And the US government is run by lizards. Six years after the attack on WTC and Pentagon is 9/11 a very strong part of the world of conspiracy theories.
1.If you compare the conspiracy theories about the 9/11 with those from the past (like Kennedy assassination, alien landings), is there some significant difference or are we seeing basically the same formula?
2.Could you explain how such theories emerge and why are they spreading so successfully?
3.Do you think that trying to debunk some myths helps or it just adds to the conviction of the ‘believers’ that they’re right? How is it possible, that 6 years after 9/11, when almost all the ‘mysteries’ got rational explanation, there are still so many voices claiming that 9/11 was an inside job?
Patrick Leman, Reader in Psychology, Royal Holloway University of London
1. I think we are basically seeing the same formula. Although 9/11 differs in some respects from things like Kennedy and so on because none denies there was a conspiracy: but the official account is that it was the 19 men and AL Qaeda who conspired. Whereas the numerous other theories argue variously that CIA, Mossad and so on were involved. What is also notable about 9/11, although not exclusive to it, is how very different groups of people believe a conspiracy. For instance, some right wing extremists in USA believe CIA was involved, as do many groups in the Arab world and Europe. Often, conspiracy theories act to sustain or reinforce a particular set of political beliefs… for 9/11 different groups use this event as a means for maintaining those underlying beliefs about the world – i.e. for right wing extremists in USA that CIA and government is run by a liberal elite (or aliened, or lizards!!!); for several in Europe that Bush and CIA (or some other US organisation) was involved to justify a war for oil.
2. Along with what I outlined above, I think there are three key reasons.
(1) We generally, psychologically, do not tolerate ambiguity very well. So for many, gaps in an account of events require further investigation. This can give rise to such theories but I personally feel that, in many ways, this investigative approach of many conspiracy theorists is not wildly different from good, critical journalism or from some scientific investigations. The key difference is that many conspiracy theorists presume a particular account or that something “fishy” is going on. On balance, more often than not, it is someone messing up rather than a hard and fast conspiracy – but conspiracies do happen! So conspiracy theorists are often looking for conspiracies (and non-theorists are not) and they find what they want…
(2) Linking in to this we also, psychologically, tend to associate big events with big causes (this is what some of my work has been on). We don;t like the idea that something as big as a president getting assassinated (or here, a princess dying in a car accident) can be the result of a single madman or a drunk driver. So the bigger the event, the more we tend to cast about for a big explanation.
(3) There is also a link between beliefs in conspiracy theories and anomie or a sense of disaffection or dislocation from Society. The more people think their voice is irrelevant or not heard, the more likely they are to believe in such theories. So a collection of different psychological and social factors are the necessary ingredients for beliefs in such theories.
My guess about the spread of these is that the internet and 24-hour news coverage plays its part. But also, conspiracy theories were always there… so its hard to tell for sure if they are more common now than before. But it may well be that people are increasingly feeling a sense of anomie (disconnection from society) and this is influential in the spread of Conspiracy theories.
3. It depends… for hardcore theorists no… trying to debunk them merely means you are part of the conspiracy. Such theorists are unshakable in their beliefs and will simply disregard or reinterpret evidence in any way they wish in order to stick to their belief that a conspiracy underlies 9/11. They will never go away. For less strong believers they may be more receptive to contradictory evidence.