The conspiracy theory is a social construct that never seems to go away. However, one study has discovered the very human reason why we cling to these nonsense plots.
On Sunday, May 10th, 2020, a hundred souls braved the chill of Melbourne wind and societal expulsion, deciding to protest “self-isolating, social distancing, tracking apps 5G being installed.” Ten were arrested, a police officer was injured, and the rest of us rolled our eyes when we discovered their purported links to QAnon and the anti-vaxx crowd.
The conspiracy theory often seems to be an anomaly in the human brain, as one recent psychological measure looked to chart what it actually does to our brains. According to the findings, the conspiracy theory can be easily boiled down to a casual antidote to the general disappointment of life, and in turn the anguish we feel in both society and the people we elect to govern it.
An abstract from the 2017 study believes that the popularity of theories is enabled by various social triggers, including the desire to belong to a group and to maintain a positive image of the self and their image within that circle. Scholars have suggested that conspiracy theories also valorize the self, allowing blame for all the negatives to shifted to another party.
Moreover, and this is a difficult thing to admit, I happen to be a JFK truther. I happen to believe that Oswald couldn’t have done the shooting. A theory abetted by Oliver Stone’s version of events. What happened after they lost JFK’s brain (Google it) gives weight to the second shooter theory and the idea that a massive conspiracy pulled the trigger, with the shooters being everyone from Fidel Castro to Woody Harrelson’s dad to other. That being said, I only truly believe it because of the stakes that LBJ cooked as President, sending the US into Vietnam, eventually leading all the way to the jowling, lying, bombing, certainly not a crook, Richard Nixon, and the rise of conservatism and the death of the social reform movement. JFK, RFK, MLK. RIP.
Simply put, the more we feel like we’re losing, the more we seek the shelter that conspiracy theories grant.
However, the pale shelter constructed of bullshit might not exclusively be a negative. Yes, it might be a black eye to the face of objective truth, or harm the logic others possess, or swing elections (Hello, Pizzagate), but those like-minded people who agree gravitate to others just like them, rebuilding a community of shattered alienated parts.
There are two studies that elevate this theory. Sapountzis & Condor (2013) believes that the conspiracy set look to subvert dominant hierarchies (either social or political) by formulating their own understanding of realities. Whereas, Adams, O’Brien, & Nelson (2006) believes that the same set foster solidarity and collective action. In these communities, these plots represent the normative or even official positions (e.g., the 9/11 Truth movement), which on a skewed level, could be a new bible, a new moral compass to follow, and, importantly, a sense of belonging and shared reality.
Which makes sense. Taking the Pizzagate example, obviously Hillary Clinton wasn’t running a pedophile ring in the basement of a New York Pizzeria, but for those who spent numerous evenings gleefully conversing with each other, hacking together falsehoods to stitch a narrative of truth, I’m fairly certain that those people proudly look back on it as something to remember. The world trembled at their fury, and finally, maybe, noticed those they once ignored. It could even be their Woodstock, a moment to elevate and to castigate those who weren’t there for it.
It would be, for those people, good times.
Which is not to say that I agree with them, but I can understand that shared sense of community within a community that doesn’t care for you. Twisting the Costanza example, it’s not a lie if you believe it, especially if your friends do too.