Conspiracy Theories: A Dangerous New Entry into the Mainstream

I jumped at the chance to write this article. For conspiracy theories are so incredibly popular and transcend all demographics, in such a divisive world, it is odd to think that what unites us is a common lack of reason. Were you to ask around, it wouldn’t be long before you found someone confidently assuring you that George Bush orchestrated 9/11, that the moon landing was faked on a soundstage in Area 51, or angrily gesticulating when you admitted you believed JFK was killed by Lee Harvey Oswald.

These people aren’t insane (well, most of them aren’t) because deep down, below your vehement commitment to rationality and evidence, you’d love to believe in something so fantastical. Why wouldn’t you? Conspiracy theories represent an exciting break from the dull humdrum of life. Isn’t it far more boring to believe exactly what you are told all the time? It is tempting to look at conspiracy theories as harmless escapism, doing nothing except stimulating the wildest parts of our imaginations. 

Except they aren’t exactly harmless. No one should have to suffer rigorous interrogation and harassment over their dead son, as Robbie Parker, father of school-shooting victim Emilie Parker, had to endure from a Sandy Hook ‘truther’ back in 2012. It could be argued that while yes this sort of treatment is abhorrent, it’s an isolated incident from some lunatic and thus is the sort of fringe nonsense we associate with parties like the BNP or National Front. Not so anymore. For instnace, Alex Jones, another Sandy Hook ‘truther’, has essentially been elevated to the status of a political insider thanks to his relationship with America’s current president. The latter has a penchant for accusing anything and everything critical of him ‘fake news’ and directly calls for his supporters to doubt mainstream networks and democratic institutions. He implies they are agents of secret political machinations and conspiracy theories are now at the heart of mainstream political discourse. 

Yet the population shouldn’t be blamed for believing in them. To say they come from a lack of reason is a bit disingenuous. There’s something logical about conspiracy theories, and that’s because, insane as it may sound, some are true. Governments lie. They cover up, they scapegoat, and they conduct secret operations. When Edward Snowden released the full extent of the NSA spying programme, he changed the face of modern conspiracy theories.

The second a theory on the level of Snowden is validated, even the most far-fetched squeeze into the realms of possibility. Because why not? If America really has been spying on its citizens, overthrowing democratically-elected foreign governments (81 and counting in the post-war period) or secretly injecting Black Americans with syphilis just to see what happens (yes, really: look up the Tuskegee Syphilis Study), then surely nothing is off-limits. 

Don’t get me wrong, we still shouldn’t believe in conspiracy theories, even if some turn out to be true. Most simply aren’t and all are based on a lack of reason and evidence. Any that are validated are lucky guesses. But the environment for belief has been perfectly cultivated by a cocktail of government espionage, political deception and broken promises. It’s therefore no surprise that the more conspiracy theorists are presented with evidence, the less they believe because of the distrust in the authority from which that evidence comes. We’re essentially living in a ‘post-truth’ world, and there doesn’t seem to be a way to stop it. 

At least, there seems to be no solution other than to let it run its course. Yes, this strategy is fraught with potential dangers but hear me out. Perhaps it’s better that conspiracy theories entered the mainstream political culture, for hopefully, like pretty much every political idea, they’ll become more distrusted and unpopular over time. Maybe if the same paranoia in the mindset of conspiracy theorists was applied to conspiracy theories themselves that become part of ‘the establishment’ as they grow more and more integrated into the mainstream. It would force a reversion back to truth based on rationality and logic. This ‘doubting of doubt’ is a risky, meta but hopefully an effective tactic. Trump is a bit of a watershed. If he fails, then hopefully the platform he’s given to conspiracy theories fails with him. But if he succeeds? Well, the world might just get a tad more insane.  

Image Credit: Alphr.