Conspiracy Theories

by | Dec 1, 2000

Q: What are your thoughts on assertions of a conspiracy by Republicans to steal the presidential election — made by Democrats and the mainstream media? It seems “conspiracy theories” abound today, by both the left and the right. What’s at the core of this mentality? A: Conspiracy theories almost always are arbitrary. Little or no […]

Q: What are your thoughts on assertions of a conspiracy by Republicans to steal the presidential election — made by Democrats and the mainstream media? It seems “conspiracy theories” abound today, by both the left and the right. What’s at the core of this mentality?

A: Conspiracy theories almost always are arbitrary. Little or no evidence is generally produced to support the existence of a conspiracy. Nor is evidence really viewed as all that relevant. It’s about emotions, not facts and logic.

Why is this?

Psychologically, many people have a hard time introspecting. It can be a difficult and sometimes painful task to identify your emotions and examine them objectively.

If you are a highly defensive person, or even an outright irrational person, then you will be particularly tempted to look for simple answers to explain away problems. Why? In order to escape responsibility for examining your own emotions — including the possibility that your emotions might be entirely wrong.

If, for example, Hillary Clinton proclaims that there’s a “vast right-wing conspiracy” afoot to persecute her husband, then here’s what she need not do:

She need not consider her husband’s responsibility for his own erroneous actions; her own responsibility in supporting and encouraging those actions; the unpopularity of many of their political policies; and their own weaknesses as political leaders.

It’s easier to simply externalize the blame, and to do so in such an all-encompassing way that the above factors will (she hopes) be swept aside in the minds of most people. Also, it puts the “right wing” (the alleged conspirators) on the defensive. They must now respond to her arbitrary charge, thereby distracting attention from the Clintons’ wrongdoing.

The same principle can apply to “stealing the election” conspiracy theories, by either Democrats or Republicans. Each side can engage in such a conspiracy theory, because it allows them to escape responsibility for the fact they did not make their cases sufficiently to convince a decisive majority of Americans that their candidate should become President. We would not be in the current election mess, after all, if one or the other candidate had taken clearer positions with which a majority could decisively agree or disagree. As already noted elsewhere on this website, each candidate tried to be both a Democrat and a Republican during the campaign, mixing and matching proposals and rhetoric to hopefully please everybody. Look where it got them.

The best intellectual and psychological antidote against conspiracy theories is, of course, rational objectivity. Specifically, the use of critical thinking allows an individual to recognize that arbitrary assertions cannot be accepted.

The burden of proof must always be on the person who makes the assertion that a conspiracy exists. There must be evidence of an actual conspiracy — not merely the fact that many Republicans hate Bill Clinton and want to bring him down (which is obviously true); and not merely the fact that many Democrats don’t care how Al Gore gets into office, just so they get him in there (for which there is hard evidence, based upon the open subjectivity and dishonesty of the hand vote-counting process in Florida).

The presence of hatred or dishonesty does not prove, or even suggest, a conspiracy. It merely suggests that for certain reasons, certain people hate others and choose to lie. Why certain people feel hate or choose to lie is an interesting question; but these factors by no means prove a conspiracy.

Whenever somebody (from the left or right) posits a conspiracy theory, ask yourself this question: What is he/she getting out of promoting this theory? What responsibility does he/she seek to escape? In offering an oversimplified explanation without evidence, what is he/she trying to gloss over, or ignore?

The answer to these questions will generally give you some clues as to the core of the conspiracy mentality.

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Dr. Michael Hurd is a psychotherapist, columnist and author of "Bad Therapy, Good Therapy (And How to Tell the Difference)" and "Grow Up America!" Visit his website at: www.DrHurd.com.

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