Like Oil and Water; Freethought and Conspiracies Don’t Mix

Like Oil and Water; Freethought and Conspiracies Don’t Mix August 19, 2020

If you’d like to take a trip down the rabbit hole of irrationality QAnon’s your ticket. The conspiracies they peddle leave nothing to the imagination. It’s as though its creators randomly scribble down on paper the latest fake news rumors, toss them into a hat, then pull them out and string them together to form their theories. Here’s a few of the latest and most virulent of conspiracy theories attributed to them:

An American flag flown upside down is a symbol of distress. Image by John Hain from Pixabay

“QAnon is a far-right conspiracy theory and loosely organized network centered around the belief that the U.S. is controlled by a cabal of child sex trafficking, Democratic elites hell-bent on bringing down President Trump. … Followers believe these elites, led by Dr. Anthony Fauci, have gone so far as to manufacture the coronavirus to bring Trump down.”

Another unfounded theory purports “… John F. Kennedy is still alive, that Trump planned the Mueller probe in order to mobilize personnel and investigative resources that would uncover Democrats’ wrong-doing, and that figures like Bill Gates and Bill Clinton are responsible for the coronavirus.” Source

Some members of the QAnon community also “believe the unsubstantiated claim that there is a global child trafficking ring run by powerful people in Hollywood and politics who use children as sacrificial objects, either for sadistic pedophilia or to harvest a chemical compound found in blood called adrenochrome …” Source

(I’m working on a more detailed article on all of the psychological factors that apply to those who believe in conspiracy theories, but here’s three disturbing characteristics that are worth thinking about for now.)

Conspiracy theories are built on a pessimistic and sinister view of human nature

Humanists believe in the inherent goodness of humanity. We believe that people are inherently good, and overall, want nothing but the best for fellow members of the human race. Most conspiracy theories, however, are grounded in the nihilistic claims that there’s a group of rich and powerful people whose goal is to consolidate power by instigating human misery, death, and global chaos.

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Conspiracy theories thrive in secrecy

The truth – no matter what it sheds light on – is always indisputable and easily verifiable. Truth edifies and enlightens us. Conspiracy theories thrive in secrecy for two reasons. Primarily out of necessity; since they are easily disputed by common sense and readily accessible facts. Secondly, conspiracy theorists are drawn to the secret and shadowy underworld, which helps to explain why many theorists believe in a shadow government.

Conspiracy theories thrive on biases and hate

A basic skill of rational thought is having the ability to understand facts without harboring a bias against the sources that are providing those facts. It also requires an understanding that information and data is neutral. Which is to say, that facts should be determined on their own merit. Facts cannot be deemed as automatically fake simply because a particular person or political party is highlighting those facts. Conspiracy theorists, however, tend to have strong animosities towards certain kinds of people. In particular, recent theories promoted by QAnon incite hatred towards the wealthy and powerful elite, intellectuals, scientists, democrats and liberals.

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Conspiracy theorists lose their ability to engage in rational conversations

Once a conspiracy theorist loses their ability to be rational there’s little one can do to convince a conspiracy theorist of the truth. The primary reason for this is because they don’t value rational thinking as a skill to be used in obtaining the truth.

To complicate matters greatly, Conspiracy theorists believe in what I call the “mother of all conspiracies.” This particular theory thrives on the notion that real facts represent fake news and fake news represents real facts. Conspiracy theorists often share a disdain for established facts and scientific data, or they don’t trust the information provided by free and established outlets of the press. Factual data, however, is what connects us to reality, both of which are required for rational thought. But once a conspiracy theorists has lost his or her ability to rationally discern fact from fiction, so too goes the ability to have rational conversations.

Think about it from a freethinker’s perspective – who would choose to think this way?

I mean … the mind of a person who lives in fear that members of a shadow government are literally killing people and causing global chaos; that has lost the ability to reason using facts and scientific evidence; that harbors deep hatred towards individuals or groups which don’t think and believe as they do – is hardly a freethinker.


