Why do we theorise a conspiracy?

This episode of BBC CrowdScience looks at why people believe conspiracy theories and how empathy is a better approach than argument when trying to understand and talk these people into a different reality.

Even better: the episode also tells how the modern concept of the contemptible ‘conspiracy theorist’ was created by an actual conspiracy of tobacco companies to discredit people who claimed that cigarettes cause cancer. Sometimes they are out to get us!

Similarly, in How to destroy surveillance capitalism, Cory Doctorow offers up this explanation for why outlandish conspiracy theories like QAnon have become so popular:

What if it’s the material circumstances, and not the arguments [of conspiracy theorists]? What if the trauma of living through real conspiracies all around us—conspiracies among wealthy people, their lobbyists, and lawmakers to bury inconvenient facts and evidence of wrongdoing, commonly known as “corruption”—is making people vulnerable?

In a more honest society that looks after all its citizens, perhaps we have fewer people wasting their energy on finding laughably convoluted reasons for why they’re being dicked on.

Why do we theorise a conspiracy? Maybe because there is a conspiracy, but it’s not the one you’ll find in obscure corners of the internet. Like the idea of sucking smoke into your lungs being healthy, this conspiracy is almost depressingly obvious—but the antidote is in our power, from putting a tick in the right box to banners, boats and brass bands. And mass arrests.

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David Charles is co-writer of BBC radio sitcom Foiled. He also writes for The Bike Project, Thighs of Steel, and the Elevate Festival. He blogs at davidcharles.info.

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