General Question

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

What is the appeal of conspiracy theories?

Asked by Hawaii_Jake (25786 points ) February 7th, 2012

General Section question. Let’s keep it clean, please.

Why do people believe them?

Personally, I think that some people find comfort in the notion that someone is exerting control to create the conspiracy. The alternative is too frightening for them.

For example:

“Lee Harvey Oswald couldn’t have acted alone, because that would mean one individual could bring about catastrophe. Surely, it must require vast resources to pull off such a coup.”

“The Illuminati control governments all around the world. Otherwise, chaos reigns.”

“The Freemasons have a vast shelter under the Denver airport they will escape to when Armageddon comes, because…well, just because.”

What do you think?

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28 Answers

talljasperman's avatar

It makes someone feel special. That they contributed to something in society other than flipping burgers. It is also good practice for beginners, not only in critical thinking but in writing and speaking skills for those who wouldn’t normally given the opportunities to express oneself creatively.

fundevogel's avatar

I imagine people that adopt conspiracy theories do so because the stories satisfy their expectations of how the world works, fulfill their desires for how they want the world to work or simply offer a more entertaining alternative to how the world apparently works. So, confirmation bias, wishful thinking or legend tripping*.

I’d probably get on with the legend trippers best. For them it’s entertainment and chances are they know they’re indulging in fantasy. Hell, I can suspend disbelief and go hunting for Jimmy Hoffa if I’m reasonably confident it will be a fun time.

*This isn’t the right term but I don’t know a better one. I use it to refer to intentionally indulging in fanciful semi-plausible narratives for entertainment. It’s in the same neighborhood of actual legendtripping, psyching yourself out to explore a “haunted house” or invoke Bloody Mary in a mirror.

Nullo's avatar

Having secret knowledge, maybe? Seeing what the ‘sheeple’ don’t? Perhaps to fill in the gaps between where we were then and where we are now.
I do know that if Oswald acted alone, he must have had a lot of practice with that rifle.

gorillapaws's avatar

It’s empowering for them to feel like they know something very important that very few others do. It’s a way of feeling like you’re in the same tier as heads of state and the world’s elite. I think religion can work this way for some as well.

deni's avatar

To me thinking that Lee Harvey Oswald didn’t act alone is not believing in a “conspiracy theory” and you also make it sound like people might be of that opinion simply because it is a conspiracy theory which I don’t think is true. Sometimes it’s just another possibility. And frankly, are you gonna believe the government 100% of the time? I’m not that confident.

Also how the hell do any of us know if the Freemasons have a huge underground shelter below DIA? Just because something sounds crazy and is doubtful doesn’t mean we need to rule it out completely. Or really even care about it for that matter.

Maybe sometimes, the truth is outrageous. And those few people who actually know the truth and speak their opinions about it, they end up sounding crazy to everyone, and we all think that they are nut jobs just because it is another possibility and one that is less popular than the general consensus.

Don’t know, don’t care, I believe in a few theories that I GUESS are considered conspiracies. I don’t think that makes me a freak and I have reasons for believing them, but people look at me like I’m crazy if I ever talk about them (think something as basic as Lee Harvey Oswald….it’s a murder mystery just like any other and just because it was high profile and someone famous doesn’t mean we can ignore the fact that some things just didn’t add up. So why not question it?) .... In the end I don’t think we need to automatically assume something about someone just because they have an opposing viewpoint. Conspiracy theories are not all crazy, and I don’t think many of them offer anybody any “comfort”....if anything it’s the other way around, most conspiracies, if true, would be pretty freaky and probably bad news. People just want the truth. Some.

augustlan's avatar

I honestly don’t know, but I think it may be a particular kind of symptom of obsessive thinking. (I have obsessive thought issues, just not about this particular topic.)

One person hears/reads something, quickly dismisses it as unlikely, and puts it out of their head. Another hears the same thing, and it takes hold. They can’t stop thinking about it, and end up following it down the rabbit hole. If it’s a conspiracy theory, they go deeper and deeper into it, in a search for ‘the truth’. There’s an ex-Flutherite who experienced this, and some of us watched him go through it. At first it was just one thing, but over the course of a year or two, his whole world view was turned upside down, and he really did believe just about every conspiracy theory out there. He’s an extreme case, I’d think, but it happens.

DominicX's avatar

Well, conspiracy theories all have the same theme of a group of individuals controlling something. There’s definitely a commonality between the theories where people would rather blame this evil group than blame one individual. This often comes up when someone is blamed for doing something horrible—it’s like people can’t fathom that one person can do such a thing, they have to be the product of some evil experiment or some very controlled operation.

