Why do people believe in conspiracies?

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[The following is more harebrained than usual. I’m sorry. Currently, I am measuring time in how often I have to buy mouthwash and cat food. It’s fine. I’m sure I deserve this.]

People have believed in conspiracies ever since there were three people in one place who could communicate, so really, in terms of the sequence of human development conspiracies occur right after sex. In my scheme, the steps are: Sex, Conspiracy, Buffet, Death.

You can watch the most fundamental conspiracy develop among toddlers. Once they have a sense of object permanence, the game is on. Some rocket toy vanishes, and the next thing you know one of them is complaining to another one about how the third took their rocket. “Bad Spud!” The simplest two-word conspiracy is born.

We believe in conspiracies because we are involved in conspiracies and we know conspiracies are real. Every time a mayor is caught selling terrible cookbooks in bulk, we get a peak behind the conspiracy curtain. Aha! Bastards all the way down!

It’s upsetting, but it’s not upsetting enough to keep us from participating in our own collusion. We can rationalize that our immediate group can do better if we strategize apart from some others. Besides, forming those strategies with our group feels wonderful. That is why bake sales will never go out of fashion. A little strategy brings us closer together. Hugs! Cupcakes! I miss them both!

People also like conspiracies because it feels like control, and it feels like real information. We want to understand why we are deprived and why we are frustrated with our situations. Surely there is a large machine working just out of sight. There is a man behind the curtain pulling the levers. There was a meeting we didn’t attend or a class we skipped. Maybe we didn’t know what was happening because we could not know. The Man made sure of it, in cahoots with the Other Man.

It feels good to imagine we have caught on to the secret, obscure workings of the world. We and our friends aren’t feeling duped, even if we are actually being duped.

The standard tone with which people take apart conspiracy theories is insulting, and as such is not likely to sway the believers. “You are gullible,” is not a winning move for any debate.

Gullibility isn’t really the main problem, anyway. Everyone is gullible at one time or another. The force that pulls people way down into rabbit holes is the beliefs they already nurture. If you already accept the notion that people landing on the moon is impossible, you are ready to hear some other theories. It’s just that simple.

So people believe in conspiracies because they believe in things that are real and things that are not real. We have to work even harder to stick to the weirder ideas, but our ability to dupe ourselves cannot be overstated.

It might be more educational to study why people do not buy into conspiracies. For me, I generally avoid anything too complicated because I am lazy. Every time I have started to read about QAnon, I end up taking a nap instead. It’s too much like reading a Russian space opera. There are not enough stimulants to get me to wade into the really complex stuff.

My advice? Keep it simple and maybe next time you are tempted to uncover a dark and terrible secret have a cupcake and take a nap instead. Save your energy. Real conspiracies cannot be ignored.


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3 Replies to “Why do people believe in conspiracies?”

  1. I like your philosophy of viewing conspiracies through simplicity. I would add that it is a good heuristic (sorry, grad school breakout). When trying to puzzle out why Hillary Clinton would go to the trouble to secret abused children in a DC pizza shop as part of the deep state’s plot to take away our guns and freedom, first ask: how capable are human beings of successfully executing complex machinations involving many co-conspirators? When conspiracies are revealed, do they reveal demonically clever layers of deception, or are they comedies of error? The human mind is capable of confabulating marvelous palaces of imaginary lands and beings, but they are very seldom real. Our limited real world skill sets can’t begin to back up our ability to dream up plots to shame old Byzantium. Hence most conspiracies evaporate like desert dew when confronted with actuality. A real conspiracy (the city cut down your favorite tree due to a bribe to someone in public works) usually involves money, and not much more.

    Liked by 3 people

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