Conspiracy theory literacy

 

I thought I would write a few words about conspiracy theories.

What’s my personal relationship with conspiracy theories?

In general, I don’t have much time for them. But I am interested in the psychology behind conspiracy theories.

How do I see the bigger picture around conspiracy theories?

Historically, actually conspiracies have been uncovered by investigative reporters or government officials. Not by smallish online communities.

What we know is going on in the world is far more serious than the topic of most or all conspiracy theories. We know we are in the middle of an ecological crisis. We know huge portions of humanity lives in poverty while others have more than they need. We know large corporations influence policies to benefit themselves at the cost of nearly everyone else. We know we live within an economic system that doesn’t take ecological realities into account. All of this deserve our attention far more than most or all conspiracy theories.

How do I see them reflecting us?

I wonder if not conspiracy theories serve emotional needs.

For instance….

Does it feel better to think I know something others don’t? That I am a part of a small select group that knows?

Does it feel better to blame someone?

Does it feel better to think that a small group of people have done something instead of social and economic structures? (For instance, economic inequality, poverty, lack of political power.)

Does it feel better to think a few humans have done something instead of the randomness of nature? (For instance, the C19 virus.)

Does it feel better to think we know instead of not knowing? (Even if we cannot know anything for certain.)

Do the scary conspiracy stories feed into a familiar identity or set of beliefs? For instance, that I am a victim? Powerless? Abused? That those in authority always abuse their power. That important things happen that I don’t know about?

And I wonder if conspiracy theories mirror something in us that deserve attention.

For instance….

What are my stressful beliefs connected with conspiracy theories, or a particular theory? Whether I believe it, fear it, or am frustrated that people seem to believe it. What do I find when I investigate these thoughts? (The Work of Byron Katie.)

What does it say about me? That I am a victim? Powerless? Abused by those in power? Smarter than those who go into conspiracy theories? What do I find when I explore how my mind creates these identities? What do I find when I explore fears around this? What do I find when I explore compulsions in relation to this? (Living Inquiries.)

How can we relate to conspiracy theories in a way that makes more sense?

Media literacy is crucial here, along with awareness of cognitive biases and emotional reasoning.

Also, as mentioned above, if conspiracy theories trigger something in us – whether we get caught in them or react to them as nonsense – it’s good to take a look at what they trigger.

What’s the even bigger picture?

The even bigger picture is that all of this is the play of life, the universe, or the divine. It’s all part of life, the universe, or the divine expressing, exploring, and experiencing itself – also as conspiracy theories and how we relate to them.

Reminding ourselves of this can help us shift out of us vs them thinking and into all of us thinking. It can give us a slightly different context that can make all the difference – whether we chose to pursue conspiracy theories or not and whatever we think about them.

See below….

For my initial and more detailed drafts of this article. I chose to make this version simpler where the essence isn’t buried in details.

DRAFTS & NOTES

Second draft…..

I am not much into conspiracy theories. Mainly, because what we know is going on in the world is more urgent and serious than the topic of just about any conspiracy theory. Also, actual conspiracies have historically been uncovered through investigations by journalists, historians, or government officials and not smallish online communities.

And yet, I keep seeing conspiracy theories in social media feeds. So why not explore them a bit?

HISTORICAL & WIDER PERSPECTIVE

Historically. As I mentioned above, actual conspiracies have historically been uncovered by journalists, historians, or government officials. I tend to be very skeptical to online communities that habitually are into a wide range of conspiracy theories based on poor data.

Wider perspective. Also as mentioned above, what we know is going on is far more serious than nearly all conspiracy theories. (Ecological crisis, policies aimed at benefiting the already wealthy at the expensive of everyone else, wealth gap, poverty, huge numbers of preventable deaths and so on.)

To me, it seems much better to focus on what we know is going on and make actual contributions to help move us collectively in a more life-centered direction, even if it’s local and small steps.

