The Nature of Conspiracy Theories

As I mentioned in my previous post, conspiracy theories have become increasingly popular among the American people in the last decade. For the purpose of critical thinking, it is important to understand why. One way of doing that is by looking at the general nature of the phenomenon of conspiracy theories. As philosopher Sir Karl Popper states, conspiracy theories serve as relatively uncomplicated, easily understood explanations to complex problems, as a way of making sense of our complicated world. Another philosopher, Brian L. Keeley, also mentions a reason being that they account for these complex situations as human controlled, as opposed to being uncontrolled events in an unpredictable world.

It is human nature to cause controversy and question authority, and with increasing skepticism towards governing bodies, people feel a more pressing need to know who benefits from certain things and situations. It is more common than not to believe that certain events happen as a direct consequence of the purposeful actions of a powerful few. A big thing that makes conspiracy theories believable to the masses is that they are often impossible to disprove, since any fact that does not concur with the theory can be dismissed as deception, as a trick, by the people stated to be responsible for the conspiring as a way of misleading ordinary people from the truth.

Lastly, probably the biggest reason why we let ourselves be more susceptible to believe these extraordinary claims, that a few powerful people conspire and deceive in order to achieve some higher goal of theirs, is the fact that past events, including lies, cover-ups and actual conspiracies have led to an increased distrust and dissatisfaction with government, mainly over the past 50 years. Conspiracy theories take advantage of a lack of trust in the people who make claims and provide insight into certain areas of specialization. In these cases, it is impossible for people to know and be able to by themselves verify the statements made and actions taken, something that makes them dependent on the expertise of a specialized few. Every time these experts or their knowledge are used in the wrong way, to deceit or distort, it will further add to the current dissatisfaction with government.

Even though many conspiracy theories are just extravagant, made-up stories of twisted truths and facts, there have actually been conspiracies carried out by government, as well as the regular bending of the truth and cover-ups of things and events in certain situations by people with power. Examples of conspiracies that are widely believed to be true, based on CIA records and statements by people involved, include Operation Mockingbird, a CIA project aimed at controlling the media by bribing writers and journalists to write anti-communist propaganda, and MKULTRA, an attempt by the CIA to study mind and behavior control by giving certain drugs to Americans without their knowledge. These are some pretty heavy things; without investigating whether or not these events did in fact take place (the absolute truth is not what’s most relevant for this discussion), and even if they wouldn’t be 100 % accurate, the point is that it is not hard to understand why people show less trust in government as we learn more and more about actual events of the past where leaders and officials have lied and deceived in order to get through with their agenda. Whether or not these events can be completely proven does not entirely matter, as even partial truths and the stories themselves are enough to stimulate an increased distrust in government among the people. This, in a way, turns into a circle; as we learn more about actual conspiracies and deceits of the past, our distrust grows stronger. So, we look deeper, and find more things like this, and our distrust turns into skepticism, and so on.

It is important to realize that not all conspiracy theories are totally out there; in some cases, certain things might actually be true, and this is where critical thinking and ability to analyze is of great importance, as we today need to be able to distinguish between truth and non-truth.

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