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The mind of the conspiracy theorist

By Ryan Rose
Staff Writer

February 7, 2013

There’s a romantic notion about conspiracies in America. People want to believe, for whatever reason, that there’s a secret behind everything (when it suits them) and that they and a select few are in on the whole thing. In what may have originated as a noble pursuit for knowledge at the risk of disillusionment, the value of credible sources is dismissed, and the issues that really do require reassessment are left alone, if only because they’re too uncomfortable to touch—things like religion, self-judgements, and political beliefs.

In the aftermath of the Sandy Hook tragedy, there was, expectedly, a conspiracy theory, claiming the whole thing was a hoax staged by the Obama administration to force gun control legislation through Congress.

There’s nothing wrong with actively questioning things—in fact, I think this is quite valuable—but that these questions allow individuals to ignore or even deny a mass of credible information in favor of a conspiracy theory is absurd.

When there are multiple news sources, eyewitness reports, grieving parents, funerals, and obituaries, all confirming the same thing, why do a number of people put their faith in a single conspiracy theory video on the Internet that contradicts such easily accessible evidence.

There’s a certain kind of arrogance in this behavior. It may be that these people are “cargo-culting” their way to the rebellious genius of people/characters like Greg House M.D., Sherlock Holmes, Mozart, Tesla, or Van Gogh. “Cargo culting” is the act of superficially replicating the behaviors of successful people without reproducing the substantial—and generally more difficult—aspects that are truly responsible for said success. In many cases, people falsely assume that those who go against the grain are more intelligent simply because they challenge the general consensus.

This behavior, while irritating when applied to national tragedies, is very problematic for society as a whole, especially when applied to other fields such as science and politics. I am not saying that scientists are participants in this behavior, but that people intentionally misinterpret or ignore scientific information because they are arrogant and believe that they, after watching a report on the news, have attained in a few minutes all the knowledge that would normally take many years of research to attain.

Why is this such a problem? Because some of those who have the freedom to perpetuate hoaxes out of their own prejudices also have the freedom to vote, and that means their beliefs can override the knowledge of experts. And when the issues at hand are war, medicine, politics, and climate change, everyone’s lives are at risk.

Ryan Rose is a senior majoring in English and can be contacted at rrose@lhup.edu.

 
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