For those of us who don’t automatically believe in every troofer fantasy that floats past on the internet, one of the biggest and most imponderable questions is “Why?”
Why do some people seem inclined, nay, compelled to believe in things like the latest wackadoo story about Satanic baby-killers who kidnap children and ship them to their secret base on Mars, where they serve as sex slaves to depraved plutocrats, who then slaughter them in order to harvest and consume their blood? (Yes, this is a real conspiracy rumour, most recently and famously put about by Alex Jones. We shit you not.) Why, indeed, do people believe in Hoaxtead?
Who are the True Believers?
Today we’re not going to talk about the people who created and initially pushed the Hampstead SRA hoax—those we refer to as the Hoaxtead mobsters. They are a cynical lot, who built the hoax specifically to appeal to a certain group—the ones we call the True Believers.
The True Believers are the people who keep the thing alive online, posting and reposting videos, “liking” and gasping and “OMIGOD-ing”. It’s easy to assume that the True Believers are a) insane, b) mentally deficient, c) unbelievably gullible, d) religious fanatics of one stripe or another, e) uneducated, or f) all of the above.
And maybe that’s true for at least some of the True Believers we’ve encountered. But it doesn’t account for the massive viralisation of cockamamie stories like “Satanic baby-killers on Mars”, Hoaxtead, or Pizzagate, which contain so many logical and logistical flaws that it’s difficult to know where to even start debunking them.
That’s why we were fascinated to come across an article on the Slacktivist blog yesterday. Fred Clark’s post, “Alex Jones & the kitten-burners”, looks at the phenomenon of why some people believe in conspiracy theories, through a lens we hadn’t really considered. In Mr Clark’s view, True Believers are not motivated by an inability to process facts or evidence. They are driven by a sense of righteousness and a need for moral authority.
Speaking of the “child sex-slaves on Mars” story, Mr Clark asks,
People don’t really believe this, do they? Yes. Yes they do.
Well … they want to believe it, and they try their hardest to do so. And they’ve all-but completely convinced themselves that they do. If you ask them, “Do you really believe this?” they won’t be lying when they say yes, because they’ve been convinced that being a good person on the side of good requires them to say yes and to dutifully avoid entertaining any thoughts about any of the obvious evidence or scientific/logistical impossibilities that cause the rest of us to gape at their apparent credulity.
In other words, for True Believers in the Hampstead SRA hoax (or the child sex-slaves on Mars), it’s not a question of believing something that’s patently ridiculous and impossible—it’s about the believer’s need to see himself or herself as a “righteous person”.
People believe such things because they have come to need to believe them. They need to believe them because they need to think of themselves as righteous. Or, at least, they need to feel something like what they imagine it must feel like to be able to think of themselves as righteous.
So to someone who believes in Hoaxtead, the details are immaterial: it doesn’t matter how many times we explain why it’s not possible to (just for example) store 8,000 baby skulls in a vestment drawer in a smallish Victorian-era church, or how RD’s children are not speaking or behaving an a manner consistent with known examples of children who’ve been interviewed about their experiences of sexual abuse. None of the evidence we have meticulously gathered matters one single iota to a true believer, because to them, evidence is not important.
What’s important to them is that this all gives them the opportunity to express their disapproval of such things — the opportunity to perform that disapproval….
(Alex) Jones takes a phone call from a listener, and they congratulate one another on their agreement that pedophilia and Satanic human sacrifice are just plain wrong. “This issue about pedophile rings,” the caller says, “it infuriates me. It’s one of my hot-button issues.”
Jones agrees. “I don’t like violence,” he responds, “but I fantasize about jabbing daggers in their eyes, stuff like that. I mean, I’m being honest, I can’t help it. When I think about pedophiles torturing kids, I want to kill.”
That’s a vivid way of expressing his ethical stance, but the basic underlying point is not wrong. Pedophilia is wrong — on any planet. But note that this is not the main point that either Jones or his caller feels compelled to express. Their message here is not “X is bad,” but “I, personally and heroically, disapprove of X.”
