A new presidential election season is fast-approaching, and it would be timely to take a look at the American Electorate. The publication Military Times recently reminded me of a survey reported a decade ago that found 12.6 million Americans believed that “Lizard People” run the country. Reptilians are popular characters in science fiction and fantasy, going back decades. Time enough for people to distinguish fact from fiction, you’d think.
Also at that time, as reported in The Atlantic, 37 percent of Americans believed global warming was a hoax. (Time to re-ask that one.)
Conspiracy theories explain this confusing world in simplistic and sometimes bizarre ways. Some of them boost their appeal by pretending to secret knowledge, playing on alienated individuals’ desire to be “on the inside.” Think QAnon. In fact, one social psychologist has suggested that the smaller the group believing a specific theory, the more attractive it becomes. “You’re special,” the belief conveys.
Perhaps the difficulty is not what conspiracy theorists believe, but what they don’t believe. They don’t believe government and other leaders work in their best interests. This can morph into disbelieving any information from official channels—for example, that 20 children and six adults were killed at Sandy Hook, that COVID vaccines work. Loss of trust in social, political, and economic institutions has many causes, some quite compelling, which is why effective accountability efforts are so important. They are more than a response to a single incident; they preserve the integrity of the entire institution.
With the election looming, conspiracy theories are likely to blossom in classic and new forms. Sometimes these theories focus on supposed external enemies, and sometimes the enemies are within, like the lizard people. Americans who feel alienated and powerless are more likely to believe them, as a way of explaining why their lives feel out of their control (and it’s not their fault). Ironically, the result may be that they are less likely to take action to improve their situation, consigning themselves to lives of dissatisfaction.
Picture: SarahRichterArt for Pixabay