Latest posts by Aldous Slack (see all)
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Short answer because they’re great and we love them.
Long answer, well first off, don’t get me wrong. I still have a deep love for conspiracy theories. I don’t buy the official JFK story especially with the newest batch of withheld documents. I am certain our government continues to engage in all kinds of nefarious covert activity around the world that is so top secret most of our own government doesn’t know it exists. I’m well aware that public opinion is consciously shaped by mass media, that corporate capital shapes the information it produces, and that Donald Trump is a devotee to the old testament God Mammon. That being said I have come to loathe most online conspiracy theory networks. This is probably due to the fact that people in many of these communities are immune to doubt at practically every level except doubting the official story.
This is not a problem just related to the trash Alex Jones puts out, Facebook is full of it as well. People doubt the narrative that there was one shooter in Vegas, but remain certain their were two. People doubt a crazy white guy could shoot up a crowd at a country music concert but have no doubt the government would do it. I’m not saying I know exactly what happened in Vegas, rather I’m saying nobody knows everything about Vegas from all angles. Their are even people so certain of their view as to send death threats to surviving victims from attacks. It’s really remarkable how quickly the reactionary narrative becomes canonized in so many forums and how certain people become of these counter narratives. So why does this happen? Why are their so many idiots ruining conspiracy theories? How can Alex Jones sell survivalist infomercial products using only catastrophe porn sprinkled with a dash of reality?
The most popular psychological explanation for believing in conspiracy theories is illusory pattern perception. Illusory pattern perception is exactly what it sounds like, it’s perceiving patterns out of the environment that do not exist or do not represent any actual casual system. Well illusory pattern perception has been correlated with individuals having a lack of power or choice over what’s happening in their lives. This explains why the homeless have the best conspiracy theories, but it probably also helps explain why so many people feel the need to flex their conspiracy muscles on the internet. A few likes and shares can make a person feel like they have some power over what’s going on. But, you know what? Maybe you do. Maybe you were sloppy with your tarot cards and six people died as a result, but that is also a very empowering pattern to perceive.
Large groups of people feel disconnected from their government and media, and rightly so. This leaves them without power and so the easiest way for some random joe to feel empowered can be to latch on to any of these reactionary conspiracy narratives and start yelling it at everyone they can on the internet. On the opposite side their are more than enough people selling crappy conspiracy narratives.
The problem with the explanation appealing to illusory perception of patterns is the question of who is the final arbiter that decides which patterns relate to our world and which do not. Who decides which patterns represent reality? Well, that’s up to you at the end of the day. You are your own final arbiter. You decide what is information and what is noise. Obviously the media puts out illusory patterns for perception all the time. Every time our government is actually lying to us, it is attempting to weave illusory patterns. All advertising is illusory pattern creation. All news has a spin and a narrative they are trying to weave you into. The old testament God Mammon is still alive and Trump is obviously a grovelling worshiper.
This explanation on why so many people buy into crappy conspiracies isn’t meant to dissuade anyone from believing what they want. I favor explanations with more subtlety myself. This is if anything a plea for some reasonable level of doubt in everything we perceive.
Then again, maybe this is the conspiracy at work in my own mind.