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Scientific American

Conspiracy Contradictions

published September 2012 | comments (31)
Why people who believe in one conspiracy
are prone to believe others
magazine cover

ON WEDNESDAY, MAY 16, I spent several hours on a hot bus in a neon desert called Las Vegas with a merry band of British conspiracists during their journey around the Southwest in search of UFOs, aliens, Area 51 and government cover-ups, all for a BBC documentary. One woman regaled me with a tale about orange balls of energy hovering around her car on Interstate 405 in California, which were subsequently chased away by black ops helicopters. A man challenged me to explain the source of a green laser beam that followed him around the English countryside one evening.

Conspiracies are a perennial favorite for television producers because there is always a receptive audience. A recent Canadian Broadcasting Corporation documentary that I participated in called Conspiracy Rising, for example, featured theories behind the deaths of JFK and Princess Diana, UFOs, Area 51 and 9/11, as if there were a common thread running throughout. According to radio host and conspiracy monger Alex Jones, also appearing in the film, “The military-industrial complex killed John F. Kennedy” and “I can prove that there’s a private banking cartel setting up a world government because they admit they are” and “No matter how you look at 9/11 there was no Islamic terrorist connection—the hijackers were clearly U.S. government assets who were set up as patsies like Lee Harvey Oswald.”

Such examples, along with others in my years on the conspiracy beat, are emblematic of a trend I have detected that people who believe in one such theory tend to believe in many other equally improbable and often contradictory cabals. This observation has recently been confirmed empirically by University of Kent psychologists Michael J. Wood, Karen M. Douglas and Robbie M. Sutton in a paper entitled “Dead and Alive: Beliefs in Contradictory Conspiracy Theories,” published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science this past January. The authors begin by defining a conspiracy theory as “a proposed plot by powerful people or organizations working together in secret to accomplish some (usually sinister) goal” that is “notoriously resistant to falsification … with new layers of conspiracy being added to rationalize each new piece of disconfirming evidence.” Once you believe that “one massive, sinister conspiracy could be successfully executed in near-perfect secrecy, [it] suggests that many such plots are possible.” With this cabalistic paradigm in place, conspiracies can become “the default explanation for any given event—a unitary, closed-off worldview in which beliefs come together in a mutually supportive network known as a monological belief system.”

This monological belief system explains the significant correlations between different conspiracy theories in the study. For example, “a belief that a rogue cell of MI6 was responsible for [Princess] Diana’s death was correlated with belief in theories that HIV was created in a laboratory … that the moon landing was a hoax … and that governments are covering up the existence of aliens.” The effect continues even when the conspiracies contradict one another: the more participants believed that Diana faked her own death, the more they believed that she was murdered.

The authors suggest there is a higher-order process at work that they call global coherence that overrules local contradictions: “Someone who believes in a significant number of conspiracy theories would naturally begin to see authorities as fundamentally deceptive, and new conspiracy theories would seem more plausible in light of that belief.” Moreover, “conspiracy advocates’ distrust of official narratives may be so strong that many alternative theories are simultaneously endorsed in spite of any contradictions between them.” Thus, they assert, “the more that participants believe that a person at the centre of a death-related conspiracy theory, such as Princess Diana or Osama [bin] Laden, is still alive, the more they also tend to believe that the same person was killed, so long as the alleged manner of death involves deception by officcialdom.”

As Alex Jones proclaimed in Conspiracy Rising: “No one is safe, do you understand that? Pure evil is running wild everywhere at the highest levels.”

On his Infowars.com website, Jones headlines his page with “Because There Is a War on for Your Mind.” True enough, which is why science and reason must always prevail over fear and irrationality, and conspiracy mongering traffics in the latter at the expense of the former.

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31 Comments to “Conspiracy Contradictions”

  1. Gil Says:

    What do the Lincoln Assassination, Watergate, Iran-Contra, and 9/11 all have in common?

  2. michael Says:

    mike from the english countryside says
    “man those green laser beams are a bitch,”

  3. Fred Says:

    To say conspiracies don’t exist is wrong. Nobody (or at least very few people) is denying that conspiracies happen. But we can discuss individual conspiracy THEORIES as they appear.

    Listing confirmed conspiracies does not make any existing conspiracy theory any more valid.

