please help me not turn into a furious conspiracy theorist?
September 17, 2022 3:03 AM   Subscribe

I need some help getting past the Jeffrey Epstein thing.

I’ve been OK about it for a while, but saw a post on Reddit this morning (warning: 18+) that brought back all the fury and trauma and sheer injustice of the fact that all the men involved with Jeffrey Epstein have 100% gotten away with it. I’m definitely trying to keep a calm distance from the conspiracy theory rage that he was killed by Shadowy Hands in prison (though I found the video in that Reddit thread disturbingly persuasive on the position of the noose, but IANA forensic pathologist). But the fact of it is that NO ONE apart from Ghislane Maxwell is paying for what they did. The Giuffre settlement was just the last straw for me, I don’t know what to do with all this rage and tearful anger at my own impotence, and the rage that rich men with power just don’t get the same deal as the rest of us when it comes to anything, while all the girls and women they abused for years and years have been traumatised for life. The laconic cynicism of most of the comments on that Reddit post were like salt on open wounds.

I’m so angry. I’m just so angry. What can I do about this anger? I want to not feel it. But every time I think about it, I’m consumed with hatred. I would be so grateful for 1) tactics for self-calming or letting something like this go, 2) reminders of any silver linings at all about the whole sordid Epstein affair (are there even any?), 3) things I can read instead, eg. about rich powerful men who are successfully brought to justice (non-fiction preferable, but I’d even take fiction at this point), 4) anything else you think might help, especially if you feel this way.
posted by starcrust to Grab Bag (25 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Sorry, just noticed a broken link, “conspiracy theory rage” should point to
posted by starcrust at 3:09 AM on September 17, 2022

Best answer: I can’t speak to this particular one, but I’ve felt angry about things in the past and the best balm in the long term is action, in a similar space. You can’t bring Andrew Windsor to justice, but maybe you can fundraise for a women’s shelter or volunteer to mentor vulnerable young women or some such.

It might seem a drop in the ocean, but knowing that you’re spending some of your precious breaths on this earth by devoting them to others, and knowing that your life has caused positive changes in the lives of others, gives you back some of that sense of power and agency (definitely more so than spending the same amount of time just sitting alone reading more and more bad stuff).
posted by penguin pie at 3:10 AM on September 17, 2022 [18 favorites]

It’s not just rich men.

Anyways, 100% on the action. I work in martial arts teaching young men and women respect, self-control, honour, and how to fight. That was my solution.
posted by warriorqueen at 4:29 AM on September 17, 2022 [12 favorites]

I am going to push back against the conspiracy theory by pointing out another theory I heard a lot in the past:

For decades, the Clinton's detractors have been trying to claim that they have been secretly assassinating anyone who crossed their path. Those stories started back in the early 1990s, and reached a peak after one of the Clinton's former lawyers, Vince Foster, killed himself. That made the conspiracists go nuts trying to prove he was actually murdered, and trying to pin it on the Clintons. But five formal investigations all concluded that it was suicide.

But that kind of rumormonging is probably part of what contributed to a lot of people deciding Trump was more trustworthy than Hilary, and you know what happened after that.

I completely understand your anger that Epstein didn't get a trial. But the "Epstein didn't kill himself" conspiracists aren't motivated by that same anger - they're trying to pin it on the Clintons specifically, either because they heard those same rumors and are perpetuating them, or because of some other political motivation; and they are exploiting your very real and justified anger to keep those rumors alive so that they can continue to pin it on the Clintons.

So - no, it isn't fair that Epstein never went to trial, and it's TOTALLY fair to be angry about that. But when it comes to "was he killed" may help to ask yourself who people are claiming killed him, and why they might be making that accusation.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:15 AM on September 17, 2022 [28 favorites]

I feel this a lot, and my mantra is "as long as you light one candle, you get to curse the darkness". There's not much that I can do to change injustice in the world, and I know I could break myself on that wheel and still not make an appreciable difference. So I give myself permission to just do something. Turn up at a march, give some money to charity, write a letter to parliament. When the kids are older, I'll have more time to volunteer.

There are certain people I still feel nothing but vengeful rage for. But at least I've lit one candle.
posted by Wrinkled Stumpskin at 5:23 AM on September 17, 2022 [13 favorites]

Best answer: anything else you think might help

What helped me was turning that white-hot fury inwards and using it to burn out the last vestiges of the Just World delusion wherever I found them lurking in my own thinking.

