I just finished watching a film called ‘Denial’, in which a professor was sued for discriminating against an activist. The interesting twist was the activist denied the Holocaust took place. The law suit was filed in London, England. Why London? English law is the reverse of ours, in that someone has to prove innocence instead of guilt. The concern was the activist would use the platform to deny the Holocaust ever happened.
The film was very well done, and made me think about denials and conspiracy theories. Yes, there is a Flat Earth Society, which boggles my mind, as I have flown around the globe on numerous occasions and have not yet fallen off the edge.
The question that comes to mind is, why do so many people refuse to believe facts and reason? Most of these people are intelligent and are capable of reasoning a variety of other topics. There seem to be four main reasons why people believe in conspiracy theories.
The first is a lack of information. Conspiracy theories grow when there is a lack of information. Second is anxiety. When people feel anxious they tend to grab on to any answer, which comes along. I find this interesting. David Hundsness, a former educator, explains, instead of seeking more truths, when we feel anxious about something, it becomes a feedback loop. Our minds involuntarily look for more threats, and often a solution is perceived as a threat.
Take the lunar landing, for example. We (some of us, anyway) are old enough to have watched it on television. I remember hearing about the entire thing being filmed in Nevada’s Area 51. Did I buy it? No, but I did contemplate the prospect. Over time, however, many facts supporting the existence of moon landings have surfaced, but those facts can be manipulated to tell any story you wish.
The third factor is the in-group you hang with. By nature, we are social animals, and we like to belong to a group we feel comfortable with. We are reluctant to defy others in those groups. Arguing with someone who believes the world is flat, means you are going against their in-group.
The fourth factor is ego, which seems to be the biggest aspect in changing someone’s mind. Many people believe the CIA assassinated JFK. They have believed this for sixty years. For these believers to change their mind would mean having to admit to everyone they were wrong for a very long time.
The other part of the ego obstacle is feeling special. Many people need to appear ‘different’, to feel important. The main reason they believed the conspiracy theory in the first place, is it made them feel special, in that they had superior knowledge about an event.
The only way to change people’s opinion on events, has to be done in a way where they can save face. It has to come from their in-group, or from someone who is not attacking them.
We all believe in certain things, and as long as they are not harmful to each other, it doesn’t really matter.
Jonathan van Bilsen is a television host, award winning photographer, published author, columnist and keynote speaker. Watch his show, ‘Jonathan van Bilsen’s photosNtravel’, on Rogers TV, the Standard Website or YouTube.