  4. Gil Says:

    Mr. Shermer,

    While I agree completely that too many people too readily believe in crackpot popular conspiracies without sufficient, reasonable evidence and often in the face of incontrovertible contradictory facts that should be a defeater instead of fodder for further bizarre rationalizations, there is a clear and present danger in adopting a rigid, anti-conspiratorial mindset.

    Proof of greater educational attention, flexibility and skeptical inquiry around this complex subject lies in the following provably true historical examples selected from a brief examination of American history, alone.

    The following should demonstrate, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that our story as a nation is chockfull of bona fide criminal conspiracies, at the highest echelons of government and society, where people were either: Convicted and hung (Lincoln Assassination); went to jail @ club Fed (Watergate); were pardoned after being convicted in federal court (Iran-Contra), or are still awaiting trial in military concentration camps (Gitmo), upon official indictment for criminal conspiracy in the commission of mass murder and terrorism, (KSM et al. 9/11), or have already been convicted for conspiracy to aid and abet (Jose Padilla, 9/11) before the fact.

    Yet, and this is the juicy deliverable of this lesson, none of the purported foreign financiers of 9/11, despite the bankrolling of the plot having been officially estimated to be around $500k, have been inconvenienced by so much as an indictment or international criminal warrant, because US officials deemed this otherwise criminal activity unimportant (The 9/11 Report).

    After having hopefully and successfully demonstrated these historical examples of conspiracy and corruption in high places from our nation’s past and ongoing present political/criminal history, Mr. Shermer, to say nothing of the most recent exposes of unpunished racketeering on Wall Street by Snakes in Suits, I now put my main pedagogic question to you.

    How do you in your role as a public educator and professional skeptic balance your mission to spread epistemic critical thinking and scientific enlighhtenment without becoming just another propagandist and apologist for a predictably corrupt system where criminal elites operate with virtual impunity while influential opinion-makers, public figures, national leaders, eminent academics and millionaire mass media pundits continue to abet their manifold malfeasances by spinning The Myth of Peaceful Progress (Rubenstein, R.)?

  5. Gil Says:

    Thanks, Fred.

    But my point here was not to say X conspiracy theory is true, because ABC previous conspiracies were true, which is the fallacy of “because of one thing, therefore another.”

    I am after larger public educational pedagogic game – How do serious public figures maintain credibility on this issue and fullfill a true public service when they spend the majority of their intellectual resources debunking conspiracy theories instead of teaching sound epistemic methods for sorting the real conspiracies based on evidence from the fallacious and deluded ones based on fantasy?

  6. Robert Sheaffer Says:

    Exactly. If the Illuminati are responsible, then the CIA is off the hook. If International Bankers are running the show, then you can’t blame the Jesuits or MK-ultra. Yet not only are the conspiracy theorists oblivious to these contradictions, but each one sees the others as CONFIRMING his own beliefs, even though they are mutually contradictory.

  7. James Adrian Lovegrove Says:

    Given the public fascination with, and suspicion of, conspiracy theories, it is amazing that the most powerful theories of conspiracy — those that have the largest geopolitical impact — are not recognized as such.

    Conspiracy theories and their truth trajectories – Mathijs Pelkmans and Rhys Machold:

    Focaal — Journal of Global and Historical Anthropology
    59 (2011): 66–80doi:10.3167/fcl.2011.590105

    http://wlu-ca.academia.edu/RhysMachold/Papers/1128792/Conspiracy_theories_and_their_truth_trajectories

  8. William Dietrich Says:

    The true believing skeptics do protest too much when they say there are no true conspiracy theories. Billionaires don’t collude to protect and expand their wealth and control. Capitalists don’t take advantage of workers. Ever hear of forced child labor? Governments don’t lie to the people and we can believe our politicians and elected officials. We all know Obama and Romney tell us the truth. I wonder why the approval rating of Congress is at a whopping 11%? People of great wealth are not greedy and don’t do bad things to working class people for financial gain. There are no war profiteers. Governments don’t conspire to take the resources and wealth of other countries. All wars are accidents of history and are not planned in advance. All Government mistakes are just incompetence. Wall Street Billionaire Bankers deserve their tax payer provided billion dollar bailouts and million dollar bonuses while foreclosing on the mortgages of the tax paying public who are unemployed. There was no Watergate or Iran Contra scandal. We just imagined that. This is the world of the true believing Skeptics who believe governments always tell the people the truth and never lie to cover their buts from prosecution. The true skeptic view of the world is the correct view of the world. We can trust their wise judgment.