Conspiracy theories exist because people invent them to make sense of the world; specifically, to make moral sense of our surroundings. But almost all conspiracy theories are delusions propped up by carefully cherry-picked evidence, and like all delusions they generate false predictions and expose the deluded to a strong risk of generating more delusions to account for those same predictive failures. When this feedback loop runs for long enough, it becomes indistinguishable from psychosis and stops people from being able to function successfully in the world.

So the project of tracking down and eliminating one's personal delusions is worthwhile, and the Just World delusion is the matted hairball at the core of so many common others that it's a really good one to hork up first.

The world is not inherently just. That's simply a demonstrable fact. Bad shit happens to good people all the time, and awful people not only get away with but frequently benefit from their awful behaviour. Comeuppance is rare, which is part of what makes it so intensely pleasurable. Radical and genuine acceptance of this demonstrable fact as fact cuts the legs out from under any strong need to seek systems of purpose or intent behind the hideous injustice du jour, and makes us much less susceptible to wasting our time amplifying conspiratorial Just So stories.

The only justice that exists is such justice as we work collectively to create. There are nowhere near enough people doing that work, largely because so many people do hold the Just World delusion as a fundamental moral principle and are therefore content to duck-shove the job of creating and maintaining genuinely just systems to God or karma or reincarnation or HR or whateverthefuck.

Cursing the darkness is a complete waste of time and emotional energy. Better just to keep on finding and lighting candles, and the candles that shine brightest for longest belong to our kids.

If you want to help build a world where an Epstein or a Tr*mp has a harder time getting away with it, take every opportunity you get to show a kid how to do effective critical thinking, and to help them understand that the correct interpretation of What Goes Around Comes Around is not so much that doing good deeds guarantees good fortune as that the fewer people who shit in the bathtub, the better we all get to smell.
posted by flabdablet at 6:16 AM on September 17, 2022 [48 favorites]

I’m currently feeling this watching the Georgia 2020 election interference probe fail to unfold. Unlike the normal murky evidence in high-profile crimes there is a very clear audio recording of a crime being committed — if normal people were involved they would have been begging for a plea deal the minute they knew the recording existed. And yet it all drags on…

In fact the situation is so blatant and so expected that it’s hard to think of it as a conspiracy. To me it seems that hovering around and protecting the powerful is a human instinct. Instead of a shadowy cabal in a smoky room I see humans acting out the same pattern again and again — and as patterns go it’s not nonsensical. Peasants want to be in the good graces of the king.

In short, protecting the powerful is humans being humans. A conspiracy might grow out of that, but the protection is going to happen with or without one.

So I would suggest that in the same vein of not seeing malice where stupidity is more likely, you not look for conspiracies where individuals sucking up to the powerful is the simpler explanation.

It’s still immensely frustrating, but that’s how you can understand the powerful continually getting away with things without needing to create a new conspiracy every time it happens.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 6:30 AM on September 17, 2022 [10 favorites]

"Epstein didn't kill himself" is a perfectly fine social opinion to have, as long as you don't go around talking about it to all and sundry 24/7 or spending your free time traumatizing yourself by trying to figure out exactly who did it. I mean, in the end he's dead--whether by outside interference or because the guards wandered off, who knows--and it's suspicious. Having your doubts is normal.

The problem here is that reading about Epstein and his cronies is sending you into depression where you feel useless and helpless. (Also normal! You're supposed to feel disgusted at this kind of behavior!)

Like everyone else, I'm going to recommend lighting a candle. But if it's at all possible for you, do something where you are not at your phone or computer. Anything where you are face to face with other people who are enjoying your company and learning from you will not only improve the world, it will help you stay away from reading about Epstein.
posted by kingdead at 6:30 AM on September 17, 2022 [14 favorites]

1) tactics for self-calming or letting something like this go
4) anything else you think might help, especially if you feel this way

* No one else seems to have framed it quite this way, so: consider reducing your exposure to news, feature coverage, or other content about dire things. Especially those things that are outside your sphere of influence. Everyone I know has made strategic short- and long-term decisions about how much rage-inducing content they consume, particularly since 2016. Up to and including people I know who have an ironclad no-news-seeking policy, in any medium.

* Ultimately if something is important to my daily life (so, not racist rapist-tycoons cutting down forests), I've found that the news typically reaches me one way or another. I pursue various ongoing strategies related to issues I care about, but part of that is avoiding collapsing into rage/grief/whatever about Big Bads.
posted by cupcakeninja at 6:54 AM on September 17, 2022 [4 favorites]

The sad truth is, even if there was a trial, those women and girls would still be traumatized and Epstein could not have been forced to reveal any of the other perpetrators. The only thing his murder changed is that he's dead instead of sitting in prison on the tax payers' dime. Justice is a fine thing, but it does not actually repair broken bodies or broken lives.

