We’re All Conspiracy Theorists

How you react to your beliefs is more important than the beliefs themselves. Knowledge, information, and even conviction are only relevant if they actually change and inform the path you walk in the world.

This is why I think most “conspiracy theorists” aren’t playing with a full deck. It’s not the conspiracy theory itself! It’s the reaction. For instance, if I believed that an ultra-powerful, shadowy cabal of Illuminati controlled the world in secret, it would be absolutely bananas of me to loudly proclaim this belief. There’s a scene in The Dark Knight Rises (the second of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy) where an employee of Wayne Enterprises has discovered evidence that Bruce Wayne is Batman. He approaches one of Wayne’s confidants with the information and demands money for his silence. The confidant, Lucius Fox, replies: “Let me get this straight. You think that your client, one of the wealthiest, most powerful men in the world, is secretly a vigilante who spends his nights beating criminals to a pulp with his bare hands; and your plan… is to blackmail this person? Good luck.”

But that’s what conspiracy theorists seem to do! They become convinced of a vast, powerful network of powerful agents and then start jumping up and down screaming about it, very publicly. It’s not the belief itself that disturbs me – it’s the extremely irrational behavior in response.

Maybe those things naturally go hand-in-hand – irrational beliefs couple well with irrational actions. But you don’t need one to have the other.

Some people have great beliefs but irrational actions. That’s a lot of people, in fact. Most good advice is obvious, but acting on it seems rare. Other people have crazy beliefs but seem to keep it together in their actions; sometimes this can result from simple societal pressure or it might just be that your irrational belief doesn’t really affect your day-to-day actions.

The deeper lesson to draw, however, is that simply believing in something isn’t enough. You need to translate that into actions. That can be difficult! Beliefs are easy to hold, but actions can be difficult and costly to take. Changing your life because of a belief is extremely rare. What most people do instead is to act however they want to act and then adopt beliefs that retroactively justify those actions.

Pretty much all of your nature as a human pushes you to be this way, so you’ll never be 100% successful in defeating that tendency towards ad hoc justifications. But you can certainly move the needle, and that’s absolutely worth doing.

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