During my traveling days, shortwave radio kept me informed about what was happening in the world. Nowadays, judging from what I hear here, there's not much left on the shortwave bands other than religious stations and right-wing haranguers in the US. Still, there's a little left.
For example, at 7AM, Australian Broadcasting beams news and programs to islands across the South Pacific, and a weak signal makes its way to the Yucatan. It fades in and out, and during the stormy rainy season there's too much static, but these days sometimes there's enough coming through for me to listen during the campfire breakfast.
The other day an unusually strong signal enabled me to hear most of an interview with a US researcher on human behavior. He'd just published a book on why people believe conspiracy theories. Fade-outs kept his name from me, but on Amazon.Com a recent book entitled Suspicious Minds: Why We Believe Conspiracy Theories is authored by Rob Brotherton, so maybe that's him. Whoever it was, despite the fade-outs, the following points were conveyed:
# Children less than four years old tend to assume that accidents such as tripping over tree roots are purposely caused by somebody or some thing. Adults sometimes find comfort in indulging their infantile urges -- as with thumb-sucking, crying easily, unquestionably accepting others' authority, and finding conspiracies where there are none.
# A group of people tending to believe a certain conspiracy, and another group tending to disbelieve the conspiracy, were given the same packet of information about the matter. After both groups had digested the information, those who had tended to be believers now believed in the conspiracy more strongly than before, while the disbelievers believed less. This suggests that the two groups used different thinking methods, and it might explain why having believers and unbelievers discuss the issues together seldom changes opinions.
# Conspiracy theorists provide easy-to-understand and somewhat plausible answers. More complicated, more accurate explanations may be available, but it takes less effort to accept the easily understood ones.
# Conspiracy theories may be worth considering because in the past some proved to be true -- such as Nixon being behind the Watergate break-in, and the Bush administration inventing "weapons of mass destruction" as an excuse for invading Iraq.
# Finally, conspiracy theories are fun. They draw like-minded people together, have us toying with novel and outrageous ideas, and make it easier to believe that we ourselves are not the cause of many of our problems.
Why are conspiracy theories being talked about in a naturalist newsletter?
It's because Trump's election was influenced decisively by large numbers of people believing in conspiracies, not to mention false information. Judging from his appointment to head the Environmental Protection Agency, and many of his statements, Trump's most long-term legacy will be a loss of drinkable water, a loss of breathable air, a loss of natural beauty and open spaces, a loss of once-protected species, a loss of soil good for growing food and diverse ecosystems, and a loss of that part of our public spirit which once never would have allowed this destruction to take place.
Moreover, in a sense, there's a pretty justice in all this, an elegant working out of things, as one of Nature's most fundamental laws governing us living beings properly comes into force:
If one does not prove worthy of a gift, then that gift may be withdrawn.