By George A. Boyd © 2020
I once attended a workshop, where the group leader gave a talk about fear. He said if you create an acronym for each of the four letters of “fear,” it would spell out:
F – False
E – Evidence
A – Appearing
R – Real
When I reflect upon “False evidence appearing real,” I am struck by how conspiracy theories are founded upon false evidence—or sometimes, on no evidence at all—yet those who believe in conspiracy theories have a tenacious conviction that what they believe in is true beyond a shadow of a doubt.
If I desperately want something to be real, even when it is not—the unconscious mechanisms of projection will kick in and they will shape my perception so other people and events appear the way I want them to be. For example:
I desperately want the candidate I voted for president to win. Even though the votes received were accounted for during each step of the mail-in or in-person voting process; all legal procedures were followed; and the votes were counted and verified—sometimes even more than once—I will falsely perceive a fraudulent process took place. I am in denial that my candidate could lose.
So my belief that fraud occurred is false, yet I continue to embrace this belief, because I don’t want to admit to myself that I will lose the person I want to be “my president.” I’m afraid I will lose him, and all that I believe he did on my behalf will be uprooted and swept away.
I will therefore manufacture false evidence through perceiving innocent events as sinister ones, and these will appear as real to me. For example, in a video, an elections official places a box of mailed ballots on a table: I see this as false evidence that illegal ballots are being dumped to fraudulently ensure the candidate of the other side wins.
The same thing happens when fear colors your perception. For example:
I’m camping in a forest. I see a large male grizzly bear. My fearful imagination kicks in: I’m visualizing the bear is going to run towards me, maul me, kill me, and eat me.
The truth is, the bear doesn’t want to mess with me anymore than I want to mess with him. As long as I don’t threaten his mate or his cubs, or make him feel I am going to attack him, he’s going to leave me alone—as long as I leave him alone.
But fear turns this situation into a vision of danger. There is a risk of course:
- The bear might have rabies, and will act unpredictably.
- It might be a bear that is a “man-killer,” who has gotten the taste for human blood. He is hungry… and I’m a man.
But the odds of these events are low. It’s unlikely they will happen.
So I do my thing; the bear does its thing. The bear and I experience “peaceful co-existence,” to borrow a popular phrase of the cold war era. I don’t harm him; he doesn’t harm me.
These same dynamics are operating beneath many of the popular, contemporary conspiracy theories, such as:
- Q-Anon – Your president is working to save you and your children from a group of blood-drinking, Satanic pedophiles in government and the media
- Joe Biden, Jr. won the election through fraud
- The government is trying to take away your guns
- Secret cabals of [Jews, wealthy industrialists, bankers, members of a secret world government, the Masons… insert your favorite perpetrator of evil here] are plotting to take over the world and control your life
- Other ethnic or racial groups are coming by the millions to take away your food and your jobs… and ultimately replace you
- The world is flat
- The United States faked the moon landing
- The government planned and conducted the events of 9/11, so they could get a hold of Iraq’s oil
- Vaccines will implant tiny tracking chips in you
- The government is actively persecuting members of your religion
- Space aliens are consulting with top secret cells within the government to transfer alien technology; they have been given permission to abduct people and perform experiments on them
- A demagogue, cult leader, or dictator is your savior—despite of the evil deeds and atrocities that he or she condones, directs, or personally commits]
Might I ask those of you who believe in conspiracy theories like this to answer some questions? Here are four questions that will help you get to the core of the fear that locks this conspiracy theory in place in your mind, which acts like a filter that colors the appearance of anything you perceive.
- What about this person or group—or about an event, or a potential outcome if what is described in the conspiracy theory comes true—makes you feel afraid?
- What do you catastrophize might happen?
- What would you perceive if none of what you believe about this is true—if this is just false evidence appearing real?
- What would it be like for you to live your life without believing this? How would you act differently than you do now?
I think we would get along much better if we stopped believing in conspiracy theories… if we stopped demonizing each other… if we tried to work together on our common goals…
We share many things in common; we have common needs:
- We need to eat and have clean water to drink
- We need a safe and decent place to live
- We need to have an education to acquire the skills and the knowledge to contribute to our community
- We need a legal means to provide for our livelihood
- We need to be treated with dignity and respect
- We need the opportunity to pursue our worthy goals and dreams
- We need to be able to embrace and practice the faith or philosophy of our choice, provided that we don’t impose it on others against their will
Perhaps if we could stop embracing conspiracy theories that distort out perception of the world and other people, we could support one another in achieving these needs. You might ask, “How do I provide solutions that get results—and that don’t cause harm?” If we each can do this, we can contribute to a better world for all of us.