Are Conspiracy Theories Really on the Rise?

"A 'conspiracy theory' is a theory that explains an event or set of circumstances as the result of a secret plot, usually by powerful conspirators.... These conspiracy theories are not simply restricted to a fringe population. At least 50% of Americans believe in at least one conspiracy theory, ranging from the idea that the 9/11 attacks were fake to the belief that former President Barack Obama was not born in the U.S." - Intellectual Takeout

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Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

...I'm sure that's what They want us to think.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

I've had a little project going for a while now to try to understand what the appeal of these theories is.

In every case there are several explanations of the known facts that are less complex and far more probable... So why do so many feel drawn to explanations that require  intricate sequences of events and vast numbers of people keeping secrets they would have every reason to not keep?

What's the appeal?

My mind doesn't work that way, so I find the phenomenon intriguing... And puzzling.

Bert Perry's picture

If there's a conspiracy, you can explain away the reason you're not winning, whether it's politically, economically, or whatever.  It's not that "your side" didn't have a compelling enough candidate, that you didn't have the qualifications for the job, etc..  You can blame it on the Illuminatti or something.

Weird Al has a great video of this for his song "Foil"

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Larry Nelson's picture

Bert Perry wrote:

If there's a conspiracy, you can explain away the reason you're not winning, whether it's politically, economically, or whatever.  It's not that "your side" didn't have a compelling enough candidate, that you didn't have the qualifications for the job, etc.. 

*Cough*

"Russian collusion" anyone......

Kevin Miller's picture

Larry Nelson wrote:

 

Bert Perry wrote:

 

If there's a conspiracy, you can explain away the reason you're not winning, whether it's politically, economically, or whatever.  It's not that "your side" didn't have a compelling enough candidate, that you didn't have the qualifications for the job, etc.. 

 

 

*Cough*

"Russian collusion" anyone......

Ah, but this example shows that "conspiracy theories" often have a few real facts upon which they rest. There were undisclosed meetings with Russians. This doesn't prove that collusion took place, but the fact that the meetings were not disclosed is bound to raise some suspicions.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Bert Perry wrote:

If there's a conspiracy, you can explain away the reason you're not winning, whether it's politically, economically, or whatever.  It's not that "your side" didn't have a compelling enough candidate, that you didn't have the qualifications for the job, etc..  You can blame it on the Illuminatti or something....

Sure, but what about "there was no moon landing" and "vaccines are causing autism" and that variety?

One Sunday, I'm chatting with a guy, and we discover were both dealing with a case of the sniffles. He informs me that we're all getting sick right now because the black helicopters have been flying over again, and they're doing secret testing for the military.

He's dead serious.

.... Doesn't seem to occur to him that we're all getting sick lately because viruses are contagious. 

Bert Perry's picture

Aaron, he was feeling guilty about not washing his hands, and about using the sleeve of his shirt instead of a kleenex.  Duh.  :^)  

Seriously, agreed 100% that my explanation doesn't work for every conspiracy theory.  I'd put the moon landing one in there. But with regards to the others, a slight expansion of my hypothesis works.  Specifically, we seem to want to blame something for our problems, especially when the alternative is that it's our fault, or it's out of our control.  The latter is what's going on with vaccines; we've got a scary thing that no doctor really seems to know how to fix, no known causes, and it often shows itself around the time kids get their vaccinations.  And then you get a few reckless researchers who get an article through peer review blaming vaccinations, and we're off to the races.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

GregH's picture

I think it just comes down to this: people believe what they want to believe.

If you peddle essential oils, it is easier to believe the anti-vax stuff.

If you are suspicious of government, you might buy into the moon landing conspiracy.

If you have a bias against science, you might fall for the flat earth stupidity.

If you are a far right nut, you might fall for the stupid idea that Obama was not born in the US.

If you are a far left nut, you tend to believe the Kavanaugh accusers regardless of their credibility.