“I, personally and heroically, disapprove of X”: this, for many, is the nub of the issue.
The point, for the average Hoaxtead True Believer, is not that 22± children were systematically raped hundreds of times per week by members of a (death cult/satanic cult/MK Ultra mind programming cult) (pick one), but never suffered more injury than one might expect if they’d passed a large, solid poo. The point is that raping 22± children hundreds of times per week is BAD, and what’s more, it’s critically important that we all understand that the Hoaxtead True Believer is aware of the fundamental badness of it.
It’s not a point we can argue with: we all know that raping children is a despicable and terrible thing. But to the Hoaxtead True Believer, simply knowing that isn’t enough. They must demonstrate to the world at large that they know it, as loudly and emphatically as possible. Furthermore, they fully believe that their disapproval of child-raping, baby-murdering, cannibalism, and so forth makes them somehow exceptional. In order to feel truly virtuous and morally upright, it’s important to these people that they be able to compare their own moral stance favourably with the immorality of the rest of us.
They do this by contrasting their belief with the disbelief of the rest of the world: those of us who don’t agree the Hampstead SRA hoax or the child sex-slaves on Mars are real are unable to agree that they are BAD, which makes us, at least in the eyes of the True Believers, bad people. Paedo-enablers. Shills. Sinners who will burn in hell for eternity.
The anti-kitten-burning crusade
Mr Clark compares this kind of virtue signalling writ large to an extremely nasty incident which happened a few years ago:
Just a few miles from the newspaper where I then worked, some messed-up teenagers did something really messed-up. They put a live kitten on a backyard barbecue grill. And they recorded themselves doing it on cell-phone video.
This was stomach-turning and utterly deplorable. The story of what happened to that poor kitten was appalling.
It was also incredibly popular, quickly becoming one of the most-read, most-shared, and most-commented-on stories in the history of our paper. Readers hated that story, and so readers loved that story. They loved hating that story.
And, far more than that, they loved declaring that they hated that story. They loved performing their hatred of that story.
The mass-condemnation of this cruel act — in the thousands of comments online and the scores of letters-to-the-editor received over the following weeks — was in one sense reassuring. It was comforting to receive such confirmation that the people of our community, unanimously, disapproved of cruelly torturing sweet, adorable little kittens.
But it was also unnerving, because nearly all of these condemnations seemed to be made by people who assumed they were saying something exceptional — something brave, controversial, and heroic. Most didn’t confine themselves to merely condemning the teenagers who actually committed this act of kitten-burning, but also harshly condemned the mass of people they somehow imagined approved of it. If any such defenders of kitten-burning existed, none of them was speaking up publicly or expressing such views in the comments on our article, and yet a huge share of the anti-kitten-burning comments being left were phrased as though they were a response to such non-existent defenses.
Many of these anti-kitten-burning declarations expressed this claim of exceptionalism by including a weird sort of apology. “I’m sorry, but I just don’t approve of this.” “I’m sorry, but I just think this is wrong!” I could never figure out who it was they were apologizing to.
Just as we’re quite certain that there is not a constituency of people out there who approve of torturing kittens, we’re pretty sure that almost no one approves of torturing, sexually abusing, and murdering children (whether in a London suburb or on a secret base on Mars). And yet, to hear the True Believers talk, you’d think that everyone who doesn’t buy the same wacky stories they do is an unrepentant child rape and torture enthusiast, against whom the True Believers must take a heroic, principled stand.
In the final analysis, belief in things like Hoaxtead, Pizzagate, child sex-slaves on Mars, and the like isn’t about just “feeling good”—it’s about feeling “better-than”. It’s about assuming a stance of moral superiority which sets them apart from the rest of us, who seem to feel less need to define ourselves as exceptional via condemnation of things that everyone should disapprove of anyway.
Like child abuse, infanticide, and cannibalism, kitten-burning is horrible and morally reprehensible. We don’t get extra virtue points for believing that.
The fact that so many people feel the need to perform their moral outrage as a means of feeling better than everyone else, though? That should worry us all.