Yes, it's infuriating that this kind of thing happens, but Epstein was not the first nor the last to provide this service to the world elite. And holding on to anger is like drinking poison and expecting your enemy to die. So donate to a good cause, volunteer, or whatever you need to feel like you are doing something to make the world a better place. In the end, all we really have control over is our own thoughts and behaviors.
posted by ananci at 7:15 AM on September 17, 2022 [3 favorites]

Yeah, I know it's a tangent, but honestly rich men eat their own if they have to, for survival, and Epstein very likely didn't kill himself. The chances that the final arrangements were made by any American are lower than other options, because rich American men are on the whole extremely mediocre at being oligarchs. (And no, the Queen did not have Epstein offed either. She could've, but I'll bet she didn't. She didn't like Andrew that much.)

But what you're mad at is capitalism, and there are SO MANY awesome avenues for you to point that anger right now, but I very strongly encourage you to do it the most where you live. Yes please vote for whatever that's worth. Give money to critical races if you can, but honestly crouch down and care for your own home turf for the best possible soul-relieving results. Not that this won't make you existentially furious too, but being pissed at your local electeds and school boards and cops and rich white men is something you can DO SOMETHING about.

Are there needs you can help provide to actual vulnerable kids in your local school district? Can you help feed/assist your local unhoused or housing-insecure population? Find your local mutual aid societies*, find the brake light clinics, find the informal food pantries. Can you pass a background check? If so can you at least awkwardly interact with kids? Somebody needs your physical presence to help keep kids safer and cared for while their parents work and maybe just be a friend and help with homework. And again and again and again: attend your local school board and civic council-y meetings.

*If this is feasible where you live, find out where the Black people are organizing and go help do their grunt work. Set up chairs, help clean up, print stuff, make coffee. Listen. Learn. Do not assume you are leadership material until you've done the gruntwork for some years.

For reading, Kim Kelly's Fight Light Hell and Robin Marty's New Handbook for A Post-Roe America. Are they going to make you feel better? I Are they going to help you figure out what you personally can do? Yes.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:18 AM on September 17, 2022 [7 favorites]

Practice letting go things; like the idea that there is justice. That's helped me.
posted by alper at 7:24 AM on September 17, 2022 [2 favorites]

Especially those things that are outside your sphere of influence

This is good advice. You’ve framed this as a conspiracy-thinking problem, but I don’t agree for two reasons. First, there’s the merits of the question: there are a lot of reasons to believe this particular theory. It’s not like the lizard people thing, where you have to make a lot of leaps to be able to get to a point where it makes sense. But more importantly, I think the conspiracy thinking is just a symptom of a larger issue.

I get to a similar point fairly often, where I’m absolutely maddened by something or other. Sometimes it’s something like this; other times it’s completely unrelated- I get mad about my favorite football team, or about Oscar races from twenty years ago, or about people who make YouTube videos about public transportation. I get stuck on these subjects, and it’s all I can think of, and I get super upset. What I’ve realized, after years of this, is that when I start going on one of these, it’s because there’s something missing in my personal life that’s causing me to look elsewhere for a sense of control. I can’t control my job, or my relationship, or whatever, so I start thinking about other things to avoid thinking about that. That’s why it’s so frustrating: I’m trying to avoid feeling powerless, but I end up feeling even more powerless.

So with that in mind, my advice to you is to do smaller things that give you a sense of satisfaction. If you’re particularly motivated by the injustice to Epstein’s victims, the advice upthread to volunteer with a related organization is good. But for me, sometimes it’s helpful just to do something concrete to get out of my own head. Cook a dinner, play my guitar, etc. These give me the feeling that I need, that I have some control over something, and I can go back to treating whatever that’s been in my head as a hobby, something I do because I’m interested, rather than an all-consuming compulsion.
posted by kevinbelt at 7:24 AM on September 17, 2022 [2 favorites]

You've gotten some good non-fiction recs, so I'll just throw in one novel that is, I think, exactly what you're looking for. The Change by Kirsten Miller is about three menopausal women who have magical powers that they use to bring justice to evil, rich men.
posted by tangosnail at 7:43 AM on September 17, 2022

I am fairly confident some of Epstein's buddies are going to be prosecuted. Victims who are reluctant to cooperate now because they are trying to maximize their civil cases* will become less reluctant once they've cashed their settlement checks. Law enforcement in any event moves slowly and carefully when celebrities are involved, especially politically powerful ones.

