Joe Keeble: Losing our capacity to think
What is there about conspiracy theories that so enthralls us? Everything from the Easter Bunny to a moon of green cheese, Big Foot, ancient aliens, who killed JFK, politicians operating child sex rings from the basement of a pizza parlor in New Jersey, climate change, foreign countries hacking our elections, and even a stolen election with help from a banana republic all seem to catch someone’s imagination.
The thing about conspiratorial thinking is that any attempt to disprove the conspiracy becomes further truth that it must be true. “They wouldn’t be denying it if it weren’t true, right?” This is why conspiracies have such a long shelf life. Once in a while, a conspiracy even turns out to be true.
Anyone can be bitten by the conspiracy bug. It’s human nature. Our needs for certainty and control play a large role.
Certainty reflects how predictable we think our lives are. We like our lives to be stable and without big surprises. Most of us prefer routine to chaos. However, the more unpredictable and unstable our future appears to be, the more distraught we become.
As most of us do not have first-hand knowledge of events, we have to rely on media to inform us. Research into conspiracies and conspiracy groups identifies information as a main factor in predicting the propensity to believe a conspiracy or not.
People who mistrust authoritative sources of information tend to buy into conspiracies more than others. Those sources naturally would include government agencies, science, educators, and the mainstream news media. How often have we heard news outlets characterized as “the enemy of the people?”
Whatever the issue or event, if reliable information is countered by false information, people tend to believe that which tells them what they want to hear.
A recent study that measured a person’s ability to distinguish between true news stories and fake news stories found that “relying on Fox News as a major news source significantly decreased a person’s score more than relying on any other news source.”
Fox News personalities like Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson, among others, have on numerous occasions, spread conspiracy theories and lies. These transgressions, once brought to light, have seldom been corrected or retracted and are just left floating around to be picked up by social media where theorists can exchange and ruminate on “what they think they know to be true.” The old saying, “if you tell a lie long enough and loud enough some people will believe it,” adds to a conspiracy’s shelf life.
Media studies have long related news consumption to a rising sense of helplessness, the feeling that there is little we can be do about our situation. We feel like a cork bobbing in rough and relentless seas.
We like to believe that we have some say or influence in the events that surround our lives. The doom and gloom we get bombarded with every day contributes to the feeling that things are spinning out of control. This increases the likelihood that we believe a conspiracy is to blame. Elections are one of the few ways people get to try to exert control over government. Take that away and …?
People are especially drawn into conspiracies that involve helpless victims that have been “treated unfairly.” Being the kind and generous people that we are, we want to help those victims, often to a point that cultivates a “righteous belief” that our cause, whatever that may be from “save the algae“ to “overthrow the government,“ is the only thing standing in the way of total disaster.
So here we are in the midst of the greatest political conspiracy in our country’s history: massive election fraud. Despite no credible evidence ever being presented in any courtroom in the country that supported such accusations, our Capitol was ransacked by a mob of thousands, most of whom sincerely believed that the eternal victim, Donald Trump, was being treated unfairly once again. That his re-election was stolen just like he said. What greater patriotic act is there than rescuing the country from evil “demoncrats” and deep state socialists at the behest of the president of the United States?
A political philosopher once said, “If everybody always lies to you, the consequence is not that you believe the lies, but rather nobody believes anything any longer … and a people that can no longer believe anything cannot make up its mind. It is deprived of its capacity to think and judge.”
Joe Keeble lives in Nevada City.
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