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ArtiqueFox's avatar

How do I conquer my political phobias and get on with my life?

Asked by ArtiqueFox (974 points ) February 21st, 2010

I’m your crazy neighbor who subscribes to twenty newspapers and won’t shut up about 2012, RFID chips or the NWO. I’m a [unwilling] patron of conspiracy theory sites.

It’s been a fear with me under the surface for a long time. “What if America falls like Rome?” “What if the United Nations takes over the world?” “What if China gets really powerful and invades? “What if the nice life I know now is replaced by the Apocalypse?” On and on it goes! All this fears of a dark future! All these political fears! I can’t take it anymore! But I find myself drawn to the stuff like a drunk is to liquor. I’m a conspiracy theory addict – one that can’t stop!

It’s not a hobby. It’s an obsession that’s starting to affect my personal life in negative ways. Its hindering my ability to work and create or to be at peace. I keep having this need to get reassurance from my friends and family that none if it will happen. I want to stop these terrifying conspiracy theories from running wild in my brain and life, and I’ve tried everything from meditation to blocking software and nothing is working in the long-term.

Even worse, I’m a highschooler who is about to start her life, and these fears are like mountains that are hindering me in every way! I sometimes wonder if it is worth pursuing my dreams if the future is as dark as the conspiracy theorists say. I know my fears are stupid and mostly irrational, but I always fall back into them. Help?! I really would like to be an optimistic and rational person, but I’m finding myself more of a conspiracy nut everyday!

[Bangs head on wall]. There are so many areas would I could be more productive if it wasn’t for my political phobias. Sorry about the drama. I’m just want to get over this issue already and enjoy life again! Any advice?

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32 Answers

dpworkin's avatar

Maybe you should arrange to talk to a clinician, and see if it’s possible that some of this has to do with symptoms of OCD. If that turns out to be true, you can get help.

Qingu's avatar

It sounds like you just need a healthy dose of skepticism.

My advice: read this book!

By Carl Sagan, the late eminent astrophysicist and secret pothead. But seriously, it’s a very well-written book and will help you get perspective.

janbb's avatar

I agree with @dpworkin; this does sound like a serious issue that as you say, is negatively impacting your life. What is your relationship with your folks like? If it would be helpful, maybe you could talk to them about your worries. If not, short term therapy would probably help a lot, although if you are in high school, you probably would need to talk to your parents first anyway. Is it possible for you to cut back on it somewhat on your own, say read only ten newspapers a day and worry about only one catastrophe? It seems likely that you have some other underlying anxieties or fears that this obsession is masking; do you have an idea what they might be? In any case, you should not suffer with this. Get help!

Qingu's avatar

Also, to address the specific worry you have of a dark imminent future destruction, I’d recommend “a book that does a very good job arguing that, actually, the history of humankind has gotten progressively better—at least in broad strokes: Nonzero, by Robert Wright.

And contrary to what the others say, I’m not sure you should really worry about it that much. You’re still a kid. And if anyone read conspiracy theory sites all day they’d probably feel the same way as you, and have the same problems. I think the conspiracy theorist mindframe is the problem, not something with you or your brain. If not the exact books I’ve recommended, try reading something outside your conspiracy theorist perspective and expand your horizons.

dpworkin's avatar

@Qingu No one wants her to worry. Some people want her to rule out one possibility.

Qingu's avatar

Fair ‘nuff.

lilikoi's avatar

I agree with everyone else’s suggestion. Consider seeking professional help. Hopefully your parents will be supportive of that. I think it is a good sign that you recognize you need help and are actively looking for it.

Captain_Fantasy's avatar

Conspiracy theories are are driven by paranoia. Do enough research upon just about any conspiracy theory and you’re bound to find major holes.

Stop going to those sites that tell you to be afraid of everything first.
If you can’t do this on your own, then you should probably talk to someone.

semblance's avatar

You can begin by realizing that a young girl just finishing high school is neither responsible for creating nor able to solve the problems created by 6 billion or so other human beings.

Then, focus on your personal life and managing that in a way that is healthy and economically productive for you. You cannot save the world if you are not in good psychological, physical, and economic health yourself.

Next, refine your efforts to educate yourself for a career which you will hopefully find rewarding in some way beyond (but not excluding) the economic rewards. You can make a difference by being a competent professional who renders a valuable service to others.

