Prediction: If a certain candidate doesn’t win the Presidential election in November, members of his party in Congress will support a military coup to make him President anyway.Reality: …
Prediction: If a certain candidate doesn’t win the Presidential election in November, members of his party in Congress will support a military coup to make him President anyway.
Reality: We’ll never know, because Andrew Jackson defeated John Quincy Adams in the 1832 election. However, conspiracy theorists were certain that if Jackson had lost he would have been “placed in the Presidential Chair, at the point of fifty thousand bayonets!!!”
Surely even the most ardent of Trump detractors couldn’t believe I was talking about the current occupant of the Oval Office – or could they? After all, no less than Democratic candidate Joe Biden is already on record as being convinced Trump will try to “steal” the election and will refuse to leave if he loses. Right?
And while Democrats can’t seem to contain their glee over Trump’s sinking poll numbers, they consistently fail to account for the intensity of those voters who know that electing Biden virtually assures that billionaire investor George Soros will be free to consolidate his plans for a new world order, providing he has enough money left after paying to buy all the bricks and bus in all the protesters for all the violent civil unrest in our cities. This huge “silent majority” surely will ride to Trump’s rescue in November. Right?
Conspiracy theories are as American as apple pie, and our appetite for the former is as voracious as it is for the latter. They’re more visible and more dangerous than ever in the digital age, but to suggest that Americans on both the right and the left have suddenly become suckers for a good conspiracy theory is ludicrous. We’ve always been suckers for wild flights of fantasy and deception, right down to believing that P.T. Barnum actually said, “There’s a sucker born every minute.” He didn’t.
My first foray into the realm of conspiracy theory came when I dove headlong into all the theories about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in a Dallas motorcade in 1963. Although I was just a month shy of turning six years old, it made a huge impression on me. As I grew into my late teens and twenties, I read most everything that was written about the assassination. When I lived in Dallas briefly in 1987, I simply had to visit Dealy Plaza to look at the “grassy knoll” and the former Texas School Book Depository building to see the area for myself.
To this day, the possibility of conspiracy still intrigues me. Was it really Lee Harvey Oswald acting alone to kill Kennedy, or were there others? Was the CIA involved? How about the Russians or the Cubans or organized crime? If there’s a new documentary that attempts to focus the latest in forensic technology on proving or disproving the “single bullet theory,” I’m going to tune in.
So why do conspiracy theories develop, why do they take root and flourish, particularly on the extreme left and right sides of the political spectrum? I personally chalk it up to two things: feeling powerless and being intellectually lazy.
Pick any conspiracy theory running rampant today and you’re likely to find an element of power at its root, driven by either the belief that someone is trying to take power away from you or trying to keep you from having it. If I had a nickel for every Facebook meme I’ve seen touting a conspiracy with power at its root, I’d own Rupert Murdoch’s media empire instead of working at the Timberjay. Memes are proof positive that people have become intellectually lazy – people read them, and if they agree, they share them, without ever taking even 30 seconds to do a Google search for some fact-checking. Someone posted it, it must be true. For posts about coffee addiction, perhaps that’s OK. For conspiracies, it’s not.
As regards conspiracies surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, some conspiracy theories have cost people livelihoods, health, and lives. That’s not acceptable in any way. If one personally wants to believe in a conspiracy, that’s their right, but to turn that belief into actions that we now know can harm others is not.
When it comes to dealing with conspiracies, perhaps the best personal tool one can have to assess them is Occam’s Razor. A problem-solving technique developed in the 14th century, it boils down to a simple phrase that most Facebook meme writers couldn’t screw up: “The simplest explanation is most likely the right one.”
Which is more simple: a) Democrats wanting to oust Trump from office have concocted a COVID-19 hoax that involves top-level officials in every state of the union, both Republican and Democrat, and have enlisted the aid of doctors, nurses, first responders, and countless others to distort all the case and death numbers to outrageous levels; or b) we really do have an out-of-control virus that poses a serious health threat to millions of people? B is the most simple by far. Particularly because it amazes me that anyone could call Democrats “libtards” in one breath and accuse them of brilliantly masterminding a worldwide pandemic on the other.
“The simplest explanation is most likely the right one.” Ancient advice for a modern-day crisis that should be contemplated by all. Conspiracy theories arent’ exclusive to either party – they’re an equal opportunity threat.