You’ve heard me talk many times here on LGF about the concept of information disease. Due to current events, specifically the US election, I’ve been mentioning the concept much more frequently.
Now you’re probably asking the questions, “Information disease? What’s that?”
I first came upon the concept of information disease almost forty years ago in a book called Snapping, written by Flo Conway and Jim Siegelman. At that time there was a great deal of interest in and fear of various cults such as the Moonies, Hare Krishna and the Children of God. My copy was bought shortly after the events at Jonestown. After that horror I resolved to learn more about the cults and how they worked. I had heard that this book contained the best explanation on what happened to people caught in the cults.
To describe information disease you first have to realize a simple, everyday fact. So simple and everyday, we overlook it. I know I did. This fact is that our minds take in new information through the prism of the information already in there.
It was through this fact that the cults worked. They all used very similar tools; lack of sleep, isolation from the world, poor food, a constant bombardment of the cult’s ‘theology’, mental exercises designed to short circuit the critical processes. The cults force fed information, diseased information, into the minds of their converts. In many cases, the victims would have a ‘snapping’ moment, an instant where their perceptions changed so suddenly and completely that they became different people.
This is what information disease is. It’s when there is so much information of a particular type in your mind that it changes the way you look at the world. And not for the better. Worse, it becomes self-sustaining. Your judgment becomes so skewed you cannot properly take in information that could change this new view of the world. Anything new that comes in will either be damaged or rejected by your mind. Only things that reinforce your perspective will be accepted and considered.
The depths of this change in perception is difficult to believe. I remember two cases cited in Snapping that drove this point home. The people involved had left the cults and described their thoughts while members to the authors.
The first example was a husband and wife couple who had become Moonies. They had been living with the man’s parents and went to collect their belongings so they could be given to ‘Father’. Needless to say, the parents were distraught and tried very hard to persuade their kids to stop. It didn’t work, of course.
As the couple was driving away, the wife said to the husband, “I’m so proud you stood up to your parents that way.”
He replied, “Those aren’t my parents.”
It was, at that time, quite literally the truth. All connections with his previous life had been severed and the people who bought him into the world and raised him were no longer a part of his life. He said that if you had hooked a lie detector to him that statement would have registered as true.
The other example was a former Krishna. He noted that every time he left the temple, the outside world looked grey and frightening, as if the sky was overcast and threatening rain. This, in Southern California, where cloudy days are somewhat of a rarity.
I’m citing these examples to show how severe information disease can become. It changes not only your thoughts, but the very way you see the world.
So this is what information disease is, a set of information in your mind that prevents you from, to all intents and purposes, thinking. Your world becomes a small place defined by the severely limited parameters of what you know and believe.
And such things don’t just happen in the cults. It can happen to anybody if placed under enough stress.
It also doesn’t have to happen quickly either. The way you were raised and the community you live in can cause very similar effects. So can the media you ingest on a daily basis.
Also, to my mind, information disease is not limited to individuals. It can happen to groups, organizations, nations and societies.
It’s why authoritarians of all stripes are in favour of censorship and propaganda. If you examine the various non-democratic areas of the world, information there is tightly controlled. Only ‘correct information’ is disseminated. Nothing else is allowed. As a result, the people living in these places end up suffering from information disease. And because the people make up a society, where they live has it as well.
In my opinion information disease explains why Trump got elected. A large portion of the US population now suffers from it. Part of the cause was the culture and geographical area they have been brought up in. Part is economic which actually is a threat to them. The loss of jobs and collapse of the areas they live in means almost all their information is tinged with fear. Part is media. Cable news, talk radio and the echo chamber on the internet feed nothing but diseased information to them.
As a result they suffer from severe information disease. They literally cannot see people other than themselves as people. When they listen to dissenting voices they hear only garble filled with anger. When watching peaceful protests on TV they see an actual riot.
They simply cannot perceive the world clearly. All information is now distorted by the diseased information that already resides in their minds.
And I don’t see any way to deprogram them. Not without betraying the principles I believe in. Perhaps restoring the Fairness Doctrine and enlarging it to include the internet might help. But it’s taken a generation to get to this point, and the US may not have that time to reverse it.
The disease may have reached the fatal stage, like a political Ebola.
Note: This is a slightly reworked version of an essay I wrote a decade ago for an online writing contest on free speech. Even then I could see the danger that information disease could be to a democracy. I wish the threat hasn’t come to fruition in my lifetime.