Conspiracy

Frank Furedi (Christian Science Monitor 05Nv16) On the hunt for a conspiracy theory describes a model for this behavior and why it might occur.

People always search for meaning. But in our confused and ever changing world we feel particularly perplexed when it comes to making sense of the problems that confront us. One of the most important ways in which an absence of meaning is experienced is the feeling that the individual is manipulated and influenced by hidden powerful forces – not just by spin-doctors, subliminal advertising, and the media, but also by powers that have no name. That is why we frequently attribute unexplained physical and psychological symptoms to unspecific forces caused by the food we eat, the water we drink, an extending variety of pollutants and substances transmitted by new technologies and other invisible processes. As a result, global warming is not simply a climatic phenomenon but an all-purpose evil that can account for a bewildering variety of destructive events.

The simplistic worldview of conspiracy thinking helps fuel suspicion and mistrust toward the domain of politics. It displaces a critical engagement with public life with a destructive search for the hidden agenda. It distracts from the clarification of genuine differences and helps turn public life into a theater where what matters are the private lives and personal interests of mistrusted politicians. A constant search for the story behind the story distracts us from really listening to each other and seeing the world as it really is.

This makes conspiracy theory mongering just a modern day analog to the Greek and Roman gods. There are some distinctions to be made, though. The western civilization science ethos eschews the idea that we have to leave control of specific circumstances to some larger power. There is also the difference between conspiracies to explain the world when we don’t feel up to the work to find a better explanation and the use of conspiracies to impugn and malign.

This misuse of conspiracies is theater. It obfuscates. It lacks intellectual integrity. Many such theories often won’t even withstand an internal consistency check. But they create a world that is attractive to their target. This is where responsible citizenship requires that care be taken to make sure what one understands at least makes sense.

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