After you are established in a profession, if you still have the time and interest, think about spending some of your energy in altruistic activities, such as community service or, maybe, even running for a political office. By then, though, the addiction to geopolitical events may have faded because you will be busy leading a real life.

Ria777's avatar

@Qingu: Carl Sagan had only a dilettante’s knowledge of fringe belief systems and I find it insulting (though typical of self-described skeptics) that he believed that he could handle such a wide range of ideas, theories and evidence in a single book.

Ria777's avatar

@Captain_Fantasy: Do enough research upon just about any conspiracy theory and you’re bound to find major holes.

how could you tell? for all you might know, the apparent holes might come from the individual researchers not having all the facts. besides, which, all history has holes.

Captain_Fantasy's avatar

That’s what those conspiracy theory sites are:
They’re individual researchers who don’t have all the facts.

Ria777's avatar

@ArtiqueFox: okay, to answer your original post… first, of all, a phobia means an aversion, not attraction. (or sometimes attraction-aversion, but you have more of the aversion.) you have an obsession.

second, I say, move beyond the realm of passively consuming to acting. figure out what bothers you about the state of the world and what hooks into your consumption of conspiracy theories and act on them.

third, do a kind of Robert Anton Wilson-ish thought experiment. concoct a conspiracy theory of your very own, proving X. write it down. then concoct a conspiracy theory disproving X.

Ria777's avatar

@Captain_Fantasy: no one has all the facts.

Captain_Fantasy's avatar

Certainly not those guys.
The obsession here is the problem.

Ria777's avatar

@Captain_Fantasy: “those guys” includes many people of varying agendas and levels of knowledge and expertise. like with anything else, I try to judge conspiracy theories on their own merits rather than dismissing them out of hand.

sometimes conspiracies happen. the CIA funded the animated adaptation of Animal Farm in the ‘50’s in order to propagandize against communism. the CIA really did try to use experimental techniques in order to create assassins whose personalities they could program. (conventional history says they didn’t succeed them.) fruit companies really have started wars in central America for a profit. the u.s. government recently lifted the ceiling on how much corporations can donate to politicians, London has a (until recently) secret city beneath it where politicians could live after a nuclear war etc.

Qingu's avatar

@Ria777, your posts demonstrate the flawed logic behind conspiracy theories.

“Nobody has all the facts,” therefore, any belief might be true. Even if it’s something with no evidence to support it!

Ria, you could be an alien overlord—or a child molester—because nobody has all the facts. You can’t prove you’re not!

I hope you see the flaw of such thinking.

wundayatta's avatar

I could be wrong, but it sounds to me like logic has nothing to do with this. You already know your fears are beyond rationality. But you still can’t stop them. I agree with the folks who are telling you to see a medical professional. This could be some kind of mental disorder, and I don’t mean to be alarmist, especially considering the nature of your fears, but if you do not get something like this treated, it can get way out of hand. Tinfoil hat, living under the bridges out of hand.

And you should know, I do not share my tinfoil hat with anyone. Mine is alien-proofed and there are too many knock-offs out there. j/k

CyanoticWasp's avatar

There may be some “over the top” aspects of your concerns (and the fact that you say you “try to stop and can’t” might concern a clinician, as @dpworkin suggests), but… your fears are pretty valid, actually. (Other than the fear of civilization ending in 2012, I suppose. Look at it this way: “the world ends” for hundreds of thousands of people a day around the world, and that tragedy affects millions more… but the world goes on.)

Otherwise… consider that Mexico is “invading” the US directly (the way we did to Old Mexico back in the 19th century). China is invading via WalMart. (No country who acquires the riches to raise an army, air force and navy to challenge ours will “invade” with troops; it’s much easier and cheaper to do it with our own dollars… the Saudis know this.) The UN thing is happening by degrees, and will probably continue with fits and starts for the next hundred years or so, assuming it stays together. And just like we all die, empires always fail. The US will probably fail in the Roman mode at some point… but so what?

You’ll still be eating, and you’ll want to have a job that you’re good at. Surely you’ll want a family one of these days, and there’s no reason that you shouldn’t. The year 2012 will come and go… life goes on, and so will yours.

By all means keep reading. Learn what you can about the world around you (I think part of your “problem” is that you understand a lot more than most high schoolers) and have a good life anyway.

