1. What is the appeal of conspiracy theories?
That the learned are holders and understanders of terrible secrets.
Conspiracy theories are essentially gossip of the highest order. Typically those who are interested in conspiracy theories are also what sociologists and psychologists label as "easy talkers". Easy talkers being individuals that possess the mentality that when they share gossip that there are bestowing gifts to the listener. So taking that into account we can now transmute this to how conspiracy theorists achieve gratification and thus feel motivated to dig deeper into conspiratorial and or occult lore.
I also believe that conspiracies harken back to our childhood feelings of mystery and imagination, like ghost stories and folktales. These are the main factors contributing to the appeal of conspiracy theories; power, spreading of occult knowledge and perpetuating urban legends and forbidden knowledge.
2. What was the first conspiracy theory you were drawn to? Why did you feel intrigued by it?
I'd have to say that UFOs and aliens were the first conspiratorial notion that grabbed my imagination. As a young person at about the age of eight years old in 1992 the UFO craze was in full swing, with shows like The X-Files being very popular, thereby encouraging parents to speak freely amongst themselves and their children about UFOs, aliens, extraterrestrial lifeforms, etc. I felt intrigued by it, because I liked staring at the night sky already, so when I was informed that there may be spaceships piloted by gigantic- skulled beings from beyond the moon I was much more interested. Then when I heard about the human abduction and cattle mutilation - well then I was even more intrigued!
3. Has your opinion/belief in conspiracy theories changed over time?
Oh my, yes!
My opinions and beliefs have changed several times over the years. The thing you have to remember is that we all change. Whether we realise it or not we subconsciously adapt to our surroundings to ensure survival and the opportunity to procreate. So, as I grew older I shed certain opinions and beliefs, not due to an urge to conform but rather to be adherent towards this ever changing world. I became more aware, and in exchange I had to drop old thought habits to absorb new ones as to not risk contradicting myself. That is the problem with some of these wing-nut, tinfoil hat crowds of characters - they are carrying around this omnipresent cloak of contradiction and clashing paradoxes.
An example of myself shedding a certain belief is when I came to the realisation that vaccines are essential for growth and prosperity, and that the pros far outweigh the cons. I know this is a touchy subject for some and - believe me - I was fully convinced that vaccines were poisoning children's bodies and minds, but after studying data and analysing trends I saw that an alarming number of eradicated diseases rising in areas were anti-vaxxing sentiments are high.
4. Why do some conspiracy theories last and last and last - why do people keep returning to them?
People are attracted to enduring mysteries, and some feel that they can solve certain conspiracy theories. Sometimes a conspiracy theory is proven to be a conspiracy and not just a theory, so there is an allure for some, as they feel if they dig deep enough maybe they too can prove a "theory" to be fact.
An example of a theory being proven reality is MKUltra. It was the CIA's mind control program that spanned 20 years from 1953-1973, and included the use of psychotropic compounds, hypnosis, sensory deprivation, isolation, verbal and sexual abuse as well as other forms of psychological torture.
Various conspiracy theorists speculated that such mind control experiments existed and, in 1973, with the government-wide panic caused by Watergate, the CIA Director Richard Helms ordered all MKUltra files destroyed. Pursuant to this order, most CIA documents regarding the project were destroyed, making a full investigation of MKUltra impossible. However a cache of some 20,000 documents survived Helms' purge, as they had been incorrectly stored in a financial records building and were discovered following a Freedom of Information Act request in 1977. These documents were fully investigated during the Senate Hearings of 1977.
5. Many people view conspiracy theorists as a bit crazy - is this a bit too dismissive?
Yes, it is very dismissive to just write them off as "crazy" - most people interested in conspiracy theories are not insane, they are just curious. Like I said before, these theories are essentially gossip, drawing in a lot of different people from all kinds of backgrounds and levels of intelligence.
It is true that some individuals get engulfed in the paranoia that studying conspiracies brings, and they commit violent crimes or acts of self harm, although I contend that these individuals are off balance already and that the belief itself in conspiracy theories was merely a catalyst. I think though that certain people will have an episode eventually, be it from financial problems, divorce, an underlying mental health problem that festers into full blown psychosis and yes even a fixation on a conspiracy theory.
My point is that not all conspiracy theorists are crazy and not all crazy people are conspiracy theorists.
6. Within the group of 'conspiracy theorists' are there fringe ideas, or the group's own version of 'taking it too far'?
Yes, absolutely. There are many fringe conspiracy theories that I think only a select few can really believe wholeheartedly - one such theory for sure is "The Flat Earth Theory”. It's really quite ludicrous as it postulates that we are essentially existing on a flat disk rather, than a spherical globe. The Flat Earthers (sic) propose that what holds the planets water in place is a gigantic wall of ice that encompasses the entire disk, and that the sun as we know it is actually "The Firmament". This belief is cemented into the foundation of biblical cosmology and states that "The Firmament" is the structure above the atmosphere, conceived as a vast solid dome, and that the angels of heaven rest above the sun and other stars.
Some Flat Earth theorists even go as far to say that beyond the ice wall lays other continents full of strange animals and mammals living amongst exotic landscapes and undiscovered paradises. It's all very fantastical and interesting but there is no solid evidence to back up these outrageous claims. On the internet it has manifested into a meme that sometimes gets mistaken for honest support, but I think it has a long way to go before it garners a significant number of believers.
7. Is it really possible to disprove a conspiracy theory?
No. Because when an individual presents a legitimate argument that bears proof and critical thinking towards a theory that has already solidified into a subculture of adherents it becomes quite difficult to sway their opinion. Some even see the debunking as a separate sub-conspiracy within the original conspiracy in question. This reaction is similar to how Joe Pesci's character in the film JFK explains the mystery of the Kennedy's assassination - "It's a mystery wrapped in a riddle inside an enigma”. That is why most serious conspiracy theories don't ever truly go away, because convictions are a greater enemy to the truth than lies.
False statements can eventually be erased, and phony images can be ripped apart by modern technology and scrutiny, but convictions! They live in the hearts of some, and when one holds a strong belief in their heart, sometimes the only way to be certain you have quashed a belief from an individual is to literally kill that individual. This approach was formulated and executed by various regimes and agencies throughout time.
8. Is it fair to say that conspiracy theories are something that's really just a Western phenomenon? Are there conspiracy theories worldwide?
No, conspiracy theories are a global affair not relegated to the Western Hemisphere by any means. The scope and lasting impacts affects of most major conspiracies and even merely the theories have an influence on the entire population of earth. Conspiracy theories help shape visual art, music, movies and literature.
In summation I suppose we can all agree that conspiracy theories will endure and that they transcend physical borders, and time itself. As long as there are tragedies and mystique there will be theories as to how they transpired, and only future generations will determine if such theories are worth their man-hours investigating.
In closing I would like to remind your readers of something that former United States Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld stated in 2002:
"Reports that say that something hasn't happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don't know we don't know. And if one looks throughout the history of our country and other free countries, it is the latter category that tend to be the difficult ones".