Alex Jones — conspiracy theorist and far-right founder of Infowars — has demonstrated time and time again that he’s one of the most unhinged men in America. Most recently, he’s been locked in a custody battle with his ex-wife, leading several particularly Jonesian details to emerge: he once forgot the names of his children’s teachers which he owed to eating a “big ol’ bowl of chili” for lunch, and said he smokes weed exactly once per year to test its potency. He also allegedly “once removed his shirt during family therapy.”
While that mental image is hilarious, it’s not all that surprising: Jones is a proven enthusiast of taking his shirt off at inappropriate moments. He infamously ripped his shirt off during an on-air meltdown and more calmly took one off mid-FBI-monologue. While being interviewed by a German journalist from Der Spiegel, he “suddenly takes off his shirt without explanation” before sitting down to eat barbecue (which, I think it’s safe to say, was not just a welcoming nod to Germany’s robust nudist culture).
Yes, the only thing Alex Jones likes more than revealing his version of the truth is revealing himself in all his barrel-chested glory. But why exactly? Is he an unlikely pioneer of body positivity? Is he — the very personification of the meat sweats — just always running too hot?
We spoke to a few psychology experts to get their take on why he might do it and how it affects the way we see him.
W. Keith Campbell, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology at the University of Georgia
To be clear — this is speculation:
1. It’s an attention-grabbing shtick to show power. Wrestlers like Hulk Hogan are well-known for this. Alex Jones has built a video show on a shoestring by selling supplements and T-shirts and shirt removal is part of the entertainment value.
2. One of Alex Jones’s philosophical touch points is the fight between man (e.g., freedom, individualism) and the machine (e.g., deep state, social control, transhumanism). The nakedness is a display of humanity.
3. Vanity and exhibitionism might also be an issue. He was allegedly diagnosed with NPD [narcissistic personality disorder] in some of the reporting I saw. He certainly has a “big” personality, but with Alex Jones I would think the most common personality description would be paranoid because of the interest in conspiracy theories. However, with the world as it is now, it is sometimes hard to tell the difference between conspiracy theory and conspiracy facts.
Kurt Gray, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Psychology at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
That’s pretty weird! I guess it seems like a dominance display, like when animals puff up their chest or peacocks open their tails. It seems like he’s not just taking off his shirt, but trying to look big and animal-like.
I have some work on how showing more skin makes you seem more emotional/full of passion. By being naked he’s showing that he’s full of anger and feeling.
Joshua Knobe, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology at Yale University
You can see a person two ways: in terms of their capacity for rational agency, accomplishing goals, thinking about moral questions, exerting self-control. Or you can see them in terms of these more animalistic aspects of the self — you can see a person as capable of feeling pain, feeling afraid, experiencing love, feeling fear. There seems to be trade-off between these two: The more you see people has having one of these qualities, the less you see them having another. Taking your clothes off effects a shift in this trade-off. People on one hand less see you as being capable of the rational part of the mind, less capable of self-control, less capable of affection. On the other hand, they view you as more capable of the animalistic part of the mind, more capable of feeling emotions, feeling afraid, and so forth.
It sort of feels that this second part of the mind is the trademark of Alex Jones. You may think that someone who’s involved in political commentary, they’re supposed to be providing evidence and arguments and so forth. The opposite of the way you would be seen when you’re removing your clothes. Alex Jones is the rare political commentator who doesn’t want you to see him in that way — he wants you to see him viewed more of an animal in a certain sense, in a way that we’re often not seeing other commentators.
John D. Gartner, Ph.D., Co-Founder of Duty to Warn
I think Alex Jones shares a diagnosis of malignant narcissism. First of all, taking off your shirt is exhibitionistic, so that’s the narcissistic component. But at the same time, he’s doing it as an act of aggression. It’s not like a striptease, it’s like a “fuck you! You’re gonna be forced to look at this and I’m dominating you by making you do that.” It’s a power play, but it’s a very narcissistic one. A malignant narcissist, they have four components: they’re narcissistic, they’re antisocial, they’re paranoid, and they’re sadistic.
In that one act, he’s combining all of those impulses: It’s a self-exposure, but it’s also dominating other people, it’s throwing you off balance.
For people who are narcissistic, exhibitionism has its own intrinsic pleasure. It is a “look at me, look at me, look at me” disorder, so at some level you do want people to look at you. But I think when people have this malignant narcissism, that has such a strong component of sadism and aggression. It’s like “look at me,” but it’s a “look at me” that belittles and degrades the people who are looking at them.
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