The New Opiate for the Masses

Occasionally pop culture has played with the idea that conspiracy theories are actually propagated by the elites in order to cover up real conspiracies. In one famous example, South Park played with the idea that the Bush administration was actually behind the 9/11 “Truth” movement because it made them seem smarter and more competent than they actually were. Of course in reality, we typically don’t see governments propagating conspiracy theories implicating themselves, unless you count Trump’s recent wiretapping rants. Generally governments, if they propagate conspiracy theories at all, direct them at their geopolitical rivals.

But when we look at the proliferation of conspiratorial thinking the world over, it seems as though governments could seriously benefit from propagating conspiracy theories about themselves. After all, as Ivan Krastev points out in a piece for The New York Times, conspiracy theories typically don’t create dissidents. On the contrary, the more radical the conspiracy theory, the more depoliticized and docile its adherents tend to be.

At first glance this may seem very counter-intuitive. After all, many conspiracy theorists seem quite vocal. In many cases they protest, and often loudly. But what ever becomes of their protests? What changes actually occur? It’s very possible to engage in a lot of activism without actually having any real or lasting impact. You can really see what I mean if you ask yourself which famous conspiracy theory has ever been actually resolved or at least concretely proven. Pearl Harbor foreknowledge? No. The Kennedy assassination?  Nope. Moon landing hoax? Nope. Alternate Oklahoma City Bombing theories? Nope. September 11th? Are you starting to see a pattern here?

gwbush

The US government is allegedly full of people who would happily organize the murder of thousands of American citizens, but nearly two decades later no individual or faction has considered using this inside knowledge to seize near total power in Washington while simultaneously becoming the biggest heroes in modern American history. Curious.

Seriously the behavior of people who believe in such theories is both contradictory and confusing at times. I can remember when I was about 9 or 10 I watched a video called The Clinton Chronicles. See in those days, even though Bill Clinton had just taken office, some folks that some people in my family took quite seriously were convinced that he was the literal anti-Christ. Things like sexual harassment allegations or marijuana use weren’t enough for these people; in their mind Bill Clinton was a murderous drug trafficker, and they supposedly had documentation of all this.

As a kid hearing these conspiracy theories on AM radio and religious TV got frustrating. The evidence is all there! The liberal media must be deliberately ignoring it because they’re in league with the Clintons! Such was my thought process at that young age, but it was basically the same thing the adults around me were saying. And yet, for people who believed that drug-dealer/mass murderer Clinton was just one inciting incident away from unleashing the BATF and possibly foreign UN troops on us for being white, heterosexual Christians, we didn’t really act accordingly. Hell, most of the time we were discussing these things while on the way to the Saturday morning swap-meet or at Sunday brunch. These just aren’t the sort of things you do if you sincerely believe that the president is about to unleash full-scale terror to establish himself as undisputed dictator.

Now to be fair, all those family members were Republicans, and one thing is for sure- Republicans vote. They may believe Obama is a Kenyan Marxo-Islamo-Fascist who plans to confiscate their children and teach their guns about how to choose their gender (I think that’s how it’s supposed to work), but for some unknown reason they also believe they can stop this Communist takeover by voting. Apparently Soros keeps forgetting about elections. I’m sure he was behind those 3 million illegal votes in the last election, but still he forgot to get about 77,000 of them in three key states so as to actually win.  But I digress.

The more people tumble down the rabbit hole of conspiracy theories, the less they actually get involved in politics. Sure, we saw Alex Jones throwing his weight behind Trump, but let’s face it- Trump was a very unusual candidate who actually pandered to the conspiracy idiot demographic. That and he was running against Hillary, which many conspiracy theorists on the right have hated with a passion since she was first lady. I’m pretty sure if Cruz or Rubio had won the nomination, they would have been portrayed as a continuation of the “neocon globalist establishment” or whatever the morons are calling it these days.

