Friday, April 26, 2013

Why do people believe in conspiracy theories?

This article begins by talking about the wild conspiracy theories surrounding the Boston Marathon bombings, but I thought this overall view of conspiracy thinking was particularly interesting:
Why are some people so quick to believe in conspiracy theories? In part, many conspiracy theorists don't consider themselves conspiracy theorists. They don't see themselves as the caricatured, tinfoil hat-wearing loons. Instead, they see themselves as patriots and independent thinkers who are smart enough to see through the lies put out by the government and its news media stooges.

Often those who promote conspiracy theories frame them as simply asking legitimate questions — and who can deny that everyone has the right to ask questions of their government and news media? The problem is that the questions they ask are often non-questions that can be (and have been) easily answered. Conspiracy theorists prefer complex mysteries over simple truths, and so they find mystery where none exists. [my emphasis] ...

People who embrace and promote conspiracy theories do so for a reason — typically because it bolsters their (often anti-government) social or political agendas. Conspiracy theories don't emerge in a vacuum; instead, there are people who are simply waiting for each new tragedy to occur so that they can frame it in a way that suits their purposes. For example, many people seized upon the Sandy Hook massacre as a faked event staged to rally public support for stricter gun control laws.

They seek out what appear to be contradictions or holes in "the official story." Conspiracy theorist websites offer "suspicious" examples and evidence, ranging from real or perceived contradictions in eyewitness accounts to conflicting news reports. But what the conspiratorial mind sees as misinformation and lies, others see as merely perfectly ordinary incomplete and inaccurate information following a chaotic tragedy. Eyewitnesses can be confused and mistaken, police officers and reporters can make errors, or repeat information that is corrected after further investigation.

Part of the reason that conspiracy theories linger is that any contradictory evidence — no matter how conclusive or compelling — can just be dismissed by claiming that it's part of the cover-up.

I regularly seem to encounter conspiracy fans, and this describes them exactly. No matter how crazy - and I mean crazy - their beliefs, they think of themselves as being rational skeptics, as opposed to the 'sheeple' who've bought the government's lies.

It might be the Moon Landing, it might be 9/11, it might be Barack Obama's birth certificate, but whatever it is, they're absolutely convinced that they're the sane ones. And really, there seems to be nothing too crazy for conspiracy fans. (They don't all choose the same conspiracy to believe, of course. That usually depends on their political leanings.)

The other thing I've noticed is that they all seem to be thrilled with being one of the few smart enough to see the 'Truth' and brave enough to fight the powers behind their chosen conspiracy. It's apparently lots of fun to be a conspiracy theorist. You might be an insignificant little person in real-life, but in your imagination, you're a brave freedom-fighter facing long odds against the powers who really control this planet.

I'm sure that's why it's so appealing. It's just human nature. And that means we'll probably never see the end of these things, don't you think?


jeff725 said...

If debating Jody P is like shooting fish in a barrel, debating a conspiracy theorist is the polar opposite. They seem to be the type of people who "have an answer for everything."

"Part of the reason that conspiracy theories linger is that any contradictory evidence — no matter how conclusive or compelling — can just be dismissed by claiming that it's part of the cover-up." Indeed. One example of this: if you're tempted to ask a conspiracy theorist "how can the 'guv-mint' be cunning enough to plot x-y-z incident, yet be absent minded enough to leave incriminating evidence behind?" The conspiracy theorist just replies, "it's hidden in plain view. That's the genius of it." Talk about mental gymnastics.

Interesting take from this guy called David Pakman ( The burden of proof is always on the "guv-mint," never the conspiracy theorist. They always have "documentation." Alex Jones always plays that card. When he's ranting about the latest "guv-mint" cover up du jour, he always taps on the stack of papers on his desk and says, "I've got it all documented, I've got it all documented. It's in all my films" (sneaking in his sales pitch).

Another thing about conspiracy theorists is you can be on-point on 99 of the 100 things you're debating him about, but you just have to be wrong on that one thing for him to point the finger an go "a-ha, gotcha!!"

Conspiracy theorists such as Alex Jones and Glenn Beck are relentless, patient, and fearless (of course, crazy people have no fear). But they also seem to have big egos. Somehow that has to be a weakness to exploit.

WCG said...

Thanks for the link, Jeff. That's great.

And note that it's creationists, too, not just conspiracy theorists who throw one thing after another into the argument. No matter how many times you demonstrate that they're wrong about a claim, they just pick a new claim.

Note that they never say, "OK, I guess I was wrong." No, they just ignore that fact and quickly jump to a new talking point - one after another after another.

And usually, they'll continue to use that same discredited talking point, the one you'd just demonstrated to be wrong, with the next person they talk to. The fact that it's demonstrably false doesn't seem to matter to them, as long as the person they're trying to convince doesn't know that it's false.