*The civil cases are certainly justice of an important sort, and they're where justice is most actively being sought now ... mostly in secret but a lot may become public down the road.
posted by MattD at 7:52 AM on September 17, 2022 [1 favorite]

Follow more Black queer women and NB people on social media. Ericka Hart is a great start and anyone she recommends. Any politically-minded Black queer woman is ALWAYS this angry at a base level because it’s just so obvious the world is horrible, but they work very intentionally to channel anger into political action AND cultivate moments of joy and ease in their personal lives too, and enjoy the parts of life that are wonderful. It’s inspiring and a very good template for an engaged life.
posted by nouvelle-personne at 8:23 AM on September 17, 2022 [9 favorites]

I used to get so worked up about such things, and I have friends who still do, getting so angry they can hardly speak. I made an active decision a while back to cut it out. Here's why:
This is my one and only life. I'm not going to spend it going down rabbit holes, because it leads to no good. I refuse to spend my precious time angry, frustrated and upset over issues beyond my control. Instead, I can close my computer and go for a walk outside, take deep breaths and see real people, and if I'm luck I'll see some dogs, too.
posted by MelissaSimon at 8:45 AM on September 17, 2022 [8 favorites]

And do good in the world whenever you can.
posted by MelissaSimon at 8:52 AM on September 17, 2022 [5 favorites]

Nthing all the recommendations for positive action and reducing self-exposure to dire news for a bit. Another way I channel this anger is to deny attentional oxygen to the memory of people who do awful things. I don’t mean that we should forget them or not pay attention to their awful behavior! But I can exert power over *their* desire to be powerful by throwing their memory out of my brain and replacing it with attention paid to people doing excellent things, especially people dismantling the systems that allowed and even celebrated the assholes that make me so angry. That garbage-behaving human being who hurt all of those girls wanted desperately to be *known*. Fuck him. We have better things to do than feed his memory with speculation about his death. (Wishing you luck.)
posted by rrrrrrrrrt at 9:25 AM on September 17, 2022 [1 favorite]

I don't think Epstein killed himself, and I doubt the Clintons had anything to do with it. The Clintons, Bidens, Occasio-Cotez, and any successful Dem/Progressive will be vilified and accused of all sorts of nonsense, like a pizza shop basement sex ring in a shop with no basement. My conspiracy theory is that there's a well-funded, -organized, -effective group floating memes, videos, etc., and funding actions like Jan. 6, to further Extreme Right goals. Honestly, I'm still about the 2000 election being gifted to Bush, but it doesn't keep me up at night.

It's not easy to be a woman, Black, disabled, refugee, poor, etc., in a world that rewards injustice and where people accrue massive wealth by breaking social, moral, and government laws with impunity. Anger is a reasonable response, but ineffective. Fight and work for justice. Even small actions matter. Go to protests, spread good memes, write letters to the editor, call legislators. Right now, Vote. Help people get registered - some states have deadlines well before elections, so this is a critical time.

Do the things you can do, and then learn skills to stop intrusive thoughts, and carry on with living your life. The people I know who become obsessed are not effective at achieving goals. The people who are knocking on doors for candidates right now are. I'll be working at my Dem. field office, and doing Voter Reg/ GOTV. I find that liberals often get hand-wave-y about the effectiveness of small actions. Don't get blase. If we all do what we can, it matters.
posted by theora55 at 9:30 AM on September 17, 2022 [5 favorites]

Best answer: To me the brightest and highest moments of comeuppance in the Me Too era were the victim impact statements at the end of the Larry Nassar USA Gymnastics sexual abuse trial, especially Aly Raisman's. These are the eyes and the words of one of the few women to see justice done for the crimes against her, proof that it can happen, if not often enough. It's certainly an example of a powerful man brought down, and perhaps it's a small candle we can hold up against the darkness.
posted by lhauser at 9:39 AM on September 17, 2022 [1 favorite]

My personal thoughts on this:

There are PLENTY of injustices in the world, and we can only affect our little corner of it.

Yes, democracy does give a bit more power to the people, and the wonders of modern telecom gave us a bit more influence over other people further away, but it also brought us their problems.

But we can't solve everybody's problem(s). Not even people like Bill Gates (though he solved more than most).

Yes, Epstein and his ilk have hurt a lot of people. They need to pay, but you and I are not the agents of their destruction. So why worry about it? There is PLENTY of other evil in the world we CAN do something about around us right now.

At least, that's how I see the situation. You may need to construct your own paradigm.