CRITICAL THINKING

Media literacy. A common factor in online conspiracy theories seems to be lack of basic media literacy. Check your sources. Check the data. Check the logic. Does it seem solid or flimsy? Does it rely on what someone said? Can you check it yourself? Is the conspiracy theory mostly based on agreement within a certain subgroup and not so much else?

Logical fallacies. Another common factor is logical fallacies. For instance, a set of maps correlates 5G areas with hotspots for the C19 virus. This is a correlation and obviously doesn’t mean that one causes the other. The maps match each other because they show population density.

Cognitive bias. And yet another factor is cognitive bias. For instance, confirmation bias. If we want something to be true, it’s usually easy enough to find people who agree and data to support it. But that doesn’t mean it’s the whole picture. Vital information may have been left out that sheds a very different light on the situation.

Emotional reasoning ties into this. Here, something feels right so it must be right. And we look for people who agree and data that seems to support it.

Echo chambers. We all live within our own echo chambers. We seek out people we feel similar to and information that fits how we see the world. When we see this, we can find a bit more humility about our own views. Perhaps they are not so certainly true as I told myself. We can also actively seek out data and information that may contradict what we initially thought.

Intellectual honesty. For me, this has to do with intellectual honesty. What do I actually know? What’s my emotional investment? Do I twist the data to fit what I want to be true? If I am brutally honest with myself, what can I know, what can I not know for certain, and what cannot I know? If my life dependent on being completely honest, what would I say about this conspiracy theory?

CONSPIRACY THEORIES & WHAT THEY SAY ABOUT US

Serves emotional need? A conspiracy theory may be true or not. That doesn’t exclude that they may also serve an emotional need for us. And it’s good to be honest about this.

If online conspiracies serve emotional needs for the people who are into them, what emotional needs may it be?

Does it feel better to think we know something others don’t? That we are part of a small select group that knows?

Does it feel better to blame someone?

Does it feel better to think that a small group of people have done something instead of social and economic structures? (For instance, economic inequality, poverty, lack of political power.)

Does it feel better to think a few humans have done it instead of the randomness of nature? (For instance, the C19 virus.)

Does it feel better to think we know instead of not knowing? (Even if we cannot know anything for certain.)

Do the scary conspiracy stories feed into a familiar identity or set of beliefs? For instance, that I am a victim? Powerless? Abused? That those in authority always abuse their power. That important things happen that I don’t know about?

Same as any thoughts. Conspiracy theories are like any other thoughts. It all depends on how we relate to them. Do we believe them? Do we recognize that they are thoughts? Do we recognize they are questions about the world? Do we hold them tightly? Or lightly?

This is something we can explore in many ways, including through inquiry. For instance The Work of Byron Katie can help us identify the stressful stories within and behind the conspiracy theories, examine them, and find more clarity around it. And the Living Inquiries can help us explore the fear, identities, or compulsions around it.

A mirror. The world is our mirror. The world as it appears to us says something about us. And so also with conspiracy theories. We can explore this in several ways.

We can ask ourselves: If this scary story is how the world is, what does it say about me? (E.g. I am a victim, I am powerless, I am abused etc.).

We can also look for what we see “out there” also in ourselves. How do I do what I see others doing? It may not look the same, but the dynamics and characteristics may be the same.

We can also explore this through inquiry. (The Work or Living Inquiries.)

Charged vs more clear. When we are caught up in charged stories – as it seems those who are into conspiracy theories tend to be – a lot happens. We can become compulsive. We can become defensive. We can more easily go into logical fallacies and cognitive biases. Also, we become stressed and can get caught up in fear, hopelessness, paranoia, and so on.

That’s why it’s important to explore whatever beliefs and identities are tied up with the conspiracy theories for us. It can help us heal and become more whole. And it will help us relate to the conspiracy theories differently. A bit more lightly. With more discernment. More grounded. We may find they don’t mean so much for us anymore and leave them. Or – if there may be a grain of truth in them – chose to investigate them from a more grounded place.