About Scott R. Stahlecker
Scott R. Stahlecker is the author of the novel "Blind Guides, “Picking Wings Off Butterflies,” and “How to Escape Religion Guilt Free.” He is a former pastor and previous owner of several hospice agencies. “I’ve spent roughly thirty years as a freethinker. Among the many things I’ve discovered is that there’s few non-religious websites that offer optimistic discussions about free thought; about its benefits for individuals and societies, or tips on how to develop freethinking skills. Which is why I created Thinkadelics; to engage with others on a range of topics — from newsworthy posts to in-depth features — which best articulates the joys of being a freethinker.” You can read more about the author here.

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19 responses to “Like Oil and Water; Freethought and Conspiracies Don’t Mix”

  1. Interesting points. I’m looking forward to reading more from you on these.

    I have a brother-in-law who lives 1500 miles away so I’ve seen him face-to-face twice in 10 years. He and his wife have fostered children and he’s been kind and generous to mine. He’s a mechanical genius with some real engineering skills. He’s not in any way religious and was not raised to be religious. The family didn’t attend any church (although they probably think of themselves as generically Christian if they they about the topic at all).

    He’s also a conspiracy theorist of the “aliens from outer space built the pyramids (because stacking things on other things is too difficult for humans to grasp?)” and “garlic is poison” variety. The last time we saw him, he insisted on showing us Youtube videos of what looked like a high-resolution Borg ship badly Photoshopped on a low-resolution sky as PROOF YES PROOF that aliens are visiting the Earth. He also believes “they” (a super-elite in government) know of all kinds of incredible things like never-failing batteries but they’re withholding the info for…some reason?

    I’m wondering how someone who can think logically to build his own snowplow and other things can be so irrational in his conspiracy theory beliefs.

  2. Your brother-in-law sounds a lot like an in-law of mine. He believes in many of the alien conspiracies, in an elite and shadow government, and that powerful technologies exist, but “they” are keeping it from us. I believe there is extraterrestrial life, but the skeptic in me wonders why when they come to visit earth they usually touch down in cornfields and make art? You would think if they have travelled that far to visit they’d check out NY or LA.

    I started looking into some of the reasons why people believe in conspiracies a month ago. There was so much good and interesting information on it that I decided to break it up in to smaller posts. So, I’ll be posting another article on it next week. I think it’s an important subject, especially because of the coming elections.

  3. Do we have the same brother-in-law? They seem to have identical beliefs.

    A couple of decades ago, a comedian wondered why aliens always seem to visit people with zero credibility and usually drunk on moonshine. Then he wondered why they didn’t touch down in front of (a well-known reporter with a reputation of utter integrity) instead.

    I’m open to the existence of extraterrestrial life. I’m not convinced they’re joy-riding around Earth and teaching humans to make pyramids. That’s too much like Chariots of Fire, a book (and then a movie) I had to debunk in college as part of a Philosophy class.

    For a skeptic, I really do enjoy watching movies and reading books about aliens making contact with Earth. So many authors and screenwriters seem to do a better job of handling it than the aliens who have been believed to have visited us by CT folks.

    Lucky for us, I guess, my BIL isn’t at all religious and most likely doesn’t vote, either. I haven’t brought up the topic with him, but I suspect he wouldn’t bother since the mysterious “They” that control everything have already decided the results.

    What are your thoughts on this? I suspect it’s comforting for some people to never have to make decisions about anything, since it’s already been decided by a cabal of powerful people “you” (general you, not you specifically) can’t stop. I think it’s also nice for them to have a scapegoat to blame. Unhappy about the way your life is going? It’s nothing to do with you, it’s “them” who are ruining everything to enrich “themselves”.

  4. I think you’re being a little sloppy in this analysis. For instance, truth is not always easily verifiable. As one example, the question of whether P=NP (which seems considered likely false, but is potentially true, and might even be undecided and axiomatizable). More empirically, determining the existence of the Higgs Boson took decades and a few trillion bucks.

    As another instance, while humanism seems the largest cluster in modern Freethought, it’s not all of it; and while perhaps resistant, neither seem immune — particularly in anecdata on local group attendance.

