Adam Lewental tries to understand how his parents became fans of the QAnon conspiracy theory and thinks that the best-selling book The Da Vinci Code may offer some clues. (I have not read the book but did see the 2006 film starring Tom Hanks and Audrey Tautou and found it so absurd that any inclination that I may have had to read the book was utterly squelched.)
Lewental says that he first read it as a 13-year old and was blown away by it. But he “was shocked to find upon revisiting the book as an adult that it is absolute, unadulterated trash. Just really poor, from top to bottom.” But after explaining why it is so awful in terms of the plot and the quality of the writing, he says the damage done by the book is far more than to the world of literature. He says that its success is based on the fact that it persuades the reader to think that they themselves are able to figure out the clues and connect the dots to reveal a complex plot that is hidden from the unenlightened. This is exactly the mindset of the QAnoners.
The QAnon phenomen has frequently been referenced as a bad Dan Brown plot. In fact, it is more than that; it is exactly a Dan Brown plot, where dumb and obvious codes are meant to mimic intellectualism. Like “The Da Vinci Code” readers, QAnoners don’t want to feel like they’re being told what to believe, especially not by a media that would have to be complicit for the conspiracy to be true in the first place. Instead, they use the critical thinking espoused by Dan Brown, which is that veracity can be defined by the existence and confirmation of sources, rather than the credibility of sources. This time, our parents aren’t going to Google to sleuth for political sex cults, at least not initially. They’re finding their information on Twitter and Facebook, the modern bastions for fantasy “confirmation bias” bait that corroborates what they already know, which is that conspiracies can be found if you’re “woke” to them and “savvy” enough to disregard obvious truths. By the time their heart-racing hunt leads to Google, it doesn’t matter that they’re only finding references within references to since deleted forum posts or Alex Jones videos about lizard people, they’ve already gotten the dopamine rush of being in the know, of solving the challenging, obscure puzzle.
Unfortunately, the stakes are now quite larger than a book series outperforming the skill of its writer. A person who is just mildly receptive to the QAnon ideology may find themselves disillusioned with their inability to reconcile fact and fiction, leaving them further exposed to dishonest charges of “fake news” and unable to trust any subject matter expert who has dedicated their career to approaching as closely as possible to an objective truth. Whereas a QAnon enthusiast may become further entrenched in a destructive fantasy far removed from any shared reality, a vicious cycle that alienates them from anyone with an opposing viewpoint.
It is true that when questioned, QAnon people repeat the Q mantra of “Do your research” as if they have done so when what they have done is merely find someone else, whose credibility they have not examined, who has said the same thing.
I am curious to see how long the QAnon phenomenon will last now that Trump is no longer there to give it oxygen by being the focus of their Messianic hopes.