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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.
Quote
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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« 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?

Quote
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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« 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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« 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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« 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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« 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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« 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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« Reply #15 on: September 06, 2012, 15:35:13 PM »

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!

and the rapture? Huh?
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Brian
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« Reply #16 on: September 06, 2012, 16:18:06 PM »

Yeh! and the muti and the BS that goes with this weird mindset. People see what they want to see. Of course there have been many conspiracies and it's easy to point this out ex post facto....it's the "privileged" access to mis/dis/information that no-one can verify but is mis-/ab-/used that boggles the mind. I have applied Occam's Razor, the Bullshit detector and plain logic but to no avail.  WTF!!
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Rigil Kent
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« Reply #17 on: September 06, 2012, 16:26:39 PM »

Why? Cause were just microscopic cogs in his catastrophic plan - designed and directed by
his red right hand.

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brianvds
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« Reply #18 on: September 06, 2012, 17:18:10 PM »

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?

By pointing out that the ANC could not even transport a few inanimate truckloads of high school textbooks from one province to another. How exactly are they going to plan and execute the transportation of several million irate, wildly shooting Boere to death camps?

My main problem with all conspiracy theories is this: they presume that humans are capable of planning to an extent that history has shown over and over we are not. Even perfectly legitimate, above-ground operations routinely go utterly wrong (not to mention above budget) and have to be hastily redesigned on the fly. But relatively small numbers of people can flawlessly plan and execute, without anyone noticing, absolutely vast programs of physical or social engineering? Tell me another one.
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Brian
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« Reply #19 on: September 07, 2012, 16:06:07 PM »

I agree brianvds: here is my son in laws' latest view on Shermer's article:
Quote
It must be really cool to be this guy. Taking everything on face value makes the human condition / situation a lot more bearable. The problem is that he's boxing "conspiracists" into the loon bin, and not taking any consideration of the investigations that have gone into some of the conspiracies themselves (real evident as opposed to intuition). In order to refute a conspiracy, you have to negate a trend and a thread that links events. Conspiracies are more than single events. True conspiracies - the ones that have a profound effect, require planning and a long term vision to ensure a sustained outcome. This may be over years, decades or even centuries ( particularly economic based) depending on the outcome desired. So any major event that has a conspiracy attached needs to be seen (and investigated) as part of a chain of events. Looking at an event in isolation does not offer a logical contextual explanation. To get to the truth, we have to keep asking why until we cannot any more. Taking mainstream news or popular view on events proves nothing. Not so long ago the popular view was that the world was flat and God saw everything and the Pope was actually chosen by the allsmitley.

I have to say that I’m slightly offended that he suggests that empiricism has no place in conspiracy – that’s a very broad assumption. And any true conspiracy always “depends on evidence for each individual claim”.

The Hon. Mr Shermer makes reference to some of the high profile events and conspiracies - so let's look at them from a different angle.

World Trade Centre.

The official nutshell view:

A group of nutters went through 2 weeks of flight training in small aircraft and orchestrated the surprise attack of all time utilising jet passenger aircraft. It was a carefully orchestrated and planned chain of events designed to threaten the American way of life, democracy and freedom.

In order to prevent this from ever happening again, the American government had to institute stricter security controls and monitoring of populous behaviour through the Patriot Act, as well as invade two other countries to topple dictators who were connected to this by harbouring terrorist groups.


The unofficial nutshell view.

They thwarted aviation security controls not once, but four times, and even attacked the most secure airspace in the world over the Pentagon. The no-fly zone is a fifty mile radius with a 200 mile monitoring and warning system.

The official account - on both flights, is that flight control did not know where the 767’s were because the transponders were switched off and could not be detected on Radar (WTF??). Radar is “an object-detection system which uses radio waves to determine the range, altitude, direction, or speed of objects.... The radar dish or antenna transmits pulses of radio waves or microwaves which bounce off any object in their path”. Even idiots understand that radar does not require a transponder from aircraft.

Flight 175 crashes into the south tower a full 16 minutes after the first attack – and not one air force fighter jet in sight – the air force’s excuse? The transponders were off and they did not know where the 767’s were.  The radar could not detect them...

