Research by Hope Not Hate found this year that one in four Britons believe “secret satanic cults exist and include influential elites”, with even more believing that there is “a single group of people who secretly control events and rule the world together” regardless of who is in government. Such a popular belief in the textbook definition of a ‘conspiracy theory’ shows a general unwillingness to accept the conventional narratives we tell about society.
But how are we to say that such claims are unfounded?
Many theories which were once deemed ‘conspiracies’ have actually turned out to be true. The Dalai Lama truly had been working for the CIA for a while, the CIA truly had been working on mind control for a while, and smoking really is deadly. That last one was an example of a conspiracy from major corporations to block scientific research, something which continues to this day across the world.
But the core irony of most conspiracy theories, the line that sets them apart from what we might consider ‘truth’, is that most followers of conspiracies are far less ‘open-minded’ than they give themselves credit for. Followers of conspiracies like the now-unavoidable QAnon appear to be under the impression that simply deviating from what the rest of us believe qualifies as critical thinking. Once they’ve accepted this new belief that some shady cabal is directing world politics, their faculties for critical thinking no longer feel the need to engage.
Typically conspiracy theories discourage consuming any content that might disagree with their narrative, claiming things like ‘the mainstream media brainwashes people with subliminal messages, so never watch it’ (as is the case with QAnon, whose entire movement is based on trusting one anonymous user on 4chan who claims to have government ‘Q clearance’). You can tell something’s a conspiracy theory if it persistently reassures you that you’re ‘opening your mind’ by unquestioningly consuming its argument, and ignoring any contradictory sources.
Both sides of the political spectrum have politicised the term: left-wing journalists are hitting out more than ever against ‘right-wing conspiracies’, and right-wing politicians like Donald Trump are decrying the ‘fake news’ (a synonymous term, which is, if anything, more catchy) coming from left-wing media sources.
Every source of media has an agenda and a purpose behind the reporting they publish, including this article. The way to avoid falling for conspiracy theories is to be constantly vigilant, constantly reading from a wide range of sources, always questioning the motives behind their publication. That’s the closest we can ever come to truth, and surely, aiming to persistently question the hidden agendas behind the media of our world is a mindset that even conspiracy theorists themselves can get behind.
Featured image: Wikimedia Commons
Last modified: 20th November 2020