Conspiracy theories. We’ve seen them on social media or had someone convince us to believe them at face value. They come in all flavors. The moon landing was faked, yet somehow all the Russian and non-American astrophysicists weren’t able to pick up on this scam. The earth is flat even though we’ve known since at least Aristotle that it’s round. Beneath the Denver International Airport there’s a colony of flesh-eating human lizards determined to enslave the human race. And, if you look very carefully, these reptile humanoids like Madonna, Barack Obama, Angelina Jolie, involuntarily shapeshift from human to reptile to human again. Conspiracy theorists now claim that 5G transmits the coronavirus.
Why would anyone believe these stories? A recent study in the Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition sheds some light. Evidence is provided that delusion-prone, narrow-minded individuals and religious fundamentalists are more likely to believe conspiracy theories (CT) as long as these theories mirror their particular worldview. If you were brought up in an environment that loathes the Western World, it is easier to believe the CT that AIDS was created in the US and Europe to kill black and brown people. This is why a CT believer doesn’t believe all theories out there, he’s selective.
CTs aim to calm the human fear of the unknown and come up with non-scientific reasoning of what seems to be unexplainable. These theories were never meant to find the truth, but to give us a temporary sense of relief from the distress in our lives. A brutal dictator may want to promote the theory that the abject poverty in his country is not due to his own mismanagement, but a result of blood-drinking human reptiles.
Proponents of these theories want to control the behaviors of their victims and push their own political or ideological agendas. CTs can wreak havoc on society. We’ve seen that with the destruction of 5G antennas, a surge in measles, the recent Pittsburg synagogue massacre, killing of albino children in some parts of Africa and many more.
CTs are not unlike religions. In ancients times, people invented a god to explain things people didn’t understand. Different societies, each with a different set of experiences and explanations had different god(s). They were never interested in the scientific truth. We’re seeing the same thing happening as conspiracy theories permeate in larger sections of societies. CTs are taking on the role of religion and they are feeding fundamentalist beliefs.
Like religions, CTs don’t just emerge in a vacuum. They aim to simplify things and provide believers with a sense of reassurance in a fast changing world. We should avoid belittling them but at the same time we can’t afford to ignore CTs. They have become too mainstream now. What can truth seekers do? Confront all believers with factual evidence (fact checking). But caution, it may not work, especially when dealing with fanatics who blindly believe what they want to believe.