I was 14 years old the first time someone tried to convince me of a conspiracy theory. It was in Grade 9, as I was sitting in a film studies class, that my teacher tried to convince us that 9/11 was an inside job. It didn’t really sink in at the time. I was confused and wondered if maybe it was true. One of my favourite teachers was telling me there was video of a US army plane entering the smoke after the initial plane, a cause for concern.
I came home that day to tell my mom about the crazy story about 9/11, and, happily, she told me that it was utter nonsense, and I can look up the facts to prove it. Looking back it’s crazy that I had a trusted authority figure telling a group of kids a bunch of conspiracy theories — it also seems highly unethical. Not unethical to the extent of some conspiracy theorists, like James Keegstra who taught children in Eckville, Alberta that the Holocaust was fake, but unethical nonetheless.
A personal favourite conspiracy theory of mine involves two groups of people (three if you include the rational ones who believe humans are simply people). One group believes that Prince Phillip is the second coming of Christ, and worships him, the other believes he’s the antichrist and thinks he will bring about the apocalypse. Just this August, Edmonton hosted a Flat Earth Conference, where many (at least a couple hundred, probably more, but the idea makes me sad inside) people came from all over the world to pat each other on the back about how they’ve figured out that the world is really flat with a tiny sun circling the atmospheric dome surrounding the Earth-disk. That’s right, the Flat Earth Society believes we live in a giant snow globe.
Other common conspiracy theories include people who think that the government is using “chemtrails” to control the population, or that lizard people are disguising themselves as high-ranking officials and celebrities, or that the Illuminati are running the world’s most influential organizations. Basically, people seem to think that something is controlling the world. This brings me to my theory about conspiracies.
Conspiracy theories are rarely positive. It’s never a conspiracy theory that a secret group of people are working together to rid the world of famine and war. So that makes me wonder why someone would purposely seek out something that would make their life objectively worse — you may think the world is better with lizard people controlling us, but I’m afraid I have to disagree there. Why would people want to have a worldview than involves them being controlled by a malicious entity?
The answer, I think (and I am by no means an expert at anything relating to this), is that it’s a way to shirk responsibility. If your life isn’t going the way you’d like, it’s pretty easy to claim that the Illuminati is against your success rather than owning up to the fact that you may be responsible for your own problems. Conspiracy theories aren’t just a seat of weird beliefs, they’re a way to distance yourself from your life and put it in the control of the lizard people who are out to get you.
When people are truly invested in a conspiracy theory, no amount of fact or reason will get them to change their minds. If you ask Flat Earthers about why people have been to Antarctica and have not, in fact, seen the edge of the dome-Earth, they will likely tell you that the government paid them off. The scapegoat of the government or some other distant entity paying people off to keep their secrets is exhausting to us because it doesn’t make any sense, but if someone really wants to believe the conspiracy, really wants their problems to be the fault of someone or something else, then sense doesn’t matter.
Although it’s easy to laugh at these theories, and in turn commend ourselves for being too smart to fall for something that ridiculous, there has to be something underlying the creation of the conspiracy. Whether that’s fear, anger, or disdain with how life is playing out, people believe what they believe to cope. So although it causes me great amounts of pain to think about the generation of children being raised by Flat Earther parents, next time I encounter someone who believes a ludicrous theory about the government, instead of asking how they could believe something so stupid, maybe I’ll try to understand what they were searching for on a conspiracy website.
Graphics by Milo Knauer.