What Do We Do About Q?
The conspiracy theories seem ridiculous, but the consequences are real.
The age of info insanity is upon us, and really weird claims are all the rage. Some have been saying Trump faked his coronavirus diagnosis because he’s about to round up an imaginary satanic pedophilia cabal. “Let’s get into the conversation of President Donald Trump supposedly having coronavirus— ‘supposedly’ being the operative word there.” Others are speculating that Joe Biden was wearing a wire in the debates. “There it is. Biden’s wearing a wire.” It’s actually just a crease in his shirt. And a popular meme among teens was the claim that Wayfair is shipping children in industrial-grade cabinets. I just have a lot of questions here. The main driver of info insanity is something called QAnon, which is where stories like these originate or are amplified. “I have grown to fully trust Don, master of all masters. He is a genius, a 5D chess player, a man with a huge heart.” He was an unknown person who claims to be an intelligence insider but obviously isn’t. And Anons are the people who follow him and decode his vague posts. The main gist of QAnon is that elite satanic pedophiles are everywhere and they’re coming to get your kids. More specifically, pedophiles are everywhere among liberals, celebrities, and the media. Meanwhile, Donald Trump is busy plotting to round them all up. “Why is it that all these pedophiles were allowed to be untouched for years and years and years until President Trump was sworn in as president?” The scale of QAnon isn’t yet clear, but it’s definitely big. It’s reached the crucial ‘your mom has heard of it’ stage. “Q is the best thing that has ever happened to me.” There are now 87 QAnon supporters who have run for Congress, and the first will be elected this November. “I think it’s something worth listening to and paying attention to.” And Trump refuses to push back against QAnon because QAnon loves Trump. “Well, I don’t know much about the movement, other than I understand they like me very much.” QAnon is serious, and it merits our attention and our concern. We need to respond. It’s tempting to just laugh all this off. But in this video, I’m going to show you why that is actually one of the worst things you can do. To understand QAnon, it helps to understand magic. I don’t mean this kind. I mean the medieval stuff. Throughout history, people believed in spells and superstitions and, yeah, religions. Magical thinking is driven by spotting patterns and creating connections. A black cat crossed your path, then your daughter fell ill— presto, look out for black cats. This is how Anons are interpreting reality. They’re thinking magically. They’re seeing patterns and drawing connections. “So there we have a connection between The Grateful Dead and the mystery schools of Egypt, ancient Egypt.” One of the major reasons QAnon is on the rise right now is because when the world is scary and uncertain, we are drawn to magical thinking. We now have a major schism between two tribes, magical thinkers and evidence seekers. The rest of us, the evidence seekers, are still plenty irrational and magical, but we mostly defer to science and empiricism. We are two tribes making sense of the world in different ways and perceiving different realities. QAnon has an indifference or outright hostility towards reality that to us evidence seekers is shocking or baffling or hilarious or infuriating. “What if I told you that those who are corrupting the world, poisoning our food, and igniting conflict were themselves about to be permanently eradicated from the Earth?” So how do we evidence seekers respond? Often with ridicule. “So I dived deep into the rabbit hole to talk to four prominent QAnon researchers.” “Donald Trump is one of the most intelligent men probably in our lifetime— like, top five, believe it or not.” “I find it hard.” We mock. We belittle. We dunk on them. It’s fun. It’s entertaining. It feels fantastic. “Boring!” Ridicule is a booming industry in Trump-era America. “I’m no psychiatrist, but I think it’s safe to say—” “This guy’s got some big issues.” There’s even an anti-QAnon community of influencers and podcasters and YouTubers dunking on QAnon all day every day. Many of them seem to love this stuff the way that other people love awful movies. It’s so bad, it’s good. “Not the bees!” Creators like these are funny and smart and, generally speaking, right. In a lot of ways, ridicule works. It’s a peaceful weapon against the powerful. It persuades people who haven’t chosen sides yet. And it demonstrates to those already on your side that your team is the smartest and wittiest and most wonderful of all. Ridicule is part of society’s immune system. Just like your body’s immune system fights a viral invader, ridicule attacks nonsense and drives it back to the fringes. Or, at least, it tries. “Where we go on, we go off. God bless, patriots.” But where ridicule falls entirely flat is at bringing people back who do believe in QAnon. Instead, ridicule leaves in its wake shame, anger, resentment, and in the worst cases, humiliation. We underestimate the power of this emotion. If someone humiliates us, we will hold that grudge indefinitely, and we will get our revenge. I think we all learned this from