I’m not going to exempt the left from this either. For one thing, even moderate leftists don’t seem to vote much. That’s a bit irritating because as much as I loathed the Democratic candidate this year, I made it a point to actually vote just so I could say I did the mature thing if only to stop Trump. As it turns out, it may be safe to say that a good portion of those people posting Trump = Hitler all over the internet didn’t actually go out and try to stop Trump in the easiest way possible.

 

Second, I’ve noticed a trend of leftists buying more and more bullshit conspiracy theories, and it’s no longer just about GMOs. One Bernie Sanders supporter found himself banned from a Bernie site just because he tried to alert its members about how they were sharing fake news stories from conspiracy sites. Think about that for a second. A guy warns them that they’re being lied to, provides concrete proof, and the reaction of the supposedly more rational liberal or leftist community is to ban him.

It’s not hard to understand why these conspiracy theories are so popular. They reduced complicated issues down to simple black and white ones. They require no actual research or understanding of any topic. They make you feel like you’re the protagonist of your own movie- a rebel standing up to the system. But in reality these people aren’t really rebels at all. They may make some noise, but the powers that be may rest soundly at night knowing that far more Americans are watching conspiracy videos on Youtube than actually digging into the finer points of campaign finance or laws regulating offshore tax havens. And those that do probably aren’t actually planning to contact any representatives or party officials to discuss their concerns.

Truly conspiracy theories are the new opiate of the masses. The more “woke” someone says they are, the deader they are to the world around them. As such, it’s unlikely that politicians will take any serious measures to counter-act them. Doing so would entail teaching critical thinking and media awareness at younger ages, and that would endanger their actual business. Far better to let people slumber in their own fantasy world.

 

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8 thoughts on “The New Opiate for the Masses

  1. AndyT

    Mmhhh – I wonder how many people follow those sites just for fun: a sort of ongoing fantasy novel which keeps adding more and more exciting chapters, for free!

    However, I don’t completely agree on the “simplicity” of such theories – yes, they often portray a black-and-white, we-against-the-World narrative… but at the same time, in their effort to “find the truth”, they often get so convoluted you can hardly keep up with them.

    Reply
    1. ericblair

      I think you can extend the “opiate” analogy further. Most people have a hundred different problems, mostly boring, some major, some little and annoying, that remind you that you’re a normal human being. Like a drug addict, the conspiracy theorist can exchange a hundred different boring problems for one big exciting one, that makes you feel important and the pain and real worries go away. And like the drug addict, the conspiracy theorist needs a bigger hit as time goes on to get his rush.

      Reply
      1. Jim Kovpak Post author

        Yeah, it also requires no effort and like Andy suggests, it’s a kind of entertainment. I ran into dozens of these nuts on various forums and if you get to dealing some of them long enough you begin to realize that they’re sort of in an online RPG. If they accuse you of being a shill or some kind of disinfo agent, you’ve got an RPG game player on your hands. It’s not enough that they read about the conspiracy, they have to make themselves a part of it.

  2. Jae-hyeon

    Your article strikes a chord partly because I happen to share a roof with an Orthodox Christian who is also a Republican and an avid fan of President Putin. Though he hasn’t quite gone over to “Alex Jones territory” (as he puts it), he seems to be heading in that direction, what with his views on Israel, the NWO, NATO, etc. I also think that eschatological religions like mainstream Christianity and Islam arguably qualify as conspiracy theories (#Satan) in their own right.

    Another reason why the article hits home is because I almost bought into 9/11 conspiracy theories when I was in college. If I recall correctly, part of me WANTED to believe them because I wanted to have knowledge that the masses did not have, and because I wanted to be a part of something.

    Now I tend to agree with Anna Politkovskaya, who in 2006 wrote:

    People divide into those who believe in conspiracies and those who don’t. I belong to the latter category. Conspiracy stories strike me as dull, whether they are about the violent seizure of power, or the Count of Monte Cristo. The weird tangles produced by real life are a thousand times more dramatic.

    However, pace Politkovskaya, I think conspiracy stories can actually be quite creative and fascinating and make for excellent imaginative literature.

