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Why do people like conspiracies?

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Brian
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« on: February 24, 2011, 07:36:10 AM »

Here's a lovely article by Michael Shermer on the topic.
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Why People Believe in Conspiracies
A skeptic's take on the public's fascination with disinformation
By Michael Shermer | September 10, 2009

 After a public lecture in 2005, I was buttonholed by a documentary filmmaker with Michael Moore-ish ambitions of exposing the conspiracy behind 9/11. “You mean the conspiracy by Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda to attack the United States?” I asked rhetorically, knowing what was to come.

“That’s what they want you to believe,” he said. “Who is they?” I queried. “The government,” he whispered, as if “they” might be listening at that very moment. “But didn’t Osama and some members of al Qaeda not only say they did it,” I reminded him, “they gloated about what a glorious triumph it was?”

“Oh, you’re talking about that video of Osama,” he rejoined knowingly. “That was faked by the CIA and leaked to the American press to mislead us. There has been a disinformation campaign going on ever since 9/11.”

Conspiracies do happen, of course. Abraham Lincoln was the victim of an assassination conspiracy, as was Austrian archduke Franz Ferdinand, gunned down by the Serbian secret society called Black Hand. The attack on Pearl Harbor was a Japanese conspiracy (although some conspiracists think Franklin Roosevelt was in on it). Watergate was a conspiracy (that Richard Nixon was in on). How can we tell the difference between information and disinformation? As Kurt Cobain, the rocker star of Nirvana, once growled in his grunge lyrics shortly before his death from a self-inflicted (or was it?) gunshot to the head, “Just because you’re paranoid don’t mean they’re not after you.”

But as former Nixon aide G. Gordon Liddy once told me (and he should know!), the problem with government conspiracies is that bureaucrats are incompetent and people can’t keep their mouths shut. Complex conspiracies are difficult to pull off, and so many people want their quarter hour of fame that even the Men in Black couldn’t squelch the squealers from spilling the beans. So there’s a good chance that the more elaborate a conspiracy theory is, and the more people that would need to be involved, the less likely it is true.

Why do people believe in highly improbable conspiracies? In previous columns I have provided partial answers, citing patternicity (the tendency to find meaningful patterns in random noise) and agenticity (the bent to believe the world is controlled by invisible intentional agents). Conspiracy theories connect the dots of random events into meaningful patterns and then infuse those patterns with intentional agency. Add to those propensities the confirmation bias (which seeks and finds confirmatory evidence for what we already believe) and the hindsight bias (which tailors after-the-fact explanations to what we already know happened), and we have the foundation for conspiratorial cognition.

Examples of these processes can be found in journalist Arthur Goldwag’s marvelous new book, Cults, Conspiracies, and Secret Societies (Vintage, 2009), which covers everything from the Freemasons, the Illuminati and the Bilderberg Group to black helicopters and the New World Order. “When something momentous happens, everything leading up to and away from the event seems momentous, too. Even the most trivial detail seems to glow with significance,” Goldwag explains, noting the JFK assassination as a prime example. “Knowing what we know now ... film footage of Dealey Plaza from November 22, 1963, seems pregnant with enigmas and ironies—from the oddly expectant expressions on the faces of the onlookers on the grassy knoll in the instants before the shots were fired (What were they thinking?) to the play of shadows in the background (Could that flash up there on the overpass have been a gun barrel gleaming in the sun?). Each odd excrescence, every random lump in the visual texture seems suspicious.” Add to these factors how compellingly a good narrative story can tie it all together—think of Oliver Stone’s JFK or Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons, both equally fictional.


What should we believe? Transcendentalists tend to believe that everything is interconnected and that all events happen for a reason. Empiricists tend to think that randomness and coincidence interact with the causal net of our world and that belief should depend on evidence for each individual claim. The problem for skepticism is that transcendentalism is intuitive; empiricism is not. Or as folk rock group Buffalo Springfield once intoned: Paranoia strikes deep. Into your life it will creep ...

