Monday, February 3, 2014

Why Some People are Attracted to Conspiracy Theories

     This article is the first part of a two-part series.  The working title of the second part is tentatively titled “Why some People are Attracted to Official Narratives.” 
     No doubt you've already read articles with titles like “Why some People are Attracted to Conspiracy Theories.” All such articles have taken the approach that official narratives are the default view, and that any rejection of an official narrative is an aberration that needs to be explained in socio-psychological terms. 
     Logic, fairness, and respect for Truth, however, demand that both phenomena—attraction to, and automatic revulsion to, conspiracy theories—must be evaluated by the same standards.  Let’s begin with the most common arguments offered by conspiratophobes.   In the next article, we’ll deal with the conspiracy theorists. 
     If you’re in need of a socio-psychological term for conspiracy theorists, just call them conspiratophiles. If you require a term to explain what kind of theorist a conspiratophobes is, you may call them excretory theorists; that is, people who believe that “stuff” just happens.
     In trying to explain some people’s attraction to conspiracy theories, conspiratophobes typically offer three explanations:
1.      Conspiracy theorists tend to be distrustful of authority figures.  This leads them to look for alternative explanations.
2.      Official narratives sometimes leave some questions unanswered.  Conspiratophiles tend to “fill in the blanks” with explanations that seem to fit their worldview.
3.      Academic studies have shown that, typically, conspiracy theorists don’t actually propose theories; they simply point to “anomalies” in the default explanation.
     Regarding point #1, it’s entirely true that conspiracy theorists tend to be distrustful of authority figures.  The most notorious conspiracy theorist in American history—Thomas Jefferson, by name—is a case in point.  Below are some of his conspiratorial opinions:

 (Ahem!  Just remember what private banking institutions did to us in 2008 and on a few earlier occasions.)
     “Single acts of tyranny may be ascribed to the accidental opinion of a day; but a series of oppressions, begun at a distinguished period and pursued unalterably through every change of ministers, too plainly prove a deliberate, systematic plan of reducing [a people] to slavery.”  (Ahem! George W. Bush’s acts of tyranny and war making progressed unabated throughout the reign of Barack Obama.  Except for the dates of these events, it’s virtually impossible to tell which “President” committed which offense.)
     “But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security….The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States.”  (Thus, our nation’s founding document, the Declaration of Independence, was built on conspiracy theory.  The thirteen colonies declared their independence, not only for what the British regime had done to them but for what Jefferson and others claimed that the British regime was planning to do to them.)
     "Confidence is everywhere the parent of despotism.  Free government is founded in jealousy, and not in confidence….The two enemies of the people are criminals and government, so let us tie the second down with the chains of the Constitution so the second will not become the legalized version of the first….In questions of power then, let no more be heard of confidence in man but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution." (Notes from various drafts of Jefferson’s Kentucky Resolution of 1798)
     If Mr. Jefferson were alive today, we should not be surprised to hear of his name being added to the DHS terrorist watch list.
     Let’s turn to explanation #2: That some people are attracted to conspiracy theory as a means of “filling in the blanks” in unanswered questions.  Actually, I have never heard of anyone doing that.  Almost invariably, the blanks are filled in, but conspiracy theorists think that the blanks have been filled in incorrectly.  Let’s look at a few examples:
  1. World Trade Center Building #7 imploded at near free-fall speed into its own footprints because of _(a)_________________ and (b)______________.  (Conspiracy theorists refuse to accept the answers (a) two small fires that firemen said they could put out with two lines and (b) twelve feet of parapet that was broken away from the roof of Building #7.
  2. The Pentagon was damaged when a (a)(who) _______________________  (b) (did what)      _____________________________.  (Conspiracy theorists refuse to accept the answers (a) novice pilot who was unqualified to fly a Cessna 172 (b) expertly flew a Boeing 757, effecting a 370-degree turn during a steep dive at 530 miles per hour, upon which he leveled off and hit the Pentagon at close to ground level without disturbing so much as a blade of grass.)
  3. (Multiple Choice)  Who is Victoria Muñoz?
    1. A close acquaintance of Nancy Lanza, the mother of Sandy Hook shooter Adam Lanza (December 2012).
    2. An eyewitness to the Boston Marathon bombing (April 15, 2013).
    3. An eyewitness to the Watertown, Massachusetts, shootout (sic) (April 19, 2013)
    4. An eyewitness to the Albuquerque, New Mexico, stabbing (April 28, 2013). .
    5. All of the above.   (Conspiracy theorists refuse to believe that E is the correct answer.  Of course it was just a coincidence that all four women had the same face and hair, same voice, and same mannerisms.)
     Finally, let’s look at explanation #3: That’s the assertion that conspiracy theorists usually don’t offer conspiracy theories; they simply point to “anomalies” and use those anomalies to question the official version of events.
     That’s an incredible assertion.  Anomalies, by definition are facts (facts that "deviate from what is standard, normal, or expected.")  As I've often said, a fact can’t be a theory.  How can someone be called conspiracy theorist if he offers facts rather than theories?
     Further, it’s an understatement to use the word anomaly to describe impossibility.  While many dubious events present suspicious anomalies, conspiracy theorists rarely rest their cases on unanswered questions or anomalies.  Almost without fail, the tipping point is the discovery that the official explanation of events is impossible.
     For example, it’s impossible for a man to use a rifle to kill someone if that rifle is locked in the trunk of a car.  It’s also impossible for ordinary office fires, which burn no hotter than 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit, to liquefy steel, which liquefies at no less than 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit. 
     It may seem curious that an academic can come up with so ludicrous an assertion that conspiracy theorists usually don’t have conspiracy theories.  A casual glance at the dictionary should clear up any puzzlement over this (ahem!) anomaly.
      One of the definitions of the word academic is, “having no useful or practical purpose.”  I’m a university instructor, so I should know.  Here’s how it works:
     People at a university decide to host an academic conference; that is, a conference that has no useful or practical purpose.  They issue a call for academic papers—papers that (unlike toilet paper) have no useful or practical purpose.   The quality of the papers are reviewed according to academic standards; that is, if the reviewer suspects that something in the paper has a useful or practical purpose, either that part of the paper must be changed or the paper is rejected altogether.  The people who go in for that sort of stuff are called academics; so that should tell you all you need to know about those people.

     In part two of this series, I will attempt to examine the perceived inner needs that drive some people to blindly accept even the most risible narratives that talking heads and other authority figures hand them.  (Hint: If they questioned authority figures even once, they’d have to leave the womb, think for themselves, and take responsibility for their lives.  They may even—heaven forbid!—have to turn off their television sets.)

1 comment:

  1. Your text appears to be almost entirely accepting of the assertions and interpretations of conspiracy theorists as fact. This is not a logically safe a priori position and your conclusions which follow from that acceptance are consequently also philosophically unsafe.

    Conspiracy theorists are quick to accuse their critics of having 'closed minds', however they themselves exhibit all the symptoms of closed mindedness. They get angry at critics and hold on to theories ignoring or discounting evidence to the contrary. They accuse all nay-sayers of being paid shills or brainwashed. Is this not the behaviour of someone who is closed minded?

    People who don't go along with conspiracy theory are not 'blindly accepting' (as you put it ) of the mainstream narrative. They are often (like me) critical of ALL sources of information, conspiracy theories included. The problem with conspiracy theories is that they usually don't stand up well to objective examination.