The world is a crazy, amazing thing full of unbelievable places, people, creatures, and stories. But despite the overwhelming quantity of fantastic and fascinating things all around us, we still have a desire to believe in something more.
Some would argue that religion exists to fill this void, which may be true in some cases, but religion serves many other purposes: providing a moral compass, explaining human origins, and giving us an excuse to wear nice clothes. Conspiracies, on the other hand, provide no practical benefit – just the sensation that we’re in the know about what’s really going on.
But how do we identify a conspiracy? What separates a conspiracy from a fictional story or historical fact? Two of the key components in a conspiracy are implausibility and secrecy.
Conspiracies are, by their very nature, implausible. If a conspiracy was plausible, then everyone would know about it and believe in it. And if a conspiracy was well known to be true, then it wouldn’t be a secret. And if a conspiracy wasn’t a secret, then it wouldn’t be a very good conspiracy, and it wouldn’t provide the sensation that we get from having secret knowledge.
There’s a quick and easy test to determine whether or not a theory is plausible. Simply ask yourself, would this theory require a large number of people working together in secret? If the answer is yes, then it’s implausible.
This is because humans have repeatedly and consistently shown themselves to be completely incapable of accomplishing even the simplest of tasks without complaining, bickering, fighting or dividing. There are countless examples of public programs, at all levels, that fizzled out before seeing the light of day. Believing in conspiracies requires incredible faith in humanity.
Take chemtrails for example. If the government was really dispensing chemicals into the atmosphere using planes, then this would require the silent collaboration of thousands, if not millions of chemical manufacturers, delivery people, airport workers, pilots, security staff, inspectors, air traffic controllers, and many others. This easily fails the test of plausibility without even considering how stupid it would be to use a commercial transportation system to deliver a clearly visible agent in clear weather beneath cloud cover in open view of the public.
Before we continue, it’s important to make a clear distinction between people who believe in conspiracies (believers), and those who don’t (non-believers). In truth, most of us entertain in one conspiracy or another. However, contemplating the plausibility of a conspiracy is most certainly different from propagating it as fact.
Actually, many non-believers have a susceptibility to one or more ideas that contradict conventional thought. Whether it’s politics, economics, global warming, extraterrestrials, or the September 11 attacks, we all seem to be attracted to one conspiracy or another. What separates non-believers from believers isn’t susceptibility to the theory, but its complete acceptance and passionate proliferation.
So why do some people believe while others merely speculate? Well, a conspiracy requires certain conditions in order to sprout. These include any of the following:
- A suspicious event or activity
- An absence of explanation or a dissatisfying explanation
- The need to assign blame
- The need to feel important or intelligent
- The belief in supernatural or paranormal phenomenon
- The resentment authority
For some, believing in a conspiracy is a way of asserting their superiority over others. While they may not state this directly in conversation, believers often perceive themselves to be more intelligent, more aware, or somehow unique because of their special knowledge. They also tend to frequently use the word sheeple.
sheeple. [shee-puhl] -noun.
1. a group of people who, like sheep, mindlessly obey their masters. Why don’t people realize that this crazy thing I believe is true? Wake up, sheeple!
Believers also tend to believe in more than one conspiracy. Here are some of the more popular conspiracy topics:
- Alien abductions, UFOs, and crop circles
- The Lunar landing hoax
- The Loch Ness monster
- The 9/11 attacks
- JFK’s assassination
- The Bermuda triangle
- Global warming
In order to best grasp the situation, let’s focus on the most complex and significant conspiracy topic: Bigfoot.
Myths of gigantic ape-like humanoids are as old as the hills they are said to inhabit. Not only are these stories ancient, they are also widespread. There are myths about massive, bipedal wildmen from every corner of the world, including:
- The Yeren of Mongolia
- The Yeti of the Himalayas (also called Abominable Snowman)
- The Sasquatch of Pacific North America
- The Hibagon of Japan
- The Yowie of Australia
But what’s the difference between a myth and a conspiracy? First of all, myths tend to be hundreds or even thousands of years old, while conspiracies have usually only been around few decades. Second, there isn’t necessarily anything sinister or secret about a myth. Myths are usually more mysterious than they are nefarious, and while they may be unproven, they’re not intentionally hidden. A conspiracy, on the other hand, requires a cover-up. Third and finally, myths tend to be a little less plausible than conspiracies, often incorporating magic, spirituality and fantastic creatures. This means that myth believers are usually less adamant about the veracity of the story than conspiracy believers. In fact, myths are often presented as simply an elaborate moral lesson or a tale meant to astonish.
