I created the FunVax conspiracy theory. Now i try to kill him

In 2011, I created a story called FunVax.

To be more precise, it was a collaboration between me and a successful entrepreneur from Silicon Valley. And rather than just a story, it was a fake documentary idea.

In 2004, a scientist named Dean Hamer discovered a gene that predisposes people to become more religious. Hamer called his discovery the “gene of God”. The scientific name for God’s gene is VMAT2. Do you know those little molecules in your brain that make you happy? Dopamine and serotonin? Well, VMAT2 is responsible for packaging these tiny molecules and delivering them to synapses in your brain.

This discovery of real life was the basis of my film.

The premise of my story was that if a gene can control its religiosity, then that gene can be manipulated and turned on and off at will. In the film, the government uses this idea to create a vaccine to “cure” religious fundamentalism, which would help gain an advantage in Iraq and Afghanistan. No Islamic extremists, no jihad, no war.

As part of the process of making the film, I posted a fictional video on YouTube showing a scientist presenting the FunVax proposal to a small audience in the Pentagon. In the movie itself, I then dissected this YouTube video and proved that it had been tampered with. At the end of the film, the main character, Joey Lambardi, admits to having invented the FunVax conspiracy.

Sadly, no one ever saw the film’s conclusion, as it never came out.

After seven test screenings and ambivalent responses from dozens of film festivals in 2013 and 2014, I came to the conclusion that the film was not viable. After three long, hard years of working on the film, I had to move on. My short film career was over.

FunVax, however, survived.

The publication of the FunVax YouTube video laid the groundwork for what would become a full-fledged conspiracy theory – a theory that continues to spread across the internet.

Just as the FunVax conspiracy began to wane, it reappeared last year as COVID-19 spread around the world. Millions of people shared my original FunVax YouTube video, with additional comments hinting that COVID was in fact FunVax.

I should have gone out then and declared the obvious: FunVax is wrong. But so many websites and news agencies nailed the truth about FunVax, even mentioning me by name and describing the movie project, that I didn’t feel the need to say anything. I assumed a little naively that the worst that could have come from COVID’s confusion with FunVax was that it would encourage clerics to wear masks and be more careful when interacting with other people.

I was wrong.

At the start of the pandemic, someone created a new conspiracy from my YouTube video and spread the false story that it was Bill Gates who gave the FunVax talk at the Pentagon. In fact, the person in this video was my entrepreneur friend from Silicon Valley. Although there are similarities in their appearance, it seemed pretty obvious to me that they are different people. So again, I didn’t say anything.

But now that COVID vaccines are widely available, anti-vaxxers and other conspiracy theorists are using FunVax as anti-vaccination propaganda. Social media is on fire with FunVax misinformation, and this time around, it has deadly consequences. I can no longer be silent. So I say it:

FunVax is wrong.

Here’s the thing: I don’t think people who believe in FunVax will care what I have to say. They will find thousands of reasons to dismiss my confession.

Maybe I’m paid by Bill Gates. Maybe I’m a government factory. Maybe I’m part of the mainstream media, that I manipulate them. It’s like discussing the validity of Christianity, Islam, or Mormonism. People who believe will continue to believe. Conspiracy theories are a matter of faith.

We can talk about cognitive dissonance until we want to stick pencils in our eyes, but I would like to suggest that there is something deeper at play.

Watching the FunVax broadcast over the years, I noticed an interesting phenomenon unfolding; religious people tend to promote FunVax more than others. This makes sense considering that the idea of ​​FunVax represents an attack on their core beliefs. But many of those same people also believe in QAnon’s entirely secular conspiracy.

Religious organizations themselves have identified associations between their own practitioners and a belief in conspiracy theories. The author of a 2020 Baptist News Global article titled, Why are Christians so sensitive to conspiracy?? »Quotes a American Journal of Political Science study to argue that a belief in the supernatural – and a worldview that forces reality to make black-and-white distinctions between good and evil – predisposes people to believe in conspiracy theories. The author argues that Christianity encourages this type of thinking, then goes on to say that the Second Coming of Christ actually looks like a conspiracy theory.

A recent study published in the Personality Journal and summarized by the New York Times explains that some personality types are more predisposed to believe in conspiracy theories than others. Personality types are, of course, influenced by our genetic makeup.

My experiences with FunVax have led me to go further. Most scientists believe that genetic makeup and environmental factors combine to influence human behavior. If religiosity is somehow programmed into our genetic code, through the gene of God or other personality-related genes, then after centuries of self-selection – of religious people marrying other religious people – we have we raised a group of people predisposed to believe in fiction? Could this be the root cause of our inability in America to agree on basic facts?

It is obviously impossible to answer these questions. But for a thought experiment, where would affirmative answers leave us?

This would leave us with two groups of people who will never understand each other. One group bases their decisions on evidence and logic and the other group follows faith and belief. With each passing generation, these differences widen. In 100 years, would these groups even be able to live together in the same country?

The goal of the FunVax project was to change people’s understanding of religion. Even though the film never came out, I think that goal was met. Although certainly not the way I expected.

Unfortunately, like most conspiracy theories, FunVax offers no answers. Still more questions.

Ryan Harper created the FunVax conspiracy. You can email him at [email protected]

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