Several people subscribe to conspiracy theories for one reason or another. It was previously assumed that conspiracy theories were created and adopted by social outsiders. Some people even spread the notion that these theories were spread by loners who had nothing better to do with their time. However, it’s now becoming clear that some conspiracy theories are pretty common among large sections of society. According to research, about 50 percent of people in the United States believe at least one conspiracy theory during any given year.
Political scientists Thomas Wood and Eric Oliver have studied conspiracy theories and define them as “An explanation that makes reference to hidden, malevolent forces seeking to advance some nefarious aim.” It is important to note that conspiracy theories aren’t necessarily false. However, the theory does contradict a popular opinion or accepted school of thought on certain phenomena or a specific event.
How Does a Theory Become a Conspiracy Theory?
For a conspiracy theory to become accepted, it then becomes an historical fact. This is the main reason people continue to believe in conspiracy theories. Many are hopeful the theories they believe will one day become more popular and proven correct.
Many people associate conspiracy theories with the American right. This is why several citizens believe President Trump is both a target and proponent of numerous conspiracy theories. An essay by historian Richard J. Hofstadter entitled The Paranoid Style in American Politics expounds on this. Hofstadter states that far right politicians have long been associated with conspiracy theories. The essay depicted the history of these politicians in creating methods that are “vast and sinister” with a “gigantic and yet subtle machinery of influence set in motion to undermine and destroy a way of life.”
There are also people who view the world in a consistent state of distress. These people believe that only the people who understand conspiracies can defend themselves against attacks. There are even some individuals who believe that as a conspiracy theorist, they can save humanity and protect society as they know it.
Why Are People Attracted to Conspiracy Theories?
Modern researchers aren’t sure that conspiracy theories are completely right-wing. These researchers think that some of the theories are mystical in nature. People from various walks of life believe in conspiracy theories. These people also belong to various political parties. Some people even start believing your conspiracy theories after a strange event they can’t explain.
Since Trump’s presidency, there’s been even more conspiracy theories springing up. Many theories come from the American left. People are looking for behavioral or societal patterns associated with past theories to make sense of surprising recent events. Heuristics, or the mental shortcuts humans take when looking for patterns, can sometimes be beneficial. However, in terms of conspiracy theories, heuristics can sometimes conjure relationships between events and things that aren’t actually there. People often do this because the process of associating patterns is emotionally rewarding.
Professor Galinsky explored the notion that people subscribe to conspiracy theories when they are experiencing a lack of control. “The less control people have over their lives, the more likely they are to try and regain control through mental gymnastics,” he states. The professor further explains that “Feelings of control are so important to people that a lack of control is inherently threatening. While some misperceptions can be bad or lead one astray, they’re extremely common and most likely to satisfy a deep and enduring psychological need.”
Understanding this concept can also lead to methods for combatting the continuous onset of conspiracy theories. This has been studied by Jan-Willem van Prooijen, a Dutch researcher. In his studies, he states, “We found that if you give people a feeling of control, then they are less inclined to believe those conspiracy theories.” The researcher also added that “Giving people a sense of control can make them less suspicious over governmental operations.”
There’s also a recent theory that suggests conspiracy theories are a way to go against the status quo. This allows people to have positive feelings about their society when their social systems are in jeopardy. So, if something happens that is unusual or out of line with their perceptions, people can attribute it to “bad apples” as opposed to mistrusting society as a whole. Some of the conspiracy theories below are recent and gaining more popularity.
There’s a Secret Group That Controls the World
This conspiracy theory suggests the Illuminati control the world. The Illuminati is a secret group that supposedly wants to create a one-world government. Theorists believe that members of the Illuminati want to create a New World Order. This involves erasing people’s identities and doing away with national borders. Some people believe all U.S. presidents, as well as leaders of developed countries, are part of the Illuminati.
There’s also a version of this conspiracy that suggests other smaller groups are seeking world domination. Groups included in the theory are Jewish people, Freemasons, and the Bilderberg Group, also known as “globalists.” Trump has even mentioned globalists and encourages his supporters to fight against them.
President Obama Is a Muslim and Wasn’t Born in the U.S.
Although it has been proven that former U.S. President Barack Obama was born in Hawaii, a US state, there are still those who believe otherwise. This conspiracy theory is believed to have started on Twitter and by President Trump. Theorists assert that Obama was actually born in Kenya (his father is Kenyan), and shouldn’t have been eligible to hold the presidential office. This theory was used to make Obama’s political work illegitimate.
President Obama showed his birth certificate that proved he is a U.S. citizen. However, in 2016, 72 percent of Republicans who took an NBC New/Survey Monkey poll stated they were skeptical about Obama’s birthplace.
Theorists also assert that Obama is a Muslim. However, it has been proven that he is Christian. Those who believe the conspiracy came to this conclusion because Obama lived with his father, a Muslim, as a small child. The theory further emphasizes the anti-Muslim fears that many Americans possess.
Reptilians Are Running the World
This science fiction conspiracy theory seems like it’s taken from a Hollywood script. The theory suggests that reptilians, or “lizard people,” are running the world and hiding their identities. David Icke, a professional conspiracy theory in Britain, made this theory popular. According to a 2013 survey, 12 million Americans believe in the reptilian theory. Theorists believe the top tier of government is controlled by reptilians who are able to change form and disguise themselves as fully human. It is believed that the reptilians want to control the minds of humans in order to maintain domination.
The Assassination of JFK
A 2013 survey reveals that 51 percent of Americans think there is a conspiracy behind the shooting death of John F. Kennedy. The former president was assassinated in 1963, and some people are still not satisfied with the explanation behind the murder.
Lee Harvey Oswald is the man who shot JFK. However, people also believe the KGB and CIA were involved. Conspiracies also suggest that there may have been more than one gunman, and that more shots were fired than officially recorded.
The Moon Landing Wasn’t Real
Landing on the moon was a political and scientific feat that has been discussed for years. Many people are still proud of this U.S. accomplishment. However, conspiracy theorists say the moon landing was staged. The theory suggests that the landing was faked by NASA and the American government during the Cold War. The stunt supposedly was a plan to increase patriotism so the U.S. could defeat the Soviet Union.
Theorists say it’s impossible for the U.S. flag to be waving on the moon, since there is no wind in space. The theory was disproved by pointing out that the flag only appeared to be moving when it was unfurled. There are even versions of this theory that suggest film director Stanley Kubrick was commissioned to make the moon landing look real.
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