ADDITIONAL NOTES

This is one of the topics that are so rich and complex that it’s more suitable for a book.

In writing this, I am very aware that people who are invested in conspiracy theories are likely to dismiss anyone writing about it the way I have done here. And, depending on the level of investment, they may even think I am working for the conspiratorial folks. (If so, they are not paying me nearly enough!).

Also, why are many people into spirituality also into (often harebrained) conspiracy theories? Is it because they see themselves as outsiders to mainstream society and conspiracy theories fit that identity? Is it because they have an open – and perhaps uncritical – mind? I don’t know, but it is sometimes frustrating to me personally. And that’s an issue for me to explore.


Initial draft…..

Some corners of the internet is full of conspiracy theories and I see some of them in occasional posts on social media.

My inclination is to not spend much time on them, although I know that a small percentage may have some grains of truth in them.

Why is that? There are several reasons.

Other issues are more important. What we know is going on in the world, and what’s going on relatively openly, is far worse and more important than the topic of most (nearly all?) conspiracy theories. I am mostly thinking about the ecological crisis we are in the middle of, multinational corporations influencing international and national policies, and the massively unequal wealth distribution in the world and the many who live in poverty.

Spending time on conspiracy theories, to me, often seem like having your house on fire and being concerned with a rotten egg in the fridge.

Conspiracy theories as a compulsion. For some who are into conspiracy theories, it seems like a compulsion. And if it’s a compulsion, it’s driven by some hangup, emotional issue, or trauma. Even if the topic of the conspiracy theory may be distressing, it may be comforting for some to delve into it.

Perhaps it’s comforting to tell ourselves we know, or that we know something most others don’t. It may also feel comforting to confirm to ourselves that people in authority or the government are corrupt, bad, evil, and so on. It may also feel comforting to put blame “out there” on someone else, for whatever we see as wrong with the world.

Mainly, we may go into conspiracy theories because it gives us a way to handle our own discomfort and pain. We can react to our discomfort and pain – by going into conspiracy theories – instead of facing it.

The world as a mirror. The world is our mirror. Not the world as it is (which we cannot know), but the world as it appears to us.

We put an overlay of stories on the world, and the world mirrors back these stories to us. We get to see our own stories. And when we notice which ones are stressful, we can explore these to find what’s perhaps more true to us than these initial stories. We may also get to see how we are doing what we see others do, take more responsibility for it, and find some peace in the process. (The Work of Byron Katie.)

We can also explore how our mental images and words combine with our body sensations. Sensations lend a sense of solidity and reality to the thoughts, and the thoughts give a sense of meaning to the sensations. That’s how any beliefs or identifications are created, and also any stress and compulsions. By exploring this, the “glue” holding thoughts and sensations together weaken and there is more space to relate more intentionally to it all. (Living Inquiries.)

We project our stories onto the world, which is essential so we can navigate and function in the world. When we are not fully at peace with certain dynamics in ourselves and our own life, we tend to project these too onto the world and see them more there than in ourselves.

In this case, by taking care of this in ourselves, we may still be interested in conspiracy theories. But we have more freedom around it, we can hold them more lightly, and we have a possibility to approach them in a more grounded and sensible way and with less compulsion.

The play of consciousness / the play of the divine. It can also help to remember – or notice and explore – that all of this is happening within and as consciousness. It’s all the play of consciousness. That too will help loosening the grip of these stories so we can hold them more lightly and relate to them in a more grounded and sensible way.

Said another way, it’s all the play of life. It’s life expressing, exploring, and experiencing itself. Including as conspiracy theories. And, if any of them have grains of truth to them, as what these conspiracy theories refer to.

Ultimately, it’s all the play of the divine. It’s the divine expressing, exploring, and experiencing itself.


Second outline….

