We're all susceptible to political conspiracy theories. Yes, even you

19th May 2020

Not a day goes by without another conspiracy theory regarding COVID-19 popping up. Most recently Eric Trump, the bad guy from a 90s straight-to-VHS movie about winter sports and the son of *shudders* President Donald Trump has suggested that the entire pandemic and death of hundreds of thousands of people across the planet is a hoax. This is because it’s easier for him to believe secret forces are working against him and his father rather than admit his dad is crap at his job.

Here on the left, we like to think we’re more aware of the psychology of privilege and that conspiracy theories are a right-wing pastime. Of course, we are wrong. As I have written elsewhere, conspiracy theories are part of human nature. They are a blunt but effective tool we use for hammering our universe into a shape we can comprehend. But the same thinking that tells us, “all these other people are breaking lockdown, but I’m following the rules” is why we think we’re immune to conspiracy thinking while our political opposites are tin-foil hat wearing oddballs. We assume the worst in others while rationalising our own behaviour.

There is evidence to suggest, although we might not like it, that being left-wing isn’t a vaccine for conspiracy thinking. “Vaccine” here, is very much intended. Not only does it seem conspiracy thinking is more closely linked to extremes of political thought rather than your leaning (essentially the further left or right you are, the more conspiracies you believe) on the left, we have our own flavour of conspiracies, featuring but not limited to pseudoscience including GMO crops and, you guessed it, anti-vaxxing. Now, before my fellow pinko snowflakes get upset about this (as we’re apparently famed for) this doesn’t mean everyone one on the left believes these things, only that there is a general trend. You can easily be left-wing and vaccinate your children in the same way you can be right-wing and not believe a secret Jewish cabal rules the world.

Which brings me neatly to my next point. Conspiracies are seductive. Though I don’t believe there is a New World Order plot, I find myself believing that story. Which is to say, I don’t agree with the details of the conspiracy, but I find myself occasionally convinced that a small group of people control the world economy and wield a disproportionate amount of power. Only in my version, they tend to be billionaires and Eton graduates. Like much of the left, I fall for the Conspiracy of Capitalism.

As the UK and US, with their neo-liberal dogma and right-wing governments, plan to reopen society and rejuvenate their economies amongst the highest corona related death tolls and worst emergency responses, I’ve found myself asking, “how are they benefitting?” to any decision I’ve thought was dangerous. Which, in the case of the Tories and Boris Johnson, has been almost every decision.

But what I’ve realised is that in doing so, I’m building the conspiracy in assigning the decision of these ministers a sinister intent. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying we shouldn’t be questioning their response, or that individuals aren’t acting in their self-interests. These individuals are cogs, minor functions in vast machinery. They each perform their duties oblivious to the large workings of their environment. A single cog in a watch only turns and grips other cogs because that is how it’s built, its immediate concerns aren’t that of measuring time.

And that’s what I need to remind myself about these politicians. They’re not meeting in darkened rooms, clad in cloaks praying to the Great God Mammon in Latin (well, Jacob Rees-Moog might be, in fairness). It’s less the banality of evil and the following of orders to wicked agenda, it’s the ubiquity of selfishness. It can’t be a conspiracy. How could it be? I am supposed to believe the same feckless idiot routinely contradicting themselves and releasing awful, incomprehensible advance are also capable of agenda beyond, “Well this is good for me?”.

After all, these right-wing decisions makers are just falling into the same flaw as all of us, rationalising their behaviour and thinking the worst of others. I’ve no room in my mind to build a conspiracy to explain all these bad decisions, particularly not when selfishness explains it just fine.

19th May 2020