Democracy Can Quell Fake Conspiracy Theories

We live in an uncertain era. Uncertainty breeds a quest for security, a sense of control and meaning in life. That makes all of us marks for people on the make looking for someone to con. The media and internet are filled with all sorts of messages that play to specific vulnerabilities of certain groups of people. There is money to be made and power to be garnered. One of the main techniques is to spawn fake conspiracy theories. How can we tell when we are being subjected to a conspiracy theory? Is it possible to tell what is a real conspiracy and what is a fake one? It takes some effort, but it can be done. It is difficult, mainly because conspiracy theories have become such a big business, and political operatives know that wielding it as a tool is very successful.

Fake conspiracy believers tend to see patterns that give simple explanations of complex issues. They have an over estimation of the competency of people who may do us harm. This may come from film and TV representations of evil overlords who get absolute obedience from their followers. That does not happen. Where two or three people are organized to do something secret at least one will screw things up. As it has been said, “The best way to keep a secret is to limit it to three people, and especially if two of them are dead.” If the secret is really big, the rewards of selling via the media are very tempting.

Conspiracy theories have a lot in common with witch hunts of the medieval era with their search for an evil villain to blame for society’s problems. Conspiracy theorists promote a great amount of influence to negative forces in order to cause fear and panic in the community they intend to influence. They try to distract people from accepting contrary evidence to their ideas by seeking out or inventing anomalies that call into question the weight of the case proving they are wrong. They typically deny any possibility that they are wrong and resist rational investigations into the issue at hand. The lurid imagining of an all powerful other, who is manipulating history, is really the mirror image of the conspiracy theorist. Their image of society’s enemies are the outward projection of the their own fear and anger.

Conspiracy theorists use fear to control the citizens of the U.S. They broadcast horrific threats under various labels, such as communists, Islamic terrorists, Jews, drug addicts, blacks, liberals, immigrants, etc., who are primed and ready to destroy our society. Therefore, we need a powerful leader who is smarter and wiser, who will protect us. It is the mystery and secrecy that are the core of the propaganda power of the conspiracy theorist. Overwhelming threats appeal to our image of the world as a dangerous place threatened by malignant minds who are organizing vast conspiracies to take over our world. What do conspiracy theorists want? They distract us from the power of wealth over our society so that we do not question tax breaks and entitlements for the richest 1 percent.

How do we avoid conspiracy theories while remaining alert to actual conspiracies? Actual conspiracies are usually pretty narrow in scope, enhancing the political power or wealth of a specific group. Conspiracy theories are low on evidence but depend on a network of people with the same ideology giving supportive opinions. That is confirmation bias. Talking and listening to each other, and finding common ground on issues in a democratic way, is the best way to fight the extremism of blindly following conspiracy theorists. Conspiracy theorists generally speak in apocalyptic terms, ultimate good and bad, total victory or absolute defeat. They cannot exist in a democracy where discussion and compromise are necessary.