‘Conspiracy theories’ should never be dismissed without examination.
Conventional thinking evolves when we consider the impossible and challenge our assumptions.
The Earth isn’t flat. I could argue that point with confidence.
I don’t know this just because I was taught the opposite at school, I don’t believe it simply because it is the most convenient answer. There is sufficient scientific evidence to support the prevailing theory that the world we live on is a giant sphere, orbiting an even larger sphere. I would sum up the flat Earth argument as a convenient collection of selective viewpoints.
I watched videos and read articles with natural scepticism, but also genuine curiosity. If I was wrong my whole life, I wanted to know. If I could learn something new, even better. It was tempting to dismiss a flat Earth theory as rubbish, but the more I kept seeing it, the more I thought it would be worth checking out.
I wasn’t trying to have my mind changed, but I hadn’t ruled it out.
Most ‘conspiracy theories’ are framed to show only one side of a story. That doesn’t make them extreme or untrustworthy by default, it’s simply how arguments work. We have to explore both sides, inviting questions with an open mind.
If we strip back the hyperbole, emotion and bias we can just look at the facts, in order to judge the validity of any theory. If we use an outlandish viewpoint to spark a new way of thinking or even reinforce what we already believe, there is no harm done.
It’s a given to not believe everything we see, but too often, it’s a rule we apply to new information, but not to what we assume to be established fact. This doesn’t just limit how much we know, but it hampers our thought process, restricting our critical thinking.
I don’t like the term ‘conspiracy theory’. It marginalises alternative opinions just because, by definition, they fly in the face of conventional knowledge. It reduces a thought that could be worth looking into, to the speculations of someone who is automatically against the status quo.
Surely, we should feel just as sceptical about world views that we are discouraged from questioning?
Tin foil hat wearers were laughed at for decades for suggesting they were under surveillance. If they were made out to be crazy, then their theories had to be too. This didn’t rule out the possibility of them being right, but it stopped a serious inspection of their claims.
Nowadays, it is common knowledge that governments and organisations have the capabilities to monitor an individuals movements, communications and activities, and have form in doing so. Was this a ‘conspiracy theory’ or an uncomfortable reality we were not ready to fully consider?
Too often we don’t explore the alternative because we are far too stubborn to admit we might be wrong. Or too set in our ways to imagine a different possibility.
There is no greater example of an open mind than in the questions asked of us by our children.
My son asks questions, all day, every day. I am not ashamed to say I find it tiring! He makes a habit of challenging anything that I tell him is a matter of fact. For him, it isn’t enough that I tell him something is the case, he wants to know why and how. He can’t help but discuss the alternatives, as well as the implications of me being wrong.
I know he isn’t unique in this, children want to know how the world works, and their imaginations do not limit what is possible. They trust their parents and understand that there are reliable sources of information, but there is no topic off limits for examination.
On the other hand, when our children tell us how they see the world, it is easy for us to dismiss them, when we know it to be untrue. We often overlook the fact that we could learn something from them. If my son says that the sky is yellow, my automatic reaction is to tell him it is blue. In the interests of preserving his independent thought process and developing his critical thinking, it’s more important to challenge him to explain why he thinks that.
If I just tell him the sky is blue, he’ll believe me, regardless of his original viewpoint. Over time, he’ll grow to believe me instead of exploring his natural instincts, trusting my version of reality over his own. I’ll have saved myself a few minutes of discussion but will have robbed him of a life skill that is more and more important in the world we are currently in.
There was a time when everyone believed the world was flat and the suggestions of a globe were the wild thoughts of madmen.
Imagine if we had never questioned this theory, automatically trusting popular opinion?
The world is full of sources that are automatically deemed to be expert, outlining one way of thinking and rubbishing alternatives. Our children have to be able to make decisions for themselves, instead of just believing what they are told. Current events show us that there is power in misinformation. History has shown that we are easier to control when we share a single, limited belief system.
Paying attention to ‘conspiracy theories’ or different ways of thinking won’t make our children crazy, it might be the only way they can survive the uncertain world we are leaving behind for them.