Inside The Mind Of A Conspiracy Theorist

What makes people believe crazy conspiracy theories? This is an interesting question. While conspiracy theories have probably always existed in human culture, or at least as long as there has been some form of recorded and transmitted media, it is really only in the age of the Internet that we have really seen the phenomena explode. In the past, conspiracy theories typically were confined to a relatively small group of people who had access to or were part of a relatively select group who could be reached by printed methods such as pamphlets or letters. While this method was effective at spreading ideas among the literate class, it was not quick, and was limited by the amount of material and the number of people willing to disseminate it. Nevertheless, certain printed hoaxes and conspiracies, such as the notorious Protocols of the Elders of Zion, achieved a fair amount of exposure in this way. However, once the Internet became available, it became possible for a very small number of individuals to reach a large audience not only quickly, but at virtually no cost, through e-mail and message boards, and it also created the ability for people separated by distance to communicate as a group and therefore foster and promote conspiracy ideas even more effectively. A side effect of the wide availability of the Internet was that many people who were otherwise not particularly literate or educated suddenly had both exposure to those who were, and the ability to communicate to a large audience, giving rise to the phenomena of the self-styled Internet “expert”, who might have no qualifications whatsoever, (but could invent any he chose), and the Internet “troll”, who, while perhaps having nothing much to contribute, could by turns mock, taunt, provoke, mislead, lie, and otherwise cause unlimited mischief with little consequence.

It’s really a rather ironic twist to history, I think, that the development of a medium that in theory makes available almost any information at the “click” of a link, and that theoretically could be the greatest engine of enlightenment in history, has become the primary tool of people promoting some of the most outrageous lies and misrepresentations of history and events yet seen, and this process shows no sign of stopping. Conspiracy theories multiply and spread on a daily basis, seeking to outdo each other, it seems, in their exponentially increasing absurdity. This newly expanding conspiracy scenario has attracted a whole range of new types that formerly would not have been likely to even be aware of conspiracy theories, since their relative lack of education and literacy would have kept them out of the circles where these things were discussed. But with the Internet, it’s all there for everybody to stumble into and get thoroughly mired in. The typical conspiracy theory promoter, (if there is such a thing), tends to be clever, but not educated, egotistical, but not necessarily well-socialized, delusional, but not really crazy to the point of complete dysfunction. They run the gamut of ages from young to old, with the youngest being the most under-educated and generally ignorant, and the oldest being the most obstinately and firmly locked in to complete delusion and denial of reality. They are overwhelmingly male, at least the ones that “broadcast” their ideas the most loudly. In a very large number of cases, it becomes much more a matter of the ego of the conspiracy theorist, than the actual theory itself. This is often apparent in the tendency of the conspiracy theorist to completely ignore facts that tend to disprove what he is saying, while simultaneously conflating his professed knowledge and determination to tell the “truth”. Often the original theory is left behind completely as a new narrative is invented on the fly, in the quest to appear both knowledgeable and astute, and to demonstrate the tremendous imagined insight and secret knowledge the conspiracy theorist has. Conspiracy theorists typically present themselves as smarter, more intuitive, and much better informed than those who are skeptical of what they are promoting, even in situations where this is comically not the case. Most conspiracy theorist are undeterred by by facts or data that disproves what they are saying, they either ignore it or dismiss it as lies or deceptions by the “powers that be”, the “establishment”, the “government”, etc. They can do this very often with the most blatant confidence, ignoring anyone who disputes them. Or, in cases where their ego is perhaps not so inflated, they might become angry and disengage from the debate, leaving the discussion or blocking or deleting posts on message boards that are embarrassing to them. After all, cognitive dissonance can only take one so far. It is striking, though, to note how simple facts and logic can fail so completely to make any impression on the hardcore conspiracy theorists. While some of the younger neophytes might be set back and dissuaded once they learn some of the facts that their education apparently missed. the hard cases simply don’t care, they’re far too invested in their delusion to ever really change…which makes it even more imperative that sensible and informed people do take the time to dispute and debunk them, futile though this activity often seems.

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