Flat-earthers are dumb, but not as dumb as the guy who argues against flat-earthers using only facts. No one believes in conspiracy theories, much less anything else, because of facts. We believe in conspiracies because they are a balm for our psychological issues. It’s an unhealthy balm that represses and so warps our issues, but it feels good regardless so most people don’t mind. So why do so many people believe in conspiracy theories?
1. They displace anxiety
Anxiety is a difficult emotion to manage in a healthy way. It’s difficult enough to recognize we have it and permit ourselves to feel it. I’ve met guys with anxiety problems who have been in therapy for years and their therapist hasn’t even told them what anxiety is. Tenured psychology professors offer little consensus on what emotions even are.
Part of the gratification that comes from conspiracy theories is they fabricate a cabal of men who have been insidiously cutting us off from the world, which, not coincidentally, is the function of anxiety. Instead of recognizing our anxiety for what it is, we project it onto this cohort of handshakes, which permits us at least a momentary reprieve from the stress of malformed emotion.
2. They help elevate a person’s status
Why do minorities play the victim? Because people indulge their stories—that is, it’s an easy way for a minority to attain status, at least subjectively. It’s the same reason why we believe in conspiracies.
If we and a small group of guys knew the truth that contradicts what most people believe, then we have elevated our status with only lifting a finger to click on a few poorly designed websites. A benefit of status is it’s directly related to our serotonin levels, so believing in conspiracies is akin to taking an antidepressant, but without the erectile dysfunction.
3. They fit our hardwired need for a David vs Goliath storyline
The conspiracy story adheres to a certain structure that is inherently gratifying to humans. Without getting too detailed, the structure involves falling from a state of grace and working to get back to that state of grace by exposing the aforementioned cabal that keeps us from being connected with each other. Every culture has this structure in their religious narratives regardless of the specifics.
Carl Jung argued that all humans create stories based on this structure as part of their shamanic instinct, which is as prevalent as the sexual instinct but probably more powerful. We have fought more wars over beliefs than we have over women. Ever become rapt in a poorly-produced documentary about the Illuminati? Because I have. It’s as hypnotizing as pornography.
We can become transfixed by a story that has a specific shape as we can become transfixed by a woman who has a specific shape. If this sounds unscientific then I challenge you to find a culture that doesn’t concoct stories that could be mapped onto the 9/11 conspiracies.
4. They serve as a substitute for philosophy
A healthy outlet for our shamanic instinct is philosophy. If conspiracy theories are akin to pornography, philosophy is having sex with a woman who would have voted for Goldwater. Instead of projecting out our psychological issues as the cause of some event or phenomenon, philosophy gives us the tools to simplify complex ideas to their basic parts so we can understand them and integrate them with other ideas. However, the field of philosophy has been emasculating itself for more than 300 years.
Now, if you study philosophy in college, you’ll read postmodern hacks like Thomas Nagel three times before someone even mentions Aristotle. Philosophy’s state of grace is knowledge about the world and the cabal is our own ignorance, which can easily be surmounted through discipline and discussion. Philosophy is the individualist’s answer to the delusions of victimhood.
5. People are lazy
The majority of so-called cover-ups are examples of people being lazy. Either that or bad at their job. Why has no one looked into a certain discrepancy between Khufu’s pyramid and the Sphinx? Because most people, even archaeologists, only care about going home and watching Game of Thrones.
I could create a conspiracy about how psychologists are deliberately making the field appear to be more complex so they can get their inane research funded and convince people to be in therapy the rest of their lives. But the truth is psychologists have a sweet deal of grants and tenure set up, so no one cares to make a big move. As such, anyone who sticks his neck out to make the field easier to understand would be worth listening to.
This isn’t to say there are no conspiracies (e.g., the Lincoln assassination, MK Ultra, the Nayirah testimony). And let’s not forget the Bohemian Grove—something’s going on there. Those guys may not be wagging the dog, but if your ceremonies are reminiscent of the Mountain of Power scene from Conan the Barbarian, then I doubt it’s innocent (see, there’s my anxiety working its magic).
So yes, conspiracies do exist, they have always existed, and there’s a definite payoff for carrying them out, but before we ruin Thanksgiving with our latest rant about George Soros, let’s manage our anxiety in a healthy way. Then we can afford the luxury of entertaining stories of cabals and cover-ups. Though, if we’re in a good place psychologically, we’ll be able to see the conspiracies as the silly fabrications most of them are.
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