Why Do We Have So Many Ridiculous Conspiracy Theories?

It’s not your imagination: America really is awash in conspiracy theories. Trump, UFOs, the JFK assassination, Elvis, “crisis actors,” Obama, Hillary, George Soros (or was it George Clooney?) grabbing for your guns — take your pick. The current warning shouts of the looney toons can keep you on edge and looking over your shoulders 24/7 if you pay them enough attention.

Yet, as Dark Brandon might declare, here’s the deal. The United States of America has been awash in conspiracy theories since long before we were a nation, divided or otherwise. The surging and absurd new plots are just easier–so much easier–to glom onto these days because of our ongoing addiction to instant communications, sauced with hair-trigger responses.

If you want to a better understanding about where America’s conspiracy theories come from and how they take flight (or put down roots), check out the book listed below.

Republic of Lies: American Conspiracy Theorists and Their Surprising Rise to Power, by Anna Merlan (Metropolitan Books, ISBN 9781250159052).

“The Trump era has merely focused our attention back onto something that has reappeared with reliable persistence: the conspiratorial thinking and dark suspicions that have never left us,” the author writes.

Here’s another insight: “Conspiracy theories tend to flourish especially at times of rapid social change, when we’re reevaluating ourselves and, perhaps, facing uncomfortable questions in the process.”


The writer also contends that “[t]he most famous writing on conspiratorial thinking in the United States is Richard Hofstadter’s ‘The Paranoid Style in American Politics,’ a long essay that ran in Harper’s in November 1964, which posits conspiracism as a type of mental illness infecting a swath of Americans, particularly those on the far right.”

Republic of Lies examines a number of recent and ongoing conspiracy theories, as well as disinformation from deeper within American history. The book makes a clear point: we all are guilty of helping spread the conspiracy-theory madness. And there is an important call to action. “Social media aside, it is our job to counter bad speech with better speech,” Anna Merlen emphasizes. “We have to find a way to flag and debunk disinformation even as we try to avoid promoting it.”

This book can be eye-opening, engrossing, and enlightening reading. For best results, however, be sure you first quit wrapping yourself in false flags and cheese-pizza boxes.


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