    Reply
  3. Jae-hyeon

    Here’s some insight from the philosopher of science Alexander Rosenberg:

    Natural selection doesn’t have time to wander through all the variations that might just randomly emerge, looking for the perfect solution to a survival problem. Instead it makes do with the first quick and dirty solution that comes along. In the time it would take to find a perfect solution, our ancestors would have all died out. In this case, natural selection hit on a solution that is imperfect in two different ways. On the one hand, the theory of mind it endowed our species with has profound limitations: Too often we are completely floored by the behavior of others. Our theory of mind fails in its job of enabling us to predict behavior. Our theory of mind also reflects another of natural selection’s imperfections: To ensure survival, Mother Nature overshoots. Instead of building the exact solution to the problem of figuring out other people’s motives, Mother Nature selected for people who see plots everywhere: conspiracy theorists. The simplest way to create someone who is good at reading motives from other people’s behavior is to overdo it: endow them with a penchant for seeing motives everywhere–in human behavior and animal behavior, but also in the seasons, the weather, health and illness, the sunrise, lightning storms, earthquakes, droughts, beavers coming out of their lodges in the spring–everything.
    Humans tend to see everything in nature as organized by agents with motives, often malevolent ones. We are all natural-born conspiracy theorists. That’s why we don’t need to be taught how to suss out other people’s motives. That’s why the same grand conspiracy theory operates in all cultures and why we can often appreciate stories from other cultures almost as much as our own. That’s why we remember narratives and think of them as naturally easy to understand without any special knowledge or information. We all have a strong incentive to force anything we need to remember into a story with a plot. Once we make sense of a chain of events–by finding the motives of agents behind the events that make it into a story–we get that familiar feeling of relief from curiosity or anxiety about how the story turned out.
    People have been making a sport of our insistence on seeing everything this way for a long time now. There is a famous joke about Talleyrand, the sinister foreign minister who managed to serve Louise XIV, then Napoleon, and then the restored French kings who followed him. When he died in 1838, the story goes that the Austrian foreign minister, Prince Metternich, asked himself, “I wonder what he meant by that.”

    The Atheist’s Guide to Reality, Chapter 1

    Reply
  4. Mercer On Point

    This is the problem Jim, too many people are caught up in the fantasy saga of beating the the big bad bogeyman that is the “illuminati” or the “round table network.” It sounds like a script from Hollywood like you’ve mentioned, another person on this comment section also how it could actually be good literature and this is why it appeals to the emotional nature of so many people who are most likely not as well read as much as those not buying into it. Good vs Evil satisfies their agenda for change, and if politics isn’t going to do that, then these grand conspiracies are rightly going to be like opium for so many.

    However, I’m not saying I’m the most educated person on this topic but I do feel like we do undermine the power influence that is wielded amongst a very small elite that appeared to have sank their teeth into politics, business, social policy, economics, etc. I think it’s all pie in the sky to suggest their exact motives and who’s in with who, as there are obviously factions of distrust amongst even the closest of associates in the higher echelons of power, but to completely dismiss that their agendas cannot influence some global events is more naïve than not believing it at all.

    By using words like “idiot” and “crazy” etc. in front of the phrase conspiracy theorists or theories it prepackages them with total illogicality and as a result people don’t want to delve further into specifics. Sure it’s just a batshit conspiracy theory, there’s no point even trying to debunk it, it’s just wrong. In this way they are simply incorrect by default and they are not taken seriously even if there is some measure of veracity in their claims. Now, there are many that need to be countered heavily because they have very little evidence or basis in truth, but we have to know when to discuss those that have some credibility and to do it seriously.

    I know you’ve come across many on online forums who call you a shill, which is just an utterly irrational thing to do, it can’t be proven and it just fits in with their tidy narrative that the world is controlled to a tee. That’s not what I’m saying, the world is far more complex than thay; I’m saying that are very influential, powerful people vying for centralisation and consolation of power and it is a very real prospect that our lives can be controlled from the top down in very restrictive ways, possibly on a global level. The information, social and economic resources are there for those wishing to do so. Just an opinion.

    Keep up the the good work, enjoyed reading your post 🙂

    Regards

    Matthew

    Reply

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