Conspiracy Theories — The Fairy Tales Of Today

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.

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