‘The biggest misunderstanding about conspiracy thinkers is that they are all weirdos’
Jelle van Buuren, assistant professor at ISGA, discusses the way conspiracy theories and thinkers should be viewed at NPO3
Often behind a conspiracy theory there is anger or distrust, and that is human. Especially when people have bad experiences with government institutions. Theories help by giving order to a world of strange events with simple explanations. Jelle: 'The biggest misunderstanding about conspiracy thinkers is that they are all weirdos'.
Theories can also be found in the current situation, Van Buuren explains: ‘This pandemic deprives people of a basic sense of security and control. They ask for a very big clear explanation, to get that idea of control back somewhere. It is easier if you can clearly point the finger at someone. The fact that things went wrong on a wildlife market in Wuhan is far too lame an explanation.’
‘Don't take the theory seriously, but the person who adheres to it’
In all those stories there is hope, fear, and human longing. So when you talk to someone, you have to try to understand what lies beneath the beliefs. ‘I would say to the conspiracy thinker: it's good that you're critical of the sources I have, but are you just as critical of your own sources? And why wouldn't somebody be behind all this with their personal motives?’
A mistake you can make as an unconspirator is to act as if nothing ever goes wrong, as if large media are infallible and there is no conflict of interest in politics. The mistrust of conspiracy thinkers is seen as a danger, while we do want citizens to be critical. ‘Where is the boundary between critical thinking, skepticism and conspiracy thinking?’
Van Buuren indicates that the separation between them starts with the recognition that there is a grey area. Critical thinking or doubting authority is essential for a democracy. This isn't something you have to want to get rid of in someone. However, credibility decreases when a small group of people or just one person controls a certain image. A conspiracy theory also carries suspense: you know something others don't want to see.
Read the full article here (in Dutch)
Jelle van Buuren is an Assistant Professor at Leiden University - Institute of Security and Global Affairs. His research interests lie in, among other things, European police cooperation, intelligence cooperation and border management. He is currently researching what role conspiracy thinking is playing in processes of delegitimisation.