Tag Archives: psychology

Textured Thoughts In Text

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

Gods I needed to see this article – Late-Stage Pandemic Is Messing With Your Brain. I feel so close to this author I never met, and far less alone.

This article is about what we’re experiencing during the pandemic and why. It’s filled with all-to-familiar descriptions of things we’re all dealing with. Such as:

. . . I feel like I have spent the past year being pushed through a pasta extruder. I wake up groggy and spend every day moving from the couch to the dining-room table to the bed and back. At some point night falls, and at some point after that I close work-related browser windows and open leisure-related ones.

These are words with texture. Though the article lists of science facts and quotes from experts, but these words remind you someone else out there is like you. It’s great to know why but this article also says yes, I am there as well.

We need articles and writing like this.

Earlier I noted I had gone from “please no Pandemic writing” to “let’s write about it.” This article is a grand example why, not just for the facts, but for the feelings. Facts explain, but feelings help us understand. Those personal words, those tar-sticky sentences that attach to our minds, create connection.

This is why even in an area that may be oversaturated – like the inevitable writing about the Pandemic – it is valuable to write and write well. Those deep connections you make with your textured words, those gritty little sentences, help people “get it.” They may “get” a scientific truth or just why you’re complaining, but they “get it” and take something away from the experience of reading.

Writing and writing well will connect you to people, even over things that may seem banal. So keep writing, as we all need that connection. If anything in these lonely times, we’re reminded of how even text from a stranger helps us feel understood and seen and be part of something.

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

Creative Conspiracy: A Malicious Misuse Of Power

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com 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.

Apophenia

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