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…or is he?

Sofia Hashi | Fulcrum Staff

NEIL ARMSTRONG NEVER landed on the moon. JFK’s assassination in the ‘60s was an inside job. So was 9/11. Beyoncé didn’t give birth to her “daughter” Blue Ivy—it was all just a publicity stunt. Come to think of it, Kim Kardashian must be a Russian-made robot designed to make all women feel like failures. All of these statements have one thing in common: they fall under the umbrella of conspiracy theories. (The last one I might’ve made up based on my own suspicions, but come on, it’s only a matter of months before the rumour starts circulating.)

Cognitive dissonance, otherwise known as conspiracy theories, is a term first pioneered by American social psychologist Leon Festinger in 1954 when he studied a group of people in suburban Minneapolis who were convinced the apocalypse was coming and they were receiving vital information from aliens. Needless to say, when the apocalypse didn’t happen as scheduled, the group supposedly got a message from the aliens that their intense praying had prevented it—whew!

Talk of aliens and the apocalypse may seem like the plot for another low-budget Hollywood film, but this sense of paranoia has pervaded our culture. With the nightly news’ constant scare tactics, the steady stream of doomsday-type movies, books, and TV shows, and our constant need to find out the scientific and objective truth, it’s safe to say our society is conspiracy-crazed.

In his novel Empire of Conspiracy: The Culture of Paranoia in Postwar America, American author Timothy Melley explores why conspiracy theories are so damn attractive. According to Melley, these speculations come into existence when a person has strong individualist values but lacks a sense of control. The collision between the two qualities can lead to what he calls an “agency panic”—feelings of a loss of autonomy to outside bureaucracies, such as the government.

The psychology behind conspiracy theories has been widely studied, and believing in them is quite normal—I even have a few of my own. Science has proven that humans find patterns that confirm their own cognitive biases and deny others. We also selectively recall information and only believe what we choose to.

As long as there are creative minds to speculate, there will be speculations. What better way is there to spend a rainy afternoon than getting together with your friends and indulging in some chat about the latest political event, celebrity scandal, or alien invasion? Just make sure you get your facts straight before doing something you might regret—like telling everyone on your block that your fence-mate is an extraterrestrial.