Blowhard, Esq. writes:
A common objection to conspiracy theories is that the worldview that conspiracy theories reflects is more psychologically comforting than the actual reality. The objection goes something like this, “You think that X event was the result of a plan agreed to and executed by nefarious people, when in reality the vast majority of people are bumbling and incompetent. People are so incompetent that it is highly unlikely that they could have pulled off such a thing. But, you want to believe that events are always the result of evil elements acting in concert, because that is preferable to believing we live in a world that is actually disorganized and chaotic.”
I’ve seen two examples of this kind of thinking lately with respect to the Iowa caucuses debacle. A friend posted a story on Facebook with the headline, “Out of the Chaos, Let a Thousand Conspiracy Theories Bloom.” She added as a caption, “Because it’s comforting to think the people in charge are super-competent conspirators rather than bumblers?” In Rolling Stone, Matt Taibbi similarly dismisses any conspiracy thinking:
When historians pore over the Great Iowa Catastrophe of 2020, much of the blame will be focused on Acronym and Shadow, the two firms associated with the balky app that was supposed to count caucus results. For the conspiratorial-minded, the various political connections will be key: Acronym co-founder Tara McGowan is married to Buttigieg strategist Michael Halle, while former Obama campaign manager David Plouffe sits on Acronym’s board. Shadow had also been a client of both the Buttigieg and Biden campaigns in 2019.
But garden variety disorganization and stupidity were the major storylines underneath the terrible optics. From the first moment the caucus proceedings were delayed Monday night due to what the Iowa Democratic Party called “inconsistencies in the reporting,” Sanders supporters in particular felt in déjà vu territory. Orlando native Patty Duffy, an out-of-stater who captained for Sanders in the small town of Milo, had flashbacks to the run-up to the Hillary-Bernie convention.
Taibbi didn’t resort to psychologizing, but the effect is the same, “Hey guys, there is no conspiracy going on, these people are just maladroit morons.” Never mind that “inconsistencies in the reporting” might be the result of people acting intentionally and we know for a fact there was a conspiracy at the 2016 Democratic National Convention to shut Bernie out.
But back to the “comfort” argument. It may be that conspiracy theorists find it discomforting to believe that they live in a disordered, anarchic world and therefore seek a psychological palliative of looking for patterns and plots were none in fact exist. I can’t look into their hearts and minds, so I don’t know. But isn’t it equally psychologically comforting to believe that conspiracies are never possible? That major world events are never the result of a group of powerful people doing bad things? The next time an anti-conspiracy theorist raises the comfort objection, wouldn’t it be just as logical for me to respond, “You want to believe that the world is run by essentially good people trying to do the right thing. They just screw up sometimes, or chaos introduces unavoidable mistakes or screw-ups into the system. It’s more comforting to believe that than the people at the top are so indifferent to you and your concerns that they act however they like to protect their power.”
The comfort argument is specious because it’s trotted out time and again before any evidence, pro or con, is presented. It’s an objection designed to shut down discussion. The anti-conspiracy theorist can’t open the door to a single conspiracy theory because, if they do, that opens the door to others. Their worldview depends on keeping them all conspiracy theories — in other words, all psychologically threatening narratives — shut out.
- Seth Roberts on other phrases designed to shut down discussion.
- James Corbett on five conspiracy theories that turned out to be true.
- Zero Hedge on how the phrase “conspiracy theorist” was invented by the CIA.