The biggest mistake an analyst can make is to overestimate the importance of reason in their analysis of why people do crazy things, or have crazy thoughts . Certainly reason plays a part, sometimes an important part. But fear is often overlooked or played down as an ingredient. And fear explains most of it
We are living in strange times. People are having crazy crazy thoughts, coming to conclusions that make no sense. Most of those having stupid thoughts are not necessarily stupid, or ill informed. They may even have wonderful ideals towering in their minds, and to others seem kind, and well intentioned. Their fine sound beliefs aren’t necessarily virtue signaling to make an impression on others. They believe their ideals. Having fine intentions is how they know they are good people. But there is no rational way to explain the craziness of their conclusions. My daughter, who we were told when she was a child has a high IQ, doesn’t believe in vaccines. You should hear her reasoning. I suppose it justifies her expensive education. One of my sons thinks it is peachy that he is receiving a Covid check from Washington when he already has a very nice income. I don’t want to elaborate on his politics.
We live in a frightening time. Not long ago a Covid world of sirens and horrifying news stories surrounded us. People fled the cities. True there weren’t long caravans of people on dusty roads, carrying their possessions in a cart pulled by a donkey. We live in an advanced society. But the desperation was real. People went to real estate agents and bid up the prices of houses to levels that didn’t make sense. They weren’t fleeing Hitler, but apparently to them it was very real, a life or death situation.
But even before Covid, fear has played, and still plays, an enormous role in why people believe in causes and find explanations that don’t make sense. Some assume the problem is Wall Street, others The Virus. Then there is Crazy Trump, old man Biden, the ranting of guests on Fox, CNN or MSNBC. The fear is real. The internet blasts a constant refrain. The end of the world is near. CO2 will wipe out the planet. We must put an end to gas guzzling cars. (just as the technology has become amazingly reliable) For the first time in decades we have become energy independent. We no longer have to depend on the crazies ruling the Middle East. The governor of Michigan, Gretchen Whitmer tells us, to the cheers of progressives, that she will stop lines carrying our fuel. A former bartender from the Bronx and her friends in Congress tell us it is the only way to save us from the ravaging fires of California and Australia , the droughts, the hurricanes. We must trust the science even thought the science is not there. We mustn’t dare to point this out. Billionaires agree with. it, CEOs. They are virtue signaling as never before. Is it because they are true believers? Probably not. It doesn’t matter. They rationally understand the power of the masses when they share beliefs. Moreover, not just corporate big wigs, but anyone with a reputation to safeguard can witness the fate of those who are not true believers. They will lose their Twitter account, be banned from universities, scalded by commentators guarding the virtuous from heretics. We saw something like this before, during the McCarthy era. It is dangerous to not join the mob.
Are the crazy ideas new? Many of them very much so. But are they really different? Intelligent people once believed Christ walked on water, and Moses parted the Red Sea. In addition to the unlikeliness of their beliefs, people have always grouped themselves into true believers with good purposes. It is an important part of the package They find an answer to their fear by belonging and believing what everyone else in the group believes, no matter how nuts. It beats being frightened and alone. The phenomenon is so powerful and widespread that very few people can avoid belonging to a group with shared beliefs. The alternative is not very gratifying. Being alone with out of control fantasies and explanations that others might deem insane
Experience is too confusing without the comfort of being one of many who have reached the same conclusions. With conventional religion abandoned by a majority of Americans, it was inevitable that the old wild sacred tales would be replaced by new equally strange ideas.
Should we be so afraid? Probably not but I don’t really know. Maybe we should. We are all going to eventually disappear, be turned into dust, obliterated forever. At 77 my future is clear. I just want to remind analysts to not waste their time. Even if they could reason their way against the ridiculous thoughts they attack. It is not thought that needs to be addressed, or facts corrected. It is fear. Without salvation demarcated hard times are ripe for saviors, for leaders of historic dimension . Castro, Mao, Mussolini, FDR, Churchill came forward to set things right. Or are these larger than life heroes only seen that way in retrospect, in a documentary on TV after the horror has been eliminated.
I don’t wish to be a nihilist. I wish we weren’t so afraid and that stupid thoughts will evolve into decent moderate conclusions, as they so often have in the past, at least when things seemed to be going smoothly. I have four children and six grandchildren and hope a nice future awaits them, with comfortable thoughts and assumptions to guide them. There are the best of times, and the worst, and all the times in between. We are somewhere in that continuum. But unless we are very lucky fear will occupy our psyches and demand some form of explanation. I hope we will come up with good ones. Then we don’t have to waste so many words fighting off nonsense.