Anti-maskers living in fear

There have been tons of letters and opinions shared about the alarming number of anti-mask rallies and ranters. So this one is actually directly at those following the health guidelines, to help us understand the psychology behind their warped behaviour.

One of the anti-maskers’ most common and infuriating refrains is “I refuse to live in fear!”, as though putting a covering over one’s mouth makes someone a quivering coward (not to mention that masks have been used throughout history to curb infectious disease!). The psychology shows the exact opposite is true.

I’ve yet to find a protester who is simply against wearing masks...the whole thing for them is always tied in with a conspiracy theory about Covid being a hoax to allow the “deep state” to take over the world. This theory may or may not include convictions about the 2020 US presidential election being rigged, pedophilia amongst Democrats, 5G towers causing illness, and microchips being implanted in us through vaccines (as if every phone being carried isn’t enough of a tracking device!).

Based on this worldview, anti-mask protesters genuinely believe they are freedom fighters against a communist onslaught or domination by elites. They think they are warriors in the reckoning to come of Biblical proportions.

You cannot argue with them. You cannot use logic or science. This will only inflame them more, and in some sad cases, dangerously so. Extremist followers of QAnon are currently considered the greatest domestic terrorism threat.

Where do these bizarre beliefs come from? Many studies have shown they are based in fear and anxiety. In an article published in Scientific American on March 1, 2019 (pre-Covid) titled “People Drawn to Conspiracy Theories Share a Cluster of Psychological Features”, it is noted that “anxious people are especially drawn to conspiratorial thinking,...and the mindset is also triggered by a loss of control.”

In a post-Covid article titled “What it’s like when a loved one is a Covid Conspiracy Theorist”, psychologist and family therapist Anastasia Panayiotidis states: “What happens is people feel they lose control of their life and when the government steps in and creates certain regulations and measures to try and keep us safe….some people actually feel that control is being taken away from them and a conspiracy theory gives them a sense of control and independence. It contains that anxiety and manages it, it’s almost like a parallel universe is created as well, a parallel reality that’s an alternate reality to the one that exists because the actual way things are is a bit frightening.”

It almost makes me feel sorry for them. Almost.

Panayiotidis gives suggestions for how to deal with it when someone you care about is in the grips of cultish beliefs, such as engaging in respectful dialogue or just agreeing to disagree.

As for strangers on the streets or online, the best thing is to steer clear (literally!) and not engage with them. It will only become a source of frustration and a drain on your own energy to try to change a conspiracy-theorist’s opinion. And in the worst case scenario, they may even try to cause you harm.

I hope we all find peace soon.

Marla O’Brien, Kelowna

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