steve

The psychology of conspiracy theories

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Split off from this thread:

 

 

 

 

I find the draw to conspiracy theory or denial of fact to be a fascinating phenomenon.

I experience it myself from time to time - grasping at an explanation which contradicts general consensus that may not have solid evidence to support it. Why are we drawn to this? One of the challenges of current times is that the sheer volume and pervasiveness of misinformation and spurious information makes it very difficult to assess competing theories.

 

There has been quite a bit written about the phenomenon and I expect there to be more study in the aftermath of the the Covid pandemic. The article linked below points to the motivation for such behavior to be for some a feeling of social identity and for others a feeling of uniqueness... 

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/talking-apes/202007/why-are-conspiracy-theories-so-appealing

 

Here is a review of recent psych studies looking at the topic that seems to suggest that conspiracy theory indulgence is not effective at satisfying its objective...

https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/0963721417718261

 

I wonder if anyone wants to discuss this here? I'd be happy to start a new thread otherwise.

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Excellent points, Steve.  Thanks for the links.  I regret losing track of an excellent source on the intellectual structure of conspiracy theory indulgence, but if memory serves, it had something to do with the process of becoming reflexively skeptical of just about everything.  This is consistent with the younger people I work with in the restaurant industry.  They don't really believe in anything; they are mostly against everything.  No political center of gravity, just a reflexive animosity to social institutions and those who work in them.

 

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I suspect some of the reactivity you reference has its foundation in a lack of trust. Our current system of government, news resources, social institutions, religious institutions, educational institutions, health care system, etc... are failing us. They are largely corrupt, focused primarily on extracting profit and engendering addiction to material goods or political dogma. It’s no surprise to me to see a reactive disengagement, a refusal to accept anything offered up as a solution, understanding, or explanation from “the system” or the prevailing social consensus.

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6 hours ago, Encephalon said:

Excellent points, Steve.  Thanks for the links.  I regret losing track of an excellent source on the intellectual structure of conspiracy theory indulgence, but if memory serves, it had something to do with the process of becoming reflexively skeptical of just about everything.  This is consistent with the younger people I work with in the restaurant industry.  They don't really believe in anything; they are mostly against everything.  No political center of gravity, just a reflexive animosity to social institutions and those who work in them.

 

 

 

 

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I liked those articles. There has been a lot of research into how we look for patterns (especially faces--- evidently we may be hardwired to see faces because seeing a face that isn't there is ok, but missing a face that is there can be deadly). Adding to that that our primary use of logic and reason is to support the position we reach typically through non-logical methods, conspiracy thinking seems to be easy to pick up but hard to shed.

 

But on the other hand, as a Buddhist, I know that things are not as they appear. I also know that things are very much connected (i.e interdependent). So this pervasive feeling that something's not quite right has a basis. And this feeling that there is more going on than meets the eye is also founded. And as you point out, the complete institutional failure of... well... just about everything plays right into it. 

 

9 hours ago, steve said:

I find the draw to conspiracy theory or denial of fact to be a fascinating phenomenon.

I experience it myself from time to time - grasping at an explanation which contradicts general consensus that may not have solid evidence to support it. Why are we drawn to this? One of the challenges of current times is that the sheer volume and pervasiveness of misinformation and spurious information makes it very difficult to assess competing theories.

 

There has been quite a bit written about the phenomenon and I expect there to be more study in the aftermath of the the Covid pandemic. The article linked below points to the motivation for such behavior to be for some a feeling of social identity and for others a feeling of uniqueness... 

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/talking-apes/202007/why-are-conspiracy-theories-so-appealing

 

Here is a review of recent psych studies looking at the topic that seems to suggest that conspiracy theory indulgence is not effective at satisfying its objective...

https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/0963721417718261

 

I wonder if anyone wants to discuss this here? I'd be happy to start a new thread otherwise.

 

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What is sad about conspiracy theories is that they detract form real issues, such as environmental degradation and wealth inequality. Let's get up in arms about the government trying to get you to wear a mask, but let's forget all about the "Great Divergence" of wealth from the poor and middle class to the rich. 

 

https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2020/02/07/6-facts-about-economic-inequality-in-the-u-s/

 

https://www.vox.com/2016/5/23/11704246/wealth-inequality-cartoon

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Posted (edited)

Steve -

A new thread on the psych of conspiracy theories would be a good idea.  It's a fat subject.

 

Edited by Encephalon
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Posted (edited)

There is active Russian disinformation going on using people's dislike for anything to destabilize society. More chaos equals freer movement for Putin and friends.

 

Then there is also growing up in a society where money is the object of desire fueled by American social media. The hyper focus on lack and the overly simplistic tools on how to fix that lack: cars, houses, career, 'the secret'. After some time you get the feeling 'the system is rigged' and 'somebody is controlling the system' which it is in a way. Basically the young ones are inherenting a system that is exploiting and controlling them, at least that is one way of interpretating the gravitation towards conspiracy theories.