  9. Don Richardson Says:

    People who believe the “official story” of 9/11 have failed to examine the evidence, which is overwhelming in favor of an “inside job.” False flag operations are standard procedure for people in power who want more power, more money, more prestige.
    Conspiracies happen every day in every town, on a smaller scale than those that make the news. They have been happening since the beginning of recorded history. But those in power feel the need to make the work”conspiracy” pejorative, negative, automatically wrong. It serves their agenda. Forget about connecting conspiracy theories; try looking at the evidence in each case. We are so gullible!

  10. William Dietrich Says:

    Don Richardson, You are right on target! The evidence in 9/11 points to inside job. The Intelligence Agencies have penetrated many organizations including the news media, higher education, military, Congress, and the skeptic fraternity. The anti-conspiracy skeptics do protest too much. Why are they trying so hard to convince us that there are no conspiracies? Why are they so worried that we don’t believe or trust the government? Could it be that some of the skeptics are working for one of the Intelligence Agencies?

  11. Angelina Says:

    For me, it seems that conspiracies are part of making the world feel safer.

    To people who believe in conspiracies at every turn, the notion that a government is incompetent and lax once in a while is far more scary than the thought that the government is so well organised that they can maintain multiple, massive cover-ups

    Equally, the idea that “random stuff happens” is also quite a scary thought. If there is a bigger picture behind things, whether it be “This happened to that person because they did/wore/ate X” or “This accident was really caused by the government”, then it is somehow safer than the idea that something bad could happen to you out of the blue.

    Yes, there have been conspiracies. Very few of them have been suspected before the leak of documents/data or before a court appearance. We know about most government/scientific/industrial/political cover-ups because someone on the inside (a politician, scientist, businessman) leaked the documents or information, not because it was suspected of being a conspiracy first, then they had to eventually admit “Ok, we did it”. Note the use of the word “most”, and also “very few” in the preceding paragraphs.

  12. Chris Howard Says:

    So true. I have a friend who maintains that “we” never landed on the moon, as well as claiming that the Germans, specifically the Nazi’s, built a base on the moon, and that there is video footage of “our” astronauts walking through the old Nazi base. When I questioned him about this discrepancy he just stared at me, blinked a few times, and then continued on with the narrative, like I had just uttered ancient Greek.

    It actually made me wonder how many times I do the same thing.

  13. Bad Boy Scientist Says:

    Dear Dr Mike,
    This had one very interesting finding: that there is a high correlation between believing one conspiracy theory and another. I am very curious if there was further analysis done to see if the correlation is stronger ‘within fields’ – e.g. conspiracy believers who believe in Area 51 cover ups are more likely to believe in the Moon landing hoax than other conspiracy believers.

    I ask this because I’m slowly realizing that conspiracy believers tend be be fairly adept at applying ‘critical thinking’ skills the problem is two fold: ignorance in some basic information and a set of assumptions based in a particular world view (they tend to mistrust authorities). For example many Moon landing hoax advocates apply logic pretty well to the facts they have … the trouble is they don’t have all the facts – rather all the information. Specifically after one explains night photography (and even conducts a demonstration – AKA experiment) they give up on the ‘missing stars’ complaint.

    I wonder if there are certain areas of ignorance that make people susceptible to particular types of conspiracy theories.

  14. Bad Boy Scientist Says:

    BTW: I wish I knew how to get a conspiracy theory off the ground – I have one I want to submit to the loonies, but so far no one has jumped on my band wagon.

    Charles Lindbergh’s flight across the Atlantic was faked – no man could have done that alone with the planes they had then. Really, an imposter took off from New York’s Roosevelt Field and landed in a field in Newfoundland (I’m sure there was some suspicious behavior by the double before taking off – if not, then THAT’s suspicious, he was heading to a likely watery grave!) – but, weeks in advance, Lindbergh and a second plane crossed the Atlantic in a freighter, went to Scotland and at the right time took off and flew to Paris! Voila’

    Can anyone help me get my conspiracy theory off the ground – so to speak? Thanx

  15. Tony Castleberry Says:

    There is a difference between “conspiracy” and “Conspiracy Theory” people. Conspiracies happen all the time and no one denies this. It is perfectly reasonable that greed will drive wealthy people to use their power to obtain or retain as much wealth as they can for example.

