Part 2: Defining Terms and Issues  

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Let’s look at some definitions to better understand the challenge of dealing with conspiracy theories and theorists.

A conspiracy theory is a set of ideas that support a dangerous conclusion: that a particular influential person or business is behaving covertly in order to cause a purportedly harmful circumstance or event that damages defenseless people or the environment. The alleged explanations of the person’s or business’ motives, and the pending results of the suspected conspiracies, are presumed to be evil and catastrophic. This Psychiatric Services article, Why Humans Are Vulnerable to Conspiracy Theories, explains how such thinking happens. Some people seem to have a “taste for conspiracy.”

Conspiracy theorists have a unique mindset. The PubMed National Institutes of Health site for psychiatry holds a summary of maladaptive personality mindsets among conspiracy theorists.

Scare Tactics and Confused Thinking

 The core of the problem with conspiracy theories is that they lack substance. People who are convinced of conspiracy theories mix rational and irrational ideas that sometimes contradict each other, or fail to support a cohesive line of thought. Nevertheless, believers stick to a compelling state of “My mind is made up, don’t confuse me with facts” stance. They tend to use fake-believe narratives to disarm the better judgment of their listeners. They use psychological pressure, coercion, to get their way. The Conspiracy Theory Handbook – Center For Climate Change explains how some  psychiatric professionals understand the nature of the problem.

A Psychology Today article entitled Spiritual Conspiracists explains much of the problem from that unique angle. Conspiracy theorists of any type, however, tend to create division, war, controversy, and even death. You can protect yourself from that. To quote Rav Doniel Katz of The Elevation Project, “When your being is united with reality it sees the truth.”

Well-adjusted people use executive thinking skills. They can organize thoughts into unified,, cohesive patterns. They prioritize needs and desires, focusing on tasks without undue self-distraction. They can monitor themselves while controlling, or as mental health experts phrase it, “regulating,” their emotions. They consider and they offer options rather than pressure someone to do things one way and one way only.

Examples of Conspiracy Theories

Think of the One World Conspiracy in which movers and shakers are allegedly cancelling choices and personal freedoms so that they can control the masses for greedy purposes. It’s a mixture of half-truths, complete lies, and unsubstantiated nonsense.

Another conspiracy theory took strong hold with the “Paul is dead” rumor that swept the world of Beatles fans. Radio disk jockeys aka music show hosts, fanned the passions of teen listeners with shows dedicated to sharing musings, imaginings, lies, and manipulative efforts to increase show ratings. Teens listened to the captivating false tales of an inexplicably dead Paul McCartney and the less probable formal acknowledgement of the “fact” by the rest of the Beatles or their managers. Flashlights shining under the bed covers or atop record players, conspiracy theorists and their gullible believers discussed rumors on or off the radio late at night while parents slept, as liars misled them or goaded them on with fantasies. The snowball effect gathered power until evening news shows addressed the phenomenon and the facts of the matter: Paul was very much alive. The sizes of radio show audiences were increasing as gullible teens listened for supposed “clues” to the “real truth” anyway. Parents struggled to orient their distraught teens to factual matters. Widespread fear, doubt, and confusion led to psychological resistance, an unwillingness to think clearly and calmly. Paul survived the situation, as did his children and wife. Some of the people who’d been tricked into believing lies about his death grew more discerning. That’s what all of us need to do.

A rather common sexual misbehavior or “thief” conspiracy theory is foisted on people with innuendo, known as “gossip.” Many fine people and their reputations have been undeservedly harmed in schools neighborhoods, businesses, and elsewhere because jealous or conniving people spread believable lies about the intended victim. Gullible or willing co-conspirators join such efforts, isolating the gossiped about person(s) and leaving them harmed or vulnerable to harm.

Therapists know all too well about such trauma.

Watch this space for Part 3: How to Respond to Conspiracy Theories and the People Spreading them

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