Why conspiracy theories are reactionary

The defects of Hofstadter’s paranoid style

From 1950 to 1954 the Cold War exacerbated resulting in persecution of alleged communists and socialists in the US. This period is referenced as McCarthyism. Senator McCarthy headed the infamous hearings conducted by the House Un-American Activities Committee, which compiled an index of one million suspects. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) under Director J. Edgar Hoover, who was one of the most fervent anti-communists, led the investigations.

The number imprisoned was in the hundreds, and some ten or twelve thousand lost their jobs. In the film industry, over 300 actors, authors and directors were denied work in the U.S. through the unofficial Hollywood blacklist. Charlie Chaplin was one of them. Blacklists were at work throughout the entertainment industry, in universities and schools at all levels, in the legal profession, and in many other fields.

 “Guilt by association was the watchword, as loyalty oaths, blacklists, registration requirements, and congressional inquiries sought to identify and penalize those who were sympathetic to or associated with the Communist Party, irrespective of their involvement in any otherwise illegal activity.” (David Cole, 2002, p. 997)

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Susceptibility for conspiracy theories

In a previous article I gave some definitions of conspiracy theories and reported about their pervasiveness, in this article I review some social-psychological papers on conspiracy ideation.

Lacking control in day to day life causes fear

The desire to combat uncertainty and maintain control has long been considered a primary and fundamental motivating force in human life and one of the most important variables governing psychological well-being and physical health. For example learning details and training about a painful medical procedure can reduce anxiety and even lead to shorter recovery time.

In contrast, lacking control is an unsettling and aversive state, activating the amygdale, which indicates a fear response. It is not surprising, then, that individuals actively try to re-establish control when it disappears or is taken away.

Jennifer A. Whitson and Adam D. Galinsky show in their paper ‘Lacking Control Increases Illusory Pattern Perception’ that participants who lacked control were more likely to perceive a variety of illusory patterns, including seeing images in noise, forming illusory correlations in stock market information, perceiving conspiracies, and developing superstitions.

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Conspiracy theories… a long history and a new trend

Conspiracy theories in retrospective

Claims that rich capitalists are no longer out to make a profit, but to create a one-world government go back many decades now and it is always said that it is really going to happen this time, but it never does.

Since these claims have proved wrong dozens of times by now, it makes more sense to assume that leaders act for their usual reasons, such as profit-seeking motives and institutionalized roles as elected officials. Of course they want to make as much money as they can and that can lead them to do many unsavoury things. Revolving door policy, demagogy, manipulation and corruption must be denounced, but not be buried in intangible myths and conspiracy legends.

Dorling refers to sociologist Zygmund Bauman for a refutation of conspiricism. Look here for a video of Zygmund Bauman explaining his view on conspiracy theories. Both claim that there is not and never has been conspiracy of the rich:

“There has not been any great, well-orchestrated conspiracy of the rich to support the endurance of inequality, just a few schools of free-market thought, a few think tanks preaching stories about how efficient free market mechanisms are, how we must allow the few ‘tall poppies’ to grow and suggesting that a minority of ‘wealth creators’ exist and it is they who somehow ‘create’ wealth.”

“That there is no great conspiracy was first realised in the aftermath of the First World War, when it became clear that no one ‘… planned for this sort of an abattoir, for a mutual massacre four years long’ (Bauman 2008: 6). The men they called the ‘donkeys’, the generals, planned for a short, sharp, war.”

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