Conspiracy theory spread

  • Posted by Whit Blauvelt on March 27, 2023 at 5:29 pm

    The hyper-rationalization of the Trumpist, QAnon-type conspiracy thinking which dominates the Republican Party in America looks like a clear case of mass psychosis of the paranoid-schizophrenic sort. If so, is this a case of activation of what was latent, or actual contagion, a political weaponization, an intentional spread of madness?

    For instance, I have a brother with Ivy League degrees in philosophy and engineering who sincerely believe that the climate threat is false, a conspiracy which virtually every climate scientist in the world has joined. It’s not a matter of his not being rational, but of over-predominance of sense-free rationality, which McGilchrist well-describes as being the symptom of the left brain gone too far.

    What’s to be done?

    Whit Blauvelt replied 6 months ago 4 Members · 18 Replies
  • 18 Replies
  • Don Salmon

    March 27, 2023 at 6:10 pm

    Hi Whit:

    As a clinical psychologist who has worked with quite a number of delusional individuals, I can say there are a number of approaches.

    But first, I want to check – are you asking what can done on an individual level (like, talking to your brother) – or on a societal level, or both?

  • Ralph Rickenbach

    March 27, 2023 at 6:59 pm

    I agree that there are many things that can be done depending on what you want to achieve. One of the first is to look at your own way of thinking.

    I always get a bit nervous when somebody talks about people who have different views to their own as being poster-children for left-hemisphere dominance and being wrong.

    With a society that is predominantly left-hemisphere dominant, even majorities can be wrong. Which does not mean that your brother is right. And then, categories like right and wrong are, well, left hemisphere concepts.

    Once you have examined your own thinking and motives, ask yourself what brings life to your relationship.

    • Don Salmon

      March 27, 2023 at 7:21 pm

      Hi Ralph:

      I think I see your point. I guess I had a different take.

      Assume someone is caught up in delusional thinking. Assume one has made a correct assessment. The interesting question here, to me, is, What can you do?

      I guess I’ll go ahead and give some answers.

      Individually, there’s almost universal scientific and well researched agreement that you can’t argue someone out of a delusional state. So for example, in my group therapy session at Bellevue Hospital, I remember a woman came to the group in a florid psychotic state. She came up to me and said, “I know you. You’re my lawyer.”

      Well, all the arguing I could do wouldn’t persuade her otherwise. So I said, “Oh, I used to be a lawyer but now I’m studying to be a psychologist.” She was perfectly happy with that and was an active participant in the group (previously having been wary of revealing personal secrets to her lawyer!!)

      Similarly when talking with Christian fundamentalists when I lived in South Carolina. I didn’t say, “Well, Jesus was just one of many incarnations of the Divine, like Krishna, Buddha and so on.” I would talk about experiencing Christ in my life, and asking them what their relationship to Christ was. It enabled us to talk about a wide variety of topics that a purely rational (LH) conversation wouldn’t have allowed.

      So with climate change. People choose delusional beliefs because it serves them emotionally in some way. Just trying to give them the facts doesn’t help. Obviously WHit’s brother has the intellectual capacity to understand. If he thinks that climate change is a left wing attack on American values, for example, I can share my concerns about a changing America and my fears that my cultural background makes it hard for me to adjust to all the dizzying changes in the world today.

      This is pretty much how cult deprogrammers work. In fact, they have written books about how to deprogram society of delusional beliefs.

      Does it work?

      Not likely. Religions have promoted delusional beliefs for thousands fo years. Science has promoted the delusional belief in a dead, non conscious world – this belief in materialism is actually the primary driving force behind Iain’s 2nd book – TMWT.

      Will reading his book make a difference? By itself, I doubt it.

      But there are – I believe – subtler realities. If you believe Indian philosophers, we are all connected in a subtle field of consciousness, and we are at the end of an age of LH denomination, and all the conspiracy theories, all the breakdowns we see around us in rules, boundaries, structures etc are a sign of the shift in consciousness that’s occurring collectively. Ultimately, as we shift our own consciousness, that will have effects worldwide. If we can take steps externally to make changes great, but it’s most likely to have more wide ranging effects when we ourselves make that internal change – which gets back to what you’re saying, Ralph, that it’s ultimately the inner change that matters!

