Conspiracy theories make dumb people feel smart.– a comment on a friend’s social media post about conspiracy theories
It’s a bit crass, but considering the real-life harmful effects of rampant conspiracy theories, perhaps some crassness is justified.
I think there is something to this quote, in a couple of different ways.
Conspiracy theories can help us feel special, that we know something others don’t, that we are “sticking it to the man”, and so on. We feel “smart” in a broad sense. And this, in turn, is a way to cope with our own fears and sense of lack.
Also, they often come from a lack of critical thinking. We may feel we are questioning authorities when we take a conspiracy theory as real, but we may not go far enough in questioning authorities. Do I question the source of the conspiracy theory? Do I even know who the source is? Do I question my own thinking? Am I versed in media literacy, human bias, and logical fallacies? Do I apply these to the conspiracy theory and how I think about it? What’s the evidence for the conspiracy theory? Is it solid enough to hold up in a court? Or to be used by a serious historian or journalist?
So if I hold a conspiracy theory as true, it may come from a wish to appear smart and special to myself and perhaps others, and in the process I may be dumb in that I don’t apply critical thinking.
As I have written about before….
Some conspiracy theories may indeed be true. But I need to apply critical thinking and look at the evidence. If it looks flimsy or questionable, it doesn’t deserve much of my time and energy. Also, real conspiracies have historically been uncovered through serious investigations by journalists, historians, or official investigators. (Not nutters on the internet.)
And the real conspiracy here may be that conspiracy theories distract us from the very real problems in the world most or nearly all of us agree on: mega-corporations owning a large number of corporations and media outlets and influencing public discourse and policies, huge gap between the few wealthy and the rest of us, poverty, lack of basic health care, an economic system not taking ecological realities into account, our very real ecological crisis, and so on.
I intentionally use “we” language here since it’s not about us and them. Most of us go into our own conspiracy theories now and then. We believe our own scary thoughts about something and assign plan and intention where there is none. It’s good to notice.
Finally, what I see in others reflects what’s in me. If I believe the idea that conspiracy theorists are dumb, I make it into a conspiracy theory about conspiracy theorists to make me feel smarter.