How to Escape the Conspiracy Theory Rabbit Hole

Exploring conspiracy theory is often referred to as falling down the Rabbit Hole, a reference to the story of Alice in Wonderland where a curious girl chasing a mysterious rabbit becomes lost in a world of illusions. Her sense of reality is distorted and a kind of dark chaos reigns, with mad figures always seeking to manipulate her.

This is an apt description of my time in the Conspiracy Rabbit Hole, where I was trapped for over twenty years.

Perhaps you think that conspiracy theory is so nonsensical that you could not be fooled. But the distortions of reality in the Hole are such that even intelligent minds can begin to question their sense of direction. The gullible and naive, or those with mental illness or forms of PTSD, are easily lost and inevitably exploited.

Of course conspiracies do exist and we should certainly question official narratives. In our free society “alternative” information should not be censored. However, that freedom can be used against us to devastating effect when the information is false, toxic, and deranging.

For those who insist on entering the Hole, or who are forced to enter to save someone they love, perhaps from QAnon, I want to warn you about what you will find there, and offer guidance on how to navigate and escape.

The problem is not that we enter the Hole seeking answers, the problem is that we don’t find them there. We find a den of pathological manipulators waiting to take advantage of our weaknesses. So as you begin your journey, remember: Nothing in the Hole is what it seems, and everyone has an agenda.

You will immediately encounter bold hucksters (think Alex Jones) hawking shows, films, workshops, alternative health snake oil and survivalist products: Their agenda is money.

Many full-time Hole dwellers are malignant narcissists who seek to be cult leaders and will want you to join their movement: Their agenda is control.

Then there are the psy-ops agents, purposefully deranging you in order to manipulate society for secret ends: Their agenda is power.

The Hole is also crawling with whistleblowers, secret agents, double agents, foreign agents, malicious hoaxers, government trolls and anarchist trolls.

How will you know who is who? You won’t. Welcome to the Hole. So go ahead, listen to anyone, but for god’s sake, don’t blindly trust them, particularly if they tell you exactly what you want to hear.

The human psyche is vulnerable in well known ways. For all of us, life is mysterious, scary, difficult and sad. We require a sense of belonging, purpose and meaning, all lacking in our modern culture. We yearn for a sense of the miraculous, of spiritual transcendence. Some of us want to feel special, chosen for bigger things.

Dangerous conspiracy theory hucksters manipulate these core psychological needs by offering a “truth revealed” story: A narrative that purports to answer our big questions and explain our mysteries. It usually places us in an exalted position as special holders of secret knowledge, or as righteous victims of covert oppression, perhaps even as spiritual warriors preparing for the End Times.

So let your Dangerous Bullshit Radar go off when someone claims to have special access to truth. Watch out for powerful personalities telling emotionally compelling stories that inflame your fears and offer false hopes. These people are predators and they see you as weak prey in the Hole.

The Hole is dark and full of terrors. Your common sense is your headlamp. Keep it on!

The ancient boogeymen in the Hole are the supposed secret groups that control everything for nefarious ends. Over the centuries this “unseen hand” has been described many times in various forms as orchestrating all events great and small. The hidden evil puppet master myth is a very useful way for the people actually in charge to deflect blame when things go wrong (we’ll come back to that later).

As compelling as it may be to believe a simplistic and dramatic narrative, consider that human history is vastly complex, and most of it is lost to our knowledge. In the past ten thousand years or so, there have existed countless evolving, interconnected, and competing power structures. Entire cultures, empires and civilizations have risen and fallen, as scientists, philosophers, inventors, writers and artists, spiritual leaders and revolutionaries continue to transform society.

What should this tell your common sense? That there are no simple answers here. Looking for a pyramid chart that ascends to disclose the one controlling force, the Great Illuminati Eye, will lead you rapidly into the more deranged depths of the Hole.

Once there, an attempt will be made to trick you into believing the impossible.

“Alice laughed: “There’s no use trying,” she said; “one can’t believe impossible things.” “I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was younger, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

The hit on your sanity will come as an innocent but slippery question: “Could it be? And if so…”

In other words, once you are willing, in the noble service of being open-minded, to entertain something fantastical but possible, you will be quickly led into a series of illogical leaps.

For example: Could it be that the government is covering up contact with alien beings? If so, isn’t is possible that those aliens are actually controlling our government? Then why not accept that the governments of the world are actually run by evil aliens and have been for thousands of years?

There is, in fact, significant evidence that A could be true. But in the Hole, you will meet no end of people who will tell you with eye-spinning certainty that the Queen of England is a blood sucking alien lizard. They are usually the victims of David Icke, one of the Hole’s most “spiritual” sociopathic predators.

Even the most absurd of impossibilities — that the Earth is actually flat — has a growing number of adherents.

Just stop for a moment and ask yourself why some people want you to believe things that are not only patently untrue, they are also ridiculous, stupid, and insane. Then remember what Voltaire said: Those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities.

So hold on tight to your ropes of rationality. Don’t slide down the slippery slope into madness.

Assertions of conspiracy are like any accusation of crime; they should be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. Yet conspiracy theorists don’t generally hold to those terms, hence the word “theory.”

