The Psychology of Conspiracy Theories
Last Updated: 28 June 2014
Some people find being labelled with the term 'Conspiracy Theorist' patronising, but for want of a better term, I am using it here. Some prefer the term 'Truther'. Either way, the use of such terms here is not intended to be disrespectful.
Conspiracy theories in general tend to involve the government at a high level, either politicians or the nation's secret service. They include subjects like the Lunar landings and political assassinations to more esoteric fraternities like Freemasonry and the Skull and Bones.
This section is about the psychology of 'conspiracy theorists' and for the large part, this is actually an analysis of my former mindset and critique of myself, but am presenting it in a more generic sense as I think it has wider relevance. Whether you are a cynic or a truther, this article is not meant as a judgement but just personal observation on my own experiences and of others I've known and interacted with. This is nothing 'wrong' or 'bad' about any of the possible positions discussed. Wherever you are on your personal journey is fine.
I find that those who subscribe to conspiracy theories are really looking for a sense of certainty in a confusing political landscape - a return to honest values in a perceived landscape of deceit and corruption. This is not to say that there may not be political intrigue behind the scenes, and in recent political history there have been a number of cover ups at the highest level. However, in many cases, it may not be exactly what many people have come to believe.
It is easy to look for one big smoking gun, a single 'demonised' enemy to blame, one scapegoat to hate or to feel disempowered by - and those who seek with a single mindedness with usually find one - in his imagination. It is tempting for the ego to believe one is clever at having finally figured out the big conspiracy that is under everyone's noses the whole time (as if it was 'The Matrix') - rather than look at the complex picture. However, rather than convincing the average Joe, one often ends up totally alienating oneself from a large part of one's potential audience, because of one's insistence on incorporating unproven relationships and claims.
Rarely does any version of the big conspiracy theory make complete sense and it is forever mutating and providing ever more complex explanations for how everything fits together to explain events. Without wanting to sound harsh, most conspiracy theorists have little understanding of occultism (and often political process) and this reflects in the nature theories, which tend to interpret all occultism as one big conspiracy, ganging up on Christianity and family values (which have no actual Christian basis in Biblical terms). The occult and occult symbolism in general has a long history of misinterpretation by the conditioned masses, and they have often been judged based on misunderstanding, incorrect information, slander, personal prejudice, unqualified hearsay and/or fear. Many of the observations may well be correct, but the meanings derived from them are often completely incorrect. This is partly why many esoteric practices, whether in Freemasonry or in groups like the Golden Dawn, were private and for members only - but partly because it was an initiatory approach where you are coached as you develop. There is a long tradition of anti-masonry and in some respects this has merged with the anti-Catholic sentiments of some sectors of Protestantism. This in itself furthers suspicion in the outside world. Freemasons have been accused of worshipping Baphomet for several centuries by those unfamiliar with the craft. This is nothing new.
In my opinion it is a mistake to try to use one's religious or spiritual beliefs to explain political events, and to interpret occultism in terms of religious beliefs and the predictions in a religious book, especially when taking Revelation out of its historical context and applying it to situations where it really has little relevance.
It is easy to make events fit a theory that you want to believe, that you have emotionally invested in believing, that becomes part of your core identity. This is a form of 'confirmation bias', a type of cognitive bias or failure of inductive reasoning. Confirmation bias of course affects people of all types of people from all ends of the political or economic spectrum, so it is not just a 'conspiracy theorist' phenomenon, it is just that conspiracy theorists are more harshly judged for it because of the nature of the beliefs and claims.
'Confirmation bias, also called confirmatory bias or myside bias, is the tendency to search for, interpret, favour, and recall information in a way that confirms one's beliefs or hypotheses, while giving disproportionately less consideration to alternative possibilities'.
Trying to make sense of conspiracy theories is as much about psychology as it is about trying to understanding geo-politics and the meaning of occult symbolism, and quite often the conspiracy theorists are trying to interpret or exaggerate/distort the facts behind current events to fit in with and justify their own political stances and/or religious beliefs and prejudices - often in the absence of any hard evidence to justify such conjecture or connections, rather than to do so in a purely objective, scientific and analytical manner, independent of values and beliefs.
