One of America’s most common mistakes these days is blaming everything on conspiracies.
But I don’t mean people who are dubious about the official narratives for things like election integrity, vaccine safety, Jeffery Epstein’s death, and the like. Neither do I mean those who work to find better explanations in the face of our culture’s increasing scarcity of integrity and trust. I don’t even mean those whose explanations veer into rather fanciful territory–that sort of thing always happens in eras of massive paradigm shift like ours.
No, the mistake belongs to those who say conspiracy is the only possible explanation for coordinated mass deception and therefore conclude that coordinated mass deception cannot possibly be happening.
It’s a comforting dismissal because conspiracies just seem so unlikely. How could so many regulatory bodies, pharmaceutical companies, medical professionals, corporations, and leaders all be conspiring together to push unsafe and ineffective vaccines on the world? How could so many election officials, voting machine vendors, postal workers, etc. all conspire together to change a presidential election? How could so many media institutions on both the left and right join such a conspiracy by providing cover for them? It’s just not plausible.
But conspiracy is not the only vehicle for coordinated mass deception. It’s not even the most obvious one. But the myopic focus on conspiracy by those determined to slavishly confess the official narratives causes them to completely overlook deceptive mechanisms they’ve known since childhood.
For example, we all remember hearing The Emperor’s New Clothes at some point or another. In the fable, charlatans posing as tastemakers sell an emperor non-existent clothes rebranded as fashionable clothes that are invisible to the unsophisticated. In the end, the sycophantic tendencies of his court, his staff, and the population at large lead everyone to pretend the emperor isn’t naked. Only a little child is unpretentious enough to point out the obvious.
The Emperor’s New Clothes is a story about coordinated mass deception, but it’s not about a conspiracy. Instead, the deception is crowdsourced so that everyone involved is both deceiver and deceived. The only people who weren’t fooled were the con artists who started it all and the child who hadn’t been “properly socialized” yet.
Folktales like this stick with us because they teach us something about human nature–usually fallen human nature. Modernists have a long history of promulgating the myth that education is capable of raising us up above such foibles. But human nature is human nature. There’s a reason everyone’s mom had to say “if everyone else jumped off a cliff, would you do it too” as some point.
Even our lauded class of educated experts remain irrevocably human. Indeed, the fact that so many of them think themselves above mundane warnings often makes them even more vulnerable. By itself, expertise doesn’t prevent anyone from failing Aesop’s fables on a regular basis. Anyone who has actually spent time with experts knows the reality of this. (And those of us who have actually done tech support for experts cannot forget how profoundly foolish they can be.)
But the mechanisms of coordinated mass deception don’t end with the Emperor’s New Clothes or other folk wisdom. Modern psychology has also developed numerous concepts to help quantify the behavior of large groups. Most people have probably heard phrases like “mob psychology,” “herd mentality” or the like, even if they don’t know much about them.
The reality is that mobs of experts aren’t any more immune to such things than any other kind of mob. And the advent of social media has led to the proliferation of virtual mobs even where physical or organizational proximity does not exist.
Consider some of the causes of mob mentality that WebMD describes:
You might get caught up in mob mentality for a few reasons. If disagreeing with the group poses a risk, you are more likely to stay silent. That risk can be small, like getting dirty looks, or large, like being punished.
You probably won’t conform to a group you have nothing in common with. There are several situations you may find yourself in that may make you more open to mob mentality.
- Your group is going through a stressful situation.
- Group leadership is intimidating or overbearing.
- The group has a tendency to agree on every decision.
- There is no predetermined process for decision-making.
- The group only interacts with itself.?
Gee, does this sound familiar at all? How about their signs of mob mentality?
- Optimism disregarding risks (feeling invulnerable)
- Frequent rationalization of dissenting opinions
- The belief that the group’s moral standards should apply to all people
- Self-censorship to maintain the status quo
- Belief in the illusion that everyone is on the same page?
Now these descriptions are certainly colloquialized for a lay audience. But for a more in-depth analysis, I’d highly recommend listening to this interview with Mattias Desmet, a professor of clinical psychology at Ghent University in Belgium. He goes into some great detail in the way that Mass Psychosis/Mass Formation has influenced the Western response to Covid:
Social media has given us the largest crowds in human history, and our elites & experts are as subject to that as anyone else–not because they’re stupid or because they lack expertise, but simply because they remain human.
The proliferation of mechanisms for mass deception are daunting, to say the least. Just as in the fable, huge swaths of our society have become both deceived and deceivers alike. We have no business at all dismissing the possibility of coordinated mass deception on matters of public importance simply because we think conspiracies are implausible.
Now, it would be comfortable to stop there. It’s a place where I could get my point across while still implicitly denying conspiracy theory as such so that I wouldn’t be one of those people. But that wouldn’t be honest because mob mentality isn’t mutually exclusive with conspiracy.
It would be foolish to recognize the existence of crowd psychology but ignore the possibility that anyone would manipulate it. You can’t tell The Emperor’s New Clothes without mentioning the scammers who took advantage of the emperor’s vices. The ways in which human behavior is highly predictable are also avenues for manipulation. And when you look at ideas like “The Great Reset”, mob mentality simply adds means to the motive and opportunity that clearly exist already.
Does this mean you should believe every conspiracy theory you come across? Of course not. What it does mean is that you need to be open to the possibility of the Big Lie–even when it means people you’ve known and trusted might be taken in by it. The only way out of this trap is precisely what our elites actively discourage: Do your own research and make the best decisions you can when God has given you the responsibility to decide.
After all, we are no more immune to mass deception than experts are. We need to be deliberate about stepping outside the mob sometimes to evaluate arguments and evidence on their own terms–without worrying about what anyone else might say about our curiosity.
And as Christians, we already know what’s out there prowling around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Do you think the great deceiver will fail to use all the tools at his disposal to lead us astray?
So as you research, pray for divine wisdom. Read the book of Proverbs and gain it. Find other wise men to associate with, for iron sharpens iron. And don’t let either the devil or the world lead you astray.