Tuesday, 22 April 2008

On motivations

Last night, I attended a Skeptics In The Pub meet-up in London chaired by the great Dr. Phil Plait, who gave a presentation on the "Moon Hoax Hoax" which systematically debunked some of the major claims of the conspiracy theorists. In the question and answer session that followed, the matter of motivation was raised - why do the conspiracy theorists adhere to these clearly irrational beliefs in the face of overwhelming evidence? While the discussion touched on interesting ideas, I felt it missed something quite fundamental in our modern Western society.

Ever since the Vietnam "War" (for those who don't know, the quotes are there because war was never declared), there has been a rise in popular anti-establishment sentiment. The wide media coverage of the violence brought home to America and the rest of the world just how horrific these conflicts could be, and that they were being carried out by our elected representatives. Watergate deepened this trend, and from that point on, conspiracies suddenly emerged everywhere you looked.

It is hardly surprising that the single greatest human achievement of the twentieth century became a target for this obsession. While it is certainly not universally the case for every "believer" (some, I strongly suspect, are in it for the lucrative book deals etc.), I think it applies at least partially to the majority. These are the guys who stand to gain nothing from these beliefs, except the satisfaction and sense of superiority that comes with knowing a "suppressed truth". It's a good feeling, and one of which these (often socially isolated) people are understandably loath to let go.

This isn't intended to be an exhaustive answer to the initial question. I don't want to paint all believers with the same motivational brush - far from it. This is just something I think plays a significant role in these matters, and the origins of which I happen to find interesting.


Asclepius said...

Many moons ago I read an article suggesting that various groups of religious.....people, had determined that the lunar landing was impossible as it was in defiance of Gods will. I really wish I could remember the source. I remember this because its been a long times since I laughed that hard.

As I've previously mentioned some people just need to believe in the dramatic. I think a lot of believers in this case are just people who are bored with their own lives and need to feel like they are 'fighting the man' by speaking out. Unfortunately there are far better reasons to 'rebel'.

Darkwinter said...

I think I've found it - or at least something equally amusing.

Take ye a gander.