Conspiracy theories: they’re all in your heads!

(2 pm. – promoted by ek hornbeck)

Or at least the New York Times Online says so.

Here’s an amusing piece:

Why Rational People Buy Into Conspiracy Theories

Because real life contains conspiracies?  Naah.  Couldn’t be!

Now, of course we could just stop talking about conspiracies, because everyone knows how ridiculous such talk actually is.  But will those messy conspiracies go away if we stop talking about them?  Probably not, which would explain why Maggie Koerth-Baker had to write the NYT piece in the first place. So here’s the solution! We’re going to make up some sort of pop-psychology “theory” to explain why people think about conspiracies.  That’ll do the trick!  Gee, if only members of the human race were to limit their thinking to whatever it is that the “experts” produce on any given topic, they could stay sane, and we wouldn’t have to discredit them.  Maggie Koerth-Baker is of course one of those experts, and she will protect you from the pernicious belief in conspiracy theories by psychologizing them away.  That and Kos will ban anyone who writes “conspiracy theory diaries,” one of which this isn’t.

So, yeah, everyone knows there are no conspiracies, and there are all kinds of events out there that might be attributable to conspiracies, but they’re all caused by people acting alone, and all by themselves, without so much as talking to anyone else.  Right?

Now, maybe some really twisted minds out there think that real-life conspiracies develop as a result of chance meetings at the meetings of the Trilateral Commission, or the Bilderberg Group, or the World Economic Forum, or the Council on Foreign Relations.  Or maybe such conspiracies are said to happen in the secret meetings of the FBI or the CIA or the NSA or ALEC.  But everyone knows that (even if these organizations really did exist, which they don’t) all they really do at those meetings is play ping-pong and eat pizza.  Right?

So, armed with our aerosol can of Conspiracy-Be-Gone spray, ahead into the NYT piece we venture!

“The best predictor of belief in a conspiracy theory is belief in other conspiracy theories,” says Viren Swami, a psychology professor who studies conspiracy belief at the University of Westminster in England. Psychologists say that’s because a conspiracy theory isn’t so much a response to a single event as it is an expression of an overarching worldview.

There is, of course, an alternate explanation for conspiracy theories — I think it goes like “maybe the official explanations aren’t credible” or something like that.  But only people with a certain worldview believe crazy stuff of that sort.

Perfectly sane minds possess an incredible capacity for developing narratives, and even some of the wildest conspiracy theories can be grounded in rational thinking, which makes them that much more pernicious.

My god, they’re developing narratives!  Human nature must be innately bad.  And I have to wonder in this context whether the perniciousness of a conspiracy theory can be quantified.  Could we put a conspiracy theory on the Wild-O-Meter, and if it goes above a certain number, then we could say it’s pernicious?  This could be important in distinguishing pernicious theories from merely innocuous ones.

Here’s an example.  Just after the disaster of September 11th, 2001, the Bush administration allowed the bin Laden family to be flown out of the country without so much as an FBI question on a day when every airplane in America was grounded.  Let’s say (hypothetically; we don’t really believe this stuff, do we?) that the bin Ladens were allowed to do this because they had urgent family business or something.  Now that’s not very pernicious, is it?  I experience urgent family business all the time.  Don’t you?

On the other hand, some of these theories about who killed JFK, well, we don’t want to break the Wild-O-Meter, do we?  You can’t buy them at the 99 cents store anymore.

While psychologists can’t know exactly what goes on inside our heads, they have, through surveys and laboratory studies, come up with a set of traits that correlate well with conspiracy belief. In 2010, Swami and a co-author summarized this research in The Psychologist, a scientific journal. They found, perhaps surprisingly, that believers are more likely to be cynical about the world in general and politics in particular.

Now everyone here knows cynicism isn’t rational, right?  Your leaders are always acting in good faith, of course.

Economic recessions, terrorist attacks and natural disasters are massive, looming threats, but we have little power over when they occur or how or what happens afterward. In these moments of powerlessness and uncertainty, a part of the brain called the amygdala kicks into action.

So, you see, if you stop searching for explanations for economic recessions, terrorist attacks, and natural disasters, and just accept that your tendency to do so is a product of your errant amygdala, you will be closer to enlightenment!

Our access to high-quality information has not, unfortunately, ushered in an age in which disagreements of this sort can easily be solved with a quick Google search. In fact, the Internet has made things worse. Confirmation bias – the tendency to pay more attention to evidence that supports what you already believe – is a well-documented and common human failing. People have been writing about it for centuries. In recent years, though, researchers have found that confirmation bias is not easy to overcome. You can’t just drown it in facts.

And so, you see, our social scientists have everything under control.  All that’s left for us to do is to believe all of that “high quality information” we’re given, and restrain our impulses to reside in the land of “confirmation bias,” which prevents us from seeing the light.

