Conspiracy Theories: New World Order and Knowledge
From everything to fake assassinations, fabricated terrorist attacks, lunar landing hoaxes and aliens roaming the Earth, conspiracy theories have broadened our understanding of how stories and exciting depictions of sometimes terrible events, are able to resonate with populations and effectively rewrite history as we know it.
There have been many theories about who and what makes a conspiracy theory stick in the minds of some but not others. The competing and often contradictory evidence is clear: we don’t know what “type” of individual is more susceptible to being a believer. Relationships between certain demographics have often been cited, most notably among them being, education level, socio-economic status, and gender (Galliford & Furnham 2017). These correlation however, often rely on too many other factors to be narrowed down or useful for causal conclusions. Scientists have gone to great lengths at thinking up possible explanations from everything to self-esteem, “agreeableness,” and even boredom.
One of the most compelling explanations seem to relate conspiracy theories to stress and anxiety, allowing one to create a rational narrative in a violent, unpredictable world, while also regaining a sense of agency and control over their environment (Swami et. al. 2016). These “simplified and causal” explanations therefore allow us to reinstate order and help regulate stress. As the theory popularly goes: an individual experiences stress and begins to create habits in cognition, looking for patterns and associations between unrelated stimuli, making it easier to accept and assimilate new conspiracy theories (Swami et. al. 2016) Essentially, the biggest predictor for accepting a new conspiracy theory is already believing in one, or in other words, a belief in conspiracy theories breeds more conspiracy theories.
So what does this mean for our world today? Innovation and rapid change have required from us the skills to process and sort through vast amounts of information in order to keep up with the thousands of news sources, journals, and Tweets available at our fingertips. A healthy dose of skepticism comes in handy as an adaptive practice for our changing world. Even down to everyday purchases, like for example being a “smart consumer,” which requires mass amounts of research that is guaranteed to hold the buyer hostage to valid arguments on both sides for a product, brand, or store. The conspiracy is a tiny act of rebellion against things that can’t and don’t change, no matter how many times you’ve voted at the poll station. It’s a middle finger in the air to the monopoly over knowledge and access to information, similar to the “WikiLeaks” phenomenon.
It can be said however, that not all conspiracy theories are equal. There has been some indication that scientific reasoning (i.e. looking for evidence, proving a hypothesis, and creating a theory) has been used to ground some conspiracy theories as “facts," even when they are not often responded to by the political or scientific authorities.
As social scientists, we are constantly negotiating the world based on things that are not always easy to see or measure. The heart of the conspiracy rests in the fundamental question: why do only certain people or groups have authority over knowledge production? Moreover, it challenges the belief that what we know and all that there is to know can be found in what we can observe in a lab or answer with a survey (Harambam & Aupers 2015). This extremely reductionist view of the world is not only limiting, but is also founded on an ironically similar religiosity based on blind faith- in science. So believe in the reptilian-species operating in parallel dimensions, or don’t, but that does not mean this world view is any less valid because we simply don’t have proof it exists.
This is not to say that science is without its purpose or has no place in its attempt at explaining our world. In fact, the widespread prevalence of conspiracy theories and civil unrest which seem to be somehow linked within the political culture of America’s far-right (Moore 2016) require a greater demand for more science in the explanation of political events. The constant distractions in the media and in conspiracy theories have tried to (unknowingly or not) obstruct political questions with details about cover-ups and fake news (Silva et. Al 2017).
The question is not whether the parents of the victims at the Parkland school massacre were crisis actors, but rather how do these ideas effectively politicize gun control? Similarly, they question whether one can trust government to always look out for your best interest, and if not, is government the best and most legitimate way for organizing a society? These are questions that political scientists everywhere have been asking since the very beginning.
Why does there need to be uniformity in what we believe? After all, it would be far more unrealistic to expect everyone in the world to agree on everything, rather than say to believe that airplane chemtrails are purposefully designed to change weather systems.
Brianna Puigmarti is a fourth-year undergraduate student at the University of Ottawa, currently studying political science and psychology at the University of Ottawa. Her current research interests include critical security primarily with reference to borders, human security, and "grey spaces" of territorality.
Galliford, N, Furnham, A. (2017). “Individual Difference Factors and beliefs in Medical and Political Conspiracy Theories,” Scandinavian Journal of Psychology, 1(1). p. 422- 428.
Harambam, J, Aupers, S (2015). “Contesting Epistemic Authority: Conspiracy Theories on the Boundaries of Science.” Public Understanding of Science, 2(4). p. 466-480.
Moore, A. (2016). "Conspiracy and Conspiracy Theories in Democratic Politics." Journal of Politics and Society, 28(1). p.1-23.
Silva, B, Vegetti, F, Littvay, L. (2017). “The Elite is Up to Something: Exporing the Relationship Between Populism and Belief in Conspiracy Theories.” Swiss Political Science Review, 23(4). p. 1-42.
Swami, V, Furnham, A, Smyth, N, Weis, L, Lay, A, Clow, A. (2016). "Putting the Stress on Conspiracy Theories: Examining Assocciations Between Psychological Stress, Anxiety, and Belief in Conspiracy Theories." Personality and Individual Differences, 99 (1). p. 72-76.