How alternative medicine radicalises believers into Qanon conspiracy theories


Dave Hahn
Dave Hahn
Dave Hahn recently defended his PhD disseration this past November the title of which is “Appeal to Conspiracy: A Philosophical Analysis of the Problem of Conspiracy Theories and Theorizing. He is an adjunct professor at SUNY Geneseo where he teaches a conspiracy theory and skepticism course and lives in Buffalo, NY.

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We know a conspiracy theory when we hear one. The Moon landing never occurred, 9/11 was an inside job, we are living inside the Matrix, lizards control the British Crown/Vatican, COVID-19 isn’t real, and whatever it is that Q-anon is claiming (as it seems to change as each one of their deadlines expires). These are obvious cases that we either dismiss as “just conspiracy theories” or we, at the very least, steel ourselves for what the person is going to tell us is the real story.

What we do not think of as a conspiracy theory is the CAM claims of homeopathy, reiki, anything in the Goop catalogue, or whatever our spacey aunt tells us about her natural living regimen. However, I believe we absolutely should consider these types of claims as conspiracy theories for two reasons: firstly, they fit the definition of the term even thought this may not be obviously apparent. Secondly, these are the exact type of conspiracy theories that are roping unsuspecting people – who would normally claim to know better – into the Q-anon conspiracy theory.

A bottle of homeopathy, open with pills spread across a leaf and onto a table top. There is a wooden spoon and a book beside the bottle and pills.

The more controversial of these claims is that natural living, natural wellness, and CAM are conspiracy theories. Readers might be thinking that these people are merely wrong or misinformed, but they are not the same thing as a Flat Earther, or a George Soros caused COVID-19 type of claim. You may think they’re not even conspiracy theories: if you are selling a 12C dilution of Arsencium Album as a cure for cancer, there is no conspiracy theory there. It’s just a product being falsely claimed as an effective treatment for cancer.

That is correct, in that the person is not claiming a conspiracy theory, they are not even doing so in the way that conspiracy theorists like David Icke or Alex Jones claim conspiracy theories without calling them such. In my work I define “conspiracy theory” as a an “alternate explanation of an event/phenomenon, for which the central thesis is a coverup or concealment of the true explanation, by a group of actors, for which the evidence is inadequate to sustain the general claim;”1 then the homeopathic claims fit. So do the alternative medicine claims and a good portion of the natural living health claims as well too.

What’s difficult about this is that the people who advocate these positions may not even be aware of the conspiratorial nature of their claims. For example, if someone claimed that Bill Gates and the Illuminati are using 5G to give us COVID-19 as part of “Operation Lockstep” we know that is a conspiracy theory. There is a coverup, there is a group of actors, the evidence is inadequate to sustain the claim, and it runs counter to the official story. That’s our obvious case. If a person claims that 5G cellular radiation gives us cancer we can run the same test. The claim runs counter to the official story, the evidence is inadequate to sustain this claim, there are actors setting up 5G, and the only feature remaining is the coverup.

This is where the conspiracy theory begins, only instead of making an explicit claim of concealment this is all done by implication. For the 5G story to be true there has to be a massive global coverup of the effects of cellular radiation. It isn’t merely a passive ignorance of the media either, it would need to be an active suppression of any kind of evidence that would point to the problematic effects of 5G have on living tissue.

The same can be said with homeopathic treatments. It’s not just an alternative treatment. Assuming that they are telling the truth; what does that entail? It means that every single official medical establishment is involved in hiding the effectiveness of their dilutions. That every test that has ever been run to test the effectiveness of homeopathy has been corrupted by agents of this conspiracy. Every person who took only homeopathy to cure their illnesses was poisoned by agents of the conspiracy so that no other person would realize its healing powers. Finally, that mainstream medicine has coupled themselves into a complimentary relationship with homeopathy so that any beneficial results of the dilutions could be attributed to the mainstream science.

We are not only aware that homeopathy does not work, but that it cannot work. For it to be effective the laws of nature would have to be different, and thus, those very laws are part of this superconspiracy (Barkun 2003)2 to suppress the truth of this alternative medical treatment. This is not a direct conspiracy theory but rather a conspiracy theory via implication, or an implied conspiracy theory. The reasons that people come to these beliefs parallel with the reasons that people adhere to conspiracy theories. They do not trust the system, they believe themselves to be too smart to buy the official story, they have suffered some kind of personal tragedy that has caused them to reject the official stories. No matter how they got there; these kinds of beliefs all require that first, the person reject official medicine and science. Then they have to assent to the idea that those same officials are actively attempting to suppress the “truth.”

Perhaps you have encountered a natural living person at your spin or Yoga class; and being the good skeptic you start asking some probing questions in a legitimate attempt to understand why they think that certain rocks have healing properties or that “earthing” is an effective method of healing… whatever; but instead of a getting answers or attempts to change the subject you received an angry pushback followed by a series of seeming non-sequiturs about GMOs, Monsanto, and chemtrails. Finally, it is followed by an accusation of “sheeple-ness” and how the “elites” are out to get us. This response is the result of their assent to these kinds of implied conspiracy theories. Attachment to conspiracy theories is not based on a reasoned and logical assent to evidence (Levy 2019, Bortolotti and Ichino 2020). The attachment is emotional; and belief that some form of alternative medicine/natural living as the superior but suppressed form of medicine is an emotional belief.

An abstract watercolour image of pastel colours

If the conspiracy theorist can recruit a believer without that individual knowing that it is a conspiracy theory, it will be more effective. This is where Pastel-Q finds its opening. Pastel-Q is Q-anon without the upfront presentations claiming the Satanic pedophile cannibal rings and Tom Hanks drinking adrenochrome; it’s the David Icke pitch that lacks the 4th dimensional lizard aliens from Draco, and this omission makes it seem reasonable. It is sold in soft colors with uplifting images rather than the stark metallic darkness of Q-anon. For a person that believes disease is caused by 5G messing up their chakras rather than a virus; Q is off-putting whereas Pastel-Q which merely claims that “the doctors” are not telling us everything about COVID-19 is exactly what they already suspect. Their implied conspiracy belief already assents to everything but the final conclusion. These people can say, no no, it’s not that weird Q thing… but isn’t there something to the idea that we’re being lied to? Afterall who would be against saving the children?

Over a year ago, readers of the news were treated to long articles on whether our kids were spending too much time on screens and what kind of danger that was presenting to them. Now with COVID-19, they are spending all of their time on screens and those articles have all but disappeared. Why did this happen? What are they doing to the children through the screens? If we only get sick for a week why is your child not going to school anymore? These are the kinds of questions that pastel-Q asks in Facebook groups and reddit forums with members who would balk at claims of Satanic human sacrifice. People that looked with rightful distrust on those that stormed my country’s capitol building are agreeing with Q-anon that a force of unaccountable elites is threatening both their health and their children’s health. Since these people have already agreed to the implied conspiracy theory ingrained in their natural health/wellness groups it makes it that much easier. As long as the Q-evangelist doesn’t reveal too much too soon, the people will be roped in succumbing to the sunken cost motivation that will keep them in these beliefs.

[1] This definition comes from my PhD dissertation.

[2] This definition of a superconspiracy appears in Barkun’s book “A Culture of Conspiracy;” this word also appears in the Wikipedia page for “Conspiracy theory” which cites Barkun. It means a global Illuminati style conspiracy theory.

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