The Hole is actually a labyrinth of intersecting theory tunnels, lined with cherry picked facts, half-truths, assumptions, conjecture, circular reasoning and every kind of logical fallacy all lodged in a mortar of total bullshit.

If you only follow the bits of truth sparkling in the walls, you can convince yourself that you’re on a path of light even as you stumble deeper into darkness.

Let me help you recognize a few of the common tricks in this maze:

Trick #1: The Lure of Confirmation Bias

Most theories are cunningly designed to appeal to your confirmation bias, luring you with an emotionally driven narrative that never presents an opposing position or a broader perspective. When those opinions or facts do appear, they are dismissed as “fake” and even “dangerous.”

Trick #2: Assertion that a theory is fact.

Many hucksters will simply lie and claim their conspiracy theory is a fact, which quickly reels in the most naive and gullible. After all, if someone says a thing is true, certainly they must have solid proof, right? In this case, the bigger and more outlandish the story, the better, because who would lie on such a scale, right?

Trick #3: Retroactively assigning premeditation to past events.

Anyone can construct a quick and dirty conspiracy theory simply by assigning premeditation to events that have already unfolded. For example, was there a disaster that someone benefited from? Just claim they orchestrated it! Never mind that you might be tying a noose for an innocent person wrongly accused.

Trick #4: Assigning cause and effect and interconnection as part of a grand plot.

This fundamental construct of conspiracy theory is known as confusing correlation with causation: Mistakenly believing that one event is the cause of another, or that a number of correlated events or people are therefore a conspiracy. By this logic, the fact that everyone in Hollywood is mysteriously connected to Kevin Bacon means he must be the ultimate Big Media puppet master, right?

Trick #5: They’re trying to silence us! The self-fulfilling conspiracy theory.

Claims of being silenced in the Hole are ubiquitous and they are often true.The question is why.

For example, in Germany it is illegal to spread information denying the Holocaust. Is this because the Holocaust is really a hoax, or is it because, as Sacha Baron Cohen said, those who deny the Holocaust are looking to create another one?

Freedom of speech is constantly balanced against the dangers posed by sociopaths. It has never been more difficult to maintain this balance than in the Internet age.

For example, QAnon material is now regularly removed from Google, Twitter and Facebook. Is this because they are trying to “silence the truth” or is it because QAnon is a profoundly dangerous disinformation cult spreading like a mental virus through their platforms?

Let’s consider a few components of the QAnon theory that exemplify all of the tricks listed above.

Facts: A new 5 G system rolls out in Wuhan, China and COVID 19 breaks out. Bill Gates creates vaccines and there is an emergence of disease requiring vaccines. The U.S. now faces a deep economic depression.

According to some QAnon theories, this means 5G causes COVID 19, Bill Gates engineered the virus, the economic collapse in the US is not due to Trump’s gross mishandling of the pandemic (remember what I said about deflecting blame?) but is a secret global plot to destroy him by Satanic blood-drinking pedophile Democrats using masks as mind control to condition us for forced vaccinations and depopulation. We therefore must prepare for armed civil insurrection and holy war. This information is being censored because it’s so obviously the truth.

So, do you see any problem here? Does any of this sound reasonable to you? If so, put your knife in your teeth and start crawling. You are entering into the deepest tunnels of the Hole.

In the depths of the Hole there is no light, only fear, paranoia, hatred, delusions of persecution, and echoing calls for violence. If you stay in this darkness, madness will set in.

No longer sure who to trust or what to believe, you will begin to feel alienated and scared. Nothing is what it seems. It’s all a plot. It’s all fake news. You withdraw from your friends and family. Lacking reliable facts, you increasingly search for guidance using symbols. Bible codes. Prophecy. Numerology. You randomly change letters into numbers, look for hidden synchronicities, then base your life on upcoming numerical alignments. When the “great events” don’t unfold (and they never do), you simply move the date and wait for signs.

You are now entirely lost. How do you find your way back to the light?

We entered the Hole seeking guidance and answers from others. The only way out of the Hole is to using our own moral compass. That means recognizing we are being manipulated, choosing to think for ourselves, and turning back toward the light of our own free will.

When I escaped the Hole, it was through acceptance that life really is a mystery. I will never have the full story, and there are no easy answers. But I found it was far better to make peace with the discomfort of uncertainty (What some Buddhists call fundamental groundlessness) rather than compromise my sanity.

In the end, the Hole is not reality, it’s an escape from reality. Specifically, it is an escape from ourselves, from the inner work we have to do.

We don’t need to join a trumped-up holy war when we have our own inner demons to fight; our ignorance and weakness, our fear, hatred and self-hatred, which drives many of us into cults and extremist movements. In those groups, we don’t have to prove ourselves on our own merits, only on the purity of our zealotry. This is weakness and fear masked as strength. It is abandoning our rational minds for the safety of group-think.

Using our moral compass means to take responsibility for ourselves; what we believe, and who we believe. To navigate our lives with grace and equanimity, to be kind, just and forgiving, to our enemies and to ourselves — that is true spiritual warriorship.

If you are currently trapped in the Hole, I give you permission right now to liberate yourself. May you find all the courage you need for your journey back to the light.

Writer, artist, ecologist, non-partisan democracy advocate, fan of reason and sanity.