    I think your forthcoming article might benefit from taking a look at technical papers from empirical social psychology research on both the conspiracists and the atheists/agnostics who make up the bulk of the freethought movement. You might also consider that freethought is largely about rejecting arguments by authority, but that someone might consider “empirical evidence” to have a form of authority and therefore be subject to rejection by a freethinker. Finally, you might want to consider trying to find (or come up with) a clearer set of demarcation criteria for the “freethought” movement.

  5. I’m pretty sure Qanon is a CIA operation to both distract right-wingers from what they are really doing, and make Trump supporters and anti-government types look as unhinged and crazy as possible.

  6. That’s an interesting theory. More of left-wing conspiracy … something to think about. One thing’s certain, QAnon is definitely having and effect on branding the republican party as one that’s getting more quacky by the week. Sadly, there are a lot of intelligent and thoughtful republicans that are getting caught up in their BS. By the time the election roles around I’m guessing the only support Trump is going to get is from a percentage of his base that believes or wants to be associated with QAnon.

  7. Thanks for the useful suggestions, and in this short post I did generalize in a few areas for the sake of brevity. As far as “truth” being easily verifiable … this, of course, depends on what we’re trying to prove. I made this statement in reference to conspiracy theories. I think they are quite easy to disprove, with little more than time and an internet connection, for those who really want to know the truth rather than those who are just looking to confirm their biases.

    There is some great scientific data and studies related to conspiracies that I’ve started to delve into. Here’s one of these links for those who may want to delve into it further. Many of these touch on the psychological aspects or effects of conspiracies, which I hope to flush out in a meaningful way from a freethinker’s perspective.

    Your last few suggestions touch on the differences of freethought versus being a freethinker. Your statement: “You might also consider that freethought is largely about rejecting arguments by authority, but that someone might consider “empirical evidence” to have a form of authority and therefore be subject to rejection by a freethinker.” Gets into this. I have discovered the hard way in participating and commenting in many “freethought” forums very little free thinking and open-mindedness. They are rather about simply rejecting authority in any form. I am far more interested in clarifying that “demarcation criteria” you mentioned.

    A freethinker, in my view, represents a very openminded individual and a seeker of truth. But a freethought advocate, (one who disdains authority simply to disdain authority because that’s what freethought advocates do), is not really a freethinker.

  8. That sounds like something George Carlin might say. It’s a funny and satirical way of making a person think about the truth in UFOs and extraterrestrial life visiting our planet.

    It’s not my brother-in-law. I’d mention the relationship, but since this person has likely been reading my blog I’d better not say more … Except, like your brother-in-law, this person has never voted. Evidently, this could well be another distinctive characteristic of people who believe in conspiracies. I’ll post a link here you would find interesting that goes into the psychology of conspiracy theorists.

    I would ditto the thoughts you mentioned in your last paragraph, but find that it’s really quite sad. What it amounts to is that people are forgoing their right and responsibility to change the world for the better. They are “giving up” essentially, as though they have been defeated, and they are also looking for a scapegoat to blame. What’s sad, is that their minds, thoughts and actions are being dictated by a conspiracy theory.

  9. The comedian was Robert Klein, and it does make you wonder why an alien society would not contact the leader of a government, an astronomy station, or major university.

    Thanks for the link; I’ll go there when I’m finished responding.

    Recent irony: I got my hair cut recently at the home shop of a woman I’ve been going to for years and years. She’s in her 70s but is still working because she has to. While cutting my hair, she chatted away about how much money she had been making with the $600/week add-on to her unemployment check, and how now that it’s been cut, she’s back at work. Then she began complaining about how other people want that $600 back so they can stay home and collect money. I pointed out that she also stayed at home and collected money. It was different for her, she explained, because she wasn’t like *them*….*they* were lazy. Okay, then. 🙂

  10. @Scott, well, I guess people talk about “them” and “they” because it would be awkward to say, “we are controlling the world”, you know? LOL

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