Losing my wife to the black helicopter crowd - need help.
April 1, 2011 5:03 AM   Subscribe

Looking for conspiracy theory debunking in Japanese. My wife is starting to worry me.

My wife (who is Japanese) has always been a little too ready to believe in conspiracy theories. Since we lived really close to the WTC, she latched on to a lot of 9-11 stuff, but now I think the earthquake has really affected her. She's brought up HAARP, the possibility that the quake was triggered by a nuke, the Rockefellers, and more. She thinks there are plots to discredit nuclear power, ruin the Japanese economy and more.
She's been feeding these thoughts with a ton of Youtube in Japanese.
I'm looking for some sources that might nudge her back towards reality. Since English is her second language, she will say it is too much effort for her to read documents that I can find (like debunking911.com)
Being Japanese, she is resistant to going to counseling, even though I think what is really happening is some kind of PTSD from 2001 being brought to the surface by the latest disaster.
posted by bashos_frog to Human Relations (15 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
1) Having media in Japanese is not going to help. She will continue to believe whatever she wants to believe, as this is a pathology.

2) "Being Japanese, she is resistant to going to counseling...," is as much bullshit as "being a macho guy, he is resistant to going to counseling...," or "being a Christian/Moslem/etc., she is resistant to going to counseling..." That is, these are all excuses for not doing something that may be necessary. I say this as someone who has many Japanese friends and, in fact, lost one recently to suicide—she was resistant to going to counseling too.

In my opinion the solution here is more about you setting boundaries about what you will tolerate and not tolerate, and less about trying to convince her of something she's probably not interested in believing, Japanese or not. Sorry to be harsh, that's just how I see it...good luck.
posted by dubitable at 6:32 AM on April 1, 2011

Yeah, forget counseling, and forget debunking specific conspiracy theories. You can pick off one or two ideas all day long, and people who are in the conspiracy theory mode will always find new ones to replace them.

You need to work on the conspiracy theory mindset itself, which is a specific way of viewing the world, and, btw, is also a completely natural way of viewing it. People look for patterns and meanings in things. They want to know why things happen. They want to know The Plan. If they aren't part of a religion that gives them one, they'll invent one. It's not a pathology, and it's not a psychological problem. It's a natural result of the human need for understanding the world around them.

I'd suggest trying to find her a copy of something like Umberto Eco'sFoucault's Pendulum in Japanese. It's a fun adventure book, similar to The DaVinci Code (it's practically a parody of it, written a decade ahead of time). It's packed to the brim with conspiracy theories, but it thoroughly explores the psychology of conspiracy theorists and ultimately attacks the entire mindset of searching for conspiracies by the end of it.

Aside from that, the best way to chase out bad information is with good information. She wants to know about history and economics, etc, but she's making bad choices for sources and getting bad information. So get her translations of good books to fill her time -- Maybe something like Howard Zinn or Chomsky or Naomi Klein, or order the Adam Curtis documentaries from the UK. Any of them will also scratch the conspiracy theory itch, while having the benefit of including a lot of real information and a better perspective of why things happens on the world stage.

I think the important thing to remember here, is that the search for conspiracy is a natural consequence of trying to understand complex phenomena when you don't have enough information about it, that conspiracy theories can be fun to read about, as long as you don't take them very seriously, and that the best way to break the conspiracy theory mindset is with a more general education on world history and economics, and not by attacking specific conspiracy theories piecemeal.
posted by empath at 7:02 AM on April 1, 2011 [11 favorites]

I agree with dubitable, language probably isn't going to help.

How serious are we talking here? You say that she is "resistant to go to counselling" - this doesn't have so much to do with being Japanese as with being a conspiracy theorist; (who aren't mentally affected by the way) it's like telling a devout Christian to come visit a satanic ritual and show him that it isn't really so bad. Yeah, not happening.

As for any better advice, I'm sorry I have none. I think you should slowly nudge her back though, as dubitable suggests. This isn't something that's going to happen overnight and frankly, I don't think she may ever completely give up believing in these theories.
posted by Senza Volto at 7:08 AM on April 1, 2011

Right. Conspiracy theory is a religion. Treat it as such.
posted by empath at 7:11 AM on April 1, 2011

My wife is Japanese (but she does not believe this sort of stuff thank god). As well, for a time I worked as a translator for a Japanese satirist who I learned was a Truther (I stopped working with him). So I'm aware of the scenario you're talking about.

There's not much you can do except, if you need to, state your concerns (I'm worried about you) and your boundaries (I don't want to talk about this any more).