One must question one's own motivations when investigating any of these types of areas - are you really interested in entertaining the facts or learning about an organisation or a philosophy, even if what you find doesn't quite fit in with what you were expecting to find - or are you looking for reasons or possible inferences to make something fit into your preconceived view? Of course, this isn't an all or nothing equation and there is a plentiful grey area in the middle where one may be quite objective about one issue, and have total objectivity loss in another. Not wanting to grossly generalise, but the truth is often somewhere between the mainstream media's version of events and the conspiracy theorists versions - but it depends on the precise subject naturally.
Many of the sources one draws upon are not reliable or are historical forgeries and hearsay based on such forgeries - and the type of people who get caught up in conspiracy theories tend to be those that do not scrutinise their sources thoroughly. Conspiracy theories are often constructed and reinforced using speculation and circumstantial evidence, e.g. if both individuals were Freemasons or used a similar symbol, they must be friends and also be colluding in some capacity - the world doesn't always work like that. Conspiracy theorists are often unable to differentiate between actual documented facts and speculation. One person often speculates and other regurgitates it as hard facts, without references, and it becomes an accepted truth in many parts of the scene. There is often the temptation to take what one believes are reliable news stories and to fill in the blanks of what one expects the truth should be, which then reinforces future instances of such mental activity. Conspiracy theorists are usually missing the critical mindset that dictates that you don't believe something until you have enough evidence - and until that point it is a plausible (perhaps) but possible scenario, but not one you are committed to believing. One must consider all other possible explanations.
Conspiracy theories become an addiction, and once they gather momentum, one not only fails to scrutinise the sources properly but one looks for conspiracy theories in every event that happens, applying meaning that simply is not there or cannot be derived otherwise in any way. It's a little like a bad trip or a paranoid nightmare, you become addicted to seeing bad meaning and connections in everything. In some cases of course you might be right but in most you are likely incorrect. This is not to say that there aren't cover ups, vested interests and corruption but the tapestry is much more heterogenous and fragmented that conspiracy theorists would normally imagine it to be. It is best to be cautious when drawing conclusions and to keep an open mind. It is easy to get caught up in the conspiracy fever, I have done so myself for many years, and it does not help one's sense of judgement in general.
A tendency to believe in most conspiracy theories is usually based on belief rather than hard facts and solid evidence. Neither is it based on experiential evidence either. In this respect it is a little like religious belief, and it is often an extension of one's religious beliefs. In the realm of the spiritual, beliefs do not need to be proven with physical evidence, however, if one is to make allegations about political conspiracies, then one really does need to have some solid basis for this rather than just suspicion or belief. I tend to think that one should not mix religion with politics in general.
Perhaps in this syncretic and complex world there is a tendency to do so based on speculation rather than just sticking to the facts. I have endeavoured to try to stick to the hard facts as much as possible, whilst making it clear what is opinion and speculation. There is a tendency in the conspiracy theory scene to establish a pattern that one holds to be true and simply look for events or activities that might fit in with it, to reinforce this viewpoint, whilst failing to consider those facts that detract from this viewpoint or which suggest that there may not indeed be such a generalised connection. Conspiracy web sites are as a result often extremely one sided and unwilling to listen to counter arguments or consider a more balanced approach.
There is a perception in the conspiracy theory scene, sometimes referred to as the 'Truthers' scene, or Truth movement, that there is some kind of unity. This is a little like the 'unity' when there is a war or conflict. If you create a common enemy, even if the individual perceptions of who the enemy is exactly and why they are an enemy may vary, it unites people who otherwise would have absolutely nothing in common or who might otherwise be arguing amongst themselves or fighting each other. This can be seen in certain ex-dictatorships that collapse into civil war when the central 'enemy' is removed. The 'Truth' scene is often made up of people 'mouthing off' about their own personal theories, rarely listening to each other, and ascribing wildly heterogenous versions of what the 'enemy' is involved with. Indeed, the idea of having an 'enemy' to blame for various political/social gives people a sense of certainty as described above.