The Karate Kid. What role has the judgment and condescension of college-educated urbanites played in spawning QAnon? How big a factor is humiliation in the rise of Donald Trump? And if you think you’re above being targeted with ridicule, if you think you’re beyond the reach of humiliation, allow me a brief demonstration. Maybe you think Donald Trump engineered some brilliant covert conspiracy with Russia despite not being able to keep anything else secret. “We are actually about to find out if Russia maybe has something on the new president.” Maybe you think JFK was taken out by the FBI or the CIA or the military industrial complex. “I think most Americans would agree that it was not a lone gunman. That’s the conspiracy in the Warren Report.” Actually, this guy definitely did it all by himself. Maybe you believe in anarchism, which has never worked anywhere ever and spectacularly explodes in all experiments. If you believe any of these things, you might have just felt the sting of ridicule. That’s the feeling we give others when we ridicule them. Did it make you rethink your positions? Not unless you were already rethinking them. More likely, you doubled down. You got to work figuring out why I’m an idiot. Maybe you even started plotting your revenge, like a mean tweet. We all believe goofy stuff. We go to great lengths to avoid admitting being wrong, because it’s embarrassing. And when you’re really, really, really wrong, it’s humiliating. “Why are they not in jail? Oh, is it because you’re part of them? Are you part of the deep state?” “Thank you, ma’am. Your time has expired.” “The deep state is going down, and if any of you are in the deep state, you’re going down with it.” “Ma’am, this is your last warning. I’m finding that you are disrupting this meeting.” The bad news is, regardless of what happens with this guy, QAnon is still going to be here. And while most platforms have cracked down on Q, Anons are clever at evading these measures. QAnon may very well grow and even get uglier in the years ahead. So if we can’t dunk on fools, what do we do? What society as a whole does about QAnon is a complex question that has no definite answer. But what we as individuals do about Q in our personal lives is relatively simple. We don’t panic, and we don’t lash out. We calm down and we slow down. Here are three things to do if someone you know gets into QAnon. These are based on the work of Mick West, who has been debunking conspiracy theories for 15 years. Stay connected. For almost everyone, it’s not necessary to cut off a Q believer. If you do this, that’s one less lifeline back to reality they have access to. That’s one less voice that isn’t simply cheering them on. Share information they may be lacking. When you see someone posting incorrect information, share links that show why it’s incorrect and simply ask questions about how these conspiratorial claims would work. Often, when people delve a bit deeper, they can see for themselves when something is implausible. And finally, be patient. These beliefs are unlikely to suddenly vanish. It will seem like nothing is working when slow progress is actually being made. If you intervene, you need to be gentle. Be kind or be neutral. And if you can’t do either, do nothing, because your attacks can make things worse. Believers in QAnon will benefit more from our interest and our respect than from our condemnation. “Calling it stupid, calling the people who are involved in it stupid— and I’ve never known a good way to get people to do anything for me by calling them stupid.” Instead of looking at QAnon followers as a force to be defeated, look at them as fellow flawed humans you can positively influence. This isn’t some contest you need to win. Anons are just people like us. They’re not mentally ill. They’re not beyond redemption. The most formidable adversary QAnon might ultimately face is QAnon. This is a narrative that is not built to last. It’s premised on predictions that never materialize. Any and all outlandish claims are accepted. Dissent is not tolerated. There is no objective reality. And everything is interpreted. QAnon will always be an incoherent mess of nonsense. These are gigantic faults. And for many Q followers, they will become obvious in time. And the Q Show is still in its early seasons. People will also simply get bored. In the meantime, we need to endure and not chase people deeper down the rabbit hole. [MUSIC PLAYING]
A global cabal of celebrity pedophiles? Trafficked children being sold online through a furniture website? And Donald Trump about to rescue us from it all?
These QAnon conspiracy theories are so outlandish — not to mention demonstrably untrue — it feels like the natural response … is laughter and mockery.
But according to documentary filmmaker Kirby Ferguson, that’s the opposite of what you should do. Dunking on fools may feel good, but humiliating QAnoners risks driving them further down the rabbit hole. And you should care because you might have a QAnon believer among your friends or family — and on Nov. 3, it’s possible several will be elected to Congress. Q is not going anywhere soon. So what can you do?
Kirby Ferguson (@remixeverything) is a documentary filmmaker.
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