Delphine Joyce ventures down the rabbit hole and asks why conspiracy theories are so compelling to so many.
Did you know that the earth is flat, and the moon landing was faked? And that the voice we all know so well as belonging to Britney Spears is actually sped up to make her sound more like a baby? Oh, and the 2018 California wildfires were caused by Donald Trump testing his satellite laser guns on his most hated state. Or so they say…
With a litany of these outlandish “alternate” explanation for events, often secretly organised by a group of people (often a government, an organisation or an industry), with evil intentions, why do so many people believe in them, and why do people tend to believe in either none, or many?
Firstly, as any university science student will tell you, our whole concept of reality is formed around theories which cannot be proven, only accepted as the most likely possibility until disproved. Given the way humanity forms its knowledge, there will always be space for alternate interpretations of the billions of patterns we can trace in the world! But why go for a less likely, less accepted theory than those chosen by science? You would do this, of course, if you were a conspiracy theorist.
One of the most common reasons would be for a feeling of belonging. Socially marginalised people are more likely to believe in conspiracy theories, because it gives them the opportunity to interact with a group of people with a similar interest. The interest could be triggered by boredom or simple curiosity, and encouraged by the adrenaline rush they experience when all the evidence falls into place.
Socially marginalised people are more likely to believe in conspiracy theories because it gives them the opportunity to interact with a group of people with a similar interest.
Another reason could be a reaction to a feeling of guilt or loss of control. People feel safer thinking that climate change is a hoax, because that way they don’t have to worry about how their carbon footprint contributes to the melting of the ice-caps. It is always easier to put the blame on someone else who has malicious intent than take responsibility for what human complacency does to this planet.
In some cases, conspiracy theories can appear to be very tempting because the truth is simply too unbelievable or too terrible to accept. The obvious example for this is holocaust denial – it is too scary to admit that humans could be capable of such atrocities, and to take responsibility for the dangers of (often, their own) xenophobia. It is easier to just deny the entire story.
The Flat Earth Theory is a good example for how such insane ideas can be so enthusiastically swallowed. Due to the difficulty many have in accepting the Big Bang Theory, and the fact that the United Nations signed a treaty saying that no one is allowed to cross Antarctica, or explore it too deeply without supervision, the Flat Earthers believe the Earth is a circular plane surrounded by ice, with a map that looks similar to that of the UN flag, with a dome covering it. This way, the moon exists only for us, as does the sun, and Flat Earthers get to feel like there is a purpose to their life, as the Universe no longer has to be chaotic and indifferent. Notice the age-old human narcissism creeping back there?
In some cases, conspiracy theories can appear to be very tempting because the truth is simply too unbelievable or too terrible to accept.
This theory also ties into the philosophy of ‘The Matrix’ introduced by Rene Descartes, that proposes that the human experience is all just a simulation – which, according to some scientists, is statistically quite likely. In that case, it would make sense for the Earth to be a plane with hard boundaries. But why would the government hide this? Perhaps they use our sense of meaninglessness to more easily distract us with consumerism and push us to fight each other, so ‘they’ can control ‘us’ more easily. Clever, huh?
Then again, why not believe in conspiracy theories? After all, several have come true before. Prime examples of some are about the ethical or even inhumane issues in Sony’s contracts, especially with girl or boy bands and K-pop artists, as well as with Ke$ha. A less controversial example would be one from Apple: they openly admitted this year that they have been purposely slowing down old iPhones, supposedly to maintain the battery life of older models as their batteries became less efficient. Conspiracy theories have existed about them doing this long before they admitted it!
It’s up to you whether you want to dive into the dark hole that is conspiracy theories - maybe it can help you feel like you belong. But whatever you do, always stay sceptical.