I once dabbled in conspiracy theories.
Right around 9/11, finding myself in a new town with no friends or family in the same time zone, the shock of witnessing that spectacle of terror set my mind racing to piece together some kind of understanding. The Internet provided a panoply of explanations, and I was free to parse them however I liked.
I was itching for an understanding no one else had. In his lectures on Buddhism, Alan Watts says “you want to be one up on the Universe.” That was me. And there was one blog I could always count on to give me the feeling I had this rare insight – a point of view about these events that only those with a certain level of intellectual courage, sagely insight, and of course the good fortune to gain access to the truth.
The blogger: Alex Jones.
For several weeks I gobbled up and repeated his tropes, along with anything else that I did not see in the channels of traditional journalism I had relied on thus far. But at some point, I looked around and got the feeling I had gone streaking alone.
Additionally, there was one factor uniting the few who really championed these bold and edgy assertions: They were all pants-shitting crazy.
This hit me clearly as I listened to a recording of Alex Jones doing a fairly good Yoda impersonation that went from urging listeners to speak the truth of the 9/11 Inside Job conspiracy (I was talking this way sometimes,) to a shadowy exhortation to become a warrior for Christ, (I was not going to do that, especially not on behalf of someone who would wear footie pants to a funeral like that.)
Looking back, I might have responded more credibly to a Kabuki version of Das Capital, or The Gettysburg Address done in a Bullwinkle voice. I was in a pretty molten state, after all. The company I worked for had actually lost two people in the attacks, and our CEO wept during a company-wide call.
But placing a 9/11 conspiracy right next to Yoda playing Paul. No.
I was off the Alex Jones bus, after only a few weeks.
Letting go of this preoccupation was no major ordeal for me. I had only bored a few people with my rants. I had no t-shirts or golf-hats to dispose of. I had not alienated my family (as far as I could tell) and been driven by isolation into the waiting arms of a ring of cult “lover-bombers.”
But there were lots of other things to do. Since relocating, I had a regular exercise practice, some friendships, a decent career, had even started graduate school, and had kept in touch with my family. These stabilizers allowed me to process the shock of the attacks with more acceptance of a bad thing happening, without trying to elect myself head of national security.
One prominent feature of my ADHD has been a tendency to drop out and start over in many areas of my life, which explains a practiced skill at the role of newcomer. But my newcomer routine was usually not a huge departure from other versions of myself. When a part of my life ended (undergrad), or fell apart (a band or a marriage broke up), I would just re-boot and come back with more or less factory settings. Maybe I knew a little more about myself, but I had not completely changed my allegiances.
Also, the payoff of feeling like an outsider is not huge for me, and that seems to be a major draw for some of the Qs. I’m a white male, and I guess I fit the category called CISgender. (If someone put me on a soapbox, I would invite people to ascribe whatever pronouns they like to me.) I have paid hard for who I am in certain situations, and at some point I will get around to writing about spending all of grade school in the eye of a racial hurricane. But mostly I have been rewarded crazily for nothing more than accidents of birth.
For years I have encountered lots of ideas about race, colonialism, and power. Somewhere in there I read that one signature feature of inherited privilege is the expectation of comfort. It definitely describes me in some ways, but I see that as a major component fueling the passions of the mobs we saw in the Capitol.
Lots of the Qs are white, upper-middle-class types, more suburban row-house than your van-down-by-the-river I would expect. These are folks who arguably expect comfort. It seems that violating this expectation triggers lots of performative rage – the kind that storms a building but then stands around waiting to see what they’re supposed to do next.
Your Weird Symbol is No Good Here
Do I think ADHDers are any more or less likely to gravitate toward conspiracy narratives than others?
First of all, I am not a joiner. This is not because I have low self-esteem. (I do.) I just fucking hate the whole thing.
Secondly, I am terrible at lying. Not because I am committed to the truth in some interesting way. I just suck at it. Most of the ADHD folks I know are the same – simply unable to hide their thoughts very well.
Being a guileless ADHDer, absolutely none of my conspiracy talk was done for the sake of freaking other people out, or pretending to espouse something just to irritate other people. I can irritate people perfectly well with my normal, run of the mill beliefs.
Being overcome with fear, grief, and a sense of foreboding (that was totally on target), I was trying to fashion a safe worldview, one that could help me avoid being unpleasantly surprised by more bad news.
Another thing: I hate to feel I am being made a fool. I hate feeling like I am not in the know. I freak out if I think people are gossiping about me. So if lots of ADHDers experience this particular aspect of emotional dysregulation, that may be part of what fuels at least the beginning attraction to fringe theories that purport to place you in a privileged position of knowing the world in a way that no one else does.
It stands to reason that we all, the “normal” and the ADHDers, want to be one-up on the Universe. Why would anyone NOT be trying to figure out the hidden rules to this murderous existence?
But as with so many other things, we ADHDers do have a tendency to take it further. Because we are Just like everyone else, only more so.
Where do you land in the unpronounceable continuum of conspiracy-credibility?