Addicted to inconvenience | The smart set
If you’ve ever worked in a cash register, maybe someone tried to rip you off. The downsides of the register are little magic tricks, pushes where a quick-talking customer scams a busy cashier by giving him the wrong change. Other scams are lengthy scams, crime novels where a scammer selects a brand, makes a connection, tells a compelling story over time, and then steals his victim. A classic cinematic example is The bite, the 1973 film where crooks Paul Newman and Robert Redford take Robert Shaw for half a million dollars. Lots of money back then.
The moral of The bite it is that you cannot deceive an honest man, but in fact many inconveniences attack the confidence. According to Maria Konnikova, author of The trust game, some notes are fooled because they believe too much in the good intentions of others. Other brands are sensitive because they feel they deserve good fortune or because they think they are too smart to be fooled. And people, in general, are more susceptible to scams during times of stress and disruption in their lives. Confidence, vanity and anxiety. It’s a recipe for becoming a brand.
Scammers also have revealing characteristics. They are charismatic and Konnikova speaks of a “dark triad” of narcissism, psychopathy and Machiavellianism. Scammers look the brand in the eye and tell them a story of romance or wealth, holding a reward in one hand while taking the brand’s pocket with the other. Charles Ponzi, the elegant swindler of the turn of the 20th century, had a self-confident demeanor and lavish style that convinced thousands of people that he could fetch them exorbitant profits. Ponzi scammed its investors for almost $ 15 million. Almost a century later, Bernard Madoff forged an image of a financial guru who could still beat the market. For years, his apparent success convinced investors and even regulators that his business was flawless. Before being discovered as a con artist, he managed to steal over $ 60 billion.
Only a fragile veil separates the long scam and the sect. In cults as against, the crook obtains the mark to suspend his critical judgment. But where the long-running scam rests on strengthening financial and emotional desires, cults go all-out in psychological manipulation and physical abuse. Over the course of two decades, charismatic narcissist Keith Raniere has grown from multi-level marketing programs to a self-improvement scam to a sex cult. Raniere was a self-proclaimed genius, and his organization NXIVM (NEX-ee-um) targeted affluent but insecure individuals who paid thousands of dollars for courses in order to realize their full potential. But, like a trial in 2018, the need for lessons and improvement was never-ending.
So far, he’s just a big jerk. When a inner circle of NXIVM also began recruiting women into a harem called DOS (which abbreviated a Latin phrase meaning “Master over Slave Women”), it went from con to cult. The women of the harem were isolated, extorted, starved and ordered to be sexually available at all times; several were marked with Keith Raniere’s initials. Eventually, Raniere and members of his entourage were convicted of racketeering, sex trafficking and other charges.
The crook who becomes a cult leader goes beyond riches and romance. They are likely to offer a mixture of power, false lights and elitism to their sidekicks. Cults often craft a special purpose by crafting enemies. Lyndon LaRouche was a former Trotskyist who shaped a political cult with a message predicting economic and social collapse. LaRouche has run for president eight times and has freely mixed up Marxist and neo-Nazi ideology in his political campaigns and fundraising. His list of villains was based on conspiracy theories about the British monarchy, Jews, Satanists, and the Rockefeller family. While his supporters occasionally resorted to violence, his political cult seems to have been primarily focused on money: LaRouche operated through a multitude of front companies, businesses and organizations that brought him in millions. dollars in grants, loans and federal matching. Eventually, he was convicted of tax evasion and fraud involving over $ 30 million in loans, and he served a prison sentence from 1989 until his release in 1994.
Conspiracy ideation – the mindset that events are controlled by a hidden elite – makes people susceptible to such inconvenience. According to Joseph Uscinski and Joseph Parent, two researchers from the University of Miami who reported in their book the supporters of the conspiracy American conspiracy theories, the mindset of the conspiracy is distinct from political ideology and political partisanship. Conspiracy addicts tend to be outsiders to the political process, as well as less educated and well-off on average. Additionally, people who believe in conspiracies are somewhat more likely to accept violence as a solution to political and cultural differences, especially during times of national anxiety.