  • conspiracy theories
    • specifically
      • historically
        • real conspiracies – uncovered by reporters, official investigators etc.
        • fake conspiracies – peddled by people who make up things,
      • perspective
        • what we know is going on is far more serious and urgent than the topic of most conspiracy theories
        • waste of time and energy to put too much life energy into it, misguided
        • instead, use time and energy on creating the world we want – even if it’s local and small steps (even if a theory should be true, this is still often the better response)
      • media literacy
        • solid data? solid sources? verifiable?
        • aware of bias – confirmation bias etc.
        • open to discard or set aside if lack of solid data
        • intellectual honesty
      • serve emotional need
        • to blame government etc.
        • to feel right, that know something
        • to feel that humans are in control vs the uncertainty and randomness of reality, nature, and life
        • to avoid discomfort, uncomfortable emotions / thoughts (at personal level)
      • why conspiracy theories among people into spirituality?
        • perhaps bc already feel like outsiders, outside of the mainstream, so easier to jump on / attach to other things outside of mainstream?
    • like any other thoughts
      • if recognize as thoughts – hold lightly,
        • investigate, not final truth, easier to avoid logical fallacies, critical thinking etc.
        • generally more sane, grounded, see in perspective, level-headed
      • if held as true – then hold tightly, want it to be true,
        • all the usual signs
        • reactive, defend, identified with (becomes part of ones identity), irrational
        • logical fallacies, uncritical thinking, not careful about sources, don’t see it in the bigger picture etc.
    • ….

….

Initial notes….

  • Conspiracy theories
    • conventional sense
      • some are true, most are not
      • some warrant some investigation
      • but if habitual + compulsive / obsessive
        • shows underlying issue
        • try to find safety in knowing? uncomfortable with not knowing? wanting to know something others don’t? wanting to “stick it to the man”?
        • wanting to show / confirm to oneself that government / authority figures / people in power are corrupt, bad, evil?
    • downsides and upsides
      • downsides
        • distract from what we know is happening and is far more serious
        • maintain a habit of projecting instead of using it as a mirror, pointer
      • upsides
        • sometimes, true (very small percentage)
    • larger picture
      • what we know is happening is much worse than most/all conspiracy theories
      • house on fire, concerned w. a rotten egg in the fridge
    • world as mirror
      • examine beliefs / issues / trauma
      • points us to something in ourselves, something to look at
      • often cannot do anything about it “out there” (whether true or not), but can find it in ourselves and do something about it there
    • largest picture
      • all play of consciousness, happening within/as what I am – small interpretation of awakening
      • all play of the divine, happening within / as the divine – large interpretation of awakening
    • ….

  • a form of paranoia, distrust in governments etc.
  • tend to happen mostly where governments have a history of secrecy, doing terrible things behind the scenes, are perhaps not so trustworthy

…..

….

Draft….

I have never been into conspiracy theories, but since they flourish in this age of the internet I thought I would say a few words about it.

Conspiracy theories are like any other ideas and thoughts. In a conventional sense, there may be some truth to them or not. And if we hold them as true based on flimsy data and get obsessed with them, we are most likely using them to manage our own fears and discomfort.

,,,,

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One thought to “Conspiracy theory literacy”

  1. “Also, why are many people into spirituality also into (often harebrained) conspiracy theories? Is it because they see themselves as outsiders to mainstream society and conspiracy theories fit that identity? Is it because they have an open – and perhaps uncritical – mind? I don’t know, but it is sometimes frustrating to me personally. And that’s an issue for me to explore.”

    I know why it concerns me when people accept information uncritically, or take giant conclusive leaps that seem to lack grounding in evidence, and it is because we are in a ‘post-truth’ world, and people who are ‘spiritually’ aware, intuitive, heartful, *And logical & rational are greatly needed.

    The ability to discern between the time to use esoteric gifts, as opposed to 3D (eg, scientific/medical) operations is also important… Sometimes I think things that I privately conclude “sound pretty crazy”, and when I do that, I’m careful not to promulgate or evangelise it out into an already-confused world. I find it useful to road-test these conclusions among trusted skeptical friends, and am equally careful not to turn conclusions for which there is no evidence into beliefs…

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