      • Whit Blauvelt

        March 27, 2023 at 8:45 pm

        Thanks Don. My question was on both levels. I would love to reach my brother, and as you say argument just doesn’t help. He’s also convinced the covid vaccine killed tens of thousands of people, while drug companies and governments all conspired to hide it. Meanwhile he’s a good family man, holds down a decent job and so forth. He has no religion at all, nor artistic involvement, and is proud of going decades without reading a book. But he soaks up these conspiracy theories from odd corners of the Internet, and his coworkers in the defense industry.

        The societal level is my greater concern, as my brother individually is no danger to anyone. A society in which so many join in hyper-rational, senseless, paranoid ideation is a great danger to all, whether or not we join in the madness. While “the paranoid style in American politics” has been long with us (, it’s now on unusually prominent display, and shares its delusions internationally, particularly with the far-right European political groups, but also with such odd bedfellows as yoga teachers, health-food purists, and those against all childhood vaccines.

        So at the societal level, where some prominent politicians, television “news” performers and billionaires who prefer a distracted public are stoking conspiracy paranoia, how can that be countered? Bringing out factual arguments, as we see with climate threats and many other issues, more tends to harden denial than change minds. Pointing out that it would be impossible for thousands of scientists to conspire about anything goes nowhere for those who are convinced that virtually all scientists have subscribed to an anti-capitalist agenda and forsaken honest science to promote it — as if capitalism is uniquely allied with fossil fuel firms, and has nothing to do with cleaner energy alternatives.

        Is there messaging which can help counter the wide-scale madness? If there is, perhaps it must be more art than science, prevailing more through aesthetics than logics. What shape can that best take?

    • Whit Blauvelt

      March 27, 2023 at 9:12 pm

      Hi Ralph,

      In Genesis, there’s the Tree of Life, and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Eating the fruit of the latter gets us kicked out of Eden. I get it. Yet as McGilchrist points out value is not something added as a mere veneer over a valueless world of things. My brother’s beliefs, the conspiracy theories being so widely spread, are neither true nor beautiful. In the context of the left hemisphere, good and evil may be mere relativistic human concoctions; in the context of the right hemisphere goodness is deeply inherent in life, requiring our appreciation and respect.

      Have I got that wrong?

      • Ralph Rickenbach

        March 28, 2023 at 7:53 am

        In my opinion, we have limited understanding of the archetypal story of Genesis, as we interpret it with our LH. I look at it as a description of the process of humankind becoming conscious. We woke up into a dualistic worldview of right and wrong, good and evil, and into a growth process onward into non-duality and individuated unity. We became aware of our impending death, the hardship of daily life, the pain of birth, the distribution of physical power. We were not thrown out of paradise. We rather saw behind the curtain and did so in our new-found dualistic worldview. It introduced shame, a feeling of separation, and the need of sense-making.

        Value is fundamental. We just have a limited view of it. In our sense-making, we have constructed hierarchizations of values, trying to uncover value while surviving in this rather hostile world. I don’t know whether there had been an alternative path (the tree of life) and we made a mistake, or whether we would have stayed non-dual, one with everything in a childlike, immature fashion. (Think of a baby.) Now, we have the chance to grow into conscious oneness, the above-mentioned individuated unity, through the growth pangs of duality.

        The hierarchizations of values have taken different forms over the millennia, and they compete. Traditionalism, modernity and postmodernity are some such hierarchizations. They come in healthy and unhealthy forms. Looking at our history, the biblical narrative, and the story of the two hemispheres, I would always be cautious to divide things in a dualistic way into us versus them. Knowing how wrong the LH can be, and how prominent LH dominant thinking is in our society, let’s strive forward toward a more profound understanding of foundational value, beauty, goodness, and truth rather than trying to convince others that they are mistaken.

        Polarizations are best solved by searching for a more profound third way of looking at things.

        Like you and Iain, I see value expressed in beauty, goodness and truth as foundational. Let me try to find a way closer to value.

