What Is It With The Right-Wing And Conspiracy Theories?
Sometimes I feel like conservatives have been brainwashed to think that literally.every.single.thing is not only a conspiracy but a conspiracy against them. Is there anything that can be trusted if even science is disregarded so easily? COVID is a conspiracy. Vaccines are a conspiracy. Climate change is a conspiracy. The election was a conspiracy. Everything is a conspiracy!
I mean, how do they keep up with all of it? I feel like I would die of paranoia.
Conspiracy theories have always existed. I actually used to find them quite entertaining and interesting, and every once in a while I’d fall down YouTube rabbit holes about flat earth theories and Chuckie Cheese conspiracies, chuckling at the absurdity and then going about my life thinking: “Thank goodness nobody sane actually believes that stuff!”
Boy was I wrong. Turns out, there are far more baseless conspiracy theories that have led to physical action and disaster; Pizzagate, thousands of people ignoring health guidelines, January 6th, to name a few.
The craziest, and most dangerous, conspiracy theories are in fact, primarily created and believed by the right-wing. It would be unfair to say that every Republican actually believes Ted Cruz’s father killed JFK, but let’s look at things generally. Election fraud, COVID conspiracies, vaccine conspiracies, Planned Parenthood conspiracies, QAnon, they all come from the right-wing. And, according to a study released by the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania, receiving your news from a conservative media outlet means you will be more likely to believe misinformation about COVID or conspiracy theories.
I try to follow the most unbiased news and information available, mostly non-profit news platforms that don’t make money from clickbait like BBC, YLE, or Press Association. Out of interest, I often check CNN and ABC and compare them to FOX News or Breitbart. While there are biased views on either side, the right-wing news platforms run stories on unreliable, baseless conspiracies way more often than left-wing platforms.
Why is the right-wing so darn gullible?
There are many psychological factors that can lead people to believe in conspiracies. One of them is “collective narcissism,” which in essence is group’s inflated belief in its own significance (cough, cough, QAnon, cough, cough). According to social and political psychologist Marta Marchlewska’s research on conspiracy theories, collective narcissists look for imaginary enemies and adopt conspiracy explanations to explain them. When a member of their group fails, the urge to come up with an explanation is particularly strong. “For some people, conspiracy beliefs are the best way to deal with the psychological threat posed by their failure,” Marchlewska says. An example of this would be Trump not winning the election, and his supporters claiming it to be the result of election fraud and then storming in and attacking the Capitol instead of just accepting the fact that their leader lost.
Marchlewska also introduces something called a “cognitive shortcut”. She says that those who experience anxiety or sense of disorder use unconscious, rule-of-thumb decisions to make sense of the world. (Honestly, if I was watching the crap they feed conservatives on Fox News, I would need conspiracy theories to get through my anxiety as well.)
Some psychologists say that when misinformation offers simple, casual explanations for random events, believing them may help restore a sense of agency and control. They also say that people are more likely to believe misinformation that they are exposed to often, because the brain can mistake familiarity for truth.
According to the Ramsey Theory, if there are enough elements in a set or structure, a pattern will emerge within it. The human mind is wired to seek patterns. Some believe that these two factors can explain where conspiracies come from: the human necessity to find links and meaning in text, events, and disasters.
In this new study, researchers aimed to clarify the personological and psychopathological correlates of conspiracy beliefs. The study concluded that some people with certain personality traits are more likely to embrace conspiratorial narratives than others. Schizotypy, for example, a personality trait defined by eccentricity and suspiciousness of others, is tied to belief in conspiracy theories. Other personality traits that the study found linked to conspiracy beliefs were: entitlement, self-centered impulsivity, cold-heartedness, and elevated levels of depressive moods and anxiousness.
In light of all this, I began to wonder if the right-wing is so prone to believe conspiracy theories because:
a) many of them possess certain personality traits and/or,
b) the right-wing media creates an anxious atmosphere for the consumer and therefore pushes them to come up with explanations to deal with the feeling of being threatened?
I remember watching a bit of Fox News last March when shit hit the fan COVID-wise. Their headline was: “Democrats complaining about Trump’s response to the pandemic is just another attempt to get him impeached!” I mean… what?! Did they not know that because of him, there was no pandemic response team or that he downplayed the seriousness of the virus? Or do they just not care?
And the result:
- Nearly a quarter of Americans believe the coronavirus originated in Chinese lab.
- One in five adults felt the outbreak was being over-exaggerated as a means to bring down President Trump’s chances at reelection.
Sometimes the narcissism just baffles me.
If that were true, how come there were -and still are- so many cases in other countries? What did that have to do with Trump and the election? 3.7 million cases in the UK. 2.7 million in Italy. 2.6 million in Spain. Should I keep going?
It certainly didn’t help the Republicans’ fight to distinguish actual facts from irrational, delusional conspiracy theories to have a leader who pushed and planted false, baseless lies pretty much every other day on Twitter. Trump has come up with some of the most outrageous, hateful conspiracy theories of all time. Like the one about Obama’s birth certificate being fake and him not being born in the U.S at all. The very persuasive tweet was: “An ‘extremely credible source’ has called my office and told me that @BarackObama’s birth certificate is a fraud.” And then there was that whole thing about climate change with the theory about climate change being fake and created by the Chinese to make U.S manufacturing non-competitive. He tweeted about climate change 115 times, each tweet increasingly delusional. Like this one: “Let’s continue to destroy the competitiveness of our factories & manufacturing so we can fight mythical global warming. China is so happy!” Or this one: “Global warming is based on faulty science and manipulated data which is proven by the emails that were leaked.”
Let’s not forget this tweet: “3000 people did not die in the two hurricanes that hit Puerto Rico. … This was done by the Democrats in order to make me look as bad as possible when I was successfully raising Billions of Dollars to help rebuild Puerto Rico,” and later, his constant denial of the death toll of the coronavirus.
Or that time in August of 2018, when Trump tweeted about the conspiracy theory claiming that the South African government was perpetrating “white genocide” by passing measures to take land from white farmers while ignoring or covering up murders of white farmers by black residents. The theory originated from white nationalist forums and reached who else but Tucker Carlson on Fox News. Needless to say, there was never any evidence to support the theory.
One could write a book on his insane tweets!
I can’t wrap my mind around how anyone could believe in QAnon or any of these crazy, political conspiracies the right-wing keeps feeding the public. The only way I can explain it is that there there is just a lack of respect for facts and evidence and blind belief in one’s own opinion. Narcissistic inability to admit that maybe, just maybe, I am wrong.
The debate between freedom of speech and censoring dangerous content is becoming more and more timely and divisive. Who gets to decide what can and cannot be said? One of the great building blocks of this country has been the free exchange of ideas, but if it continues like this -what can be done?
It’s every individual’s responsibility to make sure we don’t share information that isn’t fact-checked.
One answer: MEDIA. LITERACY.