    Conspiracy theories always share a few defining traits that make them what they are:

    1) The Rube Goldberg device – Rube’s famous cartoon depictions of elaborate mechanisms to achieve simple tasks are EXACTLY like conspiracy theory explanations.

    Goal (proposed by CT-ists): To have grounds for invading Iraq.

    How did they do it?: By orchestrating a conspiracy of literally tens of THOUSANDS of people from at least 3 governments (NORAD, C.I.A., etc.) to murder nearly 3,000 innocents and frame up a Muslim terrorist with his roots in AFGHANISTAN?! And NO ONE decided to spill the beans and become the greatest American hero of all time by exposing their plan?!

    2) No grounds for falsification: A conspiracy can easily be verified and falsified (i.e. either my brother WAS at the basketball game Saturday night or he was not and MAY have been robbing the liquor store. If my brother showed up on the jumboTron video screen during Saturday night’s game, the conspiracy is falsified). A Conspiracy Theory…not so much. Every piece of evidence that contradicts or debunks the CT is just dismissed as more manipulation from the REAL powers that be.

    3) Morality fables: CTs are usually, if not always morality fables. Usually the message is something simple…”Trust the government and become slaves.” or some such. Often a cautionary tale about the progress of science and evil power-mongers who will use science to destroy us all as well.
    If we classify urban legends as a sub-type of conspiracy theory then we can include prohibitive, cautionary tales of sex and what not also.

    4) As Shermer explains in several of his books and articles, CTs are usually created as a response to an imbalance between the importance of the people in the true explanation and what they accomplished. For example, no one wants to believe that the leader of the free world was taken out by a lone nut working in a book depository, so they invent a sinister alliance of powerful people…

  16. Paul Susac Says:

    Enjoyed both the article and the commentary. This is really a slippery business isn’t it? Simply put, “Conspiracies” MUST exist or we would never have invented the word, on the other hand, a monological belief system is a real thing as well.

    It seems to me that if we are going to divide up the issue, a conspiracy is a social structure that is (by its nature) relatively secret, and therefor relatively hard to prove or disprove. While a monological belief system is a psychological process that occurs about said social structures. Looking at this concept though a “a unitary, closed-off worldview in which beliefs come together in a mutually supportive network” is descriptive of many other belief systems as well (religions can clearly fit this bill).

    Having identified the concept of a monological belief system (let’s call it a MBS for short), this psychological phenomena is an interesting field of study. Naming it is a good first step, but what are some of the components of this system? I want to posit a few (based on my personal knowledge of psychology)
    1) Low tolerance for ambiguity (this is a character trait)
    2) Low openness to new experiences (also a character trait)
    3) Poor reasoning skills
    4) Places little or no value on identifying disconfirming evidence
    5) Conservative political leanings coupled with conflictual personal attitude toward authority.
    6) Strong sense of personal powerlessness
    7) Fearful about the future
    8) Tendency toward sympathetic hyperarousal and/or anxity
    9) Alcohol abuse &/or dependence

    These are just guesses, but I’ll bet they don’t stray far. #1 &2 are no brainers – these are character traits that have been shown to exist in many personalities that are coupled with anxiety, paranoia and conservative political leanings. 3 &4 almost define the condition.
    #5 takes some explaining. Conservatives have been show to have a stronger sense of groupishness, in-group loyalty and obedience to authority than do liberals. Because the conspiracies are about group behaviors, and identifying sinister behavior in groups, it is easy to imagine a conservative with a strong sense of powerlessness projecting his fears onto the groups and authorities around him. Also, as people are motivated by fear they tend to cohere more in groups, and thus become more politically conservative.
    #6 is pretty self-explanatory – “I don’t have the power so the bad guys must…” Also the conspiracy feeds into the need to feel like [b]someone[/b] is in control.

    7-9 go together. A person with a hyper-aroused sympathetic nervous system is likely to interpret events in more fearfully. Similarly such people tend to self-medicate with alcohol, and to become even more anxious when they are sober (due to symptoms of post-accute withdrawal).

