Conspiracy theories and philosophy

So Mike Cernovitch, one of the conspiracy theorists behind the Pizzagate mess, has added a new wrinkle: the real reason Gen. Michael Flynn is being investigated is to silence his investigations into pedophile rings. And Cernovich himself is a target of the “deep state” for the same reason. In short, rather than admitting he’s a babbling imbecile no more to believed than Flat Earthers, he’s explaining the total lack of evidence is because the conspiracy is that good.

This isn’t really surprising. I’ve no idea if Cernovich is a true believer or just spewing bullshit to those who are, but the factors that make conspiracy theories appealing also make them very hard to disprove.

Like some philosophy and some religion, a lot conspiracy theories explain why what is is different from what ought to be. Birtherism, for example, explains how WASP Republicans who just know they’re supposed to run America wound up under the dictatorial power of a (gasp!) Democrat: he’s not really an American! It’s all a trick! He’s not a legitimate president at all (there was actually a soldier who argued he couldn’t be ordered into action because Obama wasn’t Commander in Chief, not really) — if they could just prove it, then they’d be in charge again instead of that n****. Similarly Joe McCarthy’s arguments for a communist conspiracy in government were that the U.S. couldn’t possibly have “lost” China to the communists through error — it had to be a conspiracy! Just as a decade earlier, only a Japanese fifth column could explain how Japan blindsided us at Pearl Harbor. Some religious conservatives blame a secular humanist conspiracy for why there’s no longer any mandatory prayer in schools.

As C.S. Lewis suggested, conspiracy theories also flatter believers: they’re not like those sheeple who believe whatever the government tells them, no sirree bob! They look deeper! Think harder! They Know! They’re part of the inner circle that truly understands how things work. They know the evidence for the moon landing is fake, unlike the gullible chumps around them. That’s a hard delusion to let go of.

As the Slacktivist blog puts in, conspiracy theories also involve choices about who and what should be believed: if the government denies X, well the government lies, QED. And after all, the government does lie about some things, so it’s not hard to assume denying X is a lie if you want it to be. Similarly all evidence can be dismissed as fake: even if Obama had wasted time getting his original birth certificate from Hawaii, the major birther groups had already declared that wouldn’t prove anything. They’d want more documents. One group wants live witnesses. I guarantee you, they’d have dismissed those two (witnesses lie, documents can be faked). The dead at Sandy Hook? It was a government false flag! Even true believers sometimes get dismissed as government plants, as happened to one 9/11 Truther after his “documentary” was shown to be bullshit.

Slacktivist also points out that believing conspiracy theories let you be a hero, standing up to the vicious sadists who burn kittens or send sex slaves to Mars. You don’t even have to do anything.

All of which explains some of the current political climate. We have a large population of white Americans convinced Democrats, liberals, feminists, gays and “race hustlers” have stolen “their” country away. And we have the Internet, where it’s easy to find an online community where your delusions are reinforced and you can find reassurance your crazy theories (or creepy ones) are real.

This is not a good thing for our country. Unfortunately I have no suggestions what to do about it. Cover by Jack Kirby, all rights remain with current holder.

4 Comments

Filed under Politics

4 responses to “Conspiracy theories and philosophy

  1. Zosimus the Heathen

    Two arguments that I think demolish the nonsense of conspiracy theories quite nicely and succinctly (not that they’re likely to sway the “true believers”) are: “If this is such a super secret conspiracy, how come you know all about it?” and “If the powers-that-be are intent on silencing everyone who knows about the conspiracy, how come you remain alive and at liberty to keep posting your bullshit on the Internet every day?”

    I’ll admit I was prone to believing in the odd conspiracy theory myself when I was younger, mainly because it made me feel important to do so (a reason you mentioned yourself), and also because it made life seem more interesting (if also more frightening) to believe there were huge, nefarious conspiracies at work behind the bland facade of everyday life. I’ll also admit that some conspiracies do contain at least a grain of plausibility that make them easy to believe by those who don’t think too hard about them. For example, it can be easy to believe AIDS was created in a government laboratory when you consider that its main victims (gays, intravenous drug users and Haitians) weren’t well-liked by much of the population when the disease first emerged. Similarly, it’s easy to believe the shooting of Osama bin Laden was faked given no photos of his body were ever released (and said body was disposed of rather speedily). Even 9/11 conspiracy theories can seem credible when you reflect upon the unseemly way in which the Bush administration sought to exploit that tragedy (of course, those conspiracies fall apart when you consider, for example, just how difficult it’d be to rig two buildings the size of the Twin Towers to blow up without anyone noticing).

  2. Yes, the fact many conspiracies only take a small stretch to believe is definitely a factor in hooking people.

  3. Pingback: The right wing and the just world fallacy | Fraser Sherman's Blog

  4. Pingback: Rush Limbaugh’s ratings sink, so his bullshit grows | Fraser Sherman's Blog

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