Paranoia as Policy
Here’s a thought exercise for you:
What if persons afflicted with persecutory delusions were to seek out other persons with similar delusions to form a support group identified primarily by the acceptance of the main delusion?
Rather than receive treatment for their delusions, these persons are instead encouraged in their paranoia. Their delusions are validated, supported, subsidized, and theorized into a conspiracist belief system with a shielded core of unchallenged tenets.
These persons confirm each other’s persecution, and the seeds of conspiracy are sown. Through the ritualistic repetition of slogans, they generate a vaporous quasi-reality, one which sociologist Pierre Bourdieu has called “symbolic capital.” Their common delusion eventually develops into a full-fledged conspiracy, complete with an imaginary pseudocommunity of persecutors.
Extending this to an improbable extreme that is surely the realm of fantasy, these persons would then be assigned to positions of power in a bureaucracy. Here, they might codify their conspiracy into policy to inflict their delusions on the majority of normal persons. This conspiracy would be socially shielded from criticism and proselytized to a larger audience, while the system itself would ignore or explain away any and all disconfirming evidence.
What sort of behavior might emerge from members of a group grounded in this delusional belief system? How might the belief system be transformed into a conspiracist ideology?
These are not idle questions, and by now you know that this is not just a thought exercise. This is the reality in the majority of colleges and universities nationwide, schools which embrace the primitive tenets and practices of critical racialist ideology.
Conspiracy over Reality
Critical racialism originated in the crucible of neo-Marxist critical theory and has developed into an unfalsifiable doctrine informed by the psychopathology of paranoia. Now, it is codified into a systematized, conspiracist belief system. The doctrine constructs its own reality according to a central conspiracy myth and encourages the paranoid behavior of its adherents, including a displaced sense of responsibility (blaming others), hyper-suspicion, grandiosity, delusional fixity, the creation of a pseudocommunity of persecutors, and the creation of a hermetic interpretive system within the real, normal world.
In common parlance, this paranoid doctrine is called antiracism.
This is how a conspiracy theory can blossom from the psyches of hyper-fearful people who form communities of paranoia. The conspiracy emerges from the tendency of its victims to see exactly what they want to see in the world—and to discount everything else.
As Sunstein and Vermeule explain, this defensiveness characterizes all conspiracist systems:
[C]ontrary evidence can usually be shown to be a product of the conspiracy itself. Conspiracy theories often display the characteristic features of a “degenerating research program” in which contrary evidence is explained away by adding epicycles and resisting falsification of key tenets. . . . [D]irect attempts to dispel the theory can usually be folded into the theory itself, as just one more ploy by powerful conspiracy members.
Persons can be so ensnared in paranoid personality disorder and conspiracy that facts matter not at all. This is a maddeningly common phenomenon which we have witnessed throughout history.
The Conspiracy Tradition—Stories, Fabrications, and Movements
As Byford argues, the explanatory nature of conspiracy theories is the most important aspect of this phenomenon:
Its persistence as a dynamic set of stories and shared assumptions about the world embedded in a tradition of explanation. . . . an array of accounts which are continuously exchanged, debated, evaluated and modified and on the basis of which movements are established, political projects forged and power relations challenged and sustained [emphasis added].
These ready-made stories result in swift, reflexive explanations. This is likely because the imaginary paranoid pseudocommunity must be populated with persecutors in order to sustain itself. If that means maintaining a dark fantasy irrespective of the truth, then so be it. Maintenance of the conspiracy myth is routine behavior for conspiracists:
Logical contradictions, disconfirming evidence, even the complete absence of proof have no bearing on the conspiratorial explanation because they can always be accounted for in terms of the conspiracy: the lack of proof about a plot, or any positive proof against its existence, is turned around and taken as evidence of the craftiness of the secret cabal behind the conspiracy and as confirmation of its ability to conceal its machinations. Conspiracy theories thus become ‘the only theories for which evidence against them is actually construed as evidence in favour of them’.
This fierce dedication to maintain the delusional conspiracy myth has even greater societal costs than encouraging confirmation bias. It can lead to outright fabrications to keep the myth alive.
In the case of antiracism, these fabrications are called “hate hoaxes.”
Hate Hoaxes: Not enough “racism”?
Hate hoaxes are fake “hate crimes” of a racial nature—fake nooses, fake attacks, fake hate-letters, fake social media posts—all of which occur on campuses that are typically bereft of such happenings.
Hate hoaxes cause paroxysms of angst and public handwringing because they enjoy immediate, near-unanimous credibility once reported. This credibility is rarely walked back upon revelation of the hoax, as Wilfred Reilly reminds us:
When a student makes a false claim of bias at a typical elite American university, the faculty will be supportive; the student body will have been conditioned to see “hate” everywhere; hundreds of willing and aggressive radical allies will spring from the ground like soldiers from dragon’s teeth; and the risk of punishment from on-campus judicial procedures (assuming the hoaxer is ever exposed) will be low.
Two disturbing through lines in all hate hoaxes are the power of paranoia and the ritual performativity of critical racialism. These hoaxes are often revealed to be publicity stunts meant to “raise awareness” of racial problems that either don’t exist or that are so infrequent and inconsequential that they require conspiracists to fabricate them. This, then, justifies the growing bureaucracies that were created to police them.
After the big reveal of the hoax, the community invariably rallies around the perpetrator. Says Reilly: “The campus community [behaves] exactly as though the falsely alleged incident actually happened, even after it was proven to be fake.” Conspiracy theory expert Jovan Byford calls this egregious tendency biased assimilation.
