I have a friend who has gotten lost deep down an intellectual rabbit-hole. (I use the word “intellectual” only loosely here.)
It occurred to me recently that the deeper he goes down this hole, the worse are his chances of ever being able to think like a reasonable person again. He’s building an identity for himself as someone who’s intellectually lazy, intellectually arrogant, intellectually insular, intellectually inflexible — even if that’s of course not how he’d characterize it to himself or to anyone else.
He happens to be very rightwing. I believe that what has happened to him can certainly happen also to people elsewhere on the ideological spectrum, and it’s my strong personal conviction (though evidence is increasingly thin these days) that a person can be right of centre without needing to abandon the brain as part of the deal.
These days though, it does seem to be the rightwingers who are making an especially strong showing in the ranks of conspiracy theorists, and conversely, the rightwing demographic is being filled alarmingly quickly with all manner of conspiracy theories and bunk.
My friend, who in his great love for truth now refuses to talk to me or even to hear from me, is convinced that the governments of the world, the media, the universities, the medical establishment, peer reviewed science, and publicly available statistics, are deliberately uniting to suppress what they know to be true, and knowingly promulgating a falsehood, for the explicit purpose of achieving global bolshevism in our lifetime.
Any evidence that supports what he doesn’t want to believe is apparently just a part of the conspiracy, or is apparently just being promoted and interpreted in dishonest ways by this conspiracy. Any lack of reputable evidence for his own views is clearly nothing but a result of the conspiracy suppressing such evidence, which must doubtless exist in great abundance somewhere, unpublished and unknown. How then does he know he’s right? Strangers on social media offer anecdotal support in all-caps, spellcheck-challenged masterpieces of rationality. And the odd disgruntled academic exchanges intellectual integrity for a moment’s prestige with the mob, as has always been the case. Who could need more evidence than that?
My friend is excessively suspicious of anything he doesn’t want to believe, and astoundingly credulous, even gullible, toward anything that confirms his biases. I spent months yanking one piece of bad evidence after another from the jenga tower of his reasonings, and somehow, no matter how many pieces easily came tumbling down, his confidence in the sureness of his conclusions would not waver for a second.
He will never escape from using this circular, hyperdogmatic mode of thinking without repudiating the conclusions he has already defended by it. I can’t really imagine him choosing to do so anytime in the next couple decades, no matter what history might reveal to us during that time. So he will continue to think all of his thoughts according to these same inhibited, self-pleasing patterns for years to come.
It seems highly likely to me that in this way, a bright, promising young mind could be relegated to intellectual swamplands for the remainder of its fearful, angry, shrunken existence. How many more similar cases are out there? Do we have an entire generation of thoughtful, intelligent conservative minds being slowly shipwrecked in this same fashion?
What a waste. What a damned waste.