In 2016 I didn’t understand how anyone could become a Neo-Nazi when it is the most universally condemned identification with evil in the world. But with the rise of Qanon, I now understand how it is possible.
The mind is very flexible, and while we are resistant to approving of Nazis, it is very easy for us to scapegoat a group of bankers or elites that we imagine are pedophiles or in some other way the embodiment of evil. It feels good to label an out-group as evil because it makes us feel like good guys in contrast. It also explains in great simplicity why there is evil in the world without dealing with the underlying complexities of culture or owning up to our complicity in the system. It brings peace to our minds to blame someone else and to declare that the final solution is eradicating that group, but not having to change anything about ourselves or our lifestyle.
Once you are emotionally invested in this scapegoat, the mind will seek out supporting evidence. Any stories, no matter how improbable, easily stick to the mind because of this magnetic attractor beam to the scapegoat. We feel these ideas confirming our beliefs and we call them intuitive leaps instead of what they really are — confirmation bias.
The story grows darker, and we feel more disgust for the enemy we are fighting. As we piece the intricacies together, the stakes get bigger and bigger until we are fighting for the salvation of the planet.
As we grow passionate about the new narrative growing in our minds, we begin to let go of the old reality. This is natural hard-wiring of the brain for spiritual transformation, and like a rite of passage, we plunge into the rabbit hole, bravely giving up the old paradigm. While this is a healthy mechanism for self-renewal, in the hands of someone with a selfish agenda, it is like entrusting the puppet strings of a child’s mind to a dangerous cult leader.
We may come to an electrifying discovery — we may suddenly realize that the Nazis were right — they had figured out the same narrative we have, that our named scapegoat is behind all the evil in the world. Everything we were taught while growing up was a lie — what an incredibly exciting realization to have on our spiritual journey!
Unaware that our brains have story receptor sites for just such a religious mythology, and unaware of the historical origins of these myths scapegoating a particular people for political reasons, we buy into them like true believers.
Emotionally invested in the new narrative that teaches us to distrust everything else, too scared to turn back and admit we could be wrong, reinforced by our new tribe of fellow believers standing strong against the naïve sheeple who just haven’t seen the truth yet, we see no other path but forward. And we march with faith, attacking the scapegoat in the name of good vs evil. Single-minded in our purpose, we hurt others declaring that the ends justify the means. Self-righteously we declare ourselves the heroes while old friends fear we have fallen into darkness.
We don’t have to wake up from this. We could double down until we are either proven right or dead. It is a very bold and lonely path. Many Nazis followed it to their death.
But perhaps we should pause and recognize that we have turned the mind off in the name of faith in a narrative we can’t prove, loyalty to a leader we don’t really know. We haven’t been freed by the red pill so much as enslaved by another mechanism every bit as constricting and zealous as the last. Waking up from this trap is where the real growth takes place.
Reality never fundamentally changed, you did — it is not the spoon that bends but merely yourself. Reality is as it was but you now have new perspective from which to see it.
At the end of every hero’s journey, you eventually return home with the treasure, which is not what you thought you were going to get, but what you gained from the experience. And so, return home to reality — the reality of an imperfect world. Find trust in people and institutions again — reconnect with fresh eyes to appreciate what you may have been neglecting before. Join hands with old friends to work for a better world.
You can acknowledge that you were in an altered state, not processing reality the same way as others were, and that is why you saw things so differently. You may have supported a madman, a conman, or just a liar, imagining he was a savior, and you can laugh about how wild that perspective was — how flexible our minds are under unique circumstances. We are tribal creatures with hard-wiring that takes us down these pathways if we aren’t conscious of them. But now that we are, we understand ourselves better than ever and we can educate others on these aspects of human nature.
Humility is an essential aspect of learning, growing, and healing. You may want to let people know that you have changed and are no longer a zealot, that you are humble enough to listen to them as well and consider other points of view. The journey gave you insight, gave you treasure to bring back to the community, and you will find a practical way to offer that to your tribe. This treasure may be more valuable than we know. It may prevent the rise of the next Hitler.
Andrew Shepherd is President of Converging Perspectives and co-founder of Mind-University.