        Looking at chesed and emet (grace and truth) in Hebrew, they express something rather different than we interpret.

        Grace is granted from a higher to a lower and usually expressed as unwarranted favor. Chesed is favor, love, giving space, kindness, an open heart, a loving attitude, and much more. Chesed is the fruit of the Spirit as expressed in Galatians. It is extended between equals.

        Emet is not factual truth. It is an uncovering, revealing of foundational principles and substance. That is why the New Testament uses the Greek word aletheia, which is best translated as uncovering and “not holding back.” Emet and aletheia lack the notion of convincing others.

        Chesed and emet, charis and aletheia, grace and truth are how we are to travel along the shared journey of finding foundational value: in a loving, giving, inviting fashion that makes room for the other to uncover what has always been true.

        My five cents. What do you think?

        • Don Salmon

          March 28, 2023 at 1:23 pm

          Hi Ralph:

          Well, I agree with all you say, though I’m not sure how it relates to Whit’s question.

          I hope you all will forgive me – you guys write so intelligently, I feel like I’m writing like a child. But let me see if I can connect all this together:

          Whit writes that he is concerned that his brother – who clearly has the intellectual capacity to know better – is caught up in conspiracy theories, including the idea that climate change is a hoax. He asks what to do about this on the individual and collective level.

          Ralph, I may be COMPLETELY misunderstanding your initial response, but it sounded to me like you were saying Whit shouldn’t judge his brother. Which I think we all agree on, if that means to make an ethical or value judgment.

          It also wasn’t clear to me – maybe I’m misunderstanding – it sounded like you were also implying we shouldn’t assess Whit’s brother as making a mistake to think of climate change as a hoax.

          I think that’s where the confusion was.

          So to sum up:

          1. Whit is concerned that his brother, due to what I think Whit correctly assessed as a hyper rational, LH tendency toward paranoid thinking (common to most conspiracy theories), has bought into this irrational way of thinking.

          2. Whit asked what do to about it, for individuals and for the society

          3. It sounds like – sorry if I’m oversimplifying – both Ralph and I are saying, on the individual level, to not judge him for his error in thinking – to put it even more simply, to love him and express that love and empathy toward him.

          I think that is the essence of where we’ve gotten so far. I couldn’t tell, in this latest comment, Ralph, if you’re hinting at a spiritual solution for society?

          I guess I”ll jump in. I’ve spoken with a remarkable number of people who have pursued contemplative practices for decades, and I along with many of them have noticed it’s MUCH easier to have a peaceful, quiet mind than it used to be and more remarkably it’s gotten much easier to have glimpses of that state of Nirvana, the Kingdom of Heaven within, the all pervading Presence of God or whatever you wish to call it, than it used to be.

          this to me is a sign of a massive shift in collective human consciousness. The question then is, how do we align ourselves with it?

          To get back to Whit’s question, the crucial thing is to NOT allow our emotional minds to get all that concerned about the dust that is being raised as the Divine Mother is sweeping with Her broom, sweeping away the detritus of the past 5000 years ago since the LH first began to usurp the place of the RH.

          Conspiracy theories are just the dust being swept up. And here, perhaps this is where Ralph was pointing us, looking within at the ways our own consciousness makes room for hatred, fear, paranoia, etc may be the greatest service we can perform for humanity.

          • Ralph Rickenbach

            March 28, 2023 at 2:54 pm

            Maybe I wasn’t very good at expressing what I wanted to say. I did not talk about judgement or the brother not being wrong at all. I talked about the immediate assumption of us to be right, when we should first make sure that we are not just reacting from our own LH map and understanding.

            As for the strategy with the brother, we agree.

            • Whit Blauvelt

              March 28, 2023 at 5:28 pm


              While I appreciate your caution about merely presuming ourselves to be right, anyone who thinks that climate change isn’t a serious threat, or that epidemics don’t require sensible public health responses, or that elections in Western nations are rigged, is dangerously wrong. Those who think these things (hrumph, my brother) are typically hyper-rational, which as we know from McGilchrist’s work comes with left-hemisphere dominance. Any solution must be move people towards more love of the natural world, the health of humanity, and open democracies — to get more of us to our “right” minds. Arguing won’t work when it pushes folks farther into left-dominant perspectives. So what are the alternatives, beyond retreat to our private meditations and happiness?

