It takes enormous, almost impossible strength to challenge such a theory-identity construct. Only people with the strongest possible alternative identities (perhaps as world class sportsmen or Nobel Laureates) can stand against the orthodoxies of their tribe. The need to belong is a form of conscription that suppresses dissent. You can’t robustly challenge Critical Race theory, at the moment, if you’re a person of colour, because that would deny your essential identity. People wouldn’t see you as “properly” black/Asian/whatever. And you would lose the community that supports and sustains you.
I don’t think this is a new thing. The same tribal identity has always kept voters loyal to their party, no matter how disappointing their politicians have proved to be. Back in 2005, Sam Harris was complaining about just this psycho-social dynamic keeping religious believers devout and unquestioning despite (in Mr Harris’s opinion) having no evidence whatsoever (The End of Faith, London: Simon and Schuster, chapter 2)
However, the digital-media age seems to have supercharged this phenomenon. What’s new, I think, is the internet’s ability to spawn new belief systems and, at the same time, to undermine the very concept of truth and proof because everything online has an equal, unproved superficiality – from flying teapots to germ theory to the holocaust – they are all just images and ideas that form particles in the blizzard of the internet’s phenomenology. (Phew! What a word!)
Mad ideas find corroboration in other mad ideas that algorithms lead viewers to, exactly because those ideas are similarly insane. Both are probably rooted in a third, ancestor mad idea, which takes you on to another, leading the digital wanderer down the infamous internet rabbit hole. Online explorers, believing they are keeping an open mind, add one flawed investigation to another and think that, because they both push a similar argument, they substantiate each other. In truth, they may both be inspired by, and reinforce, the same mass delusion or false consciousness.
What makes this worse is that, because of the internet’s phenomenological unreality, theories do not need to be plausible, let alone provable, and, most crucially of all, belief in them doesn’t need to be sincere, at least at first.
I don’t believe QAnon supporters can possibly believe that a Democrat cult, led by Hilary Clinton, sacrifices children and drinks their blood. I suspect that, at first, it is an attempt to be as difficult and contrary as possible: tricksy and challenging: exasperating their enemies by refusing to admit that the most ludicrous ideas are false.
But then they seem to become pre-occupied with their game. They disappear down their own rabbit hole. Entertaining thoughts become habits of thought; habits of thought become assumptions, ideas that are taken for granted as the a-priori starting point of hypotheses, and form the foundations of towering but unstable cathedrals of delusion. In other words, beliefs.