motivations and creativity – taking the view that conspiracy thinking is a creative act, it what it means for common motivations.

Steven Savage

Creative Conspiracy: A Malicious Misuse Of Power

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

As I stated previously, the border between a conspiracist and a creative is very, very thin. 

This may seem blasphemous coming from someone like myself who writes on imagination and the like. But we have to accept there is no moral value to creativity – the liar creates as sure as the novelist does. I like to stay positive, but for this essay series, I’m not going to. Let’s get to it:

Conspiracists are engaged in creative acts for unhealthy reasons.

We have to confront this – people can use creativity pathologically, and conspiracists do. Indeed, there is precedence for human creativity having unhealthy manifestations. Indulge me in some quick asides.

Lost In Story

I always was fascinated by cases of people who constructed elaborate fantasy worlds. In my psychology and history readings, I would find stories of people living in detailed imagined realms. These cases intrigued me because some quite functional people lived in fantasies as elaborate as the worlds of Tolkein. They just took them as real.

We can dream whole worlds and live them in response to trauma or other hardships. That’s not much different than the conspiracy theorist, who uses more of reality – just a matter of degree.


As conspiracy theories raged across the internet, many of us heard the once-obscure term apophenia. This is the human tendency to find or perceive patterns that aren’t there, indeed a trait of conspiratorial thought. I oft saw the term thrown around as a pathology, but really, finding connections is what humans do.

We are pattern-seeking creatures. We use our imaginations to figure things out and make sense of the world. We’re almost certainly unaware of how much we do it and how wrong we are. The fact we have a term for it, and it’s popularized, tells us we know we have this tendency.

A Creative Misuse

Between the extreme cases and the human tendency to create connections lie the conspiracy theories. The Conspiracist spins elaborate fantasies, trapping themselves in a world that is partially real, yet not. They then act on this real world, oft with disastrous consequences.

This leads me to the question What is creatively unique about conspiracy theories?   My conclusion is that there is an element of malice in them.

Conspiracy theories seek enemies, and they place blame. Their elaborate fantasies always have someone responsible, and that someone usually needs to be fought or punished. As we are all too aware, these targets are all too often vulnerable populations and individuals.

From witch-hunts to fascism, there’s always a target, and people are falling into elaborate justifications.

History also shows there are usually ringleaders. From politicians to preachers, podcasters to writers, there are plenty of people ready to exploit conspiratorial thought. They may use existing conspiracies, create their own, or exploit what their followers dream up.

Even if there is no one to exploit them, conspiracists may use each other. They trade conspiracy theories, build on each other, vying for attention or hoping to find truths. Anyone following internet conspiracies has seen how much creative ferment happens on anonymous message boards. In time, there is usually someone to exploit it.

We know the results. Attacks on the US capitol. Gas chambers. Would-be heroes murdering innocents they think are evil aliens.

Understanding conspiracy thinking as a pathological creative act helps us identify it. Next, let’s look at how we can use a tool I made to understand creativity to identify conspiracy theories.

Steven Savage