All that being said, it’s possible for something to be both a myth and a conspiracy. This is exactly what happens when conspiracy believer adopts a myth as a conspiracy by asserting that it is factual and being concealed by some malevolent organization. Because Bigfoot believers are so adamant that Bigfoot is real, even to the point of dedicating their lives to finding him, the Bigfoot myth can be categorized as a conspiracy.
So why do people believe in Bigfoot? One explanation could be that Bigfoot is real, but this doesn’t explain why people believe so strongly that they would sacrifice their time and money to find him, nor does it explain why they feel compelled to convince everyone they meet. Sure, they’ll point to the many volumes of pictures, videos and stories compiled over decades as evidence of Bigfoot’s existence, but the real reason they believe isn’t the evidence. They believe because they are enchanted by idea of a mysterious, ancient beast roaming the wilderness, undiscovered by humans. They want Bigfoot to be real.
The discovery of a living Bigfoot creature could have a significant impact on zoology, origins and animal rights, but Bigfoot believers aren’t scientists or anthropologists – they’re merely infatuated with the idea of Bigfoot being real. After all, what would they do if Bigfoot was confirmed to exist? And whose ends are served by spreading the news that Bigfoot is out there waiting to be found? If humanity’s track record is any indication, discovering Bigfoot likely wouldn’t turn out well for the beast. If they really cared about Bigfoot, believers would be participating in the cover-up.
Unfortunately Bigfoot believers are more interested in exposing the truth than they are with scientific discovery or animal rights. The allure of spewing facts and spreading stories to unbelievers is just too powerful for them to resist. The fact that those who believe in Bigfoot also tend to subscribe to other conspiracy theories supports this claim. After all, what are the chances that someone who believes in Bigfoot also believes in alien UFOs, chemtrails, and the Loch Ness monster? Extremely high, apparently.
This actually highlights an important concept: the purpose of perpetuating a conspiracy. What do believers hope to accomplish by spreading the truth about a conspiracy? Even if, for example, one were to accept the idea that the 9/11 attacks were perpetuated by the American government, that individual has no ability to administer justice to those responsible. The only thing they can do is spread the conspiracy. Conspiracies are self-serving sensational stories that service no real purpose other than to assert superiority and tantalize the imagination. Actually, it’s likely that a conspiracy believer would be disappointed to learn that a conspiracy has migrated to the realm of fact, since they would no longer be able to spread the truth about it.
Conspiracy believers like to think, and would like us to think, that they are doing us a favor by babbling into monotony about some crackpot theory. But, in truth, it is the listener that is performing the favor. The believer is engaged, passionate and full of purpose as they outline the price details by which the conspiracy is orchestrated. All the while, the listener is patiently internalizing their criticism. In this moment, the believer is our savior, delivering us from ignorance and obscurity into the loving arms of paranoia and delusion. In our minds, they are foolish and eccentric, but in their minds, they are valiant champions of truth. As Chip Berlet and Matthew N. Lyons state in Right-Wing Populism in America: Too Close for Comfort:
“Conspiracism is a particular narrative form of scapegoating that frames the enemy as part of a vast insidious plot against the common good, while it valorizes the scapegoater as a hero for sounding the alarm.”
There are also costs associated with being a conspiracy believer. As we just mentioned, anyone coerced into listening to a believer’s stories will likely suffer boredom and irritation, but believers themselves also pay a price for their conviction. Depending on the nature of the conspiracy and both the frequency and aggression with which the believer shares, the believer may be insulted, ignored or avoided. This can result in damaged relationships and a tarnished image, which may affect the believer’s credibility and career.
If you’re a conspiracy believer, ask yourself what you’re really accomplishing by spreading rumors and accusations. Ask yourself if it’s worth it to annoy people with your wild tales. Ask yourself what you’re willing to sacrifice on the altar of conspiracy. Ask yourself if it really helps Bigfoot to go around telling everyone that he exists.
If you truly love Bigfoot, leave him be.