Pandemic Diary #62
What is a conspiracy theory?
According to Kelly M. Greenhill, professor of political science and director of the Tufts International Relations Program, the term means different things to different people. It is often simply a catchall phrase to describe a broad field of outlandish, mostly false, clandestine plots used to exploit others. While a large amount of tinfoil-hat claims are around, one should not use this broad brush definition, it is deceiving in many cases, especially in politics.
Conspiracy theories seem to be taking a far larger portion of this election media cycle than in the past, why is this?
First, neither major political party is more likely than the other to believe in and spread conspiracy theories.
However, the party that looses an election is more likely to hold these ideas. This is often because it is difficult to accept defeat, and conspiracy theories allow you to blame the loss on something other than the reality.
This trend, however, was broken in 2016. Conspiracy theories surrounded, and continue to surround, the Republican party, the winning party, more often than one would expect.
University of Chicago political science professor Eric Oliver divides the electorate into two groups: intuitionists, who rely on their gut to make sense of the world, and rationalists, who rely more on fact based studies and science.
“Right now we are seeing the public polarizing in these two world views,” Dr. Oliver says.
According to Oliver, the right wing is becoming more intuitionist. And yes, there are conspiracy theories on the left, such as the anti-vax movement, but our current president’s screed’s have increased the Republican party’s belief in conspiracy thinking
According to Harvard politics professor Nancy Rosenblum, author of “A Lot of People are Saying: The New Conspiracism and the Assault on Democracy.”
“We’ve never had a president with a conspiracy-minded mindset like Trump’s.”
Rosenblum calls this “conspiracism.” Her explanation is that by utilizing words such as the election is “rigged,” the press is “corrupt,” voting by mail is leads to “fraud” the statements become almost impossible to prove or disprove.
These theories grow in power from constant repetition.
That is one of the more important items to keep an eye on in this election cycle, repetition of falsehoods that take on a life of their own, as truths.
When people “feel betrayed by society, the economy, and the political process,” they’re more likely to believe conspiracies, says Prudy Gourguechon, former president of the American Psychoanalytic Association.
“The popularity of conspiracy theories is symptomatic of our alienated political culture. Conspiracy theories flourish when there is a vacuum of accepted political authority. When people don’t trust their political leaders or institutions, they feel naturally uneasy and then look to alternative explanations for unusual events”. Conspiracy Theories and the Paranoid Style(s) of American Politics, by political scientists Eric Oliver and Thomas Wood
Ironically, this perpetuation of conspiracies can contribute to voter apathy and thus compound the problem. This apathy manifests itself in undermining our democratic institutions, such as the simple act of voting.
Recorded political conspiracy theories go as far back as 1552 BCE, so what we are experiencing in this election cycle is nothing new, even if it is different.
As our two party system began to emerge, Jeffersonians warned their adherents that the Federalists, such as Alexander Hamilton, were plotting to make America a monarchy.
In the 1800 election conservatives made claims that Thomas Jefferson and his adherents were plotting to overthrow the government, planning to seize private property and to destroy Christianity, all while in league with a group of European Illuminati.
Prior to the Civil War a 1864 book, “The Adder’s Den,” appeared on the political landscape. It was a conspiracy manifesto proposing that “slave interests” had tried to assassinate President Buchanan by placing arsenic in the sugar bowls in Washington’s National Hotel while he was attending an event.
In more recent times a theory propounded by conservatives was that fluoridation of the water supply was a communist conspiracy to undermine the public health of America.
Probably the most well known conspiracy theories of modern history revolve around the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Most of these are spun into stories that include multiple gunmen, Castro, the Mafia, the C.I.A., and then Vice President Lyndon Johnson, as responsible parties.
Conspiracy theories are all in our mind, but how do we teach our brain to stop falling for these untruths? World Channel has produced a multi-episode documentary titled Pulling the Thread, to delve into modern conspiracy theories and how we can educate ourselves to be more diligent.
Recognizing reality is complicated, and the series covers many aspects of the conspiracy theory concept.
They point out 5 ways to understand where these theories come from and help to counter the misinformation that surrounds them, they are as follows:
1. Losing an election is the best foundation for wild conspiracy theories.
2. Conspiracy theories thrive in political instability — and when the nation faces a collective tragedy.
3. Our brains love looking for patterns to process historic trauma — even when there aren’t any.
4. When governments keep secrets and try to hide them, conspiracies flourish.
5. Political polarization and social media affect how we get information and form opinions.
Should you wish to delve farther into the psychology of it all I suggest you watch the series.
It is obvious that politicians believe that tossing around political conspiracy theories can effect our vote. How much, is really not known. For this reason voters must remain politically literate and learn to ascertain the difference between conspiracy theories and the truth.
You may not be able to change the minds of your friends or family, but you can educate yourself and be diligent.
My Horoscope for today: Keep friends close, but rivals closer. There’s a lot of competitive energy now and it won’t be easy to tell the difference between the two.
San Francisco weather: 67 degrees and sunny
Covid Cases in the US: 7,006,520
Covid Deaths in the US: 204,132
NYSE DOW change from one year ago: +633
Foreign word of the day: cruise
OED word of the day: rooked — deprived of money through fraudulent or underhand means; swindled, fleeced. In later use also (chiefly Scottish): without money, penniless; (also) bereft of some other commodity
Days since Shelter In Place was initiated: 195
Reading: It Can’t Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis
My Black and White Picture of the Day
On a personal note: I stand with America in my grief of the passing of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. It is said that a person who dies on Rosh Hashanah is a tzaddik, a person of great righteousness. No truer words.
I’m sometimes asked when will there be enough women on the Supreme Court, and I say when there are nine, people are shocked. But there’d been nine men and no one ever raised a question about that.
~ Ruth Bader Ginsburg (1933–2020)