Facebook: Making a Religion Out of Political Conspiracies

If you want a smart person to say a stupid thing, all you need is religion. If you want a smart person to believe a stupid thing, all you need is Facebook.

History has it that Zuckerberg designed the social networking site for the purpose of rating boobs, but if his overall social goal was to help the intellectually lazy out themselves as psychologically unhinged, he hit a grand slam. My experience with Facebook is merely the experience of my own. Our respective timelines reflect the sum gain of our social relationships. What I can say about my own experience, however, is there’s a disturbing trend of ordinarily sane people sharing and believing some incredibly insane things.

Not that long ago my timeline was a predicable mishmash of the usual extraordinary claims made about ordinary kids; an inspirational quote (cliche); photos of sunsets, plane wing-tips, a cocktail, a woman’s legs leading to a pool; and of course, the usual faux-humility of, “I am so blessed for [whatever].” In the pre-internet era I knew of only three conspiracies: the JFK assassination, Roswell, and that the moon landing was filmed in a back lot a Hollywood studio. I miss those days.

Today, my timeline is filled with every crackpot crazy conspiracy that has ever completed several laps of the World Wide Web. That the Muslim Brotherhood has infiltrated the White House; 9/11 was an inside job carried out by the U.S. government; that the Boston Marathon bombing was a government “false flag” operation; a secret society has infiltrated Western democracies that will ultimately lead us into a new world order; that the U.N. is trying to establish a world government; and, of course, there’s your usual far right wing nut jobs, the likes of Alex Jones and the Koch Brother funded pundits, who generate clever Facebook banners to suggest Obama is a secret Muslim; climate change is left wing conspiracy to make Al Gore rich; and universal healthcare is the first step to Nazism.

Facebook has created an entire cottage industry to cater for those who suffer O.D.S. (Obama Derangement Syndrome). “Obama wants to confiscate your guns.” “Bill Ayers co-wrote Obama’s first book.” “Obamacare has death panels.” Not to mention the faux-IRS scandal, Benghazi, his birth certificate and college transcripts.

On a good day, I don’t take the bait. On days where I lack self-control, however, I jump right into the deep-end of the stupid gene pool and do my best to make a factual and rational argument for why it is their post is complete phooey. Despite my insatiable desire to win every argument on the Internet, I’ve never received a reply that read, “Thank you for your factual and thorough explanation, CJ. Boy, do I feel silly now.” Typically, my fact-based argument is met with: “Open your eyes.” “Wake up.” “Stop being a sheep.” “Seek the truth.” Predictably followed by something about how I’m a stooge for the mainstream media. Whatever the mainstream media is.

You know these people too, right? On one hand they rail against crony capitalism and corporate greed while on the other hand, they’re sharing a big oil sponsored ‘study’ that says science has it wrong when it comes to climate change. When they accuse me of being the “sheep,” irony steps out of the room to auto-erotically asphyxiate itself.

Yes, that millions of government employees, intelligence operatives, the 500+ members of the legislative branch, the inner circle of the executive branch, independent commissions, and the world’s entire payroll of investigative journalists were involved in a 9/11 inside job not only qualifies as a hypothesis or a theory, but, in their pliable minds, it’s the “truth.” Evidence, independent verification, and critical enquiry means little to those whose investigative research amounts to little more than clicking ‘Like’ to an Exxon sponsored YouTube ‘documentary’ that claims 97 percent of the world’s climate scientists are part of gay, liberal, socialist conspiracy to sell more electric cars.

Why do people believe conspiratorial crap posted on Facebook? People are idiots. That’s why. It’s healthy to be skeptical of stuff. A functioning mind demands evidence before formulating an opinion, which is why belief in religion infers the exact opposite. But evidence is the key word here. It’s ok to accept the world is being ruined by wanton greed and capitalism. It is! And we should fight the frightening influence corporations have over economic and social policy. The plutocrats and oligarchs have successfully made the rich richer, the poor poorer, and the middle class disappear. But that’s a fight we need to take through the political process. It’s not something to become emotionally unhinged and paranoid over. Dr. Barry Beyerstein, a professor of psychology, says people are often unable to distinguish between science and pseudoscience. He says, “People like to enchant themselves and this is classic mystery mongering. People want there to be grand conspiracies and they want the world to be an ever mysterious place than it is and want more simplistic pad answers as to why they are not happy and why the world isn’t the wonderful place they think it should be. And that’s more satisfactory psychologically than the sort of thing that science and decent scholarship will say.”

Conspiracy theories make stupid people think they’re in the know. That they know the “truth.” The truth is they’re afraid. They’re afraid of what they don’t know. They’re afraid of dealing with a complex political and economic world they don’t understand. It’s why religion has thrived since the moment we became afraid of the dark, disease, earthquakes, and droughts. Humans have a proclivity for simple answers to complex problems. Religion and conspiracy theories make for a comfortable intellectual shortcut. A crackpot conspiracy theory that spreads via Facebook gives the intellectually lazy not only a simple explanation but also someone to blame. When RWNJs post an infographic showing the national debt has increased by $6 trillion under Obama, it gives the simple folk a simple narrative: “Obama is a big spending liberal.” Those with a deeper understanding of debts and deficits, however, are cognizant of the fact Bush handed this president a record $1.3 trillion per year deficit, and that in 2014 the deficit will fall to $900 billion. So the “truth” here is Obama has cut spending faster than any U.S. president in the past 60 years.

An article titled “Conspiracy Theories: why do people believe them” explains, “For those people who may be on the ‘losing’ side (politically, socially, economically) of society, believing in conspiracies is therapeutic. It allows them to explain why they are on the losing side (“we were robbed, lied to”), ease their hurt (“our opponents are too powerful and so evil, it’s no surprise we lost”) and then finally, restore their egos (“we know the truth, we are smarter than normal people, we are not sheep, we are special”).”

Facebook is such an effective medium for crackpots because it’s a positive feedback loop. It helps put paranoid lazy thinkers in touch with likeminded individuals and groups. You know, the whole confirmation bias thing. In ignoring every piece of evidence that points the other way to their warped Alex Jones’ induced reality, these people can become dangerously nihilistic. Their language and beliefs become toxic, which ultimately corrupts the political conversation in this country.

CJ Werleman is the author of God Hates You. Hate Him Back, and Crucifying America: the unholy alliance between the Christian Right and Wall Street. Follow him on twitter: @cjwerleman

 

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