The COVID-19 pandemic sparked a wave of rumors, conspiracies and manipulations. Everyone, most often on social media, is of the opinion that the virus was created by pharmacists, spread through 5G networks or organized by Bill Gates, who wants to put electronic chips on everyone. Why do people tend to believe in conspiracy theories? This is how the candidate of psychological sciences Alexander Kimberg explains this to the journalist from the Russian information site “Arguments and Facts South” Fyodor Ponomarev.
Conspiracy or stupidity?
What is conspiracy theory? This is an explanation of the events taking place in the secret plans of powerful groups or organizations. According to the most innocuous conspiracy theories, the Earth is actually flat, and the Americans’ landing on the moon is a production created in Hollywood, the planet is ruled by a world government whose mission is to keep the “golden billion” alive, Hitler fled in 1945. and lives in Argentina / Canada.
The current pandemic has already claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of people on the planet, but many still believe that the coronavirus is no worse than the flu virus, and what is happening has been taken by unknown forces to destroy our economy.
Donald Trump, on the other hand, acknowledges the danger of the virus, but says the Chinese are to blame. There is no real reason for this, but belief in this conspiracy has spread widely. Why?
“We met with an event of force majeure, we can’t control the consequences of it for our lives,” explains Alexander Kimberg. – This causes stress that everyone wants to get rid of.
People tend to deny an unpleasant event that they cannot accept. Then they are calmer. For example, you go for a walk in quarantine and you are worried. How to relieve anxiety? Just by deciding for yourself that the threat of contracting the coronavirus is fictitious. But to deny the thousands of victims of this pandemic is not working. Then we try to control the events by finding their “culprit”. If we know him, then, at least theoretically, we can do something with him: negotiate, buy, scare, punish.
From this arise many conspiracy theories. One knows the world when one discovers the causes of an event. For the primitive thinking of our ancestors, such a reason was someone’s will – man, spirit, god or the devil. By the way, we are not far from them. The useful refutation of conspiracy theory, by the way, has long been formulated in Hanlan’s Razor (mental model for making adequate decisions – b.r.): “Do not look for conspiracy in what can be explained by stupidity.” You probably need to realize that the consequences of decisions that affect our imagination more often are the result of a weak mind, not malice. It may be easier for you, “says the psychologist.
More information, anxiety destroys us
Why are people so ready for self-deception? Man is undoubtedly evolving – in the last 50-100 years, technologies have emerged that previously could only be read in science fiction novels. Today, however, almost everyone is educated, studying mathematics, physics, geography, biology. But at the same time, even high school graduates believe in the strangest theories, miracles, “virus blockers,” predictions by astrologers and clairvoyants. Why, then, does universal education and the development of science not dispel ignorance? In the end, the objective information is now available to everyone, the journalist asks.
“Why do we imagine that people have evolved by nature,” the psychologist replied. Science – yes, applied technology – too, but the basic problems of man – life and death, love and loneliness – are the same for us and our ancestors, so we react to them in the same way as they do. These are existential problems and science does not help here, he said. We do what allows us to deal with stress and live.
The human psyche in general is directed not to worry more than necessary. In the end, anxiety destroys us. Even denial arises when we are confronted with an unpleasant fact face to face. Only then do we say, “I don’t want to see this, I don’t believe it.” And if the problem is far in time or at a distance, we don’t even think about it, Kimberg explains and gives an example. Erich Maria Remarque in the novel “On the Western Front without Change” (World War I) writes about this – the hero travels from the front, where there is horror, dirt and death. And in Berlin, life is in full swing, people walk around calmly. He is also amazed by this. It is also easier for us not to see anything beyond our own nose and therefore not to worry, “explains the psychologist.
Who worries that soon humanity will not have enough drinking water or will be dumped in their garbage? None! If you can’t see more than two steps ahead, then where does the panic come from? Most people live in this condition, Kimberg says. “Europe, for example, has been developing for half a century without wars, even without borders, and has almost reached a state of complete bliss – no one has looked ahead. But migrants have appeared, then the coronavirus …” he reasoned.
By the way, if you are paranoid, it does not mean that you are not observed, the scientist is convinced. In the last years of his life, the writer Ernest Hemingway fell ill and ended up in a clinic, where he collapsed from paranoia – it seemed to him that his phone was tapped and that others were reading the letters next to him. FBI agents are also seen among passers-by. But when the FBI declassified the writer’s archives in the early 1980s, it turned out that Hemingway was indeed being monitored, Kimberg said.
As for the available information – we perceive ourselves as rational people, so we must explain the denial of reality. The best explanation is that we manipulate ourselves, says the psychologist.
According to him, there is often a reason why people stop trusting the government and the media. “Unconscious defenders work to create a fictional world in which people have to feel and do what is considered necessary for the country. And here is the result!” Exclaims the psychologist.
Leo Tolstoy, for example, had a childhood story of a shepherd and wolves. (In Bulgaria – the tale of the false shepherd) The shepherd shouts several times jokingly: “Wolves! Wolves! ” and they all run with stakes. But when wolves do show up, no one believes it.
So everyone is involved in this undesirable outcome – both the main and the responsible, Kimberg believes. According to him, the current situation shows that such an attitude towards each other and the lack of frank communication weaken society in a situation of sudden crisis.
Information is not equal to knowledge
When asked by the interviewer how to deal with the flow of information if we do not know who we can trust, the psychologist replied: “We need knowledge and critical thinking.” According to him, there is a significant difference between knowledge and information. “Knowledge is first and foremost knowledge of the principles of organizing the world around us. If you have it, then you can understand the meaning of what is happening, to separate truth from error.
And what we usually call information is a stream of messages that increases chaos. Critical thinking will always be required – otherwise we will not be able to distinguish real processes from misinformation and information noise. This will save you from a passionate search for conspiracies, “explains Kimberg.
Why then do people find people who take advantage of everything that happens? Isn’t this a strong argument in favor of conspiracy theory, the journalist asks.
“Both politics and business have learned to react quickly to any event,” explains the psychologist. According to him, the basic principle is to turn it to your advantage. “Politicians can take advantage of the impossibility of mass events during quarantine, but they are not the cause of quarantine. The manufacturer of an effective vaccine who catches the market first will get rich, but he is not the cause of the pandemic, but its Courier services have benefited from quarantine, but it is foolish to think that they have organized it themselves. Although the “see who benefits” principle would lead us to them first and foremost. war is dear to him, to another – the mother.
Are there people who are more likely to believe in conspiracy theories than others? Let’s find out, assuming you have something wrong with your life. You didn’t get what you wanted, and almost everyone can say that for themselves. Our brain, working in case of trouble according to the ancient evolutionary model, says: there is a reason for this – someone is to blame. For example, a person loses his job. One will think – it’s my fault, his self-esteem will drop, he will get depressed. Another will blame the authorities, the employer, the ill-wishers in the team, society as a whole, which shows indifference and cruelty to him. A third will suggest that this is most likely a systemic problem, an economic and social crisis. But serious work is needed to understand the roots of this crisis. All these options are psychologically expensive. And conspiracy theory is the easiest: you don’t have to settle things with your neighbors if the insidious ill-wisher is so far away or so hidden that he can only be threatened with a fist. So this is an easy and therefore popular way to justify your difficulties without risking anything. Everyone uses it to one degree or another.
And, I’m sorry, I forgot to mention the most uncomplicated factor in spreading faith in hostile forces: television and the media at the “popular” level. Everyone there gets what they want to hear, “concludes the psychologist.