Why People Believe Conspiracy Theories: Three Books I Read in June

 

Hello everyone, 

My name is Alin and welcome to my YouTube channel, today we’re going to talk about conspiracy theories and why people find them so appealing.

Have you ever wondered why so many people believe that 9/11 was an inside job or the moon landing was a hoax staged by NASA? In this video, I am going to try to answer some of these questions by talking about three books that I read on this topic.

Do Conspiracies Exist?

The answer to this question is very simple: yes, conspiracies exist. There is evidence that people have conspired in the past and they are conspiring in one way or another in the present. In the literature about conspiracy theories, most of the authors distinguish between positive conspiracies like a surprise party and negative conspiracies which have a malevolent outcome.

What is a Conspiracy Theory?

A conspiracy theory is considered an explanation of an event that has a conspiracy behind as the main cause. It’s the belief that some actors are gathering together to achieve a hidden and malevolent goal, most of the time being against the laws and the wellbeing of the entire society. In the book ‘History Decoded: The 10 Greatest Conspiracies of All Time’,  Brad Meltzer and Keith Ferell discuss various conspiracy theories about different events and monuments in world history. Some of these are well known like the Kennedy assassination and the theory of multiple shooters or less known like the theory that D.B. Cooper has survived after hijacking a plane and jumping out of it or the Georgia Guidestones monument in Elbert County, Georgia, which might contain satanic or Rosicrucian messages. So if you want to know more about these conspiracy theories, this book is a pretty good introduction.

Why do People Believe Conspiracy Theories?  

Most of the time, when we answer this question we give a very simplistic answer, people who believe conspiracy theories are crazy. Of course, the answer is more complex. For example, in the ‘Psychology of Conspiracy Theories’, the author points out that believing conspiracy theories is not caused by a pathology but by a normal cognitive process. The people who are responding to a particular event with a conspiracy theory are fearing uncertainty and find it easier to blame people from groups who are not similar to them because that’s what keeps them grounded. In addition to this, people create conspiracy theories about actors who they believe are immoral or groups they perceive as powerful and they believe they are a threat to their own group.  

What Types of People Believe Conspiracy Theories?

People who hold beliefs in supernatural forces are more likely to believe conspiracy theories,  as both conspiracy theories and supernatural beliefs are based on intuitive thinking, not on analytical thinking. At the same time, people who feel excluded from societal and political discourse tend to believe in conspiracy theories. In other cases, some people experience what is known as ‘crippled epistemology’ and this means that they don’t know a lot of things and most of the things they know are wrong. 

Do We Need to Take Conspiracy Theories Seriously?

Most of the authors agree that we don’t need to dismiss conspiracy theories and we need to investigate and look at the evidence that they put forward, even if they are considered to be based on irrational beliefs.

The Problem with Conspiracy Theories

Most conspiracy theorists are very skeptical about government data, they believe the data provided is manipulated or totally fake, and this attitude contributes to skepticism about our public institutions and public documents.  In the book ‘The Philosophy of Conspiracy Theories’, Matthew Dentith suggests that radical skepticism about public institutions and public data is not recommended but some kind of skepticism is rational and everyone needs to have it. Nevertheless, we should prefer official theories because of their amount of knowledge that they have about an event or a topic. The problem with conspiracy theories explanations is their use of selective evidence, evidence that can support the argument. That is why these theories are made up of contradictory data, misinformation, errors, toxic truths and so on.

Conspiracy and Political Ideologies

Conspiracy theories are created by people on the right and on the left. On the right, we can see conspiracy theories about science, race, immigration, terrorism, while the left promotes conspiracies about wars, major companies, the US government, politicians and so on. Conspiracy theories are more appealing to extremist groups both on the left and right and have been used by communists and fascists to manipulate and control the population under their rule.

How Can We Reduce Conspiracy Theories?

Conspiracy theories tend to develop and become more visible during episodes of societal crisis, for example at the beginning of the 20th century,  the beginning of the Cold War and even at the present moment with the Coronavirus pandemic. These theories are not harmless and historians have pointed out that most of the wars were based on conspiracy theories about the enemy.

So there are a few ways we can reduce conspiracy theories: institutional transparency, giving people the power to participate in decision making, educating ourselves and fact-checking information that we share on social media.

That is the end of my video, if you enjoyed it, don’t forget to hit that like button, add a comment and subscribe to my channel to see new videos every week. See ya!

 

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