By Dr David Laing Dawson
I fell down the internet rabbit hole today, after reading about QANON followers, supporters, supplicants at the Trump rally in Florida. Apparently this is pronounced Cue Anon and it refers to a source, a guru, a (supposed) government leaker, a group espousing a number of deep state conspiracy theories.
And following this path into the corners of the internet I came across word salads of meaningless connections the likes of which I have only seen before with psychosis, specifically schizophrenia.
As if global warming and the rise of right wing populists were not enough to worry about we now have a rising tide of people espousing and broadcasting delusions.
I have written before that delusions are never about trivial matters, but always about the central vectors of existence in our social world: Power, Sex, Control, Worth. And, curiously, QANON manages to conflate all of these. (Deep state control of our lives along with sex trafficking and pedophilia)
And what does this mean?
The brain is an organizing machine. It seeks cause and effect, linkages, symbols, connections. The sane mind in a relatively well organized society will find mostly the same linkages as everyone else and these linkages will be both plausible and possible; they will connect within the same physical and temporal spheres, and will support safety and success. They allow us to predict what will happen next.
When the brain is impaired, when it’s perceptual, filtering, and organizational apparatus are impaired, it will continue to make linkages and some of these may be crazy. That is, they may jump from one physical or temporal sphere to another. (e.g. an earthquake in Peru was caused by the bad thoughts I had yesterday, or 4 blue cars drove by and Donald Trump used the word “four” and there are four somethings in the bible, therefore…) Similarly when we cut off all input (sensory deprivation experiments and solitary confinement) the brain continues to form linkages, find cause and effect paradigms, and these may then (unhindered by solid external data) become fantastical.
The QANON people can’t all suffer from impaired brains, nor are they sensory deprived. That leaves the possibility that the same effect that illness (like schizophrenia) and/or sensory deprivation can have on the brain can also be caused by extreme internet information overload and social persuasion. Though I would have to assume that this overwhelming information load only disrupts the cognitive patterns of those that lack a solid foundation of meaning and understanding, that is, a way of organizing information within the same temporal and physical spheres of reality and plausibility. For just as with delusional schizophrenia, a single visual mark, a symbol, or a nonspecific sound, can, in Qanon minds, leap categories and time constraints and become a theory of everything. They write, podcast, and talk as if a hundred miniature Dan Browns resided in their frontal lobes leaving Illuminati parchment clues to pizza parlor Clinton sex trafficking, illegal immigrants, Jews, Muslims, Hollywood pedophiles, and the apocalypse. Not to forget the Elite and the Deep State. This is not conspiracy theory. This is delusional.
There is another slightly more benign explanation, and that is that our entertainment world, including reality TV, has grown so pervasive and persuasive that more and more people can no longer tell the difference, and/or find fiction just more interesting and fun than reality.
In the long run solid public education is probably the answer, and we need to teach our kids and teens how to organize, to learn, to categorize, to think scientifically and logically.
In the short run, unfortunately, I can see groups like Qanon becoming Donald Trump’s Brown Shirt enforcers.