Every child loves fairy tales. When the princess is terrorized by an insidious stepmother, unbeknownst to her father, the King, or when a poor man finds richness at the end of a challenging journey. Fairy tales help to better understand a very complex reality by means of simplification and by mixing known, real elements — s.a. children, parents, or the work of a baker, with fictions, unknown elements, such as magicians, witches, or hyperbolical activities. Are conspiracy theories — the fairy tales of today?
Fairy tales convey a hope that order will be restored in an opaque, inexplicable situation. They take away randomness by putting these situations into better explicable structures and make them manageable. In the same way, conspiracy theories simplify complexity: simple structures with clearly established protagonists and antagonists, the good and the bad help the storyteller as well as the audience navigating through their lives. The core structure of conspiracy theories follows the traditional hero’s journey in fairy tales:
- Home or order is threatened
- The protagonist suffers from a flaw or a problem
- He goes on a journey to find a cure or the key to a problem
- Halfway through the journey, the key is found
- On the journey back he is faced with some consequences of taking the key
- He faces death or a similar fate
- Finally, he is reborn as a new person, in full possession of the cure
- Home is saved, the order is restored
While conspiracy theories are diverse on the surface, there are based on the pattern described above. With conspiracy theories, as well as with fairy tales, people are longing to restore order from an inexplicable disorder, that is naturally emerging all the time. This natural entropy is neither understood, nor welcomed by human beings. Since all systems tend towards reaching equilibrium, humans try to prevent entropy by all means. If they can’t explain a context, they use their limited tools to paraphrase the inexplicable. One emerging result is the conspiracy theory that restores certain normality by making use of improbable and extreme, but easy to see “facts”.
Conspiracy Theories — The Fairy Tales Of Today
Conspiracy theories are indicative of human beings” desire to find order in our world. Shared with many, they become a sort of true, at least for those who can reproduce this logic. Those who don”t believe in conspiracy theories, would be well-advised not to simply fight them and scold the storytellers, but to accept the conspiracy theory is what it is, in the first place: a fairy tale. Then, it makes sense to fact-check the context, separate facts from opinions and emotions and telling the story differently — also as a story, not a simple list of facts — since people favor well-told stories over cold hard facts.
Let’s not fight conspiracy theories — let’s instead tell better, truer stories, that help everybody to cope with entropy and help restore order in a meaningful way.