Conspiracy theories are believed and spread by people we might consider smart. How can someone be a “smart doctor” and not wash their hands, and refute germ theory? Doctors did just that for decades because they weren’t actually thinking — they were just privileged people in a specialized profession requiring a huge amount of training.
Modern humans take a huge amount of “common knowledge” and “common wisdom” for granted.
Climate change – it’s happening, and we know it’s happening, because of mountains of evidence and hordes of extremely qualified experts who write libraries of works backing it up and making useful and accurate models.
But you, personally, have never ever read a single one of those papers. Conspiracy theories are not in your brain.
Same with “Tobacco causes cancer”. Or same with “Asbestos causes cancer”. Same with “Vaccines don’t cause autism”. Same with “The Holocaust happened.”
You have never, ever, needed to read a single one of the publications that demonstrated these things –because YOU rely on, and delegate to, qualified experts in our society.
Being a “smart programmer” is a relatively simple task – now, more than ever with powerful HLL’s like Python. Being extremely well trained and talented in an extremely narrow field doesn’t necessarily make someone:
- trust society;
- mentally healthy;
- capable of critical thinking;
- able to distinguish a confidence trickster, abusive personality, or a cult from a genuine friendship or society.
- Immune to conspiracy theories.
Emotional health is an extremely important part of any person’s life. Emotional needs include a sense of belonging and fellowship. And if someone doesn’t have their emotional needs fulfilled, they will go out and find something that fulfills those emotional needs. They will seek out conspiracy theories that will fulfill these emotional needs.
And confidence tricksters, scammers, cultists, and abusers know this fact and use it to prey on vulnerable people. This is not a case of “We need individuals to be smarter.”
This is a case of “Huge amounts of our society are fundamentally abandoned, alone, frightened, and left to be taken advantage of (and brainwashed) by online sadists, sociopaths, narcissists and Machiavellian manipulators, and there’s little or no functional social infrastructure to address that.
The problem is, to believe something like the flat earth theory or the 5G conspiracy (which I don’t even fully know what it is because I’m afraid to look), you not only have to not be well informed in certain topics, but have to actually dismiss large amounts of commonly available information that is all around you.
To me there is a fundamental need to reconcile all available information and not exist with contradictions. For a person to choose to believe something that is so contradictory, the belief must give them something greater than what it takes away in the security of a sensible world.
Perhaps it’s a sense of belonging or purpose or being special which the person craves so badly that they abandon reality. But ignorance or trusting experts alone is not a sufficient explanation.