The Real Reason Why Conspiracy Theories Sound True And Take Off, With Left and Right.
I just spent an hour arguing with a friend on Instagram messenger. This is not easy. Typing on a phone is never easy or fun and writing out long arguments on it is simply torture! But it is worth it because my friend is smart. My friend is critical. And my friend believes a conspiracy theory and I know why.
My friend fell into a few logical fallacy traps that can claim any of us, no matter how spart, due to cognitive biases. First, we are more likely to believe people we trust and agree with, no matter what crazy things they say. If we are on the left, will laugh at people talking about lizard people while thinking that Davos controls the world. If we are on the right we will laugh at people thinking WHO is trying to control the population while believing that the Clintons ran a sex trafficking operation from a Pizza parlor.
Second, we are more likely to ascribe things that don’t exist to things we don’t like such as that all Republicans are Nazis and all Democrats are Communists. We are more likely to make connections between bad things when they are close together in time, like the PCR inventor dying around COVID time means the test technology doesn’t work or when a Democrat staffer is killed around election means he knew something and was killed by Clintons. We are also more likely to ascribe bad or evil to large groups of people who are higher than us in money and status, like that Jews control Hollywood, Media, and Banks, from their delis.
So this is what happened. The theories she came to believe are not important. What is important is why. The why is simple, many people in power have done terrible things, a lot. In fact, that’s all we see on the news. We don’t see news of people doing good and when we do, our reptilian brain that is primed for danger ignores it. All that we remember is the bad. So then it is easy to spread that blame to all people.
This is easy to do: for instance, Weinstein was a terrible person. He knew a lot of rich and powerful people. Therefore anyone who knew him must also be bad. All those people by proxy must be bad people and if they meet, it must mean it is for evil purposes. Then it translates that some of those people are talking to WHO or Economic World Forum. So then when Economic World Forum publishes something like The Great Reset, or WHO talks about the global population, it is easy to assign something nefarious and evil to it. Think of the time that Homer Simpson dropped off the babysitter and was caught on camera. The News showed him with evil music and ignored the fact that there was candy stuck to her butt.
This is what happens, once you have determined that an organization is evil, it is easy to ignore the contradictory evidence and alternate theories. Then when that theory is dismissed or not picked up by media, there is a confirmation bias. The thought is that here all these news organizations of elites are in on it! Completely ignoring that these are the same news organizations that reported to you some government or rich person bad deed five minutes ago!
We are always taught to be critical of the government, to be suspicious of corporations that are trying to spin a message. And we should! But what no one says is that we should be twice as critical of the information that tries to sell us on an alternate theory. Why? Because when a government or global corporation does something, all eyes are on it. There are thousands of journalists who are evaluating it, there are politicians who are trying to score points, and competing companies that are happy to expose a liar. But when it comes to the alternative theories, there is no one there to evaluate them. They are often ignored and not reported by anyone, often for good reason. This creates a sense of “censorship” when in fact it is the opposite, it is smart people dismissing something that has no facts or truth to it.
So why do conspiracy theories take off? They confirm our bias that government and corporations are bad. They make it seem like they are all-powerful and that we have no control. They make us feel like we know something and that if we just resist them we can have control.
Sadly, conspiracy theories are rarely right and most often actually go against our best interests because they target good politicians and companies. The bad ones are investigated by legitimate news organizations. The good ones are easy to go after because there is no defense against belief where the accusation is enough and false circumstantial evidence sticks.
Fighting this on facts doesn’t work because finding truth becomes less important than being right. You know the other person wants to be right when your sources stop mattering and they dig deeper into theirs no matter what facts or contradictions in their theory you bring up. A classic tell is them saying that you are biased, believe what you believe and that you have aside.
So what to do? Well, the first step is to acknowledge that smart people fall for things. Remind them that you are also smart and remind them that you also criticize the government and that if you are critical of their theory, there might be reasons for it. The second step is to remember the less you know about a subject the more likely you are to fall for an alternate theory. So ask questions into how and why. This is the Socratic method of showing the person that they haven’t done enough research, it creates doubt but also creates a need to look things up for them and you which should create the necessary space for truth. The third and most important step is to remember that one must always be critical of government and corporations, but twice as critical (not skeptical) of alternate theories. If it makes sense, good, but check it, check it for alternative reasons, check if facts are contradictory, check if the sources are credible.
The point is that we must all be critical, but also be equally critical, even if it seems to make sense and especially if it is about a group you hate. Because that’s when we are most vulnerable.