Qingu's avatar

@CyanoticWasp, the word “invade” does not generally mean “immigrate” or “economically influence.” It generally means conquering a country through force.

Those kind of false equivalencies remind me of Christian fundamentalists who swear the prophecies in Revelation are coming true, because nuclear weapons are just like “angels” or some shit.

SeventhSense's avatar

Stop smoking weed

kevbo's avatar

@ArtiqueFox, I’ve been walking the same path as you, and my heart breaks for you because you are young and this is obviously affecting you at an inopportune time in your life. I know firsthand how it’s impossible to “unsee” what you see. I struggle with the obsessive thinking on a daily basis (and I’m 36, by the way).

Here’s what perspective I have to offer:

1. This is a cycle of adrenaline based on fear. The doses of fear are stimulating, sort of like how some kids break rules for the thrill of it or act out to get attention, even if it is negative attention. Be observant of this cycle of scaring the shit out of yourself and then going back to the information to get scared again.

2. Recognize that it is very difficult to land on a bedrock of “truth” regarding whatever theory you are researching. As much as there are “secrets” being kept, there is plenty of misinformation (in addition to conventional explanations) to obscure the “truth.” the best one can hope to do in this excavation exercise is learn about all of the possibilities and then decide for oneself what seems most likely. As a smaller aside, sometimes the fear of a great evil is more likely (and more feasible and effective) than the energy required to actually perpetrate that evil.

3. Conspiracy beliefs really are a matter of faith. You believe them as reality as much as Christians believe in Jesus and racists believe that minorities are inferior. How hard is it for you to relate to people who believe things as true and real that you think are silly or baseless? It is difficult to communicate across that chasm. It’s also important to weigh equally your “truth” against the caring you have for your relationships. Your relationships and the good things they provide are every bit as important and real.

4. Does your personality predispose you toward a negative outlook or are you a particularly sensitive person around issues of injustice? Personally, my current interest in conspiracies becomes less threatening when I realize that I have gravitated in the past to stories of social and economic injustice and the unfairness of power imbalances. Long before I imagined conspiracy of any sort, I was moved in similar ways by stories with similar dynamics. I have high sensitivity to this kind of problem, and probably would be better served exploring how that predeliction can be used for good. As my friend once said matter of factly, “So you’re an activist.” I probably am but never really imagined that as something to be. What are you?

5. I think conspiracy belief at its root is about trust (or lack thereof). Lack of trust really is toxic and makes happiness impossible. Conspiracy belief such as you describe puts you right up against entities that you don’t trust and shoves your nose in that distrust every waking moment. “Negative” emotions such as distrust and anger function as warnings to your system that you are wandering off course or that you have some passion around those ideas. A possible response to this problem is to refocus your energy on the (positive and healthy) things you do trust. What is unambiguous and trustworthy?your parents’ love for you? Your talent? Your health?

6. As true as any conspiracy may be, here’s a greater truth every moment in your life is a choice between fear and love. Think about it. When you have a conflict with someone don’t you sometimes dig in and fight them and sometimes give them a break because you know they are dealing with something that has nothing to do with you? What does the world need more of? What do you need more of? What is your choice lately? What if everyone chose love instead of fear? What if just one more person than a second ago chose love instead of fear? What if you choosing love sent a ripple of love choices and you choosing fear sent a ripple of fear choices? What if you were face to face with evil people who wanted to do evil things? Would you be fearful? Or would you take pity on them for their compulsions for power? What would you choose? (Did the Grinch steal Christmas?)

7. Here’s something I thought of today that is in line with therapy techniques I’ve learned and will be giving a try—list all the activities you do that are unhealthy (Web sites, newspapers, brooding, etc.) For every activity pick an opposite activity that is better for you. Instead of reading conspiracy dreck, I’m going to start a garden, or exercise, or whatever. When you become aware of your need to do the bad activity, do the prescribed opposite.

If I kept going, I’m sure I’d start getting (more) rambling. We live in weird times where belief is all over the map. However, it’s unlikely that any other time in history was any more settled in that regard. I mean, once upon a time people were burned for suspicion of believing the wrong things, and once upon a time people believed things that we think are totally dumb today. Belief and reality are weird. The antidote for the weirdness is some wisdom. The antidote for fear is remembering that a loving response is an option, and that if the evil you fear is real, then benevolence is just as real and just as potent. Not only that, but you can also feel isolated or connected. Isolation is a fear response. Opening your heart and spirit to feeling a connection with everything you encounter is altogether different and empowering.

