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?
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.