Psychologists aren’t sure whether powerlessness causes conspiracy theories or vice versa. Either way, the current scientific thinking suggests these beliefs are nothing more than an extreme form of cynicism, a turning away from politics and traditional media – which only perpetuates the problem.

Thus if we can all quit “turning away from politics and traditional media,” and learn to accept the system, we can overcome those feelings of powerlessness as they are caused by our belief in conspiracy theories.

See?  Problem solved.  Conspiracy theories are all just in our heads, and the quicker we recognize that, the more easily we’ll be able to ignore them, and get on with the enlightened task of believing what we’re told.


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  1. cassiodorus

    That’s my story, and I’m stickin’ to it!

  2. banger

    Great essay! I like your sense of humor–the quotes are very funny.

    I just wrote a post here on why the left is dead–based on an article by Jeffrey St. Clair in Counterpunch. There are many causes, but personally I believe it is because the left in America has refused to deal with the overwhelming evidence that the official explanations of many major events including the assassinations of the 60s and 9/11 but also a score of smaller events which are still fishy–Watergate, Iran-Contra, and so on. When people still think Sirhan killed RFK (for no reason) while the coroners report and the number of shots fired indicate a second gunman. This is not speculation but direct proof that the official story is not merely questionable it is demonstrably false.

    The idea that thinking there are conspiracies is a form of illness just reminds me of the old Soviet Union. Anyway, whether or not there have been the major conspiracies I believe in fact existed the idea that there are no conspiracies in the United States is really funny–no wonder the left, which generally accepts this notion, is moribund! History is about conspiracies of one kind or another. I worked in government and saw conspiracies to evade regulations and laws–such things are often routine. We see it on reality shows and Shakespeare. Yet, when it comes to major stories they are all correct to the letter. If you question any official story (meaning the mainstream media narrative) on Daily Kos, for example you are banned often without warning–needless to say I was banned long ago.

    Any resurgence of the moribund left must START with 1963 and what happened on November 22. Nothing makes sense unless you bring that up. The people are waiting.  

  3. tahoebasha3

    I enjoy the “twist” you put on such notions as CT, etc.

    All too weird, too.  All the psychological analysis of why there may even exist CT theories is, indeed, a delving that goes beyond microscopic, or help!, I may have to invent reasons why there may even be CT theories!  LOL!  But suppose the CT theories were the correct conclusions, based on many facts, observations, behaviors, etc.?????  Then, the official stories must be the CT theories, right?

  4. terryhallinan

    Real ones.

    While I was in Vietnam working for Army [hah hah] Intelligence we reported numerous conspiracies by the Viet Cong to kill Ngo Dinh Diem.  

    Even a Forrest Gump assassin could have found the target.  Didn’t take no James Bond.  His girlfriends could have followed the trail of uniformed guard on both sides of the road interspersed with an inconspicuous white civilian uniform who stood back and gazed at his feet or the sky or something whenever the democratically dictator imposed by America went anywhere.  

    All the conspiracies failed ignominiously except when a car loaded with explosives a block from the route wouldn’t start.

    Then JFK did the job and nailed the worst of the brothers to boot in the open.

    Lone assassins are the best at the job.

    Their trail is damnably hard to follow since they tend to be lunatics and have few friends.

    Best,  Terry

  5. tahoebasha3

    You mean to say that if we dare to venture into the possibility that what we’ve been told does not, in fact, add up to us there must be something wrong with us????  

    But consider this, no matter how illogical an “underwear bomber” story, or a “shoebomber” story, and many more fanciful names for thwarted events, as we are told, with unceasing repetition, and other such horrific events, that are, as contrived and concocted idiocies as we could not possibly dream up, ourselves, become the “official stories” and, should anyone, anywhere, question the reality, the legitimacy, or any morsel of the story, such persons are deemed CT theorists . . . while, in reality, those such people may, in fact, have a real handle on the reality of whatever has been drum-beated into our brains.

    I don’t know if you like Paul Craig Roberts, or not.  Personally, I do, because he is so able to put events into realistic perspectives.  Here’s one of his latest articles:  OpEdNews Op Eds 5/23/2013 at 14:29:54

    Why Disinformation Works

    By Paul Craig Roberts (about the author)

  6. banger

    Have for a long time. He’s more than a little irritated with the way things have gone–I’ve been in harmony with him for a long time.

    My own sense is, as you know, that I no longer think conventional politics or even political activism in the traditional sense is much use–I’ve felt that way for a long time. Why? Because we need to dig deeper and be willing to think in new ways.

    No one can sensibly be a socialist today because the government has been gamed and taken over completely by forces that do not mean well and will twist everything into some mush that armies of lawyers will feed on. So how is the left going to react? Well, so far by still living in the past, believing in reform and some version of American Exceptionalism.