Biased assimilation is “motivationally based information processing” which leads people to uncritically accept evidence supporting a pre-existing view, while rejecting any disconfirming information. The conspiracy theorist attributes everything and anything that occurs as a manifestation of the conspiracy: “A conspiracy theorist will come back, over and over again, to the same cause and will account for every event in terms of the same conspiracy.”
It is always a contrived, villainous scapegoat that the conspiracists hate. History offers us a smorgasbord of conspiracy scapegoats: “heretics,” “bourgeoisie,” “deviationists,” “kulaks,” “Jews,” “stinking intellectuals,” “capitalist roaders,” and “capitalist wreckers,” to name a few.
Today, the racialist scapegoats are “whiteness,” “white privilege,” and “white supremacy”—no, not the genuine, small-minded white supremacy of irrelevant fringe groups, but a phantasmagorical “white supremacy” that is simultaneously everywhere and nowhere, an on-call trope. This trope is incredibly useful.
Whatever far-left absurdity you favor, if you claim that you’re heroically battling “white supremacy,” you can garner instant support and, in many cases, funding. This uber-grift still has many miles left on it before some Harry Frankfurt–inspired stalwart eventually calls “bullshit.”
This conspiracy myth and its contrived villains are, of course, completely fake. But for the conspiracists, regardless of what actually happens, events always reveal a kind of “inner truth” to confirm the myth. This “inner truth” attitude toward hoaxes and forged material is designed to maintain the myth of a conspiracy in the face of disconfirmation.
Critical Racialist Performances of “Inner Truth”
The belief in “inner truth” is commonplace among conspiracy theorists. This was especially true of those who embraced the notorious early-twentieth-century anti-Semitic forgery called The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
The Protocols were authored to perpetuate a conspiracy theory of Jewish world domination. This forgery helped create a conspiracy myth scapegoat, even among those who knew it to be fake, including the leading members of the Nazi Party in Germany. This, of course, did not affect “inner truth.” Bytwerk writes,
Although most leading Nazis realized that The Protocols of the Elders of Zion was a spurious document, they found it useful in promoting belief in the international Jewish conspiracy of which they were already convinced. Authorship and other details were irrelevant, they averred, if the book expressed “inner truth” [emphasis added].
Likewise, the critical racialist script is performed ritualistically as if the staged hate hoaxes were actually real. The conspiracy myth’s inner truth says that there must be racial incidents, and if no racial incidents can be found, then incidents must be created so that the conspiracy theory is confirmed. Nazi Party chief Alfred Rosenberg stated as much when he said of the Protocols that the issue was “less the so-called authenticity of The Protocols than the inner truth of what is stated.”
In other words, to the many apologists for campus hate hoaxes, it doesn’t matter if it’s not true; what matters is that it could be true as long as the useful falsehood furthers the inner truth. This reliance upon “narrative assertions” rather than “scientific assertions” typifies conspiracy theories. As psychologist Henri Zukier observes:
[N]arrative assertions typically are justified, not in terms of the corresponding facts, but by an internal validation, emphasizing the account’s verisimilitude, internal coherence, and persuasiveness. . . . The unmasking of conspiracies, with their inherent surreptitiousness and treachery, unsurprisingly also involves such internal, rather than external criteria of truth.
This fixation on a delusional conspiracy myth is classic paranoid behavior—it entails the readiness to believe and say virtually anything that fits a racialist conspiracy myth and to disbelieve and counter anything that doesn’t mesh with the inner truth of the doctrine.
The Racialist Conspiracy Myth Replaces Reality
What makes this so fascinating is the additional characteristic of wholly discounting vast swaths of reality, so that what the conspiracists perceive as an entire reality is in fact just a tiny slice of it.
This tiny slice, the conspiracy myth, constitutes their entire world. Cubitt writes,
A conspiracy myth tells the story of one conspiracy as if it were the only one, as if conspiracy were the monopoly and the distinguishing behavioural, characteristic of a single group, perpetually opposed to the rest of society and driven by some abnormally insatiable passion …
This cramped model of “reality” is hermetically sealed from disconfirmation by the paranoid interpretive belief system. This system accepts and rejects facts arbitrarily. Anything outside the conspiracy simply doesn’t exist or is rationalized in ways that “confirm” the ideology.
As Bytwerk reminds us, “Just as leading Nazis realized The Protocols was fraudulent but found that fact irrelevant in determining its utility, so today . . . [anti-Semites] find it useful to illustrate a conspiracy in which they already believe.” Likewise, today’s critical racialists find hate hoaxes and manufactured “racism” useful to buttress their own paranoid conspiracy.
The problem is that true believers who exhibit symptoms of paranoid personality disorder and who embrace conspiracy theories are not treated—they are instead lauded and subsidized. In colleges and universities, they sometimes become part of the bureaucratic establishment, protected and nurtured as they perpetuate their paranoid narrative and inflict it on others.
So we return to our original thought exercise.
We speculated about what might happen when paranoiacs gather to support a conspiracy myth. We then speculated about what might follow when they are denied treatment and are instead validated, subsidized, and encouraged in their delusions through a special bureaucracy created just for them.
And we speculated about what ultimately follows when their villains–victims conspiracist delusions form the basis for policy that is grounded in their conspiracy myth, so that they can impose their doctrines on the vast majority of normal people.
By now, of course, you know it’s not just speculation.
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