 

Also I think the current way of using facts to shut down how people feel about things is counterproductive. If people still feel the system is rigged then surely those facts have not solved the real issue? The fact checking way relies on suppression of feelings and so-called 'scientific evidence' rather than a resolution of said feelings.

 

 

 

 

Edited by johndoe2012
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https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2016/04/the-illusion-of-reality/479559/

 

We have not evolved to see objective reality because then we would have been extinct. Thus we live in a human generated reality however some of the things we live by are real in a sense like gravity.


So the human is built for generating its own version of reality hence conspiracy theories can proliferate.

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The massive upsurge in conspiracy theories and supporters of them thereof can be correlated to the phenomenon of manufactured news from across the globe. This is not a new thing, but what used to be annoying but seldom dangerous gossip and rumor mongering in the past has become almost always dangerous from both individual as well as social group perspectives.

 

The basis for destabilizing the status quo is generate FUD (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt). We have that in plenty in today’s social media fueled fake-news/alt-news delivered environment. Add a pandemic in the mix and that makes a deadly combination! 
 

I honestly think that most people who buy into these conspiracy theories aren’t looking to belong to a “unique” club, but are victims of systematic brainwashing on social media. 

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Posted (edited)

Interesting how conspiracy theories have swung from the stock-in-trade of the left wing to the right wing. 

 

Back when I was an edgy politics student it was all about capitalist brainwashing, Gramscianism, and Rage Against the Machine telling people to wake the fuck up.

 

Now its the lefties who are apparently all in charge and they want everyone to be (variously) vaccinated/aborted/atheist/gay.

 

Its weird the way the world turns.

 

Edited by Vajra Fist
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1 hour ago, dwai said:

I honestly think that most people who buy into these conspiracy theories aren’t looking to belong to a “unique” club, but are victims of systematic brainwashing on social media. 

 

One of the weirdest things that have come with Trump is a kind of factual relativism. Where no one is politically independent and truth comes from the mouth of whoever you trust the most. 

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7 hours ago, johndoe2012 said:

 

Also I think the current way of using facts to shut down how people feel about things is counterproductive. If people still feel the system is rigged then surely those facts have not solved the real issue? The fact checking way relies on suppression of feelings and so-called 'scientific evidence' rather than a resolution of said feelings.

 


There is also the use of facts to inspire emotional response.

 

Anyone looking to most any outlet is often presented guidance in the form of selective use of language, and even selective presentation of facts, to inspire the desired response of the presenter - I.e. narrative weaver. (Showing us what to look at, how to understand it, and even how to feel about it..)


Are we (in a general sense) intentionally kept in a perpetual emotionally inspired wobble, where we have little option but to look to the very people creating the wobble for some sense of guidance and security?

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57 minutes ago, Vajra Fist said:

 

One of the weirdest things that have come with Trump is a kind of factual relativism. Where no one is politically independent and truth comes from the mouth of whoever you trust the most. 


For some reason my thoughts continue to turn to the Roman Empire, and the idea “factual relativism“ has existed for a very long time..

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1 hour ago, Vajra Fist said:

 

One of the weirdest things that have come with Trump is a kind of factual relativism. Where no one is politically independent and truth comes from the mouth of whoever you trust the most. 

I think it is not specific to Trump at all. This phenomenon is visible in other parts of the world too.

 

I think the first reason is a growing dissatisfaction with the entrenched mainstream media (MSM) which has more or less got taken over by doctrinaires from both/all sides of the spectrum. And most of them aren't really journalists anymore...they are socio-political activists, with a mission to convert as many as they can to their perspective. 

 

The second reason is, that people are far more detached from each other physically, becoming progressively more virtual (social-media heavy), and hence the dehumanization of the "other" is very easy, along with the process of building echo-chambers (the various socio-political bubbles we see prevalent today).  Whatever is trending in the echo-chambers becomes "news". 

 

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1 hour ago, Vajra Fist said:

 

One of the weirdest things that have come with Trump is a kind of factual relativism. Where no one is politically independent and truth comes from the mouth of whoever you trust the most. 

 

I try to explain to people about how we've entered a kind of "Post-Truth" Era, and what the consequences of that might mean.  

 

Maybe there is potential for this to be a very good thing.  

 

No more "Reality" to pin us down.  

 

Yet the consequences appear to me non-trivial -as a species- should we refuse to rise to the occasion.   

 

How grateful I am to have been shown what it means to abide and the virtue granted thereby.  

 

 

 

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1 hour ago, Vajra Fist said:

Interesting how conspiracy theories have swung from the stock-in-trade of the left wing to the right wing. 

 

Back when I was an edgy politics student it was all about capitalist brainwashing, Gramscianism, and Rage Against the Machine telling people to wake the fuck up.

 

Now its the lefties who are apparently all in charge and they want everyone to be (variously) vaccinated/aborted/atheist/gay.

 

Its weird the way the world turns.

