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Posts Tagged ‘GK Chesterton

“You simply cannot invent any conspiracy theory so ridiculous and obviously satirical that some people somewhere don’t already believe it”*…

As Greg Miller explains, conspiracy theories seem to meet psychological needs and can be almost impossible to eradicate. But there does appear to be a remedy: keep them from taking root in the first place…

If conspiracy theories are as old as politics, they’re also — in the era of Donald Trump and QAnon — as current as the latest headlines. Earlier this month, the American democracy born of an eighteenth century conspiracy theory faced its most severe threat yet — from another conspiracy theory, that (all evidence to the contrary) the 2020 presidential election was rigged. Are conspiracy theories truly more prevalent and influential today, or does it just seem that way?

The research isn’t clear. Rosenblum and others see evidence that belief in conspiracy theories is increasing and taking dangerous new forms. Others disagree. But scholars generally do agree that conspiracy theories have always existed and always will. They tap into basic aspects of human cognition and psychology, which may help explain why they take hold so easily — and why they’re seemingly impossible to kill.

Once someone has fully bought into a conspiracy theory, “there’s very little research that actually shows you can come back from that,” says Sander van der Linden, a social psychologist at the University of Cambridge whose research focuses on ways to combat misinformation. “When it comes to conspiracy theories, prevention is better than cure.”

Talking a true believer out of their belief in a conspiracy can be nearly impossible. (The believer will assume you’re hopelessly naïve or, worse, that you’re part of the cover-up). Even when conspiracy theories have bold predictions that don’t come true, such as QAnon’s claim that Trump would win reelection, followers twist themselves in logical knots to cling to their core beliefs. “These beliefs are important to people, and letting them go means letting go of something important that has determined the way they see the world for some time,” says [Karen Douglas, a psychologist who studies conspiracy thinking at the University of Kent in the United Kingdom].

As a result, some researchers think that preventing conspiracy theories from taking hold in the first place is a better strategy than fact-checking and debunking them after they do — and they have been hard at work developing and testing such strategies. Van der Linden sees inoculation as a useful metaphor here. “I think one of the best solutions we have is to actually inject people with a weakened dose of the conspiracy…to help people build up mental or cognitive antibodies,” he says.

One way he and his colleagues have been trying to do that (no needles required) is by developing online games and apps. In a game called Bad News, for example, players assume the role of a fake news creator trying to attract followers and evolve from a social media nobody into the head of a fake-news empire…

The critical question — pushing the vaccine metaphor to its limits — is how to achieve herd immunity, the point at which enough of the population is immune so that conspiracy theories can’t go viral. It might be difficult to do that with games because they require people to take the time to engage, says Gordon Pennycook, a behavioral scientist at the University of Regina in Canada. So Pennycook has been working on interventions that he believes will be easier to scale up.

Even as researchers push to develop such measures, they acknowledge that eradicating bogus conspiracy theories may not be possible. Conspiracy theories flourished as far back as the Roman Empire, and they inspired an angry mob to storm the U.S. Capitol just last week. Specific theories may come and go, but the allure of conspiracy theories for people trying to make sense of events beyond their control seems more enduring. For better — and of late, very much for worse — they appear to be a permanent part of the human condition…

Eminently worth reading in full: “The enduring allure of conspiracies, ” from @dosmonos in @NiemanLab.

* Robert Anton Wilson

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As we fumble with the fantastic, we might send prodigious birthday greeting to G.K. Chesterton; he was born on this date in 1874.  The author of 80 books, several hundred poems, over 200 short stories, 4000 essays, and several plays, he was a literary and social critic, historian, playwright, novelist, Catholic theologian and apologist, debater, and mystery writer. Chesterton was a columnist for the Daily News, the Illustrated London News, and his own paper, G. K.’s Weekly, and wrote articles for the Encyclopædia Britannica.  Chesterton created the priest-detective Father Brown, who appeared in a series of short stories, and had a huge influence on the development of the mystery genre; his best-known novel is probably The Man Who Was Thursday.

Chesterton’s faith, which he defended in print and speeches, brought him into conflict with the most famous atheist of the time, George Bernard Shaw, who said (on the death of his “friendly enemy”), “he was a man of colossal genius.”

The lunatic is the man who lives in a small world but thinks it is a large one; he is the man who lives in a tenth of the truth, and thinks it is the whole. The madman cannot conceive any cosmos outside a certain tale or conspiracy or vision.

G. K. Chesterton
George Bernard Shaw, Hilaire Belloc, and G. K. Chesterton

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