  17. The St. Dr. Oscar Says:

    I can improve on that. Mrs. Lindbergh was insane and killed her child, forcing Mr. Lindbergh to fake the entire kidnapping, the “Crime of the Century”. Hauptmann was in on the transatlantic flight hoax and was framed to silence him.

    And if you believe that, I’ve got some swampland in Arizona I want to sell you…cheap.

  18. Carolyn Marbry Says:

    The term my partner came up with for the central thread behind conspiracy theory acceptance was the “omnipotent malefactor.” They all seem to accept the existence of some Power Greater Than Themselves ™, whether it be the Illuminati or aliens from the planet Xerbix or or something more mundane like a government gone awry. But always, there’s the central idea that somebody has ultimate cosmic power. Add a bit of covetous anti-social to the mix, and you end up with someone extremely powerful to blame for everything bad that ever happens, even things that contradict each other, because the central truth is the OM, not the event itself.

    *Shrug* not something we’ve ever had time or resources to fully develop in terms of research, but food for thought.

  19. Another point of view Says:

    Paul Susac says conservatives have a greater sense of groupishnish. I disagree, there is probably a segment where this is true, but conservative means to be slow to change what works. I believe that thinking conservatives expect more than wishful thinking to change their minds. Conservatives can be like the Christian right that follows what they were taught as children, but they can also be atheists who have broken away from a strong religious upbringing because after a lot of thought they have determined that what they were taught as children were no more than fairy tales.
    Non conservatives can be groupish also. Some are thoughtful, some belong in that category because they belong to one of the groups that are being pandered to and some are childish and expect the world to conform to their dream world where everyone is kind and peaceful.

  20. Gil Says:

    @Tony Castleberry (Q#1) True or False. “With more scientific evidence on hand than Warren’64, U.S. Government’79 concludes JFK died as a result of a proable conspiracy involving two gunmen?”

    (PS: No cheating! Answer first, please. Cheaters will be failed and expelled. This is your American Conspiratorial History final exam. http://www.aarclibrary.org/publib/jfk/hsca/report/html/HSCA_Report_0062a.htm)

  21. Tony Castleberry Says:

    @Gil

    Sorry about being late to getting to this but in answer to your query: Not sure what you are asking me? I know you are quoting another source (and I can see your linking to the HSCA stuff) but am unsure what exactly you want me to answer? Do I think is even remotely likely that another gunman was involved? No…that would be ‘False’.

  22. Tony Castleberry Says:

    Ah…I think I see what you are after (admittedly after refreshing my memory on the laughable HSCA findings). The answer to your question then is : False. And whether or not they actually had “more evidence” than the Warren Commision is rather irrelevant. Kent Hovind often supplies ‘more evidence’ than the scientific persons he debates. What is relevant is the QUALITY of evidence and the quality of the reasoning employed to analyze said evidence. The HSCA findings about the , to them persuasive acoustical evidence was debunked BY A CONSPIRACY THEORIST! And the whole thing as far as I remember does not bother to substantiate it’s findings. It just repeats it’s findings alongside ambiguous or otherwise fallacious reasoning. Second gunman? Really? Where is the evidence of that? Did they find spent shell casings behind the grassy knoll?

  23. Tony Castleberry Says:

    Reading your first post Gil and you do realize that you start the thing off, right in the first paragraph with a straw man right? Skeptics are not advocating for or appearing to engage in any “rigid, anti-conspiratorial mindset”. An easy straw dummy to knock down as it implies prejudice and confirmation bias, but not one we are guilty of. And even if you manage to find some angry young skeptic who resembles your characterization, it does not more to refute our debunking than if you found one who was a white supremacist.

  24. Tony Castleberry Says:

    @Paul Susac

    1) I do not see this demonstrated to be true. It seems those employing the monological belief system (MBS) have a very HIGH tolerance for ambiguity so long as it supports the higher order belief (i.e. that government is inherently deceptive and/or malicious).

    2) I do not see this lack of openness to new experience demonstrated either, except of course when it comes to learning things like critical thinking/skepticism and contrary facts (to what they believe).

    3) I would disagree with this as well. Poor reasoning in regards to the conspiracy theories or what have you that they are advocating for but I cannot tell you how often I have encountered a hardcore skeptic and great critical thinker on such subjects as ghosts, God, Psychics and such who will become a completely irrational, faith-based advocate for 9-11 or JFK conspiracy theories.

