Stop making fun of conspiracy theorists


By Juliana Yao, Staff Reporter

Around 5% of American adults, according to the 2021 representative PEW Research Center survey, agreed with statements confirming the flat earth and faked moon landing conspiracy theories, around 20% being unsure of the claims’ validity. Viewing these people as utterly foolish and not worth a single thought outside of mockery is common. However, when ridiculing them online, it is easy to forget that conspiracy theorists are flawed humans deserving of respect and empathy like anyone else.

Those who believe in conspiracies tend to do so for three reasons. According to social psychology professor Karen Douglas, one such motive is the existential, where people who feel powerless desire evidence of the contrary. I have seen some evolution-deniers see the fact that humans evolved from unicellular organisms as an unacceptable principle. Through believing they are created by a divine being, they are able to indulge in a profound sense of meaning, as opposed to the futile dread of existing by mere chance.

Another motive is the social aspect. Groups that form around conspiracies are seen as exclusive clubs that have obtained information unknown to outsiders. This gives individuals a sense of uniqueness that they may have lacked from other aspects in their lives. Turning to outlandish beliefs in order to fulfill a need to be special is an understandable failure of human nature.

The final motive results from an inherent search for knowledge. People who do not understand particular events will naturally look for explanations, but may not know how to distinguish facts from misinformation. This is especially true on social media, where a UC Davis study found that algorithms could lead one to have polarized beliefs without being exposed to the evidence of an opposing perspective.

A refusal to listen to conspiracy theorists can cause them to burrow deeper into their own beliefs, as author of “The Cult Phenomenon: How Groups Think” Mike Kropveld confirms. After all, if the other side of the argument does not even take the time to consider your own points, they have not given you any reason to concede. Merely expressing how unintelligent theorists are does not help them acknowledge the gaping flaws in their logic.

Of course, many argue time spent trying to convince conspiracy theorists is time wasted. No matter what facts and evidence are thrown at them in public debates, the theorists ignore, misconstrue and twist them to hold tight to their own beliefs.

It is important to note, though, that the few prominent conspiracy theorists could stand to lose fame and money by rejecting their own theories. It is their general audience that could benefit from a situation where their intelligence and mental capabilities are not constantly insulted.

On the internet, it is all too natural to use mockery to respond to opposing ideologies. The approach that is seen too rarely, however, is one of kindness and empathy. Reiterating the words of Robert Frost, I urge that we take the road less traveled, to make all the difference.

Juliana Yao can be reached at [email protected].