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  • Writer's pictureDoug Weiss

Delusion


Some weeks ago, I wrote about someone who expressed a striking contradiction when describing a candidate for office. The precise quote was “I cannot stand to look at or listen to him but I will vote for him in the upcoming election.” When asked why, the response was altogether rational but no less disturbing: “because we are doing better financially.” Now you might agree or not with this sentiment—even putting aside the self-interest that in one form or other guides many of our political preferences. I don’t see a great deal of daylight between this view and a senior citizen who votes for a candidate out of fear the opponent would cut Social Security benefits. Our motivation to promote one politician over another inevitably focuses on some interest—whether wholly to the benefit of ourselves or more altruistically the perceived benefit of many.

What we are experiencing in this election more than any other I can recall is a different motivation, one that is fully grounded in fear, anger, and a sense of identification with extremism in one form or another. Consider some of the actual statements I have heard over the past few months.

The pandemic is a lie. I don’t know anyone who has died from it—and it will vanish once the election is over.

Hollywood, and a cabal of politicians from the other party are involved in widespread pedophilia and child abduction.

The Covid vaccine is a coverup to inject microchips in us that can be used to control our behavior through 5G wireless transmissions.

Members of the (opposition) party are plotting the violent overthrow of the government.

My candidate was anointed by God.

It would be tempting to chalk these up as fringe or conspiracy viewpoints and dismiss them but let me add that they have been made by people who are in most other respects rational beings. How then do we explain the delusional thinking? I have read a number of papers on the subject—but that hardly qualifies me as expert. On one or two occasions I have even tried to get a better understanding of how someone might walk themselves into the illogic of these views with no success. Attempts to ask questions in an effort to uncover any substantiation for the claims being made lead only to a wilder chase through the dark labyrinths of delusion.

What is even more disturbing is the willing denial of tangible evidence that is in any way contradictory to the theories advanced. Confronted with actual proof that foreign governments have been deliberately stoking many of these outlandish views on social media in order to favor a candidate and disrupt the political landscape—theorists will argue that the evidence is only further proof of the conspiracy itself. When politicians have undeniably engaged in precisely the behavior their advocates are opposed to, elaborate counter theories are advanced that they were simply working in deep undercover to befriend and ultimately unmask the real perpetrators. The lengths to which people will go to avoid reality knows no limit.

Observing this over some time, there appear to be some underlying behaviors that account for this seeming departure from reality. The first is a kind of naïve gullibility that causes some individuals to accept otherwise nonsensical views without question. Suggesting that because one has not personally experienced a disease it does not exist defies any reason, especially when there is ample evidence of past pandemics both in our country and throughout the world which are readily acknowledged. Moreover, to suggest that the governments of every country are in some deep conspiracy to acquiesce in the deaths of their own citizens in order to pervert the election in the US is the stuff of some poorly conceived dystopian movie. Some number of those who would advance the theory are simply unwilling or unable to think for themselves—they parrot a view expressed by someone else either out of their own ignorance or malicious intent. Nothing advanced in contradiction has much chance of swaying these individuals—they possess a kind of blind faith—yes I said faith, in a dangerous and capricious world which leads them to see threat everywhere.

Some, in reaction to an increasingly chaotic and irrational world adopt their own form of dangerous counter reaction. Whistling while walking past the graveyard—they display a show of bravado and even act out the very behaviors they fear. Look for the swagger, the righteous indignation, jingoism and racism as characteristics of those who have no love for the values they espouse in order to conceal their bigotry, need to obtain power over others and their disdain for those they deem unworthy. They wrap themselves in a banner of patriotism and ideological purity, but it is a pretense for hatred and extreme authoritarianism.

Then there are the exploiters—those who act out political or personal agendas by manipulating others. They seek to gain at the expense of those they delude—and their desire for gain of power and wealth is manifestly clear. In reality they are apolitical, seeing the process as simply a means to their own ends. They prevail at the expense of those they lead –while they render their followers golems—mindless sycophants acting out the pathology of their espoused leaders.

The conditions that have led to the present circumstances are likely to grow worse. What prevents us from changing the course? I believe the greatest threat is apathy. Too many have convinced themselves that disengagement, denial, even silence is the only way to survive in the current environment. It succeeds in empowering the very threats to our existence that will lead us further down the dark path to authoritarian rule. As I wrote some time back—voting is the powerful tool we possess to make clear who and what we will support. When a majority of Americans’ voices remain unheard—regardless of the cause—we have abrogated the most fundamental right and power we possess to alter the outcome. It is a right that good men and women have fought and died to obtain but one too many concede.

Some believe that one vote does not matter, that one voice raised in contradiction to the conspiracies, fears, and misdirection we presently face is insufficient. When we look back over time and see the path that led to despotism, the ruin of once great nations and the despair of their peoples we see a people unwilling to speak out, unwilling to engage, unwilling to exercise their responsibility as free citizens. Whether out of cynicism, anger, despair or any other cause—there is simply no excuse for apathy in the face of impending tyranny. Despots come to power not by virtue of what they do, but by the lack of opposition and the silence of the governed.

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