If you believe Oswald may not have acted alone or that there was more to 9/11 than you were officially told, then you could be suffering from a mental illness.
Whoever said “believe nothing you hear and only half of what you see” might have been delusional or mentally unstable—or both. Instead of an offerer of sage advice, that person was probably a conspiracy theorist–at least based on a recent Washington Post report, that is.
The report comes in the wake of the latest mass shooting in San Bernardino, Calif., after an attorney for the family of one of the suspects questioned authorities’ version of events. Attorney David Chesley’s comments concerning the accuracy of information given by police, came under scrutiny when he mentioned another mass shooting in which initial details were conflicting.
“There were a lot of questions drawn in regard to Sandy Hook and whether or not that was a real incident or not,” said Chesley in a video, according to the Washington Post article.
The report then went on to describe the mechanics behind conspiracy theories and even posited on the mental and genetic make-up of those who may be “predisposed” to entertain such theories. The author, Niraj Chokshi, drew on the expertise of Joe Uscinski, who is an associate professor of political science at the University of Miami and co-author of the book “American Conspiracy Theories.”
Chokshi presented an outline of his interview with Uscinski in a question and answer format. The following are a few paraphrased highlights from that interview (For the full story click here):
- Some people see everything in conspiratorial terms and everything is a product of a conspiracy, while others think nothing is the product of conspiracy.
- Some people think that mass shootings like Colorado Springs and San Bernardino must be the work of a conspiracy. The piece goes on to say that it is always the same group of people—like Alex Jones—same people, same theories.
- Similar to the difficulty converting a Democrat to a Republican, conspiracy theorists will hardly admit that “hey, there’s no conspiracies out there.”
- Uscinski says he thinks conspiracists are the result of “childhood socialization.”
- There may be underlying “psychological” (mental illness) or “cognitive” (delusional) issues.
- Scientific evidence shows a link between genetics and partisanship and possibly conspiratorial thinking.
- Birthers—like Donald Trump—are usually conservatives who are conspiratorial, but truthers are mostly liberals with conspiratorial worldviews.
Interestingly, while some scientists allude to the possibility of delusion and mental illness among those who subscribe to conspiracy theories, they do not appear to apply that prognosis to those at the other end of the spectrum, who do not believe in any conspiracies. However, Uscinski said, in a separate statement, that he does not consider conspiracy theories to be a form of mental illness and nor does he believe all are the products of delusions.
Uscinski attributes the so-called “conjunction fallacy” to one reason why conspiracy theories abound. For those unfamiliar with the conjunction fallacy, it goes something like this:
“Linda is 31 years old, single, outspoken, and very bright. She majored in philosophy. As a student, she was deeply concerned with issues of discrimination and social justice, and also participated in anti-nuclear demonstrations.
Which is more probable?
A. Linda is a bank teller.
B. Linda is a bank teller and is active in the feminist movement.”
If you answered “B” you are among the vast majority of people (85%) who got it wrong, according to Uscinski and other social scientist types. There is even a mathematical formula to prove the feeble logic of the unwashed masses pales in comparison to that of some modern scientists.
So what does this mean and what does it have to do with conspiracies? It means that—if you believe these scientists—humans are notoriously prone to believing falsehoods, disconnected suppositions, and mental illness.
While there is no argument there are some who push the envelope of belief when it comes to conspiracy theories, conspiracies actually do exist! Not only are there conspiracies, there are false flag operations and other untoward dealings that have been documented in history as well.
There is a big difference between questioning a specific set of events or circumstances, and saying “little green men from Mars are secretly running the government.” While some postulations concerning events are wildly over the edge, some are very plausible and even likely, in some cases. One thing we need to remember is that being skeptical is not outright disbelief, but a suspension of belief until more information is available.
Additionally, an alternate theory of how an event transpired does not necessarily constitute a conspiracy theory—especially when facts don’t add up. There is no shame or insanity in questioning what we do not have firsthand knowledge of if the facts are incomplete.
A good example of this is when several media outlets quoted police sources as saying one of the San Bernardino shooters was named Tayyeep bin Ardogan. The erroneous moniker for the suspect was hastily retracted, apparently after someone realized it was suspiciously similar to the name of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Surely, no unnamed “police source” would commit such a off-the-mark blunder, since Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik, the actual names of the suspects, nowhere nearly resembles that name.
If something as elementary as fact-checking a name can have such a result, is it really difficult to blame someone who might question more important facts? There is no doubt—at least in this writer’s mind—a terrible tragedy occurred in San Bernardino that resulted in the deaths of many people.
As for we who were far-removed from the actual crime scene, all we can go by are local media accounts of eyewitnesses and authorities. To pose rational questions in the absence of information, is no more conspiracy theory, than it is to point out inconsistencies in the narrative.
In the now-famous words of George W. Bush, we should not put up with “outrageous” conspiracy theories, however, we should not relinquish our ability to examine and analyze. If we listen to scientists, it would seem only those of overly-exceptional intelligence—like themselves—can parse the sometimes, subtle nuances between fact and fiction—between veracity and fallacy.
If this really is the case, then only a small portion of the population is grounded in reality, while the rest of us are adrift on a sea of confusion–or worse.
Correction: The article originally read “Interestingly, while Uscinski alluded to delusion and mental illness” was changed to “Interestingly, while some scientists allude to delusion and mental illness” for clarity and correct attribution.