              How may we nudge societies towards the sort of right-hemisphere enlightenment which will enable them to self-correct, and pull back from hyper-rational, paranoid certainties? We might hope experience of the arts can help; indeed those in our great cities with their artistic resources are less prone to these problems. We might hope that experience of nature will too, yet those in rural areas are often the most beset. I’m in rural Vermont, where paranoid perspectives are fortunately far rarer than in, say, rural Texas. But I’ve no sense of how to bottle Vermont sanity, the general respect here for both science and nature, for export.

              We should help left-hemisphere-leaning paranoid people out of love, when we can. But we also should hope to help those we don’t love. On their present course they are a deadly danger to humanity and this Earth, not individually but because of shear numbers. Ours is not to judge in order to apportion punishment or blame, but we need all the better techniques we can find to turn folks towards the virtues the right hemisphere can illuminate. Might we find means of broad cultural transmission — something bigger than the Beatles in their prime — to shift people by the millions quickly enough for the beauties of this world to revive and survive?

            • Don Salmon

              March 28, 2023 at 6:41 pm

              Hi Whit and Ralph:

              I heard the same thing Whit said. There’s this idea which is almost universal in liberal circles (also in New Age circles, though they don’t necessarily overlap) that we should ALWAYS be careful in simply asserting, “No, that’s incorrect.”

              I think this is actually a literal, left hemisphere understanding of truth.

              “Truth” with a capital “T” is never a matter of right and wrong (and I think that “never” is not necessarily a LH absolute!!)

              truth in terms of factual things is simple.

              Climate change, exacerbated by humans, is happening.

              What to do about it is up for grabs. But if someone tells you it’s not caused by humans, they are factually wrong.

              I hope we can start there. Then Whit’s original question can be more easily dealt with.

              Social movements: Whit, personally, I strongly believe that ANY social movement not founded on the evolution of a state of consciousness beyond the mind – beyond BOTH RH and LH – is doomed to failure from the start.

              To some extent, we may need to open to RH/immediate experience to begin, but that could just as easily lead to all kinds of dangerous totalitarian movements as true freedom.

              Is what I’m saying making any sense? Does it sound absolutist or complicated?

              If I was talking with a 13 year old kid, I’d ask them to look at moments in nature, playing sports or music, or just talking with a dear friend in times of deep connection, and ask them to consider what it is about those moments that is so profound, so touching, so moving.

              And then to suggest, “What if it’s possible to shift one’s attention in a way that no matter what one is doing, no matter how “terrible” the world system may appear to be, no matter how much emotional or physical pain one may be experiencing, it may be possible to shift to that state of flow.

              And then, as far as a worldwide movement goes (I wish it was mindfulness but for the most part that’s become McMindfulness), how would one encourage, on a societal, international level, even a remote interest in this?

              There’s now a worldwide renaissance of interest in psychedelics. What I’m talking about includes all the possibilities of psychedelics but goes far beyond it.

              Any ideas as to whether this is even interesting to you, and if so, how would it be made more well known?

            • Whit Blauvelt

              March 28, 2023 at 7:56 pm

              Hi Don,

              Agreed, the social advance can’t just be regression from science to magic, from LH to RH. We need both legs to stand on, and to walk forward. Also agreed, the return to psychedelic research is positive. (Yet my brother as a teen used to drop acid and go to the mall, gaining little from it — set and setting remain crucial).

              McGilchrist points out that life requires obstacles to create solutions for (not quite his words, but at least roughly his gist). As a species, we have arrived at, largely by our own careless creation, obstacles which require further technological and spiritual creativity of high order. As McGilchrist also points out, religion has not always been a separate category of culture. The Japanese, for instance, had no such category or concept before the Portuguese introduced it there. So we might no so much need any new religion, as a newly spiritualized culture in all aspects, including our sciences.