What scares me is the deepfake video problem. People believe the dumbest things without evidence but with deepfake videos, it is going to be harder to even know what is true. I can only imagine the conspiracy theories that are coming and the increased polarization that will occur.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

I've heard a number of conspiracy theories from folks who didn't seem to have any dog in the fight at all... they didn't seem to have anything at stake, anything to blame on some mysterious other (though I have seen those also).

I wonder if it doesn't sometimes have more to do with...

  • Anxiety: You have a nameless sense of dread and the conspiracy is a way to attach it to an unfalsifiable narrative (unfalsifiable in the sense that once you accept the improbability of the whole thing, you also feel free to concoct any explanation you like for facts that don't fit in)
  • Pride: "They" are peddling a story, but you're smarter than Them and are not fooled. You know the truth... maybe you alone!
  • Paranoia: The world is full of hostile people, and hostile organizations out to get me. All those ordinary explanations for things are a thin veil over the churning evil that is behind every bush. (Maybe this is just a variation of bullet 1, anxiety)

Greg's view... I agree that there's a very strong want to believe factor. One of the things I'd like to understand, though, is why they want to believe. I suppose sometimes it is as simple as some prior commitment--having vested themselves in some idea and come to overvalue it, a situation collides with it and then some unlikely explanation is necessary to keep holding onto the idea?

There really could be dozens of different reasons people buy these theories, but they do all seem to have some things in common, so I'm still feeling for a common denominator.

On Deep Fakes.... yes, disturbing. Especially since we seem to live in a culture rapidly regressing to childishness: where whatever feels true may be declared to be factual and whatever is most dazzling at the moment is most important.

Hopefully wiser sorts will find ways to rapidly authenticate and deauthenticate videos on a large scale. I hope Google is working on it... but there ought to be some way to generate unique checksums on videos and then mark those that have been altered. Or at least mark sources as known or unknown. I don't know enough about the technology. I do know there are video forensics experts who have ways to tell that vids are not authentic--for evidentiary/courtroom purposes. But this is not going to be fast enough in a world where people can post videos and have them seen by millions in less than 24 hours.

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

GregH wrote:

What scares me is the deepfake video problem. People believe the dumbest things without evidence but with deepfake videos, it is going to be harder to even know what is true. I can only imagine the conspiracy theories that are coming and the increased polarization that will occur.

Yes, as apparent "evidence" gets better, it will be harder to know what to believe.  Most of us have to decide what evidence we accept since we don't know the facts ourselves.

I was alive during the moon landings, but I don't have first-hand knowledge (though I did watch Apollo 11 on TV), so I have to accept (not hard) the literally mountains of evidence to decide what I am willing to believe, and not believe the entire thing was faked, TV and all.  With Obama, I have no first-hand knowledge of him being born in this country either, but the state of Hawaii has certified his birth and published images of his birth certificate.  Now, of course, the pictures could have been altered in some hard-to-detect way (and I'm no expert), and there is certainly not the volume of evidence that was behind the moon landings, but again, I can choose to believe what Hawaii certifies or not.

As fake evidence gets more realistic, it will definitely become harder to know what to accept, but I guess we all have to try to tune our brains as well as possible so that we aren't easily taken in by even "deepfake" "evidence," as there will be plenty of things for which we don't have first-hand knowledge.  A lot definitely comes down to what we want to believe, which is why the scriptures warn us constantly to not deceive ourselves.  I'm sure pride plays a big part as well.

Dave Barnhart

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

which is why the scriptures warn us constantly to not deceive ourselves

An excellent point!

The trust factor is a big clue, too. If you're the sort of person who is a bit xenophobic, you would tend to be suspicious of information sources that seem far away and unfamiliar, preferring instead to trust a friend's opinion or the opinion of someone perceived to be "one of us, not one of them."

I have seen this a lot. Many don't seem to consider the quality and quantity of evidence at all in their evaluation of what's true--only their perception of the trustworthiness of the source.