Fareed Zakaria: Why We Believe Conspiracy Theories

CNN‘s Fareed Zakaria thinks he’s cracked the enduring appeal of conspiracy theories:

For those of you tired of the coverage of Malaysian Airlines Flight 370, I want you to try an experiment.

When you’re with a group of friends – whose eyes might roll over when you even bring up the issue – ask them what they think happened to the plane. Very quickly you will find yourselves in the midst of a lively discussion – with many, different, competing theories, each plausible, each with holes.

The plane was hijacked, someone will say. But then why were there no demands? It was an accident, someone else will say. But then why were there no distress signals? This mystery of what actually happened is at the heart of the fascination with this story. And the mystery has now morphed into an ever increasing number of conspiracy theories about what actually happened that fateful day last month when the aircraft disappeared.

There are YouTube clips suggesting that aliens are involved, blog posts accusing the Iranians of hijacking the plane, and many who believe that the passengers and crew are still alive, perhaps on an island somewhere – like in the television show “Lost”.

I was thinking about some of these theories the other day as I was looking at a new book by Harvard law professor and former Obama official, Cass Sunstein. It’s titled, Conspiracy Theories – and Other Dangerous Ideas. The lead essay in the book explains why conspiracy theories spread – and Flight 370 is a perfect example of his logic. Sunstein treats conspiracy theories seriously, by which I mean he doesn’t assume that people are crazy to believe them.

In fact, he argues that so many people in so many countries believe such theories that we need to understand why and how.

A key condition that helps fuel conspiracy theories is a lack of information. When information is scarce, conspiracies abound. And we don’t actually know a lot of things about what happened to that plane.

Now, the trend is heightened where there is distrust of politics, politicians, and people in authority. One can see that in somewhat opaque political systems like Malaysia and China. But one can also see that in the United States, a country famously distrustful of its government…

[continues at CNN]


Majestic is gadfly emeritus.

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14 Comments on "Fareed Zakaria: Why We Believe Conspiracy Theories"

  1. The myth that there are no government conspiracies is also a conspiracy theory. Only that one is demonstrably false.

    Not sure how these self-aggrandizing douchebags manage to write books without ever acknowledging that governments actually commit crimes, quite a lot of them. That is what secrecy helps them accomplish. Perhaps they subscribe to the Nixon principle that when the president does it that means it’s not a crime?

    • AManCalledDa-da | Apr 9, 2014 at 12:47 am |

      Damn straight.

    • TotallyRandomName | Apr 9, 2014 at 5:24 am |

      Hey douchenozzle, it says right in the article, “sometimes there are conspiracies”

      • Is that what your momma calls you?

        The point of blathering about how allegedly “dangerous” the idea of conspiracies is — not the conspiracies themselves — the idea of them, is to discredit the people who pursue these stories. You’ve probably never heard of “guilt by association” or basic personal hygiene, but it’s a common tactic in the MSM.

        Why people believe conspiracy theories is very easy to understand, not requiring preaching from the stuffed suit teleprompter readers, and it’s because conspiracies happen. But that’s not what CNN talks about, far from it. They don’t want to discuss the most important actual conspiracies of the past or present. They want to talk about how aliens made the plane disappear, because it’s such a stupid idea that it discredits the regular folk, so that people only turn to people like CNN for their myths about the world. There’s much more unsaid than said in these cookie cutter anti-conspiracy news stories. They share a commonality though: they don’t talk about real government conspiracies, which is the actual answer to the question they pose.

        • I seriously believe his momma calls him “why so little dick” which begs the question: however did she know?

          • TotallyRandomName | Apr 20, 2014 at 4:14 am |

            I see you’re twelve years old at most, if that’s the level you drop to: dick insults. Or maybe you’ve suffered a head injury that stunted your maturation. Seriously. Says a lot about the mentality of the conspiracy nuts like yourself.

  2. misinformation | Apr 8, 2014 at 10:20 pm |

    Cass Sunstein and Fareed Zakaria – protecting the status quo as best they can

  3. I do not watch the “news.”
    But form what I have been able to pick up, it seems pretty clear to me that whatever happened, was more than likely some kind of black op carried out by the usual evil pricks in US “intelligence.”
    What the Vicar has to say makes sense to me.
    Check it:


  4. Disqus sucks big sweaty donkey balls. Damn thing won’t let me edit.
    Anyway, fuck those propagandists at CNN. How anyone can take those assclowns seriously is beyond me.

  5. Craig Bickford | Apr 9, 2014 at 4:59 am |

    Because we have forgotten how to dismiss the arbitrary?

  6. Liam_McGonagle | Apr 9, 2014 at 10:14 am |

    Maybe this question is turned the wrong way around. Maybe it ought to be articulated as:

    “Why are authorities so bad at behaving with transparency and integrity?”

    The problem isn’t that you can’t force a perfect unanimity of worldview on everyone else. The problem is that malevolence is so plausible.

  7. Oh wow, the CFR’s freaky fareed spews forth again, what a shocker!
    Fareed, if only you could read, dood, instead of only picking up all those paychecks for spewing, you would have read Lance DeHaven-Smith’s

    Conspiracy Theory in America

    What, can’t concentrate for more than 2 minutes at a time, freaky fareed?

    Even one of CNN’s so-called experts (the dood with the Brit accent) freaked out the other day and said, what’s all this BS, where’s the debris, they picked up the pinging, which should set them within 2 miles of MH370, but so far we’ve seen zero evidence, or utterances to such content…..

  8. Both Zakaria and ‘cognitive infiltrator’ Sunstein,are simply playing their propaganda roles,by defending a conspiring control apparatus which is currently experiencing WAY more scrutiny and cynicism via the public these days…
    The fact that they’re now being compelled to publicly react and address ‘conspiracies’ as a whole,with entire books and numerous articles, are surely a very positive sign that such increased public interest and cynicism have spurred these media driven damage control,pr campaign style reactions we’re now witnessing.

  9. Dread Raider | Apr 9, 2014 at 6:01 pm |

    Well I think this video would have been way better, if it had only been 10 seconds long. He could have just said; “It is all circumstantial, now buy my colleges book”.

    But nah, instead he will talk down to the masses. While the whole time informing them that they are not alone! Their friends too are just as dumb as they are.

    Save yourself 4 min.

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