Why People Believe Conspiracy Theories

Why People Believe Conspiracy Theories

I’m listening to a Terry Pratchett book called “Nation.” Like every Terry Pratchett book, it’s filled with brilliant turns of phrase and deeply hilarious (and hilariously deep) observations about life and being human. The plot and the characters are wonderful and original. Generally the work of a master.

From a stage adaptation of Terry Pratchett’s Nation. This is Gary Carr as Mau and Emily Taaffe as Daphne at The National Theater in London in 2009.

Go out and read some Pratchett. It’ll make your life better.

But I’m not writing a review of a Terry Pratchett book, at least not today.

In the book there’s a point where Mau, one of the main characters is walking through a dark cave full of dead ancestors. These mummified corpses are making creaking sounds. Mau figures out that the creaking is coming from the grasses that are wound around the mummies because of the change in temperature. It’s not that the dead are coming to life.

But he’s still scared.

“The grandfathers didn’t wake up. The noise he had heard as a boy was just paper-vine getting hotter or colder. That was true and he could prove it.

‘It wasn’t hard to work out, so why is it all I can do not to wet myself?Because paper-vine moving doesn’t sound interesting and walking skeletons does. That’s why. Somehow they make us feel more important.’

Even our fears make us feel more important – because we fear that we may not be.

Nation, Terry Pratchett

Meanwhile, in the real world, a new study recently came out that found that YouTube was primarily responsible for the startling rise in the number of people who believe that the Earth is flat and that this whole spherical planet idea is a vast misinformation conspiracy.

Nearly everyone that researchers interviewed at recent Flat Earth Conference said that they first were exposed to the Flat Earth idea on YouTube. Basically the YouTube algorithm tends to lead people to more and more extreme views if you keep watching.Radical right-wing extremism, anti-vaccination and the truth about the aliens who really run the world will all surface if you watch YouTube long enough because the algorithm notices that people who watch this kind of nonsense tend to stay engaged longer.

More watching = more ad sales = more money = good for YouTube.

But why do people believe this stuff?

Well, other than the fact that, apparently, the falcon cannot hear the falconer, things fall apart, the centre cannot hold and mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, I have an observation about the appeal of vast conspiracy theories.

In a typical, vast conspiracy theory, the powerful systems of the world (including all scientists, the press, everyone in the government and all the big corporations) are under the tight control of a shadowy organization. The main purpose of this organization is to keep something secret from…who? Regular people. Especially including the conspiracy theorist.

So if you are the conspiracy theorist, the people (or grey aliens) with all the control and power are focusing much of their efforts on deluding you.

You are that important.

Yet you have not been deluded. You have actually figured out their plan even though they have duped, killed or co-opted everyone else on the planet.

You are that smart.

In this way, you, the conspiracy theorist, become the most important person in the world AND the smartest.

What’s not attractive about that?

Of course, this is a possible only in a country that has had a stable democracy for several generations. In other places they know that if someone controls everything they don’t have to keep their control secret.

Because they actually do control everything and everybody knows it. The best way to control everything is to let everyone know in no uncertain terms that you control everything.

That doesn’t mean that dictators and oligarchs don’t lie about everything. My point is that if you do control everything, keeping your ability to control the press and the government and everything a big secret is not just impossible, it’s a waste of time and energy.

“Three can keep a secret if two of them are dead.”

Benjamin Franklin

If you’re reading this and you are a conspiracy theorist, I invite you to stop wasting your mental energy on fearing the shadowy powers and just write a novel.

If you’re not a conspiracy theorist, I invite you to give up your fear of almost everything. Most things that people are afraid of are just noises made by grass, not skeletons coming to life.

If it’s not going to kill you, it’s not worth being afraid of.

If it is going to kill you, you should maybe run away but keep in mind that eventually, we’re all going to die so fearing death is kind of silly.

Ok, maybe that’s an extreme view. If you don’t fear death, what are you going to fear?

Maybe nothing.

That would be crazy. Like tin-foil hat crazy.

Wouldn’t it?

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