    I think all this is changing. The more varied cast (compared to here) at Naked Capitalism seems to be moving in my direction or I’m moving into theirs–the comments there seem to be emphasizing that the game is fixed–and that’s a good place to start–but we have to move on from there.

  7. banger

    I’ve often said that everything the mainstream media says is a lie even if it’s true.

    So people will basically pull the wool over their own eyes and relax in the safety of their own delusions(I stole that from Bob Dobbs) and the mainstream media jut makes it a little easier.

  8. banger

    I’ve often said that everything the mainstream media says is a lie even if it’s true.

    So people will basically pull the wool over their own eyes and relax in the safety of their own delusions(I stole that from Bob Dobbs) and the mainstream media jut makes it a little easier.

  9. cassiodorus

    a lot of respondents to this diary reiterated the old canard that conspiracy theories are unproven, therefore their advocates are wingnuts.  The implication of course is that all of the issues raised by conspiracy theorists are settled, which they aren’t.

  10. tahoebasha3

    not dealt with in the best way to begin with.

    Take the Immigration issue . . . . take into consideration all of the families that have been separated from each other, thrown into private detention centers (in some instances, tortured or left unattended and die for want of medical care), the border patrols that have shot and killed them and all the horrid things that immigrants have experienced for having wanted to come here and/or are here.  This, to say nothing, of all the wasted time spent by our reps, at our expense, and still the immigration matter remains unsolved, while private detention centers make bundles of money, again, at our expense, and we continue to punish the immigrants that are here.

    If there was any realism applied in the situation, we would end CAFTA.  It is that trade agreement that has driven immigrants to seek work here in the U.S.  If these people could make liveable wages in their own countries, they would stay there and, voila, problem solved.

    As far as the game being fixed, I would have to agree that most, if not all, of what has occurred in these past 12 years plus were well planned out and carried out, much of it emanating with the “Rebuilding America’s Defenses” — a think tank project of the New American Century, which is pretty insane, but, nonetheless, was acted upon and followed.  As to the financial aspects, again, I think there was a well calculated plan, of sorts, whether emanating from the Bilderberg gatherings, the World Bank, or the Global Economy Meetings, or whoever.

    The rapid succession of events for 12 years plus now has been unbelievable, if you think about it!

  11. tahoebasha3

    eyes, basically, don’t want to trouble their minds too much, so, yes, it’s easier to just buy into the MSM and question nothing.  Of course, part of the reasons for that, too, is that those people who are still working are worn out and don’t want to be troubled by much of anything, plus there’s always that shadow hanging over them . .. my job, I hope I’m not going to lose my job.  Very taxing!

  12. banger

    And that’s weighed me down. I’m working on seeing it all in a positive light as part of a phase change.

  13. tahoebasha3

    not CAFTA referred to above.

  14. tahoebasha3

    It will ALL come to a head at some point and time, because none of it is truly workable for a society to thrive in such an “environment” for a terribly long period of time.  Unfortunately, there may be a sacrificial generation(s?).  

    That’s about as optimistic as anything I can dredge up right now.  

    It’s hard to stomach all the needless suffering that’s going on in this country and for what?  Greed, that’s all, friggin’ greed.  And what we’ve done has whippashed around the world and caused suffering everywhere.  Too bad we couldn’t round up all those culpable for this disastrous situation and put them in a gulag, where they friggin’ belong!  

    When you think about, isn’t it beyond heinous that because the wealthy have so chosen to render world citizens to death by our endless wars and poverty or near poverty, that it all continues on?  Without recompense?

    There aren’t adequate words to express the sick feeling in the pit of one’s stomach for all that has happened and continues to happen.  

    But, you know, criminals go on being criminals so long as there is nothing done to arrest them!  

  15. banger

    My generation won’t learn it–but future ones will. We have to create our own arrangements and accept the fact we live in a world that is radically different from the one we were led to believe in. We don’t have equal justice under law, we don’t have “the city on the hill” and we don’t have a healthy culture–we are sick, all of us and we need to heal. For all of us that may be different but we are being called to big changes and it is painful and that’s just the entry fee.

    The best approach is to celebrate, love, party, laugh as much as we can without being completely drugged out (a little might not hurt though).  

  16. banger

    Well, Kos is a kind of Vichy- or Stasi-left–just pick your poison. Their whole rap on conspiracies is that if the site allowed people to question the official narrative they would look bad and the PR firms some of them work for would pull out their support–I don’t know that for sure but it’s an educated guess as someone who knows and knows that PR firms hire young, in debt kids to flood the internet with garbage.

