Psychologists are trying to determine why otherwise rational individuals can make the leap from “prudent paranoia” to illogical conspiracy theories
According to a Public Policy Polling survey, around 12 million people in the US believe that interstellar lizards in people suits rule our country. We imported that particular belief from across the pond, where professional conspiracy theorist David Icke has long maintained that the Queen of England is a blood-drinking, shape-shifting alien.
Conspiracy theories in general are not necessary bad, according to psychologists who study them. “If we were all completely trusting, it would not be good for survival,” explains Rob Brotherton, an academic psychologist and author of Suspicious Minds: Why We Believe Conspiracy Theories. “Sometimes people really don’t have our best interests in mind.”
But when people leap from thinking their boss is trying to undermine them to believing their boss might be a secret lizard person, they probably cross from what psychologists refer to as “prudent paranoia” into illogical territory.
And there are a lot of illogical ideas to pick from. Around 66 million Americans believe that aliens landed at Roswell, New Mexico; around 22 million people believe that the government faked the moon landing; and around 160 million believe that there is a conspiracy surrounding the assassination of former US president John F Kennedy.
While aliens and fake moon landings probably trigger eyerolls in many of us, defining what constitutes a conspiracy theory is difficult, Brotherton says. The government, for example, does sometimes conspire to do the unspeakable, such as the infamous 1930s Tuskegee study, initiated by the US government to examine untreated syphilis in African-American men. Researchers blocked research participants from receiving penicillin or exiting the experiment to get treatment. The study continued until a media report made it public. In this case, believing that the government was conspiring to keep people sick would have been completely accurate.
There are characteristics that help differentiate a conspiracy theory from prudent paranoia, Brotherton says. Conspiracy theories tend to depend on conspirators who are unduly evil, he explains, with genocide or world domination as a motive. Conspiracy theories also tend to assign an usually high level of competency to the conspirators, Brotherton adds, pointing out that when the government really does “shady stuff” it often isn’t able to keep it secret.
Chances are, we all know someone who believes some version of a conspiracy theory, which is why psychologists have been trying to understand what makes someone jump from logically questioning the world to looking for signs of lizard teeth in public figures. Research has shown that feelings of powerlessness and uncertainty are associated with a tendency to believe in conspiracies, says Karen Douglas, professor of social psychology at the University of Kent in the UK. Or as Joseph E Uscinski, associate professor of political science at the University of Miami and author of American Conspiracy Theories, puts it, “conspiracies are for losers”.
Conspiracy theory that a military training exercise is going to lead to martial law.
Is a United States military training exercise really a covert operation to establish martial law? Can the governor of Texas and action hero movie-star Chuck Norris do anything to protect us? The training exercise is called Jade Helm 15 and it has some people completely terrified. Today we focus our skeptical eye at one of the more influential conspiracy theories in recent history.
Jade Helm 15 is a joint forces military training exercise that is planned for July 15 to September 15, 2015. It combines forces from the US Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines. Activity is planned for seven states, with Army Special Operations Forces working primarily in five: Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Colorado, and Texas. According to military press releases and public statements, the exercises are meant to help train US military forces and to practice in a variety of environments. Such exercises also allow leadership to practice joint force coordination, which is often critical in military engagements. The public, in general, is not expected to see much activity because the majority of these training exercises will be conducted in rural areas.
That’s the official story. But then there are the conspiracy theories where the story the US government tells is said to be but a misdirection from the alleged “real” purpose of the exercises, which include such elements as these:
- It is really an exercise to ready the military for martial law.
- It is designed to teach how to capture and imprison dissident citizens.
- It includes repurposed Walmarts where mysterious closings and construction are underway.
- Prisoners will be re-educated in soviet-style “training” camps.
It is not really an exercise, but an actual military action against Al Qaeda forces in Mexico. And so on …
On Monday, April 27, 2015 a town hall meeting in Bastrop, Texas found Lt. Col. Mark Lastoria in front of a very concerned crowd of Texans. The audience filled the normal meeting area, and an overflow room. Citizens wanted to know what was going on with Jade Helm 15. They did not like or trust Lastoria’s answers.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott responded to the concerns of these citizens by directing the Texas State Guard (not the National Guard, as was widely misreported) to monitor the military training operation. This order was sent in a letter which reads in part . . .
An unclassified document that outlines a US Army training exercise scheduled for this summer includes a color-coded map that refers to Texas as “hostile territory” and calls a portion of California an “insurgent pocket,” leading a certain fringe on the internet to claim the exercise is really a dress rehearsal for a government plot to declare martial law.
The training exercise, known as Jade Helm 15, is scheduled to take place between July 15 and September 15 across parts of Texas, California, Arizona, and New Mexico, and will involve Green Berets, Navy SEALs, and other Special Ops forces. The uproar is over a slideshow presentation that outlines the effects the exercises might have on local populations. The US Army would not confirm the legitimacy of the document.
On the Sleuth Journal, a website that describes itself as an independent alternative media organization and also sells “preparedness and survival items,” author Dave Hodges said the drill was actually about “the brutal martial subjugation of the people of Texas, Utah and Southern California who have risen up against some unspecified tyranny.”
“A careful analysis reveals how this drill is connected to Army policies associated with the confinement of detainees in what is commonly called FEMA camps!” Hodge wrote, describing a conspiracy theory in which the government imprisons citizens in FEMA disaster camps. “This drill is undoubtedly the most frightening thing to occur on American soil since the Civil War.”
Infowars, the conspiracy-minded site founded by Alex Jones, also published a story on Jade Helm 15, calling it a plan for the “brutal martial law takeover of America [that] labels Texas and Utah as ‘hostile’ states due to their strong cultural identities.”
Also See: Was Alex Jones an alarmist 13 years ago or is he an alarmist today? (iLLuMiNuTTi.com)
by Gordon Bonnet via Skeptophilia
Yesterday we had a report from Española, New Mexico that a surveillance camera at a police station had caught an image of a ghost walking across a locked compound.
“At first I thought it was a fly or moth, then I saw the legs,” Officer Karl Romero said. “And it was a human. But not a real human. No. A ghost.”