Officially, after the aircraft crashed in the south tower, the temperature of the burning jet fuel caused the steel skeleton to melt, and the towers to collapse.
Three things raise concerns here:
1.   The towers were designed specifically absorb the impact of airplanes, including Boeings (granted 727 and 707). This is a specific cage design for this purpose.
2.   The maximum temperature of burning jet fuel (specific to the grade used) is not hot enough to melt the particular grade of steel used in the towers.
3.   The towers did not topple or collapse – they imploded – a physical impossibility due to the structure and heights of the impact zones (BTW – these are engineer reports, not my own assumptions)

Supporting the theory that the towers were imploded, are numerous reports of engineers and investigators stating that girders were found at ground zero that had been plasma cut at 45 degrees, consistent with demolition practice prior to implosion of such structures.

Building 7’s collapse was preceded by a (recorded) phone call by Larry Silverstone – the owner of building to “pull it”. The firemen operating rescue missions in building 7 all refer to popping explosions consistent with demolition, and witness (and in some cases testified) to the building imploding as in a controlled demolition and being unaffected by the towers. This certainly suggests that building 7 was pre-charged – not exactly a common practice to buildings in use.

The pentagon crash did not have any debris, and the hole from the crash was inconsistent with the airplane crash aftermath that would be (conservatively) expected. 

Four of the identified hijackers have been identified as alive and well in the years since 911.

The “experts” confirming the building collapses and pentagon crash evidence are all government employees or contractors. The experts refuting this were all independent. There were two public employed engineers who refuted the official claim (I’ll have to find their names in the archives). Both were dismissed with gag orders.

Ok, so that should take care of some of the empirical evidence Mr Shermer desperately needs as a sceptic.

So as an example of conspiracy (and why people believe them), we have: Logical Evidence

Let’s look (broadly for now) at trend and tread:
Mr Shermer  also refers to Pearl Harbour. Very, very broadly (‘cause I don’t have the time for the hundreds of pages required – but if you like, I’ll send the links and then welcome you to my world! Hahahaha), there is a trend to accompany the thread:

1.   The US government wanted to enter the 2nd world war against public opinion
2.   The US government wanted to go to war with Afghanistan and Iraq against public opinion
3.   Both president’s largest backers (at each time) were arms manufacturers.
4.   And the list goes on

He also refers to JFK. It’s very interesting that he co-drafted and lobbied for legislation to dismantle the Federal Reserve, and provide currency from government and not the private sector as well as an economic system that was gold valued against reserves, disallowing leveraging as a profit principle. He was taken out (If I remember correctly) a week before this went to congress for voting.

It’s one conspiracy that goes a long way to negating the view that generally conspiracies are nonsense with no base. I suppose it depends on who’s making the most noise.

Also adding to the mix is that an incompetent bureaucrat is a conspiracy architect’s dream. The conspiracies like 911 are larger than government. Governments are there to do the bidding of those who hold the purse strings – and there’s enough proof of this.

With reference to paternicity and agenicity – I suggest that it depends on how deep one looks – and certainly not at random events. If certain events were random the same names would not be cropping up. The whole point of identifying a conspiracy is to negate the random noise.

Ironically, this particular sceptic does not seem to recognise the greatest conspiracy of all time (the centuries long type referred to) – religion. How much proof does he need?

Mr Shermer  (and many other  others of the ilk) is very articulate and clearly intelligent, but perhaps he knows more than he understands?
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brianvds
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« Reply #20 on: September 07, 2012, 17:33:38 PM »

I agree brianvds: here is my son in laws' latest view on Shermer's article:...

Well, it's clear that his belief is unshakable. Good luck. :-)

One does wonder this: who exactly WERE flying those planes then? Where in America did they get people with enough backbone to go on a suicide mission, not even for any principles, but just to make someone else rich?

Well. If Muslims are willing to do it for 72 virgins, perhaps Americans will do it for 72 extra large pizzas. :-)
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« Reply #21 on: September 07, 2012, 18:40:27 PM »

One does wonder this: who exactly WERE flying those planes then? Where in America did they get people with enough backbone to go on a suicide mission, not even for any principles, but just to make someone else rich?
A few seconds before impact, the pilots were teleported off the planes by some Men in Black.  The government has had alien teleportation tech for yonks now, ever since Jesus’ resurrection at Roswell at least, and so it all fits together, see?

The pilots are now living the quintessential life of Riley in the Bermuda Triangle, albeit under a heavy blanket of secrecy and security (which mysteriously disappears every so often for a short while, and that’s how we know about it).  Meanwhile, their families were told that they died in the bedlam of 9/11 and that their bodies were disfigured beyond recognition.  The families also all received a handsome insurance payout channelled through an impenetrable web of underwriters but ultimately funded by a small elite of Vatican-aligned Wall Street bigwigs.

