In the last post, we saw that the tendency to believe conspiracy theories is a general human trait. This raises a question: why are humans drawn to conspiracy theories? What is it that makes them so attractive to us?
Here are some suggestions.
Blame – Conspiracy theories are a great little tool for removing any guilt I may have for society’s woes and placing them squarely on the shoulders of the politicians/popes/elites/aliens who caused all of these problems. After all, someone’s got to take the blame for all this mess!
Answers – We humans like answers. It doesn’t matter if the answer is unknowable. We want answers and we want them in time for the six o’clock news.
Simplicity – We humans also like it simple. Conspiracy theories fill in the blanks and make things really quite simple. Actually, the word is simplistic. But that’s a complex reality.
Confirmation bias – This one’s a little more complex, but basically, psychologists have noticed that once we humans form some kind of conclusion in our minds, we tend to notice everything around us that might confirm that conclusion and fail to notice everything that might contradict that conclusion.
There is great power in that moment when the suggestion of a conspiracy causes everything to fall together in our minds. Problem is, unless we’re very aware of our bias and take the effort to step back and see things objectively, we easily become victims of confirmation bias.
Anti-elitism – We don’t like having people in charge of us. If one authority in my life hurt me, no doubt every authority in my life—government leaders, religious leaders, employers, basically the “elites”—must be just as bad. Besides, they make more money than I do.
Cynicism – Some people just think everyone is out to get them. Did you know there’s an official name for that. It’s called “mean world syndrome.” That’s right. It’s one of the characteristics of “Media Induced Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.” Bet you didn’t know that.
Agenda pushing – Yeah. Most of the time, the person pushing the theory is also pushing an agenda and agendas tend to drive facts. If we like the agenda, we’re likely to accept the conspiracy theories that back it up.
Fear – Life can be complex and difficult to understand. When it comes down to it, following the facts is scary. I mean, we could end up anywhere! And we definitely can’t say “I don’t know”. What would people think? And that leads to the biggest one…
Pride – I saved this for last, but this is what it all boils down to. We like to know what others are too stupid to know. We like to look down our noses in disdain at those who fall for the official version. Yes. Shock. We humans are driven by pride.
May God grant us wisdom and discernment in these things. Next week, I hope to make some applications to the world of theology.