The Kübler-Ross model, commonly known as The Five Stages of Grief, was first introduced by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her 1969 book, On Death and Dying. Since that time the concept has proved useful in modeling human reactions to other catastrophic personal events. The Stages are: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.
It may be that those who believed that someone else deserved to be elected President in 2008 (e.g. Hillary Clinton supporters) and those who could not believe that someone of Obama’s racial heritage could be elected, responded to the catastrophic (to them) event of his election according to the Five Stage of Grief. What we see in the birther movement could be modeled as a remnant of those individuals stuck in stage one (denial) and some in stage two (anger). (Kübler-Ross claimed that not all subjects exhibit all the stages, or that they necessarily appear in the DABDA order and that some exhibit visit each stage multiple times.) Most, I hope, have moved on.
It is no great insight to say that the birthers are angry and in denial. What I offer as insight is rather a look at my own reaction to the catastrophe challenge to rational thought posed by the birther movement, and how it follows the Cycle.
I think that in the very early states of confronting Obama conspiracy theories I found it hard to believe that people really thought like that, and I held the belief that the birthers were just being willful – willfully believing what they believed, willfully refusing to look at refuting evidence, willfully refusing to listen to reason.
Believing that Obama denialists were willful led to anger. How could they do this to me? How could they not listen to me, but rather throw irrational nonsense in my face? I engaged in some angry rhetoric, some of which is memorialized on this website.
It may be that my repeated attempts to convince denialists of the errors of their ways through evidence and reason is a kind of bargaining. I have had these little mental fantasies about being to show a denialist the errors in their thinking. It may also be that my attempts to understand conspiracy theorists through academic study is a form of bargaining – a way to make the phenomenon not as bad as it seems.
It can get you down. The feeling that the world is spiraling down a flush toilet of irrationality is not comforting. I sometimes feel discouraged about the future, and anxious about a possible outcome where the lunatics run the asylum. This was particularly a factor when the birther poll numbers where higher than they are now.
Through my reading program on conspiracy theories, I am coming to view Obama denialists as part of a strain of thought in human culture that goes back thousands of years. Whenever there is catastrophe, disaster, plague and dislocation – things which are hard to explain – people try to find meaning in the pattern of events, whether these patters are represented by the gods demanding appeasement for the ritual sins of the people or their leaders, or whether it is conspiracy theories about an atmospheric research project in Alaska causing tsunamis in Japan.
Despite the counterintuitive nature of the fact, conspiracy theorists do get along in the world, raise families and avoid institutionalization. I don’t have to fix it and indeed it may not need fixing. The world will continue just fine with its fringe as it always has.
Acceptance helps me put out my little conspiracy theory magazine with less anger and less anxiety. While birthers aren’t “normal” it is normal that there are birthers. It was inevitable.
Or is my claim to have gotten through the Cycle just a form of denial? Enough of this navel gazing; let’s see what Orly is up today.