Why People Believe Conspiracy Theories

An Editorial

Recently, I got an e-mail from somebody I know and love who was once again telling me how the Islamofascistcommunistatheistelite-who-run-the-government-schools-courts-and-Democratic-party-and-are-out-to-get-Christians is preparing the way for establishing a totalitarian state. Some people would make the mistake of arguing with him and his fellow believers, saying something like “Look around you and use your common sense, dude.” But it would be a failed endeavor. For this friend of mine and all the other people who believe in conspiracy theories, there is a deep psychological NEED to believe. It doesn’t matter what the conspiracy is: the moon landings were faked, the CIA shot John F. Kennedy, rich conservative capitalists run the world through a secret society, the Freemasons/Illuminati run the world in secret, or there are aliens being held by the military at Area 51; in the end, they all boil down to the same thing.

1. “I have secret knowledge that the poor, deluded masses don’t have.”

Think about that for a minute. We all like to believe we are smart and that everyone around us is an idiot. Feeling superior gives us a sort of self-esteem high. It’s why people watch America’s Funniest Home Videos or World’s Dumbest. We watch other peoples’ stupidity and laugh, and think to ourselves, “Man, I’m glad I’m not that dumb!”

The core of any conspiracy theory is some sort of knowledge that only you and your small group of believers has. While the rest of the world calls you crazy, you can smirk about “Oh, what fools you all are. You’ll see.” It’s about the delusion that you are smarter than everyone around you, because you can figure out something other people refuse to see. If you think making fun of Jersey Shore makes you feel good about yourself, amplify that by twenty.

2. “There is a massive cover-up hiding this secret knowledge from everyone.”

It is impossible to reason with a conspiracy theorist, because in their minds, they can only be proven right. You can’t prove them wrong because they will say any evidence you present is just another part of the cover-up. As my dad puts it, “The surest proof of a conspiracy is lack of evidence, because it has been covered up.”

Of course, as soon as something comes along that might-could-maybe-if-you-stretch-it-and-turn-off-your-brain be interpreted as supporting their claim, they will seize on that and never let it go. Mysterious aircraft flying above the Nevada skies? It couldn’t be that there is an Air Force R&D facility in the area, it must be an alien spaceship! Several key Founding Fathers were Freemasons? It couldn’t be that Freemasonry was just a popular club in colonial America, it must be that the Freemasons created America as part of their world conquest plans and secretly run our country!

3. “This secret knowledge makes me a threat to the evil powers-that-be.”

People that believe in conspiracy theories are also naturally paranoid. But have you ever wondered why people get paranoid? Why would anyone conspire against them? In order to be a legitimate target for anything, you must be some pretty big, important dude. Paranoia is a form of egotism.

Conspiracy theories exist because they are power trips. With this secret knowledge, you are a threat to somebody powerful, and that gives you a sense of power. And if there is one thing many humans desire more than anything, it is power.

That, in the end, is why people who believe in conspiracy theories do so. They feel powerless in their daily lives, so they join some group of fellow powerless people who rally around a┬áridiculous┬áidea in order to make themselves feel more powerful. They NEED to believe, on a deep psychological level, because this misplaced sense of power gives them an addictive rush. It is useless to try to show them that they are wrong, because they will not accept that this power they feel isn’t real. So my advice to people who know conspiracy theorists, that I have learned from experience in dealing with my good friend, is to quietly smile and nod and ignore. He or she will just think you’re one of the deluded sheep who will pay when the bad guys do take over. And that’s just fine.