    The fact is that the left likes to pride itself as “reality-based” and makes fun of the dumb Republicans. But in reality the official story of RFK’s murder was a lie and there’s no way you can say it was true–the LA Coronor Thomas Noguchi said RFK was shot in the back of the head from behind and his report was never entered into evidence. That’s just one piece of evidence–everything else also points away from the official story. I mean who knows what exactly happened in all the typical conspiracy events–with JFK few people know that thousands of researches have combed through everything about Kennedy and only a handful of people get reviewed in the official papers only if they buy into the lone-gunman/magic-bullet BS. I remember a few hears after JFK was assassinated and I was like 16 and visited Italy and was hanging around with some university students and I parroted back the official story and they just shook their heads and told me I had a lot to learn.  

  17. tahoebasha3

    the first one went to the back of his head.  Somewhere back some months ago, I had read something about George H.W. Bush having had some involvement via the CIA.  Well, here’s an article dealing with that (I have not read it in its entirety, yet, but scanned a little of it.

    Saturday, March 30th, 2013 | Posted by Jim Fetzer

    Did George H.W. Bush Coordinate a JFK Hit Team?

    This is not the first time and surely will not be the last that George H.W. Bush, former Director of the CIA and the 41st President of the United States, has been implicated in the death of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, our 35th president.  In an earlier study, for example, “Was George H.W. Bush involved in the assassination of JFK?”, John Hankey and I both address this question, where he provides a great deal of evidence supporting a role for GHWB in the Dealey Plaza turkey shoot. In this new study, Richard Hooke substantiates that claim and advances additional proof of his own.  I believe that they are right. . . . . . !

    I’ve also heard that the Mafia was involved and that, sometimes, the Mafia and the CIA corroborate on their efforts.  

    There are several videos of the actual motorcade ride, where, at a point, the Secret Service literally stood down.  

    Here’s one:

  18. banger

    This was all before the CIA was even formed–there were many alliances between law-enforcement and organized crime way back when and now. These agencies were all, at one time or another corrupted sometimes just out of personal gain sometimes out of national security concerns. For examnple, the old Nationalist Chinese government kept itself in power through the heroin/opium trade before WWII and all during the Cold War–it was ex-Nationalist soldiers that ran the Golden Triangle before and during the Vietnam War and the CIA helped them get the drugs to the U.S. in body bags and so on. The OSS, FBI, FBN were all complicit in protecting Lucky Luciano and the Mafia during WWII and even afterwards–and, of course, the security services virtually ceded Cuba to organized crime until that upstart Fidel Castro came in and destroyed Cuba’s freedom to be ruled by criminals.  

  19. terryhallinan

    Then there were those firing squads when Castro won.

    I am more familiar with Nicaragua where the incestuous,  gallant new caudillo rules with support of the nominal Batista opponents, while Ortega’s former comrades, the poets and intellectuals are banned and lucky not to be in chains in a dungeon.

    It is not always thus but mostly it seems.

    I had not known the “Hermit Pope” was imprisoned and possibly murdered after resigning until the recent election of a new Pope.  I had only been told that he, as a peaceful hermit, couldn’t stand the palace intrigue.  I guess he might have had a sword at his back.

    SATAN, n.

       One of the Creator’s lamentable mistakes, repented in sashcloth and axes. Being instated as an archangel, Satan made himself multifariously objectionable and was finally expelled from Heaven. Halfway in his descent he paused, bent his head in thought a moment and at last went back. “There is one favor that I should like to ask,” said he.

       “Name it.”

       “Man, I understand, is about to be created. He will need laws.”

       “What, wretch! you his appointed adversary, charged from the dawn of eternity with hatred of his soul — you ask for the right to make his laws?”

       “Pardon; what I have to ask is that he be permitted to make them himself.”

       It was so ordered.

    The Devi’s Dictionary

    Best,  Terry

  20. terryhallinan

    like dried rat turds in an empty barge.

    The previous dictator of Nicaragua was Somoza , not Batista.  The putative major opposition party is the PLN, led by a convicted felon who made a deal with Danny Ortega that allows Ortega to work his will on the people without hindrance.

    On 16 January 2009, Nicaragua’s Supreme Court overturned the 20-year corruption sentence against former President Arnoldo Alemán. The decision generated some controversy: “stunned opposition lawmakers immediately suspected a secret deal between Mr. Alemán, ranked one of the world’s 10 most corrupt leaders ever by Transparency International, and Daniel Ortega, President of Nicaragua and leader of the Sandinista Party, who wields considerable influence and control over the courts. “He’s handing over the National Assembly in exchange for his personal liberty,” said Congressman Enrique Saenz. Mr. Alemán, who denies the allegation, said, “Justice has finally been served


    Justice is always so sweet.

    I can’t believe I switched the names of dictators but they all begin to fuse together like Democrats and Republicans. Maybe I picked up those rat turds for brains from barges I once cleaned.

    Best,  Terry

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