    4) Agreed.

    5) False. If it was one thing Conservatives used to have over us Liberals it was that they did not have the Conspiracy theorists yelling nonsense at Ground zero, Dealy Plaza, NASA etc. This really changed dramatically with the coming of Glenn Beck and the Tea Party folks in recent years.

    6) Do not see this as being well evidenced either. In fact a LOT of CTists I have spoken with think of themselves as being VERY powerful. They and the perceived few who stand with them being the only ones who can thwart the NWO/Illuminati/CIA/etc.

    7) I don’t know about this being a defining trait of MBSers. It seems any sane person is fearful about the future. The future is unknown and we fear the unknown.

    8) Not sure about this one.

    9) Find this one laughable. In fact most of the CTists I have met have been completely sober or at the very least not the sorts to get drunk.

  25. Gil Says:

    @TonyCastleberry — thanks for your viewpoint.

    The question I specifically asked was a T or F about whether the U.S. Gov’t in ’79 did officially affirm the probability of a conspiracy in the JFK assissinaiton. So, the answer to that was “True.”

    BTW: I am exceedingly familiar with the history of debunkings to the HSCA ’79’s findings into JFK & MLK.

    Why is it that there isn’t equal conspiratorial curiousity about that one do you suppose?

    Anyway, what I find most interesting, aside from your certainty, is that to my knowledge: (a) In the 30-plus years since ’79, the U.S. Gov’t has never revised or reconciled the contradictions between Warren ’64 & HSCA ’79. (b) The full assisination archives into JFK are not scheduled for release (and they may still be held back by presidential order) until 2017. (c) Other government investigaitons into JFK criticized Warren ’64, CIA, FBI (re: Church & Rockfeller Commissions)and even accused officials within those organizations of suppressing information. (4) So, speaking stickly as a philosopher of history: “How can one make a rational decision about the events of Nov. 22, 1963 when all the relevant facts are not available?” (5) Lastly, are you asserting you believe Oswald acted alone as a “skeptic,” who is basing their conclusion on best-available evidence, or as one who has reached a firm conviction?

  26. steven cross Says:

    Anyone who says 9/11 was a conspiracy is absolutely right. It was a conspired by Alquaeda, Osama bin Laden and 19 religious fanatics. It was well planned, well funded and almost perfectly executed. To say it was an inside job, well, that depends on your viewpoint. It was definitely inside Alquaeda. Whether the US government had any involvement is open to complete speculation. Speculation however often ignores the facts.

    The conspiracy theorists often fall on the claim that it was a controlled demolition. If you know anything at all about controlled demolitions you’d know that it takes months of planning and preperation. We’re looking at tearing out walls, planting tons of explosives, drilling holes into support beams and doing this all while 50,000 people are working inside those buildings and thousands more tourists and customers are visiting each day. They could do all this without being noticed or at least someone asking what they’re up to? I am appalled that any intelligent individual would entertain such an idea! But then, again, if you ignore the facts it becomes easy.

    Now, if you think this out, a conspiracy of this magnitude, if it were an “inside job,” would take the complicancy of hundreds if not thousands of individuals in government. Why bother to hijack a bunch of airplanes,and then crash one into an open field in Penssylvania, plant explosives on several floors of two twin towers and building 7, and then fly the remaining planes into the towers and the pentagon as well? The logistics alone would be enormous and require the commitment of hundreds of inidividuals to keep quiet. If anyone knows their history, the government has never been able to keep very many secrets, espescially if it were involved in such outrageous activity. Are we to believe that there are so many americans who would be so lacking in conscience that they would willingly commit such an atrocity on their fellow citizens? And not one wistleblower among them? Come on! Stop ignoring the facts!

  27. Pippa Says:

    Excellent point, Mr Cross; if one thought for just ten minutes about the logistics of organising such an event in secret, and of keeping its organisation so, it becomes immediately apparent that it is impossible. Or, as you say, the co-operation of a lot of evil/cowardly people. It could only be done by people willing to be discovered upon its execution.

