This is a deep topic, but we’re going to aim to keep it concise.
Let’s start; what is a ‘conspiracy theory‘? First to note that in politics people conspire all the time. Conspiring, as opposed to cooperating, is where the working together is done by covert or illicit means or the actions and people involved are hidden from plain view. So back in 2002 the US and UK governments conspired to take us into the Iraq War. This conspiracy involved a huge range of semi-cordinated shadowy actions from skullduggery and bugging at the UN to mass-media astroturfing the ‘case for war’. The difference between this conspiracy and a ‘conspiracy theory’ is that it can be proved wrong, and it accounts for the many views within the whole. A conspiracy is both provable sure, but you must also be open to being proved wrong and to including the cock-ups and random events that come with reality. Normal life is not clean and ordered; its messy and often fails to make sense. This is normal politics.
The Iraq war fiasco had more than its fair share of just dumb actions such as the US disbanding the Iraqi army and so accelerating the growth of a resistance movement to its occupation. Plus, had weapons of mass destruction been found in Iraq, to secret plans emerged of Saddam working with bin Laden to attack the west together, then the basis for the war would have been proved. It was clear during the run-up to the war the evidence was not there and defenders of the conspiracy to attack Iraq in 2002 are thin on the ground now. Plus there were arguments for and groups seeking the removal of Saddam that were fully valid; they guy was a genocidal mass-murderer and his removal would be a good thing, but the way it was proposed to be done and the people doing it meant that clearly was a clusterfuck waiting to happen. And it did.
Families of Iraq War victims are leading calls for Tony Blair to face prosecution over the infamous invasion. pic.twitter.com/gcHeuXF16F
— Philip Sime (@PhilipSime) July 7, 2016
This is a conspiracy that was real but where we can see the joints and workings of the complexity of the issue.
But in a conspiracy theory anyone who argues against it, becomes part of it. Anyone pointing to inconsistencies are deemed an enemy. Any complexities and inconsistencies become mired in the conspiracy, which grows in absurdity to accommodate the theory itself. Let’s take QAnon – a conspiracy that starts with the baseless idea that an ‘elite’ of mostly Democratic politicians are wearing the skin of murdered children for fun and that an ex-reality TV star, Donald Trump is working with the US military to bring down ‘the storm’ where all these evil elites will be arrested. Except when ‘the storm’ does not come, far from that conspiracy being dropped, it mutates to accommodate the lack of arrests of the elites and Trump losing the election. What emerges includes the idea the President Biden on TV is a clone because the real one was arrested and executed in a secret trial and Trump really is president but in secret. We hope you can see how the conspiracy can never be wrong, but like a snake eating an egg, it just unhooks its jaws to swallow ever larger globules of reality into its fiction.
Non-violent, mentally ill guy who has been yelling on street corners for years, then strolled into the capitol after believing Trump had ordered him to: 28 years. Guy who personally ordered Cambodia bombed into a paste: drinking mint juleps at Davos. https://t.co/d57b74ETip
— QAA Podcast (@QanonAnonymous) February 13, 2021
Conspiracy theories have been around a long time! QAnon is basically the medieval ‘blood libel’ antisemitic conspiracy theory laundered for the 21st century, but there are damaging consequences of their growth. Firstly they act to stunt actual political change or action in favour of endlessly ‘researching’;
Study after study has shown that people who deeply believe in conspiracy theories are less likely to vote, less likely to vaccinate their children, have dwindling levels of trust in government and expert systems, and are generally unlikely to donate money or volunteer.
Take the ‘QAnon’ march in Bristol, lots of well-meaning people wanting to ‘save the children’ and yet has that manifested into anti-child poverty, anti-sweatshop or anti-trafficking action that might actually help kids? Nope, it has not. In fact, it has had the opposite effect.
QAnon theories […] make it harder to fight misinformation about the real-life problem and hijack attention from the cause. Croft and other sex-trafficking survivors told Insider the discredited theories were exploitative and, oftentimes, infuriating.
Secondly they damage lives in many, many different yet hurtful ways. Check out the QAnonCasualties subreddit for heartbreaking story after story of families broken up because of QAnon. Why is it breaking them up? Disagreement on politics is normal family fodder, is it not? Remember that in a conspiracy theory those who don’t believe are either ‘brainwashed sheeple’ at best and if they push back, become ‘the enemy’;
I’ve lost countless people to these conspiracies. Me being a generally non-political and a logical individual I would naturally question my family and friends. I would always be met with “you’re watching cnn, fox, msnbc too much”… I don’t ever watch the news, nor have I. I would prose simple logical or logistical questions, and now I’ve become part of their conspiracy. I even had one family member accuse me of taking money from George Soros. I’ve had multiple life long friends fall into these conspiracies too. I’ve kept my mouth shut for a bit now, but I know they still see me as an enemy.
Thirdly is how powerful interests exploit the followers to conspiracy theories. Rupert Murdoch has had the COVID vaccine, yet his TV station is playing with anti-vaxxer conspiracy theories to boost TV audience numbers. People will die because they avoided vaccines based on bullsh*t conspiracy theories. Nations like Russia use a barrage of them to disrupt opposition to a deeply corrupt and murderous regime. Same with China, Iran, Brazil and many other governments.
The Republican Party has a fundamental choice to make. It can be a conservative party that believes in democracy and the rule of law or it can be an authoritarian party that’s built on conspiracy theories, violence and the Big Lie. But it cannot be both.
— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) February 10, 2021
Trumpist politicians around the globe are funding raising from QAnon conspiracies and using the fear of its followers to line their own pockets. Even Trump himself; a follower and amplifier and now subject of numerous conspiracy theories actually gains power, and what does he do with it? Signature achievements are to add two more judges to the supreme court who will block action on issues like climate change and passes a massive tax cut for the rich. In short, he keeps the status-quo.
Not trusting the government is a normal thing. Governments lie all the time. Distrust in everything is not normal and when that distrust turns family and friends into your ‘enemy’ and makes actual political change harder; time to rethink.