During the eighties, David Icke was a famous sports presenter on the BBC. Shortly after leaving that post, he suffered an episode of epiphanic revelation on the Isle of Wight. Later, after being caught in the middle of a storm on a mountain in Peru, he declared himself chosen by a benign god to act as revealer of determining truths for the survival of the Earth and the human race. From then on, Icke became a veritable machine of literary production dedicated to denouncing the hidden world of the reptilians, and more recently to blaming the Jews for the pandemic, while at the same time denying the existence of COVID19. He recently led a huge rally of virus deniers in Trafalgar Square. The London police themselves had to form a cordon around him to ensure that he could reach the stage without being overwhelmed by the crowds of his followers.
How is the passage made from the psychosis of a singular subject to the conspiracy discourse with which hundreds of thousands of people can identify? I have previously suggested elsewhere that the psychotic modality by which a conspiracy discourse is constructed does not imply that all its faithful are themselves psychotic, despite the fact that most of the more than two hundred people prosecuted for the attack on the Capitol have a long history of psychiatric disorders. To understand the fascinating dynamics of delusional beliefs and how they succeed in attracting countless followers who embrace them with unwavering fervour, it is necessary to locate the “catastrophe point” in the paradigm of each age. The “catastrophe point” occurs when certain historical conditions generate an irresolvable inconsistency in the current social myth, that is, when the narrative structure of a certain society is perforated by the unforeseen action of an event that cannot be reintegrated into that narrative.
Political discourse is a fundamental part of the social myth. Its credibility is therefore decisive when it comes to suturing the loss of meaning. The corrosive action of neoliberalism, which has robbed the moral reserves of the societies that it dominates, together with the impotence of the political to come to the aid of the fractured social myth, impede the work of repairing the catastrophe point and restoring narrative continuity. A succession of events (9/11, the subprime mortgage crisis, the Trump phenomenon, the pandemic) unresolved at the level of subjective elaboration, leaves the catastrophe point in a highly visible state of exposure. It is the perfect opportunity for a delusional belief, a millennial intuition, to be offered as an imaginary solution destined to repair the hole.
Delusional beliefs are fabricated around themes that in themselves have a significant level of uncertainty, such as the technologies. The character of the technical object has undergone a subversion that traps the ordinary subject in the jaws of an unconscious alienation. Man cannot escape the captivity in which he finds himself turned into the object of scientific-technical discourse. As object, he experiences both a familiarity and a strangeness with respect to the discourse that colonizes the entirety of his existence. It is therefore not by chance that, according to current conspiracy theories, it is the electromagnetic waves of 5G that spread COVID, and that vaccines contain nano-chips capable of turning us into slaves. In any delirium, there is always sufficient grain of truth to provoke anguish.
The pandemic, the political crisis and the collapse of the economy have lifted the hypnotic veil of neoliberalism, exposing our status as hyper-vigilated, even “abused” objects. It is also no coincidence that QAnon has evolved from a delusional seed whose main plot is a paedophile ring run by a powerful elite. There we also find the core of truth with which hundreds of thousands of people identify. The “pobreteriat”, the “working poor” to which I referred last week, is experienced as an abused, sodomized child, at the mercy of the nefarious enjoyment of the Other. But who is that Other? This is where another crucial factor intervenes for the perfect alignment of individual psychosis with collective delusion.
Once again, we must recognize the important function of “de-ideologization” in current capitalism. The loss of political credibility is the perfect opportunity for the millennial prophets. The attribution of Bill Gates as the Great Conspirator who operates in the shadows is, in short, the imaginary decomposition of class theory. The person responsible for the evil is not, as previously, a social class but rather an individual. Most people are able to make the connection between Bill Gates, Microsoft, and the operating systems for the bulk of the computers that are essential to keeping the planet spinning on its axis. But why Bill Gates and not Jeff Bezos, who is even richer and, unlike Gates, virtually absent from any philanthropic activity in the Third World? For two reasons. The first is that most people are unaware that the network of servers that supports the digital world mainly belongs to Amazon. And the second is precisely because Bezos has not the slightest involvement in social support for the Third World, he does not mix with the underprivileged sectors.
In other words, when the catastrophe point emerges, the question of who we are as an object for the desire of the Other – “What does Bill Gates want in exchange for everything he does for me?” – is no longer answered in political, that is, social terms (which requires the argumentation of an ideology). Rather it is answered individually, following the logic of psychosis. The pieces then begin to come together until the figure of the evil Other comes into view and can not only be named but also included in a process of delusional repair of meaning. Delusional constructions and conspiracy theories are the fictions that supplement for political ineffectiveness in managing the encounter with the real: there is no longer any “Discourse to the Nation” that would be useful for anything. These fictions have not yet achieved absolute dominance, but the Trump era has shown us how close we are to that happening. A new series has just begun. We will soon know how many seasons it is going to run.
Translated by Roger Litten APimages