    In my opinion, the common thread to conspiracy theories (of the fantastical type) is they they are held by people who want to feel important, but aren’t. I realise that this probably sounds just mean, but I intend this as a thoughtful observation. People, I amongst them, naturally want to feel important and significant. Our culture has done a lot to prevent many people from experiencing a sense of personal importance through significant work or the direct appreciation of those who consume their work.

    Even as little as 50 years ago many people would have produced a product or service to its completion and possibly have met the person who appreciated (consumed) that product or service and thus experienced a real sense of contribution and importance in the larger social setting. Nowadays, as we specialise unimportant work into fragments completed by numerous people there is very little chance of feeling significant socially. Religion does a wonderful job of anesthetising that need but being a conspiracist goes some way to actually satisfying it – inside-knowledge of something significant is a great way of feeling important.

    I’m hopeful that the various “slow” movements are one expression of the desire to return to meaningful living, now we’ve spent so long at the mind-numbing party of consumerism. As I explained to someone recently, a brand label may make it a better shirt, but it doesn’t make it a better me. I propose that, by inverse logic, conspiracists believe that expressing something fantastical actually does make them so. Wanting to feel significant is very important to people and logic is no reason (pun intended) to let that need go unmet.

    PS. I admit to liking labels.

  28. steven cross Says:

    Thankyou, Pippa for your insight. That is a very interesting comment. I have a couple of friends at work, one who firmly believes in sasquatch and another who is adamantly convinced of an “inside job” of 9/11. Both are enthusiastic about their beliefs. When I counter their beliefs with logic and reason, I get that stare and surprised look that immediately informs me I am wrong and they are so right. They have this excitement that they are in the know and the rest of us are blind sheep, victims of government manipulation. I am convinced that reason is wasted on them.
    As for consumerism, I have no doubt we are being manipulated. Why else would so many billions of dollars be spent to convince me to eat at McDonalds, shop at Walmart, and buy the latest techno gadget from ATT? And yes, labels are a conspiracy and you are victim my friend!

  29. chris (Timor Leste) Says:

    CT are actually quite interesting. I used to believe them 100% as it was exciting to believe I was privy to some huge secret. Trouble was, no one seemed to do anything about any of the CTs, except complain.

    I think the there should be a core set of questions that every CT should be filtered through, then they can all be treated the same way and we will then have a better idea of the CT’s validity, based on evidence, rather than people’s beliefs. In short, asking the right questions is more productive and encourages some mental assessment by all parties. Statements, on the other hand may be rejected immediately and the messenger becomes a target. This becomes the norm for die-hards who already ‘know’ the truth and will not engage in further examination.

  30. Pete Medina Says:

    Saw you on the bus on that BBC program last night. It was interesting to hear your brief talk down of that hostile woman. I’m afraid she sounded silly, but you and the host handled it well. Just tuned in to see your part, haven’t watched any of the other shows.

  31. Joseph Sheppard Says:

    I am a skeptic of popular conspiracies, and am also skeptical of large corporations, government and organized religion. What do all these have in common? They are all sources of irresistible power and wealth (I’m including popular conspiracies here). It is impossible for the popular media to be mostly honest and reliable. The same is true for any structure, be an organized religion or government.

    What makes me skeptical of popular conspiracies is that they don’t follow the rule of first seeking the most simple explanation for the know facts. (i.e.: crop circles = aliens, psychological disorders = aliens, ufos = aliens, or anything initially unexplicable = aliens). If I see an aircraft plow into a building, I am most likely going to believe it might just cause its destruction.

    Another problem with popular conspiracies is that their authors and supporters seem to become experts in everything (9/11 “inside job” believers seem to be aviation and structural engineering experts, that apparently hold degrees in several sciences.)

    Believers in “PCs” are inconsistent in their skepticism. Some will say the food industry or pharmaceutical companies and modern medicine are either, “using us for guinea pigs”, “poisoning us” or both. But the same will sign up for the latest plethora of Internet miracle cures without question as long as the words “holistic”, “natural”, or “homeopathic” accompany them. What would it benefit a doctor or pharmaceutical company to give bad advice or medicine to their patients? On the other hand, hawkers of miracle cures have been around a long time, but are more often unaccountable and hard to find.

    This is a fascinating study of human nature. I don’t plan to spend anymore time on it, since keeping myself and my immediate family fed, clothed and sheltered is about as great a sphere of influence I’ll ever have.