In terms of Christian religious ideology, the 'occult' is Satanic, and because some enlightenment, masonic or Egyptian symbolism is employed in various institutions or organisations, they may by default assume they are Satanic and up to no good in political terms, and taint anyone interested in occultism with the same brush, even if they have no connection whatsoever with any of the above and are just a private individual. Part of this tendency to interpret events or people in this manner may be down to the conditioned fear of the occult in many Christians, ex-Christians and indeed many of today's atheists and agnostics, even in allegedly secular nations. Such forms of fear/prejudice continues to exist despite enforced alleged 'political correctness' in the media. The lack of ability to understand the occult in general and lack of historical religious perspective often does not help, resulting in rather inaccurate interpretations of current events and geopolitics. The atheists or agnostics in the scene tend to follow the ideas of the fundamentalists when it comes to occult symbolism in general and its significance as they don't really know any better.
There is of course a significant anarchist and far right wing contingent in the Truth movement. There is some overlap in terms of perceived 'enemies' or oppressors, and both favour political transparency, decentralisation and libertarianism to some degree, but the right wing contingent, usually made up of Christian fundamentalists, often see anything related to the occult or Freemasonry as part of the same global conspiracy, and in a sense justifies their own witch hunt of occultists and Freemasons that they have been doing for the last 150 years or more. If one lacks awareness of the nature of one's own scene, then one likely lacks awareness of the nature of the ideas entertained within that scene. There is a significant element of churn in the conspiracy scene. Many Christians who first get into it become obsessed with researching occult symbolism and with enough immersion gradually cross over. This doesn't mean they become 'Illuminati' or somehow now belong to an underground order to overthrow Christianity - a few knee jerk individuals may be hostile towards their own religion and former circles - but for the large part it just means they now have different ideas, philosophies and practices - and respect the rights of others to their own, whatever it might be, Christian or otherwise. There is sometimes churn in the other direction, and some occult practitioners become Baptist or Fundamentalist Christians and now become 'whistleblowers' about the Illuminati or the 'anti-Christian conspiracy' - which in most cases is simply individuals with other beliefs or practices wanting to express themselves and publish books etc. Those who claim they were 33rd Degree Freemasons and invited to join the Illuminati or are ex-Wiccans with 'inside knowledge' are either exaggerating, clueless from the start, delusional (in a psychiatric sense) or are interpreting past events in terms of their new founded beliefs (something that I've done myself to varying degrees over the years).
There are ironically a large number of new age conspiracy theorists, in David Icke's community for instance, but they tend to distance themselves and vice versa from the Christian conspiracy theorists even though most of their conspiratorial beliefs are the same. There are even a small number of occultists and Satanists who subscribe to many of the same conspiracy theories, although most tend not to in this manner as they have a better understanding of their own symbolism and the reason for its use in institutions etc. As Christian conspiracy theorists tend to believe that anyone in the occult is part of this big conspiracy, when they do come across an occultist willing to discuss the subject, they assume they are talking to an insider, who has greater inside knowledge of the inner workings of the 'Illuminati' than anyone else. This was how I saw it when I first talked to a David Icke influenced Theistic Satanist, although his views were different to what I believed as he was more into the spiritual/Icke angle (i.e. projecting on consciousness onto mankind, changing realities with their minds etc.)
In addition to many of the above belief systems or sets of conditioning, and a will to want to believe in something and to interpret events and evidence to match that belief, another factor in becoming a conspiracy theorist can also a general frustration with society, bureaucracy, globalisation and hyper-capitalism in general. This may be down to a feeling of lack of national control in economic and increasingly political terms. This happened at the beginning of the 20th Century and is particularly prevalent at the start of the 21st Century.
There are many spins on the popular conspiracy theories, and really taken up by different audiences and subsets of people. There are often minor or major areas of discrepancy between the different theories, some more conservative, some more fantastical or outrageous, and some delving into the religious, spiritual or new age domain. Evidently not every theory out there can be correct. Some must be at least partly incorrect. Everyone has a slightly different take on the whole conspiracy theory about the NWO. When people get into strong disagreements with each other, they often resort to questioning each other's integrity. This may be a result of the paranoid notion that if you think someone is spreading slightly incorrect information about xyz conspiracy, then they may be a 'plant' or an 'Illuminati disinfo agent' pretending to be part of the scene but trying to twist the truth and lead credulous truthers astray. I have seen internet wars where person A calls person B an 'Illuminati disinfo agent' and then person C accuses person B of actually being one. I believe it all stems from an underlying paranoia.
