500-odd words feels pretty inadequate to talk about what’s down there. I could write a trilogy of books about conspiracy theories, the people that create them, their believers and the myriad of motivations of all involved. But then again, considering some people spend much of their time blowing smoke and adjusting mirrors, spreading fear and confusion – all for the purpose of creating doubt and promoting suspicion of proven science – perhaps a simple message is what’s required here.
A well known celebrity uses their social media feeds to coax their followers “down the rabbit hole”, a suggestion that there are dark secrets waiting just under the surface of most of what we know and accept if we are prepared to dig a little. The problem is, no digging is required, the rabbit holes are already conveniently there, all you need to do is simply follow them. Which leaves already susceptible people few barriers from absorbing the new “truths” that they might find – if they are prepared to “think and feel deeply” enough. Yet ironically anyone who chooses peer-reviewed research by professionals over theories put forward by mostly unsubstantiated sources is labelled a “sheeple”. In science and research circles “I didn’t fit the mould” is another way of saying I’m unqualified, professionally discredited or extremist-agenda driven.
So how did we get here? When you have time, Google Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. It doesn’t directly address conspiracy theorists, but does shed light on human behaviour. In a nutshell, when our basic needs are covered – food, shelter, and security – we are freed to then venture out on journeys of discovery (and privilege). It’s here that the following traits might be triggered and can be fuelled by groups of like-minded, highly impressionable, or even bored individuals in online echo chambers:
- A deep mistrust of government or authority, potentially intergenerational
- Loneliness and disconnection from broader community or traumatised by physical, social, financial or other personal life impacts or events
- Feelings of powerlessness living in an age when so many things can be explained by science, often the domain of spiritual charlatans
- An unquenchable need to be different and to “know” something that no one else can see, which often resonate with existing beliefs systems
A lot of people use social media and YouTube to claim facts then use their own statements or “studies” as “proof”, and the media aren’t helping. Apart from “mainstreaming” them by giving disproportionate air time to what are – if you look at the statistics – a vast minority, they also approach crisis situations like the current one with an almost vindictive glee. A bit like vultures – cheering for death and destruction so they can pick the carcass – an industry that prefers chaos over harmony – a state which is thoroughly boring and of course, unprofitable. I still wonder how people that actively promote social division can sleep at night, but that’s how one thrives in organisations like News Corp and Fairfax – push the agenda and climb the ladder.
So why talk about this now? Because even though the beauty and creativity of the individual will continue to be celebrated in this country, right now we need to band together and do what we can (and should) for the greater cause. Let’s do this.
Managing Editor, The Westsider