Page 9 - The 'X' Chronicles Newspaper - March 2019
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What Drives People To Conspiracy Theories                                                                                        9

              Conspiracy Theories:

                Here's What Drives

               People To Them, No

                Matter How Wacky

                   Continued from Page 8

          Real conspiracies

          Of course, sometimes conspiracies turn out to
          be real.
                 President Nixon tried to cover up the
          Watergate break-in; the Reagan administration
          sold arms to Iran to illegally fund the Contra
          rebels in Nicaragua, and the CIA really did test
          LSD on unwitting U.S. citizens.
                 Of course, one thing those conspiracies
          have in common is that they all came to light.
          And that is almost certain to be the case with
          any large plot like those imagined by conspiracy
          theorists.                                      horrified people witnessed the planes fly into         Irrational conspiracy theories can lead
                 Yes, conspiracies exist, but the real ones  the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, hasn't  people to not vaccinate their children, to deny
          usually don't fit the Hollywood mold of films   stopped conspiracy theorists from insisting the  the scientific evidence of climate change or to
          like The  Parallax View, The  Manchurian        towers collapsed because of a controlled       dismiss mass shootings like the one at Sandy
          Candidate or Oliver Stone's JFK.                demolition.                                    Hook Elementary as "false flag" operations
                 They imagine "a secret government               And what do you say to the people who   meant to spur gun control.
          employing hundreds of people that operate with  still aren't convinced we went to the moon or          A wildly irrational conspiracy theory
          supreme efficiency, everybody having the        that the Earth is flat?                        that presidential candidate Hillary Clinton was
          capability of James Bond and never making an           "I’ve learned that is there no such thing  connected to a child-sex ring that was being run
          error," said Gerald Posner, author of Case      as evidence that persuades a conspiracy        out of a Washington pizza shop even led to a
          Closed: Lee Harvey Oswald and the               theorist," Posner said. "It’s sort of a psycho-  man opening fire in the restaurant with a semi-
          Assassination of JFK. Posner began the book a   religious belief, in part. They just know it’s true  automatic rifle. Fortunately, he shot at the
          believer that the mafia was behind the          even if they can’t quite prove it."            ceiling and not the patrons.
          assassination, but his research led him to             Van Prooijen also called conspiracy             Van     Prooijen     believes    such
          conclude that the Warren Commission was right   theories a "form of belief."                   conspiratorial   thinking    can   undermine
          and Oswald acted alone.                                "It doesn’t matter how much evidence to  democracy because it sows distrust and leads to
                 "After 54 years, you say, 'Where’s the   the contrary you raise, these hardcore         groups perceiving each other as enemies.
          deathbed confession?'" Posner said of the       conspiracy theories will discredit the source of       Oliver does not believe conspiracy
          Kennedy assassination. "Where’s the guilty      the evidence," van Prooijen said. "It’s very easy  theories have a major impact on politics as
          person with a guilty conscience who comes out?  to dismiss evidence as being part of the       much as they are symptomatic of problems with
          Where’s the diary that’s been left by somebody  conspiracy, being part of the coverup. So it’s  the political system.
          that has now been unearthed?                    very hard to disprove a conspiracy theory."            "It’s less about the conspiracy theories
                 "Are there some out there that we never                                                 themselves and it’s more about kind of the flight
          found out about? I’m sure," Posner said. "But at Is social media making it worse?              from reason in political discourse," he said.
          the level of assassinating the president of the                                                "American democracy is a product of the
          United States, with the level of complexity and  Social media is often the scapegoat for many of  Enlightenment, it’s a very explicitly rationalist
          the number of people that would have had to     contemporary civilization's ills, but surprisingly  enterprise."
          have been involved, for that to have worked?    there is not yet evidence it is increasing the         And if people reject rationality to
          No."                                            number of conspiracy theory adherents.         embrace what they believe over what they can
                 The long-awaited release this year of           "I’m not yet persuaded that the number  prove, that Democratic enterprise could begin to
          nearly 2,900 previously classified records      of people who actually believe in them has     unravel. []
          related to the Kennedy assassination also failed  increased due to social media," said van
          to produce any evidence of a conspiracy to kill  Prooijen, adding that people believed in
          the president. But a few documents remain       conspiracies in huge numbers long before the
          classified, which is more than enough mystery   arrival of Facebook and Twitter.
          to keep the conspiracy theories around the             But van Prooijen and Oliver think those
          assassination alive.                            sites, as well as anonymous platforms like
                                                          4Chan, have increased the number of
          An act of faith                                 conspiracy theories out there and allowed them
                                                          to spread more quickly.
          The absence of evidence never got in the way of        "It was harder to get conspiracy theories
          a good conspiracy theory. No matter how         to your doorstep 50 years ago than it is now,"
          unlikely a given imagined conspiracy, and no    said Oliver.
          matter how many facts are produced to disprove         A person who might have been handing
          it, the true believers never budge.             out fliers on a street corner to get their ideas out
                 For example, even when Obama             in the past might have 200,000 followers on
          released his birth certificate many "birthers"  social media today, Oliver said.
          were still certain he was not a natural-born
          American citizen.  The fact that multitudes of So, what's the harm?
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