The elite groups, whilst clearly interrelated to some degree (fact) are sometimes accused of being one and the same organisation, 'The Illuminati' and are blamed for every disaster, act of war or perceived conspiracy. Whilst some of these claims may be true to some degree, the majority cannot be proven and are often examples of superstition and 'nightmare fantasizing'. In this post-modern and post-enlightenment age, with a large number of historical and present examples of historical dishonest and manipulative government and corporate conduct being exposed in the media over the years, and combined with a gradual distrust in conventional medicine, there is a tendency for many people within our culture to automatically distrust authority figures and to make up their own 'facts' or 'reality' to suit them and to please their ego. Revisionist history and rampant paranoia are becoming almost the norm in today's society. This is reflected to a high level in the 'conspiracy theory' scene and alternative medicine field, and mixed in with the facts, a disturbing amount of superstition. Another contributary factor is the lack of mental discipline present in many people in today's society. In our fast food, internet age, where people drive everywhere, people have become mentally lazy. Fewer choose to educate themselves on history and lack historical perspective. Many have a predisposition to pander to the ego and the mind's fears, and this position of fear and mistrust becomes reinforced with the addictive pursuits of the mistrusting.
One may of course choose not to formulate an opinion based on 'circumstantial' evidence or speculative arguments, but merely look at the hard facts, which is what this web site has attempted to do in its treatment of the above; and to keep an open mind (which may be viewed as suspicious by some) but not to jump to any wild conclusions based on 'neat superficial patterns'. To label everything that one doesn't like as 'Illuminati' or 'New World Order' does little for one's credibility when discussing such topics with informed individuals, particularly those of a different disposition. If one is talking about the Bilderberg Group, for example, then call it that. The above labels imply a large amount of additional meaning that is simply not proven. The use of these terms is often self-reinforcing and its usage gradually spreads to cover seemingly related events or areas, as it the exact same individuals are responsible, or that stupidity and short sightedness in economic and political decision making, corporate behaviour and resource management are a conspiracy rather than just being stupid, irresponsible or short sighted. The main thing when discussing such controversial topics is to stick to the hard facts and look at who is actually responsible and entertaining all different possibilities, rather than joining the dots in a way that pleases one's ego.
As discussed on the Focus page in the Psychology section, if you are looking for something, you will most probably find it. For example, if someone mentions the colour 'brown', you may start to look around you and notice how many things around you are in fact brown that you hadn't noticed before, for example, brown shoes, brown jackets, brown hair, trees, the paintwork of 1970s cars etc. Similarly, if you are actively looking for 5 pointed emblems, you may well find a large number and it is easy to 'associate' these with 'pentagrams'. This may also be the case with 'owls'. Each case should however be treated separately and there may or may not be a link in each individual case. Some elements of the 'Truther' scene may just have a problem with focus, and whilst they may find genuine symbolism and connections in one area, they may falsely or very weakly find such things in another area, based on their method of focus and 'wishful thinking'.
There is certainly a great deal of enthusiam in the 'Truther' scene, perhaps a little too much! Clearly the issues are highly emotive, and can see why certain individuals are highly motivated to tell what they perceive to be the truth, for the good of their country. However, in certain specific instances, certain conspiracy theories surrounding specific individuals have resulted in a great deal of intimidation, bullying and even death threats. This is perhaps balanced by a small handful of active conspiracy theorists claiming to have received death threats and phone calls during the night. Clearly more open debate on these topics is healthy and necessary for our society, and indeed to debunk those specific theories that are actually proven to be incorrect, so that the individuals involved can be treated with respect.
When people first start reading these types of theories and get hooked on it, it is quite common for one to see oneself as some kind of investigator or researcher, and one may engage in extended 'research', which is often superficial internet scanning for information and referring to a few books. It is tempting to want to dig down to the real truth, but without the right approach, and without understanding the context of what one is looking at, it is easy to formulate highly speculative or incorrect conclusions. I did this myself for many years, which is what this web site was partly all about for many years in its earlier incarnation. I have since tried to re-edit it to remove the bias and judgements which is nearly complete. The breadth of topics covered by most truthers is so vast that they can only hope to superficially skim the surface, and drawing hard conclusions so early on is not wise, but it is tempting to do.
