Thinking Like a Conspiracy Theorist

Sunday, December 4, 2022

What Is It

The moon landing was faked! JFK Jr. is still alive! Finland doesn’t exist! Conspiracy theories of all sorts have been gaining traction, thanks partly to the ease with which they spread online. But what makes someone more inclined to believe in vast conspiracies? Are marginalized groups who have been lied to by authorities more likely to be distrustful of official narratives? Or do common cognitive biases make all humans susceptible to this kind of thinking? And what can we do to combat the spread of conspiracy theorizing? Ray and guest-host Blakey Vermeule hatch a plot with Christopher French from the University of London, co-author of Anomalistic Psychology: Exploring Paranormal Belief and Experience.

Transcript

Transcript

Ray Briggs  
Is the media lying to us all the time?

Blakey Vermeule  
Isn't it paranoid to think we're controlled by unseen forces?

Ray Briggs  
What does it mean to "do your own research"?

Comments (8)


Daniel's picture

Daniel

Wednesday, November 9, 2022 -- 1:39 PM

What about the moon landing

What about the moon landing then? Why is it so hard to believe that some find it hard to believe? What's the nature of the evidence for it and how can one be expected to verify this evidence for one's self? Does one accept it on the basis of authority alone, or does the wish that it's true contribute to one's sense of the story's indubitability?

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Daniel's picture

Daniel

Monday, November 21, 2022 -- 4:53 PM

No one seems to worry about

No one seems to worry about whether or not the Mars landings were genuine, because there were no people on board. So why has the image of people walking around on the surface of Earth's only satellite aroused more skepticism than just blasting a tin can up there? Is it because people are characterized by complex biological processes which have not evolved to survive in hyper-orbital environments? And how would one demonstrate the truth of the claim to one who has some doubt about it? Would a postcard be sufficient? My purpose with these questions is to suggest that there is something quite dangerous about the way the topic is framed above, as though anything already established within educated opinion must become a matter of individual belief, the questioning of which generates ridicule instead of consideration. Take the geocentric model of solar rotation. Those who offered an alternate heliocentric model met with similar ridicule in the pre-Galilean period. More important however is the way in which any critique of commonly accepted authority can be dismissed as conspiracy theory. Without subsequent documentation, for example, Operation Northwoods during the Kennedy Administration and the FBI's Cointelpro program under Nixon would still be disregarded in this way. There's also the issue of roosting chickens. Should a government be exposed as lying to its managed population in a manner which appears systemic, difficult indeed would it be to then try to tell the truth in contradiction of a falsehood and have it be generally believed. Is it really so much more unlikely, for example, that a separate species of hominid inhabits the hollow earth, entering and exiting at the poles in periodically cited unidentified aerial craft, than is the claim in March of 2003 that the Iraqi government possesses vast stores of weapons designed for mass-destruction? More individuals probably believe the former today than anyone believed the latter back then. Considering the interplay between governance and the governed, it appears that conspiracies can be worn on both feet.

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Harold G. Neuman

Thursday, November 24, 2022 -- 7:45 AM

Ii suppose I have thought

Ii suppose I have thought like a CT since maybe 1968. Early on, It was not any conscious thinking, vis-a-vis, 'everybody's out to get us'..Then again, early on, I did not spend a lot of thought on who 'everybody' might have been. Matters are more complex now because of those interests, preferences and motives I have written of elsewhere: THEY are more scattered and diverse in more ways than this country boy believed possible. Add to that the confusion in philosophy over what sort of place it occupies in the world; whether there is anything it stands for; whether there IS anything worth standing for. Brian Leiter posted something today on his blog. It is a chart, showing the standings of various countries in areas of axiological and deontological interest. He introduced this on his blog masthead as: American Exceptionalism? My comment was among a dozen or so others. So, it appears there are lots of 'us' out to get lots of 'others': a nation of conspirators, all with interests, preferences and motives.

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Daniel's picture

Daniel

Friday, December 2, 2022 -- 5:00 PM

Are some interests shared by

Are some interests shared by most, or are all mutually exclusive? As motives and preferences are both varieties of interest, the question of whether or not some are shared is the one your observation explicitly raises. Beyond the obvious shared interests of health, hygiene, having enough air to breath, etc., are there any hidden ones which are held but not typically analyzed? Take the assumption of truthfulness in common social intercourse. Without it such activity could occur only with great difficulty. What your observation brings out is the fact that that's not necessarily the case merely because one assumes it to be so. The tension between the assumption and the actual state of affairs seems to be what worried Kant about states of affairs where there's too much lying going on. It weakens the primary assumption which turns out to be a necessary condition of social interaction, insofar as the practice of making promises and keeping them is necessary for group cohesion in concerted action, in turn needed for human survival as a species. In this relation, some have suggested a consequentialist reading of his purportedly deontological analysis, so that "don't lie" is equivalent to saying something like "humanity should be preserved". Would this then be a non-obvious shared interest belonging to those you describe? Are their machinations to undermine one another compatible with such an interest in presupposed veridicism?

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Daniel's picture

Daniel

Saturday, December 10, 2022 -- 2:15 PM

It should be noted that if a

It should be noted that if a commonly accepted event is explicitly doubted as to the veracity of its ordinary interpretation, that's not the same as saying that the questioned event is fabricated, rather only that there's room for legitimate questions as to its ontological status. Amongst so-called "9-11 truthers", for example, this error is commonly found. In that case, a tendency can be found to accuse parts of the U.S. government of participation in the crime on the basis of falsehoods contained in the official story or insufficient vigilance prior to its commission. In the latter instance, failure to prevent comes to be viewed as intent to perpetrate. This error is also observable in Professor French's ease by which a doubt about the human-staffed "moon landing" can be translated into assuming the questioner believes it was fabricated, making an epistemic negative into an assertoric positive.

Another issue with his analysis is the lack of a clear distinction between post-hoc documentation, where unlikely conspiracies were shown to exist, and antecedent override of improbability on the part of the theorist of such conspiracies, on grounds of prior examples. And where Professor French suggests that a conspiracy theory can't be wrong in the mind of the theorist on account of the supposition that if someone doesn't agree with them, they're either uniformed about it or concealing knowledge of it, he's describing a kind of psychosis, not a theory in any typical sense of the word. One area not touched upon however, but towards which some of the discussion tended, is the notion of mediately intentional organized group behavior with immediately intentional results for only a few of its members. If a retailer owns both a dietary pharmacy and a fast-food outlet across the street from each other, for example, the diet-pill business stands to benefit by increased obesity caused by effects of success at the food-outlet. Is that just good business, or has the retailer hatched a conspiracy to make people fat?

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Aleksandar

Saturday, December 10, 2022 -- 10:26 AM

Hundreds of false

Hundreds of false conspiracies are produced to hide real ones. 911 was created to accuse the Government, but the elite profited from it.

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Daniel's picture

Daniel

Saturday, December 10, 2022 -- 4:54 PM

So the 911 help-line was

So the 911 help-line was created so people could report accusations against the government? Thanks for the heads-up on this, as my former view that it was put in place to report other emergencies as well is now corrected. Your benevolence is greatly appreciated.

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Daniel's picture

Daniel

Sunday, December 11, 2022 -- 4:31 PM

OK, that was a cheap shot. I

OK, that was a cheap shot. I assume you're talking about 9-11, not 911. Still the question remains as to which one you're talking about, the 9-11 of 1973, or the one in 2001. Also I'm particularly intrigued by the reference of your use of the term "elite". Might you afford some help to current scholarship by elaborating?

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