Something that’s become really apparent in the final days of the Trump administration is that cranks of a feather flock together. If you believe that the US election has been stolen, chances are you also believe that the COVID vaccine contains microchips, and that furniture shop Wayfair traffics stolen children.
Thanks to Twitter I discovered that there’s a name for this phenomenon: crank magnetism. As RationalWiki puts it:
A sovereign citizen, a creationist, an anti-vaxxer, and a conspiracy theorist walk into a bar. He orders a drink.
The reason for it is very simple. Believing in a conspiracy theory means denying evidence, denying authority, denying reality. And once you do that once, once you decide that despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary the people in authority are covering something up, you’re much more open to the idea that they’re covering other things up too.
To put it simply: once you believe they’re covering up one thing, it’s easy to believe that they’re covering up everything.
For example, if you believe that mainstream medicine is covering up the efficacy of homeopathy or of ancient Chinese medicine, it isn’t much of a leap to believe that mainstream medicine is covering up the links between MMR and autism. If you believe that Big Pharma is being funded by the Jews to turn everybody trans, it’s hardly a stretch to believe that Big Pharma created COVID to sell vaccines or that those vaccines contain microchips.
Once you deny one reality, you can easily end up denying all reality. You can see that in the COVID deniers, in the QAnon craze, in the ludicrous things people believe about marginalised groups.
The conspiracies don’t even need to make sense, or fit with a coherent worldview. Studies have found that conspiracists will happily believe conspiracies that contradict each other – so if you believe that Princess Diana faked her own death, you’re also highly likely to believe that Princess Diana was murdered. The specifics don’t really matter: either way, there’s a cover-up.
It’d be fascinating if it weren’t so frightening.