A condemnation of conspiracies

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A condemnation of conspiracies

by Aditya Singhvi, Sports Editor

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To raise anti-immigration sentiment as the midterms came up, a conspiracy theory gained popularity on social media that posited billionaire George Soros is surreptitiously funding the caravan of central American asylum-seeking immigrants. President Trump, espousing another theory, claims that there are Middle Easterners on this caravan — which, again, originated in Honduras.

A conspiracy theory is, according to Merriam-Webster, “a theory that explains an event or set of circumstances as the result of a secret plot by usually powerful conspirators”. When conspiracy theories are believed so widely, it is easy to be drawn in and give credence to many of them.

According to TIME, about 10 percent of Americans in 2015 believed that vaccines are unsafe and cause autism, despite numerous scientific studies that prove otherwise. This surge in lack of vaccination has had real-world consequences; for example, a measles outbreak in Minnesota in 2017 was largely triggered by a low vaccination rate within the Somali-American community, according to the CDC.

According to a 2015 Washington Post article, about 25 percent of Americans, including now-President Trump, endorsed the “birther” conspiracy, claiming that then-President Obama is not an American citizen, and 19 percent were 9/11 “truthers,” believing that the tragedy that occurred on Sept. 11, 2001, was an elaborate hoax. The annual Flat Earth International Conference, to be held next week in Denver, will feature 26 speakers, and Infowars host Alex Jones believes that the Pentagon is releasing chemicals into the water that are turning “the friggin’ frogs gay.”  

With these relatively widespread beliefs, it’s easy to forget that these viewpoints have no rationale behind them. In a time where facts and opinions are often conflated, it is important to remember that some measure of objective reality does continue to exist.

However, we tend to overestimate our knowledge of the world and thus fail to consider that we could be wrong. Galileo in his time was regarded as a heretic; now, he is known as the father of modern science.

One of the premier examples of this is the Mueller investigation, which essentially posits an international conspiracy at the highest levels of government to elect Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election. Nothing has been proven yet, but the investigation has uncovered key evidence that has led to a number of White House staff resigning, suggesting some parts of it may be true. Mueller’s investigation is a true conspiracy by its very definition, and clearly, it cannot be ignored.

This is also true on a smaller scale, as people on both sides of the aisle dismiss viewpoints that are simply antithetical to their own. Calling a conservative speaker to speak at a liberal university shouldn’t cause protests; instead, it should be an opportunity for everyone to listen, have an intellectual debate, and perhaps even gain new perspectives.

Thus, it is imperative to dismiss the conspiracy theories that come without a shred of evidence and could cause real-world consequences, no matter how many people believe them. At the same time, blindly doubling down on beliefs is dangerous, and causes divides between people that could simply be solved through peaceful debate.