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=why-people-believe-in-conspiracies

Michael Shermer Interview - The Thinking Atheist Radio Podcast #17


My apologies if it has been posted before but I believe it warrants another read.
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st0nes
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« Reply #1 on: February 24, 2011, 08:02:21 AM »

My theory is that people believe in conspiracy theories because it makes them feel special--they are privy to information not shared with the populace as a whole.  I know what's going on, you lot are just fools who are being hoodwinked by sinister powers.
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GCG
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« Reply #2 on: February 24, 2011, 11:32:40 AM »

because conspiracies are AWESOME.
and i take offence to 'feeling special'
meanwhile, back at the ranch.  how many truths started off as 'conspiracies'?
the church conspired to keep the populace ignorant of, for argument's sake, the shape of our earth, and who knows what else.
surely, some conspiracies are dilly.  and as much as i deeply like old erich von daniken's stories, they are more likely than not, bollocks.
other conspiracies, might have more weight, and warrants more exploration.  dont diss the conspiracy.  it is a valuable tool in digging for truths.
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Rigil Kent
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« Reply #3 on: February 24, 2011, 12:11:37 PM »

because conspiracies are AWESOME.
You mean awsome in their entertainment, and not factual value?

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and i take offence to 'feeling special'
Ag, shame. Tongue

Quote
meanwhile, back at the ranch.  how many truths started off as 'conspiracies'? the church conspired to keep the populace ignorant of, for argument's sake, the shape of our earth, and who knows what else.
But ... your example only illustrates a case in which the conspiracy opposed the truth, not so? The truth did not "start off" due to the conspiracy.

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other conspiracies, might have more weight, and warrants more exploration.
 
Sure - those are called hypotheses.

Mintaka
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GCG
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« Reply #4 on: February 24, 2011, 12:48:36 PM »



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other conspiracies, might have more weight, and warrants more exploration.
 
Sure - those are called hypotheses.

Mintaka

uneducated joe's like me, call it conspiracy.  even rumour.
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GCG
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« Reply #5 on: February 24, 2011, 12:49:36 PM »

but i mean, really now.  what is more fun, sitting around a campfire, and rattling off conspiracy theories with mates?
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Hermes
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« Reply #6 on: February 24, 2011, 13:11:52 PM »

My theory is that people believe in conspiracy theories because it makes them feel special--they are privy to information not shared with the populace as a whole.  I know what's going on, you lot are just fools who are being hoodwinked by sinister powers.
Yes, exactly.  It's usually told by the guy who tries to impress, and then achieves precisely the opposite.  To them truth is to mundane to entertain.
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BoogieMonster
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« Reply #7 on: February 24, 2011, 16:19:24 PM »

but i mean, really now.  what is more fun, sitting around a campfire, and rattling off conspiracy theories with mates?

Sitting around a campfire and bashing a conspiracy theorists' theories to heck using reason.
Much like doing the same to a religious nut.

Hey it don't make me popular but it's bags of fun.
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cyghost
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« Reply #8 on: February 25, 2011, 07:46:17 AM »

100% agreed  Nice one BoogieM.
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Bandit
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« Reply #9 on: September 04, 2012, 09:26:28 AM »

I like Conspiracy theories because the standard theories to explain everything is boring....
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Brian
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« Reply #10 on: September 04, 2012, 09:48:47 AM »

Mebbe conspiracy theories are the new spook stories.
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brianvds
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« Reply #11 on: September 04, 2012, 13:40:38 PM »

I like Conspiracy theories because the standard theories to explain everything is boring....

That's exactly it: conspiracy theories make the world more interesting. And they make the believers feel special, seeing as they are privy to secrets almost nobody else knows about.
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cr1t
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« Reply #12 on: September 05, 2012, 11:45:38 AM »

I agree it is a mix of making the believer feel like he is on the in.
And it is a comfort to people. Because the real truth is more scarier than any
conspiracy out there, and that is there is nobody behind the wheel.
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beLIEf
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« Reply #13 on: September 05, 2012, 22:36:19 PM »

because conspiracies are AWESOME.

Agreed - yes for entertainment value, alternative theories cos yes some of them are boring, also looking at how ridiculously biased the viewpoints are, the feeling of being 'in" on something even if you're not - and having the ability to detach yourself from that do some other reading and make your own mind up.. regardless of what it is ....

There's so much information, misinformation, disinformation and plain shit information that we might as well have a giggle while we are sifting through it

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Brian
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« Reply #14 on: September 06, 2012, 09:40:05 AM »

I have a son-in-law that's a serious conspiracy theorist/believer (he ain't religious at all)and has done an enormous amount of research into the Illuminati, the ANC's pending ethnic cleansing/genocide (8 steps to chaos) camps etc that will be sprung on us in the short term. This has had an impact on my daughter/grand daughter insofar as they intend moving to Panama. My exhortations that this is BS have not had any effect (GCG you know the litey and can vouch for me!!)
How do you address this in a serious and effective manner? As you say it's all misinformation (or is it?), half truths and preys on people's fear and is BS but extremely difficult to verify/triangulate with reality/facts. The mining unrest serves as proof to these guys that shit is imminent!
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