This separation and concealment from their families was the price the pilots had pay for the privilege of deliberately doing away with upwards of 3,000 of their fellow citizens.  The in-depth psychological testing that had to be done in order to identify suitably psychopathic airline pilots was performed under the guise of a new safety programme, which is why it wasn’t widely reported.

Any other loopholes are purely cases of misperception and the result of underestimating the capabilities of the inner circle that planned it all.

Next question, please.

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« Reply #22 on: September 08, 2012, 13:53:44 PM »

Quote
Ironically, this particular sceptic does not seem to recognise the greatest conspiracy of all time (the centuries long type referred to) – religion.

Is religion a conspiracy?

My understanding of a conspiracy is a centrally controlled secret agenda to pursue specific goals through deceit.  I fail to see how that could apply to “religion” collectively.  A multitude of diverse religious beliefs originated independently in various parts of the world.  These may range from pure superstitions to belief systems where deities are worshipped.  The fact that there are, and have been, such a diversity of religions, proves that there is no central conspiracy.  This is reinforced by the prevalence of religious rivalry and wars.

One may then proceed to ask whether individual religions are conspiracies.  Again, it is hard to imagine (say) all Christian or Islamic groupings secretly conspiring while fighting in the open.  Co-operation among religious groups occur, but there is no evidence to believe in the existence of a clandestine control.

That brings us to the level of individual churches.  On this level we do find a varying degree of clandestine activity, depending on the church in question, especially when it comes to finances and yielding power.  Certain activities within individual churches may indeed be regarded as conspiratorial.  Even so, I would not claim that the belief systems propagated by such churches are fundamentally conspiracies.  This would imply that the leaders of such churches don’t in fact believe what their churches preach, yet condone the message in order to pursue an ulterior agenda.  Such a claim would be extraordinary and therefore require extraordinary proof to attain credibility.  That proof is largely lacking.

Religion can be abusive in many ways.  It can distort morals, extort money, exert power and act selfishly.  It can accommodate conspiracies, but to claim that religion itself “is a conspiracy” would be misguided.
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Brian
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« Reply #23 on: September 10, 2012, 09:17:32 AM »

Agreed Hermes. The approach most conspirators seem to use is to suspect some Big Brother is behind it all. This reflects a paranoia  that ranges from the silly to the radical activities of mass murderers(a la the guy in Norway...forget his name!) I don't need to tell you what religion is all about, but I don't see it either as a conspiracy but rather a indictment against man's (sic) incapacity to separate BS from reality.
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« Reply #24 on: September 10, 2012, 09:58:03 AM »

The approach most conspirators seem to use is to suspect some Big Brother is behind it all. This reflects a paranoia  that ranges from the silly to the radical activities of mass murderers(a la the guy in Norway...forget his name!) I don't need to tell you what religion is all about, but I don't see it either as a conspiracy but rather a indictment against man's (sic) incapacity to separate BS from reality.

Yes, though that would be "conspiracists" rather than "conspirators".  Wikipedia describes "conspiracism" as a
world view that places conspiracy theories centrally in the unfolding of history,
so apparently a conspiracist isn't just any conspiracy theorist; you have to believe in a really BIG motherfucker Brother to qualify.
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« Reply #25 on: September 21, 2012, 09:22:11 AM »

On the psychology behind the persistence of misinformation.  The principles outlined apply equally to all forms of false belief, be they conspiracies, religious or woo-woo science/medicine.  Towards the end of the article, five points on how best to combat false beliefs are given.

The full report can be downloaded here (PDF, 450 kB).

'Luthon64
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« Reply #26 on: January 11, 2013, 16:39:23 PM »

I take in a computer to a techie: we get talking on moon landings: "Ah but that's if you believe they actually landed on the moon" he says. "...and why do you think they didn't?" I ask. "Well," he says, smirking knowingly. "On earth we are held together by gravity and air pressure. Now in space these forces don't apply. Therefore a space craft with a thin metal skin would simply disintegrate in space." "Jeez", I reply, "you mean NASA never thought of this challenge?". "It's all bullshit", he says, "media-hype........" WTF!!
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« Reply #27 on: January 11, 2013, 17:54:32 PM »

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!

I am sorry to hear about this. Must be hard for you.
But atleast he didn't believe that it was the end of the world?

Out of my own experience there is just nothing you can do if the person doesn't want to believe you.
Don't give up hope - atleast then you know you did your best.
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