How do you tell Halloween is right around the corner? Easy. The costumes and candy come out of hiding at the store. Same with Christmas and Thanksgiving. There’s just some “signs of the times”.
If you notice, you can also tell when certain anniversaries come around. The nut jobs come out of the wood work. It’s almost September 11th and the wack jobs that are convinced the government planned the murder of over 3000 people are popping up. So I’ve done a little reading, research and thinking. I wanted to find out why some people – that appear to be otherwise sane and rational – believe so deeply in conspiracies when in reality, sometimes a rock is just a rock.
Here’s what I found.
According to political scientist Michael Barkun, the appeal of conspiracism is threefold: (The italicized are Mr. Barkun’s words and my comment follows).
First, conspiracy theories claim to explain what institutional analysis cannot. They appear to make sense out of a world that is otherwise confusing.
The world can be a big scary place. It can be something that’s difficult for us mere humans to wrap our brains around. So when something monumental happens – like the assassination of a president by a lone gunman – the only way we can make it fit into our narrow world view is to start yelling “Conspiracy”. Same with the attack on the WTC. We like to think that America is this great country that is tremendously loved by everyone in the world. We build these great buildings and institutions as beacons to what democracy looks like. Then when some pin heads hijack some planes and reduce our idealized world and it’s trappings and illusions to a pile of rubble, it’s hard to grasp. To try to bring order out of chaos and to make the seemingly impossible explainable, we start crying “Conspiracy”.
Second, they do so in an appealingly simple way, by dividing the world sharply between the forces of light and the forces of darkness. They trace all evil back to a single source, the conspirators and their agents.
Sorry folks. The world is not easily divided into “black and white”, “good and evil”. And as much as we’d like to make believe that the lines between all things holy and all things evil, we can’t do it. There’s some good in the worst of people and some bad in the best of people. Until we get a more mature view of the world order and understand that there are grey areas, we’ll continue to cry out “Conspiracy”.
Third, conspiracy theories are often presented as special, secret knowledge unknown or unappreciated by others.
Since so many people have so little control over their own lives, the thought that maybe somehow they have a “special knowledge” gives them the opportunity to shout – if even for a minute – look at me. “Aren’t I important since I have this special knowledge”. Well, sorry folks…if you have the knowledge then the knowledge is available to everyone else. And if it’s available to everyone else, then you’re not special.
So my suggestion? Get a life and live in reality. Leave the murky world of what may or may not be behind.