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]
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