Other research on conspiracy supporters suggests a connection with our predisposition to seek danger in the world and our ability to recognize patterns. Being on the lookout for danger and recognizing patterns are two useful adaptations. But as researchers from the Free University of Amsterdam reported in 2017, people sometimes feel danger even when there is no pattern to recognize. Such a perception of an illusory model may be what makes people believe in conspiracy theories – to seek out the hidden hand. Other research suggests that supporters of conspiracy theories about one thing are more likely to believe other conspiracy theories, even if the conspiracies contradict each other.
Conspiracy theories are stories manipulators like LaRouche exploit, but conspiracy addiction may be the biggest worry. The conspirators are addicted to the secret plot they uncover, even if it does not exist. They are both crook and brand, willfully fooling each other. Part of the problem is also that those who are addicted to conspiracies may see themselves as seekers of truth rather than brands. A recent study published in the journal Applied Cognitive Psychology bring some light. Researchers in France interviewed more than 250 people about conspiracy ideas, critical thinking skills, and perceptions of their own critical thinking skills. They found that those with high levels of critical thinking ability were less likely to believe in conspiracy theories, but those with high and low levels of conspiracy thinking rated themselves highly in critical thinking. Such results make sense in light of how followers of many conspiracy theories view themselves as true critical thinkers, able to connect the dots that others cannot.
The allure of conspiracies can also appeal to the creative instinct, giving adherents the ability to create their own doomsday folklore through “research.” When I told a colleague about it, she joked that conspiracy theories are like the fan fiction of history. This probably does fan fiction a disservice. But the comparison highlights the fact that conspiracy theories have a limited number of tropes and plot devices. Election rigging is still a hot topic for those seeking conspiracy (think John Quincy Adams in 1824, Rutherford B. Hayes in 1876, JFK, George W. Bush, Joe Biden). The same goes for presidential deaths and assassinations (Taylor, Lincoln, Garfield, McKinley, Harding, Kennedy). There are events supposedly planned or encouraged by commercial interests or government cabals (WWI, Pearl Harbor, the Oklahoma City bombing, the September 11 attacks). There is the spread of diseases (AIDS, Ebola, Zika, Covid, even the flu in 1918). Wherever there is something mysterious, there is fodder for a conspiracy story purporting to connect the dots to point to a villain or a cabal: fluoridation poisonings, microchips in vaccines, allegedly faked events (like the moon landing, the Watergate robbery, the Sandy Hook school shooting, the January 6 uprising).
Nothing sounds too strange for a conspiracy theory story. Denver International Airport, opened in 1995, is the largest airport in North America and one of the busiest. Its size, design, and construction delays have generated conspiracy theories based on the smallest amount of evidence: the appearance of a time capsule (it reads the New World Airport Commission and has a frank symbol mason), murals (said to illustrate satanic themes), tunnels (could be a secret bunker), even the shape of the tracks (an imaginary swastika). None of this is true, and the airport has even made a habit of mocking the tradition of conspiracy in its branding.
Conspiracy theories like those at the Denver Airport are fundamentally harmless to themselves. It may be an entry drug. But some conspiracy beliefs call for dangerous inaction (as in the case of climate deniers or anti-vaccines) while others push believers into recklessness with an implicit call for heroism. Remember Edgar Welch, the man from North Carolina who believed there were secret messages in John Podesta’s hacked emails? Welch showed up at the Comet Ping Pong restaurant in Washington, DC, armed with a handgun and assault rifle, intending to search the basement for a pedophile ring. There was no basement and no pedophile ring. Only pizza and pasta.
With the internet, conspiracy junkies no longer have to search for obscure information the hard way or meet in person to compare their notes: conspiracy stories are just a click away, supplemented with videos for you to “do.” your own research ”. The easy access recreates the controlled narrative and insider elitism of the long con and cult. And as we saw during the insurgency on the U.S. Capitol and protests in state capitals on January 6, 2021, the potential for violence from conspiracy beliefs and believers is pervasive.
The fight against conspiracy addiction can be endless. What can be done? Reinvestments in media education and fact checking can teach people what it means to be a critical thinker and to ‘do your own research’. Regulation or self-regulation of the Internet and a return to the doctrine of fairness for broadcast media could reduce the worst epistemological pathologies and create much-needed cognitive dissonance for conspiracy supporters. Merely recognizing and studying the affinities of idiots, cults, and conspiracies can be an important first step. If we can understand their recurring attraction to scammers and brands, we will be in a better position to protect ourselves and society. •