In a way, this resembles the Islamic expression: Insh'allah, "As Allah/God wills it." Or as Italians say Que sera, sera. (What will be, will be) You have done all you could, it's now up to God/Fate/Karma.
posted by kschang at 9:57 AM on September 17, 2022 [1 favorite]

when I start going on one of these, it’s because there’s something missing in my personal life that’s causing me to look elsewhere for a sense of control.

For me, control is an idea that comes with a lot of large orange flags attached.

Having watched lots of people cause themselves unending misery by looking for ways to control stuff that either can't be controlled or wasn't theirs to control, it occurred to me some time in my thirties that I should try to get some clarity about control as a general pattern. That morphed into a bit of a quest to get clarity about a couple of other things that are generally held to be indispensable to a satisfactory life: purpose and meaning.

Turns out it's possible to have a completely satisfactory life with only a very small proportion of it spent in pursuit of any of those Big Three.

The thing about control, purpose and meaning is that they're all quite intertwined. Once you start making serious internal inquiries into why we are supposed to need these things as much as "everybody" does, that intertwining can be loosened a fair bit and it becomes possible to get much more judicious about the pursuit of any of them.

Control, in particular, extends only as far as the skin and it's actually bloody difficult to make it reach even that far. Life is random and wild, the world is huge and absurdly complicated and each of us is very very small. Learning to get comfortable with a realistic sense of that proportionality and to act accordingly pays off bigtime. The only downside, as far as I've been able to discover, is difficulty achieving the state of suspended disbelief required to enjoy any story where a small but plucky band of humans acts Just In Time To Save The Universe.

A little anecdote:

My friend Mark had been a serious student of yoga for quite some years and had developed an impressive degree of control over his undeniably impressive musculature. He had this party trick he could do with his abs, where he'd create a huge crater in the front of himself and then put it into a kind of orbit; he said this did good things for his liver. He was also very, very strong. I was completely in awe of him.

One hot summer's day we'd found a pleasant spot to swim in the Yarra River, far upstream of the parts where the city has eaten it and turned it into a de facto sewer. Just below the swimming hole there's a section where the river has carved a somewhat twisty channel into a big slab of bare rock, and we thought it would be fun to shoot that channel body-surfer style.

I got into the rapid first, found myself being forcibly hurled toward something that looked big and unforgiving way faster than I was comfortable with, and reacted by telling myself "be water!" and relaxing as completely as possible with the intent to hand over all control of the next thirty seconds of my life to the river. And water held my unresisting skeleton gently in its hands and whisked me down that rather bendy channel right in the middle of the flow without even touching the sides.

Mark followed me and actively tried to manage his progress down the rapid. And because rivers are bigger and stronger and faster than even the most accomplished yogi, he suffered painful grazing and bruising to his knees and elbows and quite a nasty gash on his shin.

That day has become one of the guiding metaphors for my life. When I'm feeling overwhelmed, I don't lash about to try to regain a sense of control. I just try to be water for a while.
posted by flabdablet at 10:20 AM on September 17, 2022 [14 favorites]

Best answer: You're in the anger stage right now. Next comes depression and acceptance: this is how life is. 99% of rich white men get away with whatever they want for eternity and there's nothing you, average MeFi person, can do about it. Most of the world can't do anything about it. This is how life goes.

I like to focus on what bad things DID happen to shitty rich people. Epstein's dead and can't hurt anyone any more. Prince Andrew is pouting that he can't be a working royal any more and he haaaaaaaaates that. Donald Trump haaaaaaaaates that he can't Tweet and the world overall doesn't give a shit about Truth Social. That stuff IS punishment to the latter two, even if it's what we'd consider to be minor punishment and way below what they deserve.

As for justice, last I heard, Harvey Weinstein is still in prison, so there's that one.
posted by jenfullmoon at 1:55 PM on September 17, 2022 [1 favorite]

I think this video might help you. I believed in conspiracies until this one pushed me over the edge.

Specifically, I think her tactic of googling how to disprove a conspiracy and what she has done with her life instead of going down that path will help. I found her intellectually curious and very brave. Knowing that conspiracy theories are designed to fuel the emotional parts of ourselves *especially our anger* may help you distance yourself. It’s hard because there has to be a nugget of truth for the conspiracy theory to crystallize around, and here that nugget is “he actually truly was an incredibly bad man.” But all of the rest of the speculation isn’t good for you on a personal level and I am very very impressed that you have identified that and want to do something different for yourself. I hope you do watch the short video linked above and give yourself permission to build a life that isn’t centered around feeling impotent rage.
posted by Bottlecap at 5:18 PM on September 17, 2022 [1 favorite]

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