Enjoyed this read. I was (embarrassingly) a huge conspiracy buff as an undergraduate. I spent hours on Vigilant Citizen, InfoWars, and listened to enough Immortal Technique that I was ready to tear down Wall Street block by block.
However, when I entered the workforce my first project was in a program for underrepresented high school students in a huge, urban school district and I fully realized just how implausible Big Secrets are. Competition for funding, decision rights, and strategic vision gave rise to all types of irrational bullshit. I learned firsthand that human decision making is cumulative, emergent, and patterned: factor in one anxious administrator and suddenly you had a first class cluster expletive.
Conspiracy theories persist because they 1) give hope and order (and usually a sense of moral supremacy) to the disenfranchised 2) possess a single iota of truth. Humans already have a difficult time dealing with complexity, but the kind of complexity that has truth embedded is a special kind of chaos.
For example, perhaps a top government official found out that some attack was happening and hoped to foment national outcry. Perhaps some eccentric celebrity thought they were selling their soul to the devil for a record contract… In both of these scenarios, these actions seem like genesis points for some collective nefarious behavior, but are single shreds in large tapestries.
Shreds get amplified in decision making because both the transmitting human and the receiving human have vested interests in the alternative narrative.
But, when you expect amplification of anomalies, you can retain a healthy skepticism while trying to ferret out the original, ostensibly true, signal.
Very hard to do when other receivers are zealots, religious or patriotic; young without a real understanding of social dynamics; or the mindless consumer.
Thanks for the article!!!