              We might assume, if some are catching a glimpse of such cultural advance, a few drawn here may be among them, and share of such glimmerings.

  • Don Salmon

    March 27, 2023 at 8:50 pm

    Sure, you’re welcome. If you have an otherwise good relationship with your brother, letting him know you care about him and love him is the key. Then wait! A good friend of mine lives in what is now a “blood red” state and his FOUR brothers are all conspiracy mongers. he’s gone back and forth for years, but letting go of the need to convert them has led him to a weekly meeting with the brother he’s closest to, and his brother evidently has opened his heart considerably to him – and this (the brother) is a guy who always had hyper rational jobs, interests, etc. Since his wife died he’s become a fundamentalist Christian (the family was always rather open, religiously liberal) and it’s become so obvious to my friend that this is just his brother coming to terms with his mortality, and he just doesn’t ever get into arguing with him anymore.

    Before I say more about the societal level, I’ve noticed there’s not too many – if any – folks on this Channel who are interested in occult or spiritual views. I don’t personally see any possibility of hope apart from recognizing this collective change of consciousness that is occurring, and learning how to align ourselves with it – but I may have tagged myself as a hopeless New Age flake already, so before saying more, I’ll check with y’all and see if it’s ok to go in that (crazy?) direction!

  • Lucy Fleetwood

    March 28, 2023 at 4:07 pm

    I have really enjoyed reading this conversation, I’m sitting with “let’s strive forward toward a more profound understanding of foundational value, beauty, goodness, and truth rather than trying to convince others that they are mistaken.”

    • Don Salmon

      March 28, 2023 at 6:35 pm

      Hi Lucy:

      Can’t recall if I’ve seen your name before. If you’re new, welcome, if I missed you before, sorry!

      I’m wondering if you have any reflections on how “God” fits in all this. Iain made this a central theme in the later sections of TMWT. That is really my main interest in conversations but it doesn’t seem to be a popular topic:>))

      Perhaps because of the many meanings we give that word? I’m perfectly happy to talk about the Tao, Brahman, Allah, the Divine Mother, or any phrase one wishes.

      And my interest is not so much in ‘discussing’ the “ideas” but in how people’s consciousness can be transformed so as to perceive directly (beyond right and wrong, as you say) that Divine omnipresence “in which we live and move and have our being.”

      I’d particularly be intrigued to hear an answer to Whit’s question in this context. is there something each of us can do to connect to that Unity within which we all exist, which may affect the bizarre overreach of our egoic LH?

      • Whit Blauvelt

        March 28, 2023 at 8:35 pm

        Don, Lucy,

        I working through his “God” chapter now. As a side note, McGilchrist lists “tao” as a Chinese equivalent to “God.” The closest correspondence to “God” in Taoism is “Tian” (heaven). “Tao” means “way(s),” can be singular or plural. As Chuang Tzu wrote of the “hinge of the ways,” in Taoism the plural generally might be the best reading (in contrast to the Christian claim of Jesus as The Way).

        Personally, I favor Shaftesbury’s stance in his earliest work (published anonymously in Amsterdam) where he argues that to hold a flawed image of God is worse than to hold no image at all. I’m glad to see McGilchrist take a stance on virtue and the moral sense which owes much to Hutcheson. Hutcheson drew from Shaftesbury while staying more of a Christian perspective. Hutcheson was foundational to the Scottish Enlightenment. McGilchrist does in passing cast aspersions on the Enlightenment as being too LH. Hutcheson though, grounded his logic in aesthetics — and saw beauty as essential to reality. He may fairly be seen as exemplifying putting the LH into the service of the RH.

        As for personifying the holy, we might discuss whether there are advantages to the plural “gods” rather than “god,” as there may be advantages to the Taoist “ways” rather than “way.” Perhaps counting the holy is too LH either way? The old Taoists should agree that Tian is “at hand” — although without insisting we “repent” on account of this.

        • Don Salmon

          March 28, 2023 at 9:22 pm

          Hi Whit:

          I hope you don’t mind if I keep shifting away from intellectual discussion to practice.

