The rise in conspiracy theories threatens to change our politics

Many conspiracy theories explicitly and unashamedly dehumanizes whole groups of people. Yet above and beyond the very real threat of violent extremism and domestic terrorism posed by a dehumanizing conspiracy, widespread paranoia erodes the possibility of civil discourse in our society today. You can’t have a conversation about facts, policies, or positions if one side of the debate is fundamentally convinced that the other is satanic and evil. At that point, we don’t have political disagreements anymore; instead, we have moral and spiritual warfare. When paranoid fantasy takes the place of reality in the minds of millions of Americans, we can’t expect politics as usual to function for very long.

What’s more, there are no quick and easy fixes for the threat to our politics and social welfare posed by conspiracies. In a digital age, conspiracy theories will always have ample room to grow and plenty of space to fester, and there’s an incredibly destructive power latent in collective stupidity weaponized by digital media. If you ban the QAnon posters from YouTube or Twitter, they will simply move to Bitchute and Parler. Nothing short of a comprehensive effort both to stifle misinformation and reeducate the conspiratorial will do. But such an effort will be hard to mobilize and even harder to implement.

In the meantime, ordinary Americans have their work cut out for them dealing with friends, family members and coworkers who have been sucked in by conspiracies. My only advice is that we, as a nation, have to practice an unprecedented degree of courage to speak out against conspiracy theories and challenge misinformation whenever and wherever we find it. I can’t say whether that will be enough. But I know that if we don’t get courageous now, pretty soon it will be too late.