FWIW, I've noticed that there is definitely a phenomenon in the Japanese community here in the Canadian city where I live (there are a lot of Japanese women married to Canadian men here) where some women (not all, just a significant minority) become involved with quasi-cults. Really weird New Age stuff that is completely cut off from reality. Three women from my wife's social circle have for all intents and purposes joined a cult.

They believe all the crazy stuff your wife is talking about. The crazier, the better.

I've often wondered why this is. There has to be some underlying psychological reason. My wife says it's because these women generally lack purpose and meaning in their life. They're often under-educated compared to Canadian-born women, and are estranged from the professional workforce.

But it is a troubling phenomenon.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:00 AM on April 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

It's not just conspiracy theories. Mainstream media outlets like the New York Times, IMO, fan the fears of radiation poisoning through dramatic headlines and story leads. Fortunately, the Japanese media, and especially the government-run NHK news channels, take a more balanced approach, choosing to focus on raw, numerical data--radiation levels and the like--rather than dishing out provocative news. Yet I've found that overindulging in the Japanese media can lead to frustration, anxiety and fatigue, because too many numbers--such as "100,000 times normal radiation levels"--can produce another kind of anxiety altogether.

If your wife is reading online Japanese newspapers, or channel surfing between Japanese language news stations, try to get her to unplug for a few days, or even a week. Not to belittle the severity of the crisis, but overexposure to the news can lead to anxiety, which can lead to the "search for explanations to complex phenomena" that empath refers to above.

Resolving the nuke crisis in Fukushima is gonna take months, if not years. There's no band-aid in the pipeline; no quick-and-dirty workaround or kludge. Hence, there's no need to keep up to date with the "latest developments" (as I tell myself when my hand reaches out to download the latest NHK podcast). If you can convince your wife to step back from the nuke situation, then maybe she'll feel less stress and anxiety, and be able to reevaluate her attraction to conspiracy theories with a more level head.
posted by Gordion Knott at 9:33 AM on April 1, 2011 [3 favorites]

Gordian Knott makes a great point. Having worked in the mainstream media, I know first-hand how information is shaped so that it can shape you to fit someone's agenda.

Let your wife go through this phase. She's not wrong necessarily, at any rate. The possibility is high there are man-made triggers or exacerbating aspects when we are talking about world events or disasters because there is always LOTS of money at stake. Usually with this stuff, folks have the "conspiracy theory" specifics wrong, but the fact that someone(s) is(are) waiting to capitalize on the disaster or make it worse to increase their gain - hells yeah. Respectfully, it is foolish for you to try and convince yourself or others that any sort of profiteering and manipulation isn't going on. (If that's your argument with your wife, I mean)

She's processing grief and shock right now. Can you let her do that in her own way?

I appreciate your concern. I think it is important to recognize that 20 years from now we'll find out that you will both be right and wrong concerning particular aspects of this or any other controversial situation.

I think maybe you should worry about her grief more and maybe focus on the mechanism she is using to process her emotions (conspiracy theories) less.

Just because an individual is willing to consider stuff like that, doesn't mean they are going off the deep end permanently or won't eventually end up rejecting the majority of theories down the road. I applaud the questioning nature behind her actions.

Maybe you can reframe her behavior and choices to yourself so that you don't find it so objectionable as her process runs its course??

(And I nth that the BEST solution is for her to unplug from the information entirely for a while. But she'll have to want to do that on her own.)
posted by jbenben at 11:21 AM on April 1, 2011

Just want to clarify - Japan has a culture that stigmatizes any sort of mental illness, when it is not outright denying they exist. I've tried to bring up counseling for other reasons way before the conspiracy stuff started coming out, and she'll really have none of it.

I'd like to let her process her grief her own way, but it really creeps me out when she says that the US purposely caused the earthquakes with the HAARP project, and the Rockefellers are somehow behind it all. I mean, I would walk away from someone on the street spouting that nonsense - but this is my wife.

I'll try to get her to unplug a bit, and Foucault's Pendulum is a good idea, too. I appreciate KokuRyu's insights as well - maybe trying to get her back into the workforce would help, although I fear her bringing this stuff up at interviews or work.

One of the worst aspects of it for me is that when she told me years ago the North Koreans were kidnapping people off the beaches of Japan to serve as language instructors for spies - I thought that sounded just as ridiculous and it turned out to be true. So she uses that against me, now.

I think I need to unplug myself, a bit.
posted by bashos_frog at 12:15 PM on April 1, 2011

Hey bashos_frog, don't sweat it:)

There is a shit ton of legitimately nefearious stuff going on at there when we start talking about multi-national corporations, and governments, and all that stuff.