          Krishna Prem (I’ll tell you more about him at some point if there’s interest – he was the first Westerner – a British citizen, no less – accepted into the Vaishnava order in India; the devotees of Krishna. He was a spiritual and scientific genius who knew Western philosophy through and through, and taught himself Pali and Sanskrit to read the Buddhist scriptures in the original. But he was a rare individual East or West who knew Reality beyond personal and impersonal)

          Anyway, Krishna Prem wrote a wonderful essay on symbolism in the 1920s. He noted how religious scholar Rudolf Otto wrote an essay wondering if Shankara’s Brahman, the Buddhist Nirvana were the “same” or “different.”

          Krishna Prem responded: “Are the words different? Of course they are. Is the Reality to which they point the same or different? Well, Reality is infinite so of course there are different “aspects” of it (which is what the “Gods” have always referred to in India and much of the more mystical east). But Reality is One.

          OF course, the LH can argue forever about what “One” means. The Zen answer is “not-two” (which doesn’t mean One!!!)

          So let’s practice! What are you aware of?

          Colors, sounds, body sensations; instinctive cravings or fears; various more complex emotions, thoughts, ideas, beliefs, etc.

          All of these exist within one field of awareness.

          Here’s an age old exercise you can try:

          Conjure up an image of a dog.

          You have 2 aspects of experience: the dog image, and the awareness of it. Notice the awareness is effortless; you don’t have to DO anything to conjure it up.

          Now erase the dog and you just have awareness.

          There are any number of LH arguments against this exercise by the way. As with Stephenson’s answer to the problem of the impossibility of his steam locomotive working (your problem is solved by its moving), the arguments are irrelevant. You CAN see this aspect of experience – it’s not an “Argument” about a dog and awareness – it’s a practice.

          When you see EVERYTHING within and as reflections of this one awareness (well, it’s not “one” but let’s not get back into philosophy:>)))

          You’ll see that all the arguments down the centuries about God or Gods or Tao or whatever become completely irrelevant. Thomas Aquinas realized this at the end of his life (all my theology has no more worth than straw, he said).

          But really, see what happens if you don’t think about it. you can see this with your eyes open – One Presence, One Life, One Being, One Consciousness, One Bliss. And yet there is infinite multiplicity (oops, I did say don’t think about it:>))

          • Don Salmon

            March 28, 2023 at 9:23 pm

            oh dear, I gave one of these exercises in another group and someone thought I was trying to be a “teacher.”

            Far from it. Just sharing. I hope it’s taken in that way. I’m delighted to hear arguments, rebuttals, etc, though I think it may be more fun to share practices:>)))

          • Whit Blauvelt

            March 28, 2023 at 10:21 pm

            Hi Don,

            Oh, practice is everything.

            Also, it’s common for gestalts seen by the RH to be arbitrarily mapped to word-concepts of the LH, such that people will use the same sets of words for quite different gestalts, and apparently opposed sets of words for gestalts that match. Is the Hindu atma (self) and the Buddhist anatma (no self) the same? Why not?

            As for awareness, to be aware of something is to have some notion of its prospects. A rock in the path is only such if you might stub your toe on it. A dog is only such if it might do any of many doggish things. Can we be aware of awareness then, separate from knowing something of the prospects of awareness?

            My own practice is somewhat along the lines of tuning the cooperation of the two hemispheres, as well as cs/uncs synchrony, towards a common, unified prospective sphere, whose “hinge of the taos” (Hecate’s crossroads, to the ancient Greeks) is here, now.

            Does one direct ones practice(s) from a LH or a RH perspective? In which side does one, by preference, seat the will? McGilchrist’s The Master and … was obviously about this. Yet his books suggest little to me by way of formulas for such a practice, beyond the deep immersion in literary, scientific and artistic cultures he draws such amazing erudition from — and in which I for one could never hope to equal him.

            Might we seek formulas for practice(s) consonant with McGilchrist’s insight, without too much risk of reduction? Are there alternatives to be grounded in his work which might prove more transformational than the popular methods of “mindfulness,” and meditations based on mantra or breath — as worthy as those are?

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