 

 

I agree.  

 

I remember checking back in on some "conspiracy" web sites from my younger years and being discouraged that they had ALL become Alt-right echo chambers.  

 

I remember thinking to myself that that seemed like quite a conspiracy in itself.  

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Posted (edited)
45 minutes ago, qofq said:

 

Yet the consequences appear to me non-trivial -as a species- should we refuse to rise to the occasion.   

 

 

 

Knowing who we actually 'Are', I think we will always rise to the occasion - even if 'rising' doesn't seem apparent at the moment.  The DDJ speaks of that which is to be deflated must first be inflated.  It seems to me that the deflation has begun.

I suspect that many of us here are 'lefties', but I'm not sure we want everyone to be vaccinated.  As to reproductive rights - I've had two abortions in my life.  One in a clinic, nice and safe.  One on a kitchen table with a sponge stuck into my mouth to keep me from screaming.  The doctor had driven up to California from Juarez, Mexico.  The problem is, girls will always find a way to try to abort.  The coat hanger and quinine pills didn't work for me, so I had to go to extreme measures.  (As though the others weren't).

  As for us being atheists - in a sense, we are.  Many of us here realize that worshiping a separate 'god' may be a fool's errand, and that we, indeed, are God.  We're just wrapped up in separate skin bags.  The wonderful thing is, there's no right or wrong here.  We understand only as much as we're capable.

  And I don't think the lefties want everyone to be gay. 

Edited by manitou
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5 hours ago, Vajra Fist said:

 

One of the weirdest things that have come with Trump is a kind of factual relativism. Where no one is politically independent and truth comes from the mouth of whoever you trust the most. 

 

This is not weird at all. I think factual relativism is a logical outgrowth of post-structuralism and post-modernism, which has dominated the intellectual arena at least for 40 years or more. Trump is just the populist version. 

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On 10/8/2020 at 9:23 AM, Vajra Fist said:

 

Now its the lefties who are apparently all in charge and they want everyone to be (variously) vaccinated/aborted/atheist/gay.

 

 

Lots of people feel that everyone should be vaccinated.  Some might believe everyone should be atheist.  Virtually nobody thinks everyone should be aborted or gay.  Not even the aborted gays themselves.

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5 hours ago, liminal_luke said:

Virtually nobody thinks everyone should be aborted or gay. 

 

Oh, I don't know...

It might be an elegant solution to the population explosion...

B)

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11 hours ago, ilumairen said:


There is also the use of facts to inspire emotional response.

 

Anyone looking to most any outlet is often presented guidance in the form of selective use of language, and even selective presentation of facts, to inspire the desired response of the presenter - I.e. narrative weaver. (Showing us what to look at, how to understand it, and even how to feel about it..)


Are we (in a general sense) intentionally kept in a perpetual emotionally inspired wobble, where we have little option but to look to the very people creating the wobble for some sense of guidance and security?

 

Scott Adams, the cartoonist who created Dilbert, did a podcast with Sam Harris. He said that Trump speaks truth to the way people feel, and that accordingly, facts were not as important. This struck me as an astute observation. I would agree that a lot of media seems aimed at making people feel a certain way, and usually negative since it draws people in.

 

I remember reading some time ago the book Amusing Ourselves to Death. As I recall, the author laid out how media (then the 1980's) was shifting away from providing relevant information to one's life (like the old local daily papers) to becoming "infotainment." For infotainment, the emotional/entertainment qualities are enhanced, and the useful informative parts are removed. I feel like this is exactly how things played out.

 

 

 

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Huang Po: "There is no truth, beware even of this truth".

 

Trump uses the first part to steer people to his version of the truth.

 

There is also the thing about psychics, that do no fit into the world of fact-checkers because humanity is still suppressing psychic information. So conspiracy theories are more attractive because they rely on the UNSEEN.

 

I see this "war" between psychics and non-psychics as yet another play God has written to make evolution go forward.

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16 hours ago, dwai said:

I think the first reason is a growing dissatisfaction with the entrenched mainstream media (MSM) which has more or less got taken over by doctrinaires from both/all sides of the spectrum. And most of them aren't really journalists anymore...they are socio-political activists, with a mission to convert as many as they can to their perspective. 

 

As a cloven-hoofed member of the "MSM" I can indeed confirm this. We no longer care about verifying every off-record source with at least two other off record sources, nor is getting a story wrong a major source of professional embarrassment and often also a sackable offence. Instead we just spaff out any old bollocks in the hope of attracting converts to our satanic plot. 

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1 hour ago, Vajra Fist said:

 

As a cloven-hoofed member of the "MSM" I can indeed confirm this. We no longer care about verifying every off-record source with at least two other off record sources, nor is getting a story wrong a major source of professional embarrassment and often also a sackable offence. Instead we just spaff out any old bollocks in the hope of attracting converts to our satanic plot. 

 

I'm guessing ... The Grauniad - right?

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