The world seems like it’s drowning in conspiracy theories these days. Every where you look, there’s a new one popping up and it’s more outlandish than the last. We all know that they’re untruths, so why do so many people fall for them?
I have a friend who is a sucker for conspiracy theories. At first, it was more of a joke and he got a kick out of sharing the latest one he had come across. As time went on though, he started to actually believe some of them. His preoccupation with conspiracy theories got so bad, people stopped wanting to spend time with him. After all, life is hard enough and who needs some ridiculous conspiracy theory to add to the stress.
Today, they’re all around us and it seems like some days, you can’t escape them. Take just a few of these conspiracy theories for example:
- Global warming is a nefarious plot fabricated by a global confederacy of scientists.
- The U.N is deliberately under-reporting the levels of radiation from the Chernobyl and Fukushima disasters.
- U.S media outlets are a giant cabal of organized efforts to contrive “fake facts” to refute the Tweets of Donald Trump (the whole world must be in on it then, right?)
- Corrupt politicians are behind the released of Ebola and in fact, most epidemics.
- Black Helicopters: originating in the 1960’s by the John Birch Society, this conspiracy theory maintains that a United Nations force would/will soon arrive in black helicopters to bring the U.S. under UN control. This theory has re-emerged in the 1990’s and has taken a foot-hold since.
- The Earth is actually hollow and there may even be a whole advanced, other-worldly civilization living in it.
- The Moon landings were all faked with the help of Hollywood
- Reptilian humanoids have been living among us, blending in and their goal is to enslave the human race.
When it comes to Covid-19, despite the best efforts of medical and scientific experts to show the absurdity of the conspiracy theories, they have flourished nonetheless. Some of the more absurd ones, in no particular order, include:
- The rapid rollout of 5G networks is the “virus” and the real pandemic and Covid-19 is just a cover-up explanation.
- Bill Gate knew beforehand the Coronavirus would be “unleashed” and/or, Bill Gates has the cure but won’t share it and/or, Bill Gates brought it about so he could use a vaccine (which I guess they think he already has?) to implant us with tracking chips.
- The virus is being controlled by the “deep state” in order to discredit President Trump. It’s worth noting that quite a few of the conspiracy theories about the pandemic center around the notion that it’s a plot against Donald Trump — of course, these conspiracy theorists can’t explain why the whole world — billions of people — would be in on it. 😉
- Genetically modified crops (GMO’s) are the cause of the pandemic.
- And of course, the one that really takes the cake is that “COVID-19 is fake.” It’s false news… a hoax. It doesn’t exist at all.
What is extremely alarming is that groundless conspiracy theories are now entrenched in the political and cultural landscape. Like epidemics themselves,they appear from nowhere and thanks to social media, spread across the world like a toxic sludge rolling over our normal, everyday lives. Can they be stopped? I don’t know, but they pose a grave threat to science, medicine, faith, politics, family life and even peace itself. To put it bluntly, these absurd conspiracy theories are evil.
But No One Really Believes Them…Do They?
Yes, unfortunately, quite a few people do fall victim to these conspiracy theories and it’s to all our determent that they do:
Most Americans (71%) have heard of a conspiracy theory circulating widely online that alleges that powerful people intentionally planned the coronavirus outbreak. And a quarter of U.S. adults see at least some truth in it – including 5% who say it is definitely true and 20% who say it is probably true, according to a June Pew Research Center survey. The share of Americans who see at least some truth to the theory differs by demographics and partisanship. – Pew Research
Experts maintain that people often create and fall for conspiracy theories because they’re frightened. They feel helpless and not in control and as events or news scares them, they need to wrap it up in a delusion and present it in a far-fetched theory that others will buy in to — this gives the perpetrator a sense that they are not alone and others believe as they do and have the same fear as they do. Really, the conspiracy theory is a crutch for a very insecure person. Of course, there are also the jokers and hucksters who create them just to get a reaction from people.
Historian Sophia Rosenfeld believes that conspiracy theories flourish in those societies in which there is a significant gap between the “elite” governing and the governed classes. In her book, Rosenfeld writes, that these conspiracy theories allow some of the governed masses to reject the advice of experts, dismissing them as being “out of touch with the people”, and they create the conspiracy as a sort of a “populist epistemology” associated with an oppositional culture — in other words, the governing bodies are lying to us regular folk and here’s the “real” truth.
Rosenfeld continues in her book that populists “tend to reject science and its methods as a source of directives”. Instead, these people prefer to embrace “emotional honesty, intuition and truths of the heart over dry factual veracity and scientific evidence, testing and credentialing.” Modern science accentuates the gap between experts and non-experts, making it possible for populists to interpret “factual veracity” as tainted. – historian Sophia Rosenfeld, In her recent book Democracy and Truth
Lantian et al. (2017) summarize the characteristics associated with a person who is likely to believe in conspiracy theories:
… personality traits such as openness to experience, distrust, low agreeability, and Machiavellianism are associated with conspiracy belief.
“Low agreeability” refers to a trait of “agreeableness,” which psychologists define as how much an individual is dependable, kind, and cooperative. Someone with low agreeability is an individual who is usually not very dependable, kind, or cooperative. Machiavellianism refers to a personality trait where a person is so “focused on their own interests they will manipulate, deceive, and exploit others to achieve their goals.”
Lantian et al. (2017) continue:
In terms of cognitive processes, people with stronger conspiracy beliefs are more likely to overestimate the likelihood of co-occurring events, to attribute intentionality where it is unlikely to exist, and to have lower levels of analytic thinking. – Psych Central
I’ve always felt that people who start and spread conspiracy theories have, for lack of a better word, an evil streak. They know it’s not true, yet they start it and throw it out there for all to “consider.” With the internet, that takes just moments. Unfortunately, there are people who fall for these outlandish theories and continue to spread them and when it comes to something like a pandemic, this can be very dangerous. And, considering that top government leaders are now spreading them too, it really causes a great deal of unnecessary chaos.
Spreading lies is a trait of negative, duplicitous people. One who wishes to live a positive, harmonious life would recoil in horror if they knowingly spread falsehoods. There are many suggestions from medical and psychology experts on how to spot and avoid falling for conspiracy theories and it’s a good idea to do some research on this topic. I believe though, that maintaining a positive and realistic mind is a good starting point.
For me, when I hear or read what is clearly a conspiracy theory, I tend to:
- Consider the source: is it reputable or is it knowingly biased? If it’s on social media, my first reaction is to assume it’s false.
- I also realize that most likely through re-telling and sharing, the “theory” has been so distorted, probably 98.5%+ is just bogus.
- Look to trusted experts — because honestly, most often, the most logical explanation is the reality.
- Utilize fact-checking sites. This is especially important to avoid forwarding on pure fabrications.
“A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.” – Winston Churchill
“Lying lips are abomination to the Lord: but they that deal truly are his delight.” – Proverbs 12:22
“No matter how big the lie; repeat it often enough and the masses will regard it as the truth.” – John F. Kennedy