Keep looking for the truth. The desire to seek the truth is something that unites people of varying beliefs and backgrounds. All I'm saying is that we need to be honest with ourselves, and question our assumptions and other motivations regularly.
Some examples of the unreliability of evidence are examined below.
Perhaps the idea of there being a 'modern' Illuminati was fuelled by the Anti-Semitic hoax The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, published in Russia in 1903, which outlined an alleged plan for global domination by Jews. This was ironically distributed by Henry Ford, supporter of Eugenics, who funded the distribution of half a million copies in the USA in the 1920s. Henry Ford is widely credited by conspiracy theorists as being a member of 'the Illuminati'. If Henry Ford really was a member of a secret plot to control the world, why would he himself distribute copies of a book that outlined a secret plot to control the world? It wouldn't make sense. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion was one of several books that inspired Hitler.
The Conspiracy scene firmly has its roots in the Anti-Masonic movement of the 18th Century onwards. This was likely a result of Freemasonry being private, engaged in esoteric activities which most Christians did not understand, were fearful of and felt threatened by, and which also was perceived as a threat to some in political power who wished to interfere in every aspect of people's lives, in both democratic and totalitarian nations. The trend towards distrust of any individuals requiring privacy is even more prevalent in today's age, and people expect transparency which often equates to 'honesty', but then society and in particular the various forms of media ostracise and persecute those where it does not like what it sees by conventional standards of aesthetics, morality and religious bias.
The original documents regarding the Bavarian Illuminati were likely to have been forged to generate political motivation to clamp down on enlightenment and pro-republican/democratic groups by known Royalists and traditionalist conservative Christians. Indeed, many of the claims regarding these early documents are plagued with historical inaccuracies and suspicious circumstances surrounding their acquisition - in particular the documents which were allegedly found on an Illuminati courier 'Lanz' who was claimed to have been conveniently struck by lighting (leaving a charred and unrecognisable corpse but with a set of in tact readable documents describing everything Christian royalists would have expected to read about the Bavarian Illuminati - suspicious not only because of the likelihood of the circumstances of acquisition but also because of discrepencies between the reported location of death and also even the identity of the courier. The whole purpose of the Bavarian Illuminati and what some conspiracy theorists call the modern Illuminati are markedly different and it is a big assumption to assume that the latter exists and if it did in the way people believe, that there was a historical continuity or connection between the two. The Bilderberg Group for instance includes members of Royalty of different European families. The Bavarian Illuminati were persecuted by Royalists.
Many of the ideas of the Anti-Masonic movement may have been influenced by hoaxes such as Leo Taxil hoax of the 1890s, which was written to mock both Freemasonry and the Catholic opposition to it, but has been used by Anti-Masons ever since as evidence of Baphomet worship and Luciferianism within Freemasonry. Anti-Masonic scene has over the years influenced and been influenced by Protestants whose ideas about politics are guided by their own religious interpretations, and also their own personal prejudice against and fear of Catholics, Jews, homosexuals, Democrats, federal or centralised government, Socialism, New Age and the Occult, and the Anti-Masonic movement today has fused many of these ideas together, uniting some sectors of the Far Right with former moderate Christians, which many Truthers may not be aware of. I myself never viewed many of my political beliefs as 'extremist' or 'far right' until it was pointed out to me at the time, and even then it didn't really become apparent to me until years later.
The reliability of many sources on Freemasonry, even amongst ex-members, is highly variable. The majority of Christian commentaries on Freemasonry can generally be said to be viewing Freemasonry from a Christian perspective, with little understanding of context or meaning. They may draw on some bad examples of behaviour and extrapolate these to the entirety of Freemasonry. For example, Albert Pike is frequently mentioned as a racist and Luciferian, but few Christians point out that the founder of Protestantism, Martin Luther, wrote various antisemitic essays. Being a Protestant does not mean one is antisemitic necessarily or will ever be. These private preclusions of key figures in both movements are not relevant. Ex-masons can often have a limited experience of their own Lodge. Some may have underdone a religious conversion and lost their original understanding of Freemasonry. Others may have been thrown out for disruptive or unacceptable behaviour and have proceeded to badmouth Freemasonry out of spite. Others are disgruntled individuals who were rejected from a local Lodge because of a criminal record or bad reputation. In addition, some people pose as Freemasons or ex-Freemasons citing fake credentials and fake lodges, using multiple pseudonyms and even creating fake masonic web sites. Such an individual according to www.masonicinfo.com is a person called 'Brad'. Some sources critical of Freemasonry do cite many valid criticisms, but a large number are to be taken with a pinch of salt.
