Friday, 22 November 2013

Why Do People Believe In Conspiracy Theories?

by Gregory Walton-Green



In recent years, conspiracy theories have often been ridiculed in public, which has seemed to lead to even stronger belief on the part of those who do believe them. The fact that there have been secret societies and government cover ups has been proven in a few cases, feeding more conspiracy theories. Indeed, conspiracy theories have become a feature of 20th and 21st Century society. But why do so many people believe in conspiracy theories? In this essay I will attempt to shed some light on a subject that is often viewed with derision, as well as offering a few examples of different types of conspiracy theory.
Conspiracy theories are as much founded on disbelief as belief: they stem from an inability to accept the “official”, mainstream or obvious, explanation of events, formulating an alternative hypothesis based on the following assumptions identified by Daniel Pipes in his essay “Dealing with Middle Eastern Conspiracy theories”: " appearances deceive; conspiracies drive history; nothing is haphazard; the enemy always gains; power, fame, money, and sex account for all." As well as paranoia, the desire for superiority drives conspiracy theories: those who accept the common version of events are seen as brainwashed cattle, whereas the believers of the conspiracy congratulate themselves on having pierced the illusion created by the manipulative group in control, often a government. The manipulation of ego is demonstrated on Truthism.com (a website that expands on David Icke’s theories about “Reptilians”, alien overlords that control Earth and its society) with exceptional clarity:

You have an ego, but you cannot turn it off. So, in this particular instance, you can use your ego in either one of two ways:
 1.) Reject the information on this website due to the fact that you do not want to feel like you've been lied to your entire life.
 or
 2.) Accept the information on this website, and then use it to make yourself feel superior to other human beings.”

Truthism.com is an example of a “superconspiracy theory”, in which multiple conspiracies are seen to be interconnected and all ultimately driven by a ruling force, which manipulates lesser conspirators. It uses arguments similar to those in The Matrix (in fact it even refers to our world as “The Matrix” and “The Virtual Realm”), to convince the reader that their “conventional worldview” is false, cajoling the reader into believing the website by labelling any resistance to its ideas as “stubbornness” and a result of their “indoctrination” by “the ruling elite.” Truthism.com denies that it contains conspiracy theories, since it believes the reader will equate that with falsity, but its denial does not negate the fact that it is a conspiracy theory, whether true or not, as it seeks to explain an event or situation by accusing an organised group of a plot.
Truthism.com makes use of philosophical reasoning to demonstrate logically that we cannot be sure of the world around us, in an attempt to convince the reader of the supposed fallacy of his or her “belief system”. Truthism overtly asks us to use our “free will” and logic to learn “what is real”, denying the truth of other “belief systems” as “indoctrination”, but it fails to recognise that it asks people to make a huge leap of faith with minimal evidence. The ideas posited in Reptilian-based conspiracy theories (e.g that the universe is a pentagon and the sun is a cube) cannot be said to be any more probable than the conventional view. It is also filled with fallacies, such as “according to science… aliens do not exist”, using this as an example of how the “Reptilians” preserve their control by using science to hide their existence. In actuality, many renowned scientists, such as Stephen Hawking, have stated their belief in some form of extra-terrestrial life existing. The conspiracies concerning Reptilians are an example of one of the least useful forms of conspiracy, as it is logically incoherent and, due to its absurdity and over-generalisation, cannot lead to discovery of useful information regarding events such as government cover ups.

The numerous theories and widespread belief that there was some secret organisation behind the assassination of John F. Kennedy can be seen to have resulted from shock. Such an unexpected event involving such a popular and powerful figure was not easy to take for many of the public, and so some tried to draw some meaning from it. Polls taken during the week after the death of JFK revealed that 52% believed “some group or element” to be behind the assassination, showing that the feeling there was a conspiracy was not generated by inconsistencies in the explanation of events or government actions, but the very shock of the assassination itself. In 2009, a poll revealed that the belief in a conspiracy surrounding JFK’s murder is still strong, as 76% of people polled by CBS news believed that there was some sort of conspiracy to kill Kennedy. It is estimated that around 1,000 books have been written about his assassination, and that the vast majority have doubts about the official version of events presented in the Warren Commission and are favourable towards the view that a conspiracy took place. The fact that public belief in a conspiracy is higher now than immediately after his death could simply be a result of a longer time for conspiracy theories to spread, or due to the fact that more details surrounding his assassination have come to light.
 
Other conspiracies that can be included in the same category, formed due to a single shocking event, include those postulated about the untimely death of Princess Diana and the attack on the World Trade Centre on the 11th September 2001. All these events led to high emotions, shown by people openly weeping Conspiracies of this type, that focus on a singular event have often proved to be true, and are much more credible than “superconspiracies”.
Although many conspiracy theories are spurious, there are some that can be useful since they lead to the revealing of valuable information, and they can help us to be freethinking individuals and not simply to believe everything we are told. In the same vein, we shouldn’t be too quick to believe in conspiracy theories, as people can quickly become sucked into paranoia and end up asking ridiculous questions on internet forums such as “Am I a reptilian hybrid?” Conspiracy theories can be seen to reflect the need of the human mind to classify and order what we perceive, drawing meaning from the “haphazard”. The process of the human mind making sense out of the meaningless is demonstrated by how ancient cultures imagined that constellations of stars formed figures and shapes from mythology. Although it is natural to want to make sense of the injustices of life, sometimes things just happen, without any subterranean alien reptiles controlling our governments!

See also: Will Wallace on A Light Is Extinguished: Remembering JFK; Mark Richardson on the connection between JFK and Dr Who; and an article and video marking 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg address.
  

1 comment:

  1. I came across quite a convincing theory, which is that Oswald fired the first two shots and the third was an accident by the Secret Service... had Oswald fired the third shot, it'd have gone straight through the President head, just as shot 2 had gone through his neck. However shot 3 exploded on impact and the bullet shattered inside his head. The Secret Service would always carry an AR-15 in the vehicle behind the presidential motorcade, and it is quite possible that after shot 2 hit the President, a clumsy agent (the agent had visited a brothel and got hammered the previous night) tried to return fire but accidentally pulled the trigger before aiming backwards. There is a photo of an agent wielding an AR-15 http://media.philly.com/images/jfk-hickey-with-rifle.jpg

    I would usually call this tosh, but it is bizarre how the Secret Service were so desperate to move Kennedy's body back to Washington. Texas state law said (and still does) that all autopsies must be carried out in the state - yet the Secret Service forced his casket onto Air Force One and confronted hospital staff that sought to uphold state law.

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