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Astral Codex Ten Podcast

Oct 26, 2021

[I’m traveling this week - here is an older essay I never previously got around to posting]

Viral game designer Adrian Hon wrote an article about What Alternate Reality Games Can Teach Us About QAnon.

It argues that people fall for QAnon because it gives them an interesting mystery. It's a place where new discoveries are always around the corner, where a few hours of research by an amateur like you can fill in one of the missing links between Joe Biden and the Lizard Pope. The thrill of QAnon isn't just learning that all your political opponents are secretly Satanists or Illuminati or whatever. It's the feeling that you have something to contribute to the great project of figuring out the secret structure of the world, and that other people in a shared community of knowledge-seeking will appreciate you for it.

One place you could go from here is to talk about how QAnoners are the sort of people who are excluded from existing systems of knowledge production. They are never going to be Professors of Biology, and they know it. Their only hopes of being taken seriously as an Expert - a position our culture treats as the height of dignity - is to create a complete alternate system of knowledge, ungrounded in any previous system, where they can end up as an expert on the Lizard Papacy.

This is sort of true. But it needs to acknowledge that even being included in existing systems of knowledge production isn't that great. You become a Biology PhD student, you spend ten years learning about fungal ribosomes, and probably there's still some guy in China who knows more than you and beats you to the one interesting thing about fungal ribosomes left to figure out, plus nobody cares about fungal ribosomes anyway. Meanwhile, the QAnon devotee has discovered five earth-shattering facts about the Lizard Papacy in the last two hours, including previously-unrecognized links to the Kennedys, World War I, and ancient Lemuria.

I think Hon is right that this drive to discover secrets and add them to a shared community of knowledge-seekers could be a contributor to the QAnon phenomenon. Like I said, it's a good article.