Were the Bavaraian Illuminati a libertarian, anti-authoritarian group, whom modern occultists were inspired by and made infamous by - framed by the authorities of the time as they were considered a threat? Or were they an anti-democratic group of megalomaniacs who were obsessed with 'dark magic'? Or a perverse combination of the two? It is up to you to determine which historical documents are reliable or not as to what conclusion you come to, but I would strongly advise to have an understanding of the motivations and psychology of the anti-masonry movement, and avoid interpretation of the past according to your existing beliefs (what you want to believe). However, I believe that to a large degree, modern interpretations of the occult are being read back into events of the 18th century and the fears of the Anti-Masonic movement are being too readily taken seriously.
Many of today's 'elite', be they members of the Skull and Bones, the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), Trilateral Commission, Bilderberg Group, or others, are seen are being part of a unified private or secret club that works together and co-ordinated in order to influence and control global affairs. However, to a large degree, we simply do not know what the Bilderberg Group discuss at their meetings, and to automatically assume this is anything more than simply intellectual discourse or brainstorming by certain nations is pure speculation. It may not necessarily represent anything non-democratic or anti-competitive. Why shouldn't successful individuals at the peak of their industries discuss global economic, social and other matters with others in a private scenario where they are not being scrutinised by the media constantly and having everything taken out of context and potentially ruin their careers? All of the above are neither secret groups or organisations. It is unlikely that a secret and invisible organisation in this era of encrypted communication and conferencing abilities on the internet, which also had the ability to meet in secret at privately owned facilities, would seek to attract attention to itself and give away the identity of its members by hosting meetings at conference centres and hotels. It is more than likely that there the Bilderberg meetings are isolated meetings with no formal relationship (perhaps an informal network or set of networked relationships) to the other groups mentioned above. Old boys networks in politics and finance are a common feature of society and they do not necessarily imply the existence of a secret society. Skull and Bones members likely stick together and employ each other, like with any old boys network. However, without further information, one simply cannot formulate a credible opinion. Compiling lists of names of attendees as I have done in the past may have been interesting but it does not prove anything.
Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) are identified by many Truthers as being vehicles of the 'elite', but this is perhaps partly based on a distrust of NGOs in general. Evidently pressure groups are needed in society to exert influence on the public and government, and to what degree this is appropriate or not is a rather complex matter. Modern capitalism thrives on vested interest. The UN or EU performs some very useful functions and others are rather counter-productive or overly invasive. Whilst there may be some individual members who share similar visions and are members of the same groups, this does not necessary say anything about these NGOs as a whole, or indeed to nature of the relationships of the members. Historically, some of the captains of industry who have been identified as 'Illuminati' have established funds through which they sought to influence society - in a positive manner - which is intepreted by some right wing Protestant extremists as fuelling everything they dislike in moral or religious terms. One can look to the Eugenics movement as unethical by modern standards by at the time it was regarded as a noble cause by a number of individuals in Western Europe and the USA. Those who were involved or sympathised with it were not necessarily part of conspiracy. It simply reflected one of the predilections for influence of society at the time that was deemed to be desirable or beneficial. Much like the environmental and conservation movement of today that is sponsored by many successful individuals or members of Royalty, who would not otherwise trust developing nations to protect these resources for the future. Captains of industry were frequently sources of inspiration for anyone interested in personal development, and it may be that some of these individuals made a few bad judgements, had a few rather questionable prejudicial views by modern standards or became excessively egotistical but this hardly constitutes a wider conspiracy in my opinion. One has to look at everything on a case by case basis. Some behaviour and affiliations may be 'potentially anti-democratic' and there are individual cases of corruption and improper activity but for the large part it cannot be determined.