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What we can learn from conspiracy theories

Fanatism and Conspiracies

The fanaticism associated with certain conspiracy theories and the extent to which many would even put their lives on the line points towards blind belief, the same kind of beliefs perpetuated by many organized religions, right down to the content, storyline and purpose.

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What we can learn from conspiracy theories

What we can learn from conspiracy theories

https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20200522-what-we-can-learn-from-conspiracy-theories

bbc.com

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Key Ideas

Conspiracy Theories

In the earlier times, conspiracy theories were a convenient way to cover up the inadequacies of the government, and putting a set of helpless people as a scapegoat, cloaking the misdeeds or mismanagement of those holding the ranks.

In 331 B.C., an epidemic was hidden in Rome, using a false story of mass poisoning by some women. Even now, in the current 2020 pandemic there are conspiracy theories doing the rounds, like a virus disease being spread by the telecommunications industry.

We Love A Good Story

The organic and unpredictable nature of conspiracy theories had led many researchers to investigate the cause of the phenomenon.

  • Successful conspiracy theories always tend to invent a great villain, have a backdrop or a backstory, and a morality lesson that can be easily understood by most.
  • Great stories are by nature more magnetic and appealing than the truth.
  • Human beings think and understand in stories. For thousands of years, fairy tales, legends, anecdotes and mysteries have helped our brains make sense of the world.

Collective Hysteria

Every society has its own, unique anxieties and obsessions, and the conspiracy theories that gain good mileage are the ones that tap into these primal fears.

Example: Many people fear vaccination of the children due to fears that the mass drive to vaccinate such a large population has some ulterior motive, like a mass medical experiment. The dodgy past record of the health care system, and the fact that the vaccination is free of charge, of course, adds fuel to the fire.

Social Identity

When a certain class or section of people are victimized, they can start to believe in conspiracy theories that seem to target their group. Identity play is easily exploited by politicians and also by religious leaders.

People split into groups create an automatic ‘us vs them’ behaviour, leading to strong social bonds inside the group, and an automatic conflict with those outside the group.

Conspiracies In Uncertain Times

Lack of knowledge and an uncertain, dangerous future creates the mental space for a conspiracy theory to flower. Such theories quickly come out of the blue whenever some crisis or major conflict happens.

Fanatism and Conspiracies

The fanaticism associated with certain conspiracy theories and the extent to which many would even put their lives on the line points towards blind belief, the same kind of beliefs perpetuated by many organized religions, right down to the content, storyline and purpose.

Lack Of Official Information

When there is no official information, or if the official statement is vague, a certain gap is formed, and that ambiguity and mystery, along with mistrust of ‘official information’ combines into a conspiracy theory.

The official explanations of certain unexplained events like a mysterious plane crash or a sudden celebrity death are often inadequate and full of holes, providing space for the conspiracy theories to grow.

Feedback Loop

Even when someone debunks a certain theory, they are essentially talking about it, and while they condemn it, they are still raising the profile of the idea, giving further mileage and traction to the conspiracy theory’s core belief, which many would still think could be true. The more a certain thing is discussed, the more legitimate it seems.

Finding The Core Problem Of Rising Conspiracies

Even as we see newer conspiracy theories that have no base, it is good to know what is the core problem that gives rise to such conspiracy ‘theories’ (which don’t even have a theory underneath).

The problem comes from a general lack of distrust with the government, the experts and the all-too-powerful institutions.

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Many people from all sections of society do not trust in science, as they don’t trust the authority of the scientific community. The Pseudo Scientists try to debunk science by:

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Stories help us to think

Homer's Iliad opens with a plague visited upon the Greek camp at Troy. The Decameron (1353) by Giovanni Boccaccio is set during the Black Death.

The stories offer the listeners ways to consider how similar crises have been managed previously, and how to reorganize their daily lives, which have been suspended due to the epidemic.

Authority's failure to respond
  • Mary Shelley's apocalypse novel The Last Man (1826), depicts the life of Lionel Verney, who becomes the last man after a devastating global plague. The book criticizes the institutional responses to the plague, showing the revolutionary utopianism and the in-fighting that breaks out among surviving groups before they also die.
  • The short story, The Masque of the Red Death (1842), also shows the failures o authority figures to respond to a disaster appropriately.

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