The convenient thing about conspiracy theories is that they all force the other person to “prove a negative”.

I mean, I really only know one person in real life who seems to buy into almost every conspiracy theory and she is mentally ill. For her it isn’t just JFK, it’s contrails in the sky are population control, the world’s going to end in 2012, Bush knocked down the towers, Obama is a Kenyan, all voting is rigged and pre-determined, etc. For her I really think it has more to do with her mental state than it does about the actual conspiracies themselves.

Nullo's avatar

Some people suspect everyone of trying to cheat them. Perhaps they enjoy being able to pre-empt your evil?

flutherother's avatar

When people feel powerless to influence events they sometimes prefer to believe that something is in control rather than accept that the world is a chaotic place. It is a substitute for faith and belief in God.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

@flutherother Good point. The idea that someone is controlling things sounds a little better to some people.

dappled_leaves's avatar

I think it comes partly from needing to find a place to lay blame for actions that seem unjust or frightening. I think it’s just one more manifestation of the impulse that makes people believe in a god.

Damn, @flutherother got there first.

ucme's avatar

Titilation of the futile mind.

Response moderated
Paradox25's avatar

I think that there are some misconceptions about people who believe that some conspiracy theories may hold some truth to them. I’ll admit that some people are just outright crazy with some of them but the reasons are usually varied, depending upon the conspiracy and the mindset of the person that believes them/it. In some cases I think that the believer wants to think that there is truth to their conspiracy due to personal motivations, such as political or religious hatred, for example. Other people may believe in some due to other reasons such as a wild imagination or just straight boredom.

Personally I think as a society we’ve become too obsessed with labels, such as either being a conspiracy theorist or a ‘rational’ person. Most people that I know just think that there may be truth to certain conspiracy theories but will laugh at the majority of the others. I don’t think that it is fair to label someone as a conspiracy theorist just because a person believes there may be some truth to one or two of them, but what is important are the motivations for thinking that way.

Obviously there are many crazy conspiracy theorists out there but there are also many (equally as crazy in my opinion) irrational rationalists out there too. To oppose the status quo just for the sake of opposing it is much different than opposing the status quo because of investigation. We all have different personalities and different ways of looking at things as individuals.

mrentropy's avatar

I like them because they get my imagination going. Writing is basically a game of “What if?” so anything that makes me think, “Hey, what if there are a bunch of black trains ready to roll with American dissidents?” is a good thing.

filmfann's avatar

Some people are trying to make sense out of chaos. I had one friend swear that the CIA had dumped a lot of their torture suspects dead bodies in Jonestown. Another swears that 9–11 was obviously an inside job, and that the buildings were blown up just before the impact of the planes, if that’s what they were, and not rockets.

personally, I think it has been proven that Oswald wasn’t acting alone. Sadly, we will never know the full story there.

Coloma's avatar

I think that while there may be SOME truth to some conspiracy theories, SOME of the time, all and all I believe in MOST cases it is a manifestation of a paranoid personality. Psychologically speaking a paranoid personality is prone to all manner of delusional thoughts, from mild suspicions about others intentions to full blown near schizophrenic delusions.

wundayatta's avatar

Great taste: they are oh so much fun to contemplate.

Less filling: utterly devoid of substantive intellectual content.

In other words: mental junk food.

TexasDude's avatar

An easy response to complex problems.

YARNLADY's avatar

Many people believe that all life is a vast conspiracy and they see supposed proof of it everywhere – a type of paranoia.

Sometimes it starts out as a joke, or something like gossip.

dappled_leaves's avatar

@YARNLADY I guess that’s why we have shows like Fringe. It’‘s the pattern!
:D

YARNLADY's avatar

@dappled_leaves I haven’t ever watched that one, but I did see a few episodes of X-Files, which looked pretty silly to me, yet some people talked about the stories like they were true.

jerv's avatar

The same appeal that religion, movies, and fiction books have.

Coloma's avatar

As long as the neighbors dog isn’t telling you to go on a shooting spree, you’re okay. lol

mattbrowne's avatar

To escape a boring life.

serenade's avatar

IMHO, it’s a forum figure out the truth about things when good ol’ “hope” and “change” (very broadly speaking) aren’t cutting it anymore.

The delusional aspects apply in the sense that “knowing” and “evangelizing” will make an iota of difference to anyone but the “theorist.” It can lead to interesting places, though.

Nullo's avatar

@Coloma Why would anybody accept the neighbor’s dog’s advice, though?

dappled_leaves's avatar

@Nullo She is making a reference to Son of Sam.

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