We all agree that it’s important to question conventional wisdom, and that ideas which are too bizarre for most people to accept may, nonetheless, turn out to be true. Some people, however, seem to reach a tipping point where scores of obsessive strange beliefs feed upon one another to such a degree that they impair the individual’s ability to maintain relationships or function in society. By searching mental health forums, one can find countless posts by concerned individuals who worry that they are losing a loved one to the world of conspiracy. Here is a typical example:
My husband and I have been married for over 3 years (been together 5 years). For the last two years of our marriage, my husband has become obsessed with conspiracy theories. Initially, I chalked it up as a new hobby/interest. But lately (over the past year) his obsession has progressed and has me alarmed. He spends countless hours on the internet researching conspiracy theories, mostly political (i.e. 9/11, new world order, Illuminati, reptilians, and I could go on and on). We can’t have a conversation with him bringing up some sort of theory. He brings them up if were out with other friends or at a party. This concerns me because I feel like he’s not the same person I married. He used to be driven, ambitious, and had career goals. He’s an engineer and once had dreams of starting his own company. But, he doesn’t speak of it anymore. I feel as if we have nothing in common. He becomes defensive and argumentative when I disagree with his theories. One day out of the blue, he went out and bought a huge safe, withdrew all of his savings and bought gold. He wants to to start stockpiling food and supplies for some sort of catastrophic event that he believes is coming. His health history is unremarkable. He does use marijuana daily (which he did prior to our marriage). His younger sister was diagnosed with schizophrenia in her early teens and lives in some sort of assisted living. Should I be worried that he is also showing the beginning signs of schizophrenia, also?
Posters commonly report feeling that they are unable to talk to their loved ones anymore; that an obsession with conspiracy is taking priority over work, family and relationships; and that the individual becomes bullying and argumentative when asked to consider contrary information. It looks and tastes like mental illness, and sometimes it is—the paranoid mentally ill seek out conspiracy, so it’s no surprise that we should encounter them—but it would be foolish to assume that every Dale Gribble in the world is a blossoming schizophrenic.
I fault the beliefs themselves. They’re like viruses, or parasites, and to understand how they can destroy an individual’s reason, we need to dissect them.
1. They’re toxic.
In order to accept an extraordinary belief, it is usually necessary to assimilate a degree of paranoia as well, for you have to answer the question “If this evidence is so compelling, why doesn’t everyone accept it?” To accept UFOs, you need the cover-up. To accept alt med, you need to believe that Big Pharma is holding it down. Each belief introduces a new malevolent cabal to your worldview, intent upon suppressing the truth.
2. They feed upon each other.
Once you’ve accepted that we live in a world where top officials in our government could plan and carry out the 9/11 attacks, it’s not hard to believe that the Kennedy assassination or the Sandy Hook shootings were inside jobs as well—and if they can cover that up, why not UFOs? And once you’ve decided that the scientific community is simply afraid to study UFOs, then perhaps the same is true of psi and cryptozoology.
Paranoia provides a rich substrate for myriads of bizarre beliefs to colonize; each one, another proof of how you’re being lied to—God dammit. The Internet, of course, exacerbates the process, as it becomes easy to get all your information from sources that parrot your opinions back to you, causing your beliefs to become ever more firmly entrenched.