It could almost be said that considering the issue of Morgellons is irrelevant, but it isn’t. It illustrates a fundamental flaw in contemporary information culture and its effects.
With the recent announcement by musician Joni Mitchell that she suffers from Morgellons Disease, it seems appropriate to address some of the underlying issues at work with the psychosomatic disorder and and closely related illness, such as delusional parasitosis (more well-known, and often associated with side-effects of long-term drug use).
Morgellons is another in a long line of internet inspired imaginary illnesses. Wi-fi allergy, electromagnetic radiation poisoning, and the ever-popular vaccine related illnesses that have been promoted vigorously online for years. Morgellons is just another example. The Morgellons, as they are called by those who believe they or someone they know has them, are sores that contain foreign matter, specifically thread or wire. The belief is that this foreign matter is some sort of viral infection and not the introduction of foreign matter due to improper care of sores. The sores, for their part, are believed to be connected to these ‘filamentous organisms’ (strings or fibers) burrowing itself intentionally into the skin.
Now, if you read that and thought to yourself that this must be a joke … it is not!
People believe that Morgellons exist and that they are infected by these sentient fibers. What’s more, they have successfully petitioned legitimate medical professionals into investigating their perceived symptoms. WebMD launched its page on the subject in 2015, as did Mayo Clinic on April 1st. The CDC concluded that this ‘unexplained dermopathy‘ had a highly probable causal link to the patients’ mental state.
Neuropsychological testing revealed a substantial number of study participants who scored highly in screening tests for one or more co-existing psychiatric or addictive conditions, including depression, somatic concerns (an indicator of preoccupation with health issues), and drug use.
Despite the apparently obvious psychological diagnosis, delusional parasitosis, the echo-chamber of self-diagnosed cases, their more enabling significant others, and the web of alternative medicine profiteers invariably find one another and create a localized community and economy; even more concisely unified by the rejection of their claims by the so-called ‘establishment’ medical community.
It just so happens, though, that the number of social media echo-chambers is increasing to a state approaching critical mass. Individual echo-chambers tend to push members to further extremity of belief. This extremism should, necessarily, separate them from the mean of social life. This is becoming less and less the case and the reason is due, in part, to the fact that so many of these echo-chambers have similar views as to why they’re boutique issues and often nonsensical beliefs are not accepted within the mainstream of society. The answer, of course, is a vast conspiracy.
Say there are ten such independent communities online. Some believe they are being gang-stalked, others believe that they are allergic to electromagnetism, etc. They all feel that they are being deliberately ignored, or worse; harassed, by the powers that be. The Establishment, as they are known, is doing it to them and making it seem like they are crazy for speaking out. Those ten independent online communities can be seen, then, as a part of the growing aggregate anti-establishment social movement.
A quick search of Morgellons on Facebook shows 3,950 members in the largest group at this time. The largest gang-stalking group has 84,975 members. Electromagnetic sensitivity and wi-fi allergy are, understandably, not as popular in Facebook groups but well over 1,000 people were talking about the subject (something Facebook counts includes even if there is not a community group formed on the website). These numbers are fairly small, until you consider combining them with the number of people who believe that vaccines cause autism, that 9/11 was planned and executed by the U.S. Government, or any number of beliefs that necessarily create a fundamental distrust with the ‘Establishment’ powers that be.
The argument that all these beliefs are part of a larger social movement should not exactly news to anyone who thinks critically about conspiracy theories and their effect on society. Even culling these groups together and calling them an aggregate social movement is really just a turn of the phrase expressing something that seems self-evident. The new real takeaway should be that these hypothetical-illnesses-turned-radical-anti-establishment communities are not only growing and proving resistant to facts and research but that their number should only be expected to grow. The likelihood exists that a handful imaginary illnesses may eventually become commonplace, even normalized, in this modern and increasingly unscientifically oriented information society.
Why, you may ask, is this happening?
Maybe it’s obvious. The internet, itself, is a catalyst for social change, and that change has been both life-saving and disastrous. No greater information gathering and disbursing tool has forum has existed in the entirety of human history. And everyone’s invited; everyone with access to the internet has the ability to promote any belief they have, no matter how unfounded. The internet has proven also to be the most effective means for people to find each other and convince one another that their delusions are real by virtue of having other people say that they are.
If the question you were asking was actually, “Why does it matter?” then consider the cost of appeasing these disparate groups. That their needs are being met, or in dealing with the aftermath of their mistakes, hospital costs should be expected to soar and necessary services will be diverted in dealing with them. The fact that mental health services are so scant in modern-day America, for instance, means that all of these people with either flood emergency rooms or urgent care facilities or go doctor hunting until they find someone who will nod along with their delusion. The most likely end of which being not a medical professional, but a guru or healer willing to bilk the person and perhaps their family for all they can. As mental health remains an issue the Federal Government refuses to fund, and people with the internet self-diagnose delusional ailments as factual virus or allergy, nothing short of an exponential rise in such phenomena should be expected.