2nd May 2014
Conspiracy theory is defined as a belief which develops after a sudden and unexpected event happens on a large scale. Such theories are controversial and most of the time are not true but are difficult to ignore. Many people believe in such theories for various reasons. Some very famous conspiracy theories have developed around events that include the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the attack on Pearl Harbor, Princess Diana’s death, September 11th 2001, and many more. These all were big events which happened suddenly and unexpectedly. Some conspiracies regarding these big events were believed by many people and over the time they became conspiracy theories. To date, little research has been done regarding conspiracy theories and into what kinds of events stimulate such theories. The most mysterious thing about conspiracies is who tends to believe more in conspiracies. This paper will discuss how people develop conspiracies and why people believe in such theories.
Conspiracists used different tactics to develop conspiracy theories and most of the time, these theories are irrational explanations for complex events. Niccolo Machiavelli, the famous theoretician of power once stated, “Experience shows that many conspiracies are made, but few succeed” (qtd. In Gruter). Thomas Gruter, Professor at the University of Munster in Germany, in his article, “Secret Powers Every Where,” highlights some common methods used by conspiracists to develop such theories. Gruter discussed many points used by conspiracists. For instance, conspiracists create doubt among people about sudden events and make them believe that everything happens for a reason. They relate different events with omens and superstitions to achieve meaning and find an explanation for big events. Conspiracists make false stories about different events and come up with hypothetical enemies. Gruter further says they create rumors about authorities, politicians and other powerful people and claim that authorities are paid by enemies to cause turmoil in society. Over time, they engage many people into believing conspiracy theories (Gruter). In this way, sinister people take advantage of big events which do not have any tangible evidence and develop conspiracies which cause many social problems, such as mistrust, doubt and misunderstanding among people, groups and nations.
Many people believe in conspiracy theories for different reasons some of them are explain in the following passage. Sander Van der Linden, a research scholar at London School of Economics and Political Science, in his essay “What a Hoax,” states that many people believe in conspiracy theories but these theories are not true. Conspiracy theories are not proven like scientific theories; however, they are difficult to ignore. He further says that people also come up with conspiracy theories when they distrust authority, have a sense of powerlessness and feel uncertainty about themselves. In addition to this, Michael Barkun, professor at the Maxwell School at Syracuse University, in his article, “Conspiracy theories,” says that when sudden and unexpected tragedies happen, they leave unclear evidence behind. Even sometime eyewitnesses reports contradicting testimonies about the event which leaves much room for multiple interpretations and causes difficulty to get absolute truth. Conspiracists take advantage of such circumstances and narrate unreal stories about events while reassuring people that “important things happen for important reasons” (Barkun). Conspiracists tell people that such big calamities are not just a result of mere accident, but that there must be a big reason behind it.
While explaining mistrust of authority, Thomas in his article, “Secret Powers Every Where,” says that people mostly believe in conspiracy theories and unrealistic stories if they already have seeds of mistrust. Thomas explains the example of African Americans and the AIDS virus. Data shows that most African Americans believe that the US government created the AIDS virus and intentionally infected them to reduce their population. The author explains the reason for mistrust with the help of an example from the past. According to Thomas in 1932, American researchers purposefully infected 400 black men with syphilis in Tuskegee for a clinical trial which was extremely unethical. Almost all of the victims were dead after a couple of years. This unethical study caused mistrust in the black community in the US. As a result, it is easy to understand why most African Americans believe that the AIDS virus was deliberately created by the US government to also kill African Americans. Such ill treatment by others develops mistrust among people and provides room for believing in conspiracies.
There have been many explanations for how psychology and biology of individuals makes them to believe in conspiracy theories. Patrick Leman, a psychologist at Royal Holloway University of London, claims that belief in conspiracy theories is increasing rapidly. Leman says that it is difficult to tell that who will believe a conspiracy theory and why, but psychology can help to get some answers. Leman says that people from low income families are more likely to believe in conspiracy theories compared to high income families. Research has shows that minority groups who are marginalized by society are more likely to believe in conspiracies. Leman analyzed his results and says that peoples’ belief depend on how they “form aspects of their identities such as ethnicity, socioeconomic status and political beliefs” (Lamen). In addition to this, the human brain has also capability of generating reasonable stories about unexplained and complex events. An article from The New York Times, “Why Rational People Buy into Conspiracy Theories” discuses an experiment done by Paul Whalen, a scientist at Dartmouth College, about the human brain. The studies show that the amygdala has capability to generate stories to help them understand sudden and unexpected events (Koeth-Baker). This may be one reason why people come up with conspiracies.
Though there are many people who believe in conspiracy theories, but we cannot draw a strict line between pro conspiracy theorists and anti-theorists. At least everyone in their life once believes in a conspiracy. Reasons for belief in conspiracy vary from one group to other. For example, most people in my country Pakistan belief in conspiracy theories of 9/11 because the US government has many times deceived our people. For instance, the US conducts random drone attacks on civilians in tribal areas of Pakistan where thousands of innocent people, children and women, are dying. Most of the time, the US media misrepresents causalities of civilians in drone attacks and claims that they have killed terrorists. Such ill behaviors provoke negative thoughts about others. As a result, the US citizens believe in conspiracies about Muslims and Muslims believe in conspiracies about the US. Though it is difficult to avoid conspiracies we can lessen them while being honest with each other and before believing in any thing we should give a second thought on it. Today, world is become a global village and social media has connected people across the world. We should take positive advantage from it otherwise it will be very difficult to lessen conspiracies from the world.
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