If it makes you feel any better, try the middle road. When disasters like this occur, OF COURSE there are contingency plans already in place to make sure certain entities capitalize on the disaster. I'm pretty sure that when random folks start freaking out about conspiracy theories, a lot of that is any person's innate ability to subconsciously identify the pattern of abuse, and the rest is their struggle to define and name it. Not really mental illness.

You've touched on a much much larger issue regarding control and lack thereof that most people are dealing with. Some folks go to your wife's extreme, and others deny deny deny. Go to the middle, my friend.

If you really want to debate this with her, I think you can help your wife more (and be less worried about her) by helping her see that her dark suspicions aren't erroneous, just possibly slightly misplaced.
posted by jbenben at 12:36 PM on April 1, 2011

So get her translations of good books to fill her time -- Maybe something like Howard Zinn or Chomsky or Naomi Klein,

Yikes. I won't derail this discussion with specifics of these authors, except to say I find this extraordinarily bad advice for someone trying to nudge his wife away from conspiracy theories.
posted by Alaska Jack at 2:26 PM on April 1, 2011 [2 favorites]

I specifically said they scratch the conspiracy theory itch. They're conspiracy theory-ish, in that they draw big picture connections, but they aren't woo woo looney tunes.
posted by empath at 2:30 PM on April 1, 2011 [2 favorites]

Foucault's Pendulum is a good suggestion, but it is a pretty dense book and requires a fair amount of concentration to read the whole thing (if you're not an 800-page book devouring type). I've tried to get Da Vinci Code readers into it with a poor success rate, since it's not written as simply.

I've found trying to turn the paranoia against itself sometimes works -- buy some books by Jan Harold Brunvand, which explain and map out urban legends, how they spread, and what emotions they trigger so they can propagate. Once you see how urban legends propagate by tweaking people's emotional hot buttons, it's pretty easy to generalize the lesson to conspiracy theories. Let her know that conspiracy theories themselves are the "things" that are out to get her and infect her mind with nonsense. This worked with a friend who was a Truther, but he was somewhat self-reflective enough to see what emotional voids his beliefs were filling.

Best of luck dealing with this.
posted by benzenedream at 3:45 PM on April 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

How can people say she might not be wrong when she is convinced the earthquake was CAUSED on purpose by nefarious human agencies?

I live in Japan with a Japanese wife, and all I can say is that this is not mainstream Japanese culture at all. Therefore, your wife is making a conscious choice to believe this stuff against the general consensus of her society. That suggests she will never, ever change, because she's committed to it.

The only question is, do you want to be married to someone like that?
posted by zachawry at 7:22 PM on April 1, 2011

I asked my wife about it, specifically the HAARP connection, and she said that, yeah, the New Agers in town are all talking about it.

Is she really mentally ill though? Perhaps she's a little... obsessive.

Recommending Foucault's Pendulum or whatever is not going to do the trick. Asking her to seek counselling is not, in the short or medium term, going to work.

I think you're just going to have to treat it like politics or as a religion. Just don't talk about it, and make sure no harm is being done.

I would be careful, though. There are New Agers in town (Japanese women) who have given a lot of money to what are essentially cult groups.

My wife's grandmother belonged to a Japanese "new religion" that started after the war, and gave a lot of money to this cult. It's a really interesting topic, unless, of course, you have to live it. Please take care.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:37 PM on April 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

Maybe this is an impossible solution but: what about going scientific with this?

Japan's history of large earthquakes and tsunami is well researched and there should be lots of papers and popular books in Japanese about it (I would think). To get a sense of the general science of what we know about how earthquakes are caused, what makes these very large quakes happen, what we know about how often they happen, etc. (Possibly some of her feeling is like what I've seen people say around here: "we seem to be having all these big earthquakes all of a sudden, there must be some new cause." The solution to that is having a look back at our understanding of historical earthquake forces and frequencies to see that the recent huge quakes are not - as far as I know - a big deviation from what we think has been the case historically.) Another possibility is to try to work through the science of how HAARP would supposedly cause very very very large movements, requiring absolutely gigantic amounts of force; exactly how is it supposed to work? Do the supposed mechanism and the numbers make sense?

Another thought is a little to the side -- could you find a copy of John McPhee's book The Control of Nature, translated to Japanese? It has four nonfiction articles about different ways modern societies have faced and tried to control huge natural forces -- it talks about ways that the best efforts of engineers etc can be undone, either through cheapness, or through overwhelming natural forces, or other ways. It might be a framework for discussion about how we face these very big forces with only our human capabilities, and we sometimes lose, but it's kind of amazing that we manage to control them for even short times.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:01 PM on April 1, 2011

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