02 - The Origin
I know I've already summarised everything but I've been thinking a lot about the reason that conspiracy theories are so attractive. I'm not talking about why they persist or why they're difficult to get rid of, but the reason why people accept them so readily in the first place.
I think it's a mix of things. From what I can gather, it's a combination of two things. The Dunning-Kruger effect and a need to make order in a world of chaos.
This might sound a bit strange and presumptuous but hear me out.
The Dunning-Kruger effect is the observation of how confidence relates to experience. As you can see on the graph (bottom), it has been observed in human behaviour that when gaining experience on a subject, you get a huge confidence boost in thinking you're right. After that comes a sharp decline in confidence after realising the complexity of the subject and the amount of knowledge you don't yet have. After that comes a long period of gaining experience where you start to regain some confidence after the initial dip which climbs as you learn more and more.
Now this on its own is something that naturally over time will happen when you start learning about a subject if you tackle the pursuit of knowledge of that subject honestly and open-mindedly. As you seek knowledge and understanding, misconceptions get thrown out and new information takes its place. Knowledge is refined and your understanding of that subject becomes greater, allowing for a more complex, nuanced, and comprehensive viewpoint.
Here's how this ties in with seeking order in a world of chaos. Ordinarily, if you honestly seek the truth, I think the Dunning-Kruger effect should sort itself out. What the need for order does is provide the agenda and the bias to prevent you from moving down the Dunning-Kruger dive-bomb.
A lot of conspiracy theory claims usually start or end with something like "we don't know" or "but what if..." or even "you will see, it will be proven right." They hinge on a belief in a conspiracy, or the lack of knowledge of the subject matter, and come to the conclusion that everything is controlled and everything happens for a reason. A part of this is the human pattern recognition and cognitive bias I talked about earlier, but I think this also includes something deeper.
Ultimately, I think this comes down to comfort. The unknown is scary. It's why people are scared of the dark, are creeped out by weird events, and hold superstitions. I think I can illustrate my thinking behind this as follows:
Acknowledging you're wrong is difficult. It involves reflection and re-evaluation and a complete rethinking of what you think and how you think it. If nothing is black or white, every issue on every front has to be analysed and the facts have to be gathered. The information has to be scrutinised properly and thoroughly in context. If you hold a belief and someone proves you wrong, it can feel awful and hopeless because you never know what you're wrong on at any time. It's a huge and complicated and complex web of unknowns, uncertainty, and seemingly futile randomness. Why even try? It makes it even worse when things seem to happen randomly and there is no order in how events play out.
It's easier to think very superficially about a subject and form a conclusion that you stick to. It's easier and more comforting to think that even when things are bad, that they are a part of some plan and are being controlled very specifically by an enemy that you can name (Billionaires, the government, 5G). It's comforting to think that all of the unknown pieces of the puzzle that we don't have suddenly appear and sort themselves out. It's reassuring to only believe you're right and reject anything that can prove you wrong. That way you won't have to come to the realisation on a regular basis that you're mistaken and your world doesn't become more chaotic and depressing the more you look at it as unknowns overtake the understood. It's much more convenient to block those who don't see it and surround yourself with those who do.
What I'm getting at is the Dunning-Kruger effect is something that happens to everyone. What the alternative-thinker does is hit the peak, and the need for order in a world of chaos keeps them sitting on that peak, unable to slide down the depression that is confronting the endless void of things they don't know. It sounds depressing because it is.
It's more favourable to our own sense of safety to allow unfactual information to fill in burning questions which unsettles us, as we have a very real desire to know everything all the time. For example, if someone says that 5G has been proven to cause cancer, it's going to kill everyone and that it hasn't proven to be safe yet is being constructed all around the world at once, you're going to freak out. If you don't already have pre-existing knowledge of 5G, how it works or the science behind it, you're confronted with two options. You can put your anxiety on hold and take a long and exhausting time to review the science and make sense of all of the conflicting information, or you can find solace in people who claim to have all of the answers already.
Why is this happening? Who's doing it? Why is it not tested? What are the health risks? Does anyone else know about this? Who would do such a thing? Why now? Why here? Why me? How will I be affected? How will my family be affected? All of these anxiety-driven questions will drive you crazy if you don't have the knowledge to already know the answers. This is quite an emotional state. Logic and emotion almost never go hand in hand. Not even specific to the subject, but lacking the knowledge of how to even find out the answers in the first place applies here, too.
Then you see a video of a doctor saying 5G causes cancer, it's all a plan by the evil elites who want to control you, it's a weapon for mass control, it's all a plan for global domination and the enslavement of the world's population. Governments are conspiring with the billionaires to force nanotech RFID chip vaccines on everyone and it's the explanation, cause and missing puzzle in the Coronavirus pandemic. It's a doctor, he's an authority. Like that, that's all you need to know because all of the unknowns are gone. All of the questions are answered and nothing is an anxiety-inducing storm anymore. The alternative-thinker has seen a collection of YouTube videos and taken them at face value, and just repeated claims made by other people. They then claim to be open-minded and critical thinkers, which gives them even more comfort in thinking they're right on everything. Furthermore, they get to reject the government's word and official organisations and say they don't believe what they're told, while not having to think for themselves. They've simply traded official word for conspiracy theories. They still believe what they're told, the source simply changed.
I believe the root cause of what I've described above stems from thinking rejecting mainstream views and being anti-government makes you sceptical. That's not scepticism, that makes you an information hipster. Rejecting what the mainstream views are and welcoming alternative views with open arms is the very thing alternative-thinkers say they're against. If you're a critical thinker, you'd be as sceptical about conspiracies as you would about mainstream views. The main root of the issue is the alternative-thinker only knows what to think. Whether it's the mainstream or the alternative, they're repeating things others told them. They only know what to think, but not how to think, and they are under the illusion that rejecting the mainstream makes them critical thinkers. It doesn't.
For me personally, and others who I have seen walk a similar path, the way to break free from the conspiracy mentality is only down to the alternative-thinker to do themselves. That only comes after (in my experience) being beaten down into a defeated humble state of accepting you were wrong. Personally, I fell into a kind of depression. You have to come to terms with the fact that you were wrong on so many things, that you have a long way to go, and you did it publically in front of everyone you know on social media. It's humiliating, it's frustrating, it's depressing, but it's necessary. You have to let go of everything. Without this, I don't know my change would have happened. It absolutely wouldn't have happened if the people debating me didn't do it respectfully, patiently and honestly.
I feel this quote from Neil DeGrasse Tyson sums this up perfectly:
"One of the great challenges in this world is knowing enough about a subject to think you're right, but not enough about the subject to know you're wrong."
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