I hope that is helpful.

CyanoticWasp's avatar

@Qingu it’s not such a false equivalence. Did you think the US “Manifest Destiny” was a military conquest? There were elements of that, for sure. Mostly, though, it was a mass movement of mostly English-speaking mostly white settlers, though, that took over what is (for now) the western region of the United States. And the export of US / Western culture that much of the rest of the world alternately embraces and decries is primarily an economic and cultural invasion of the same kind.

YARNLADY's avatar

Vounteer to work for your favorite political candidate, and get yoursef in at the front door. What better way to find out how the government really works?

Qingu's avatar

Comparing Mexican immigration to Manifest Destiny is one of the stupidest thing I have ever heard. Mexicans who move here are not actively committing genocide against Americans.

CyanoticWasp's avatar

Oh, for Christ’s sake, @Qingu, most settlers who moved westward in the 19th century were perfectly ordinary and peaceful settlers, too, who never raised a finger against anyone. “Manifest Destiny” did not equate to “Kill the Natives”.

Ria777's avatar

@Qingu:your posts demonstrate the flawed logic behind conspiracy theories.

“Nobody has all the facts,” therefore, any belief might be true. Even if it’s something with no evidence to support it!

books by CISCOP-style “skeptics” (The Demon-Haunted World for example) cleave to this faulty premise that fringe belief comes from faulty heuristics for absorbing information. I dispute that. I think it happens on a more granular that you choose what to believe.

different people have different assumptions, often based on faulty information, though not using dissimilar brands of logic. change the assumptions and you let different theories and bits of information pass through your mental mesh.

and, also, no one does have all the facts.

if anything, the less intelligent conspiracy consumers tend to believe that they know, not that they don’t. they soak up information and re-transmit information uncritically.

Ria, you could be an alien overlord—or a child molester—because nobody has all the facts. You can’t prove you’re not!

yeah, well, I’ve pretty much gone through that situation in real life. psychiatrists wouldn’t let me out of a mental institution because how can you prove you won’t commit violence?

I hope you see the flaw of such thinking.

I believe in rigorous critical thinking, but, you know, if you apply it strictly enough, you disbelieve everything. sort of how I have felt at times. disbelieving everything.

Qingu's avatar

@CyanoticWasp, now apply that same nuanced skepticism of equivocation to your absurd comparison between manifest destiny and Mexican immigration.

@Ria777, functionally, you can’t disbelieve everything. You assign probabilities. And you are correct, everyone comes at questions with different assumptions. The problem with conspiracy theories—and religious ideology—is that those assumptions are circular. “I can’t trust the government because they’ve lied to me before, therefore they’re lying to me now, therefore I can’t trust the government.” “I know the Bible is true, because it says so in the Bible, therefore the Bible is true.”

And I don’t think Sagan is arguing that fringe belief comes from faulty heuristics, though it’s been a while since I’ve read it. I personally think it goes deeper than that. Something I’ve noticed that almost all conspiracies—and religious ideologies—have in common is a fundamental assumption that some “authority” must be in charge. In religion, this authority is good; in conspiracies the authority tends to be evil. But such people assume, at the base of their logic, that a hand must be guiding natural processes and/or history from top-down. They refuse to believe that reality is messy and that events unfold messily, from the bottom-up. It all must be “according to some plan.”

SeventhSense's avatar

@Qingu
One could also say the same for the likes of Sagan. He has simply made Science his authority. And as objective as much of that approach may be it is still filtered through the subjective experience of his life. And looking at life- top down or bottom up, microcosm to macrocosm or vice versa it is the same energy, drive within everyone. And fear, trust expanding or contracting views of phenomenon are also inherent to all people.

Qingu's avatar

@SeventhSense, you’re conflating two senses of the word “authority.”

Science, as a collection of knowledge is an explanatory “authority.” But science doesn’t actively control or plan anything, as an “authority” in the sense I was talking about.

If Sagan believed that a conspiracy of genius scientists ran the world’s governments and economies, then perhaps you’d have a point.

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