It IS a Conspiracy

PUBLISHED: Jan 8, 2020

In This Episode.

If you’ve “never seen a commie drink a glass of water” like you’ll hear in Dr. Strangelove, then you’ll also appreciate this discussion of the vast role that small-“c” conspiracy theories play in our daily lives.  Dave and Steve dig into why the brain sees small conspiracies all the time, and how it negatively affects our decision making and critical thinking.

Episode Archive

Podcast Transcript

Voiceover: They’re here to do two things. Chew bubble gum and make you smarter, and they’re all out of bubble gum smarter with Dave and Steve.

Dave Carillo: Ok, Steve, I have a question for you. Yeah, I need to know what your favorite conspiracy theory is.

Steve Pearlman: My favorite conspiracy theory? Well, do you mean the favorite in terms of the ones that are obviously true? Or do you mean my favorite conspiracy in terms of the one I find? Perhaps most intriguing?

Dave Carillo: Hmm. All right, let’s table the ones that you feel are obviously true. And let’s go with what’s the one that you find most intriguing?

Steve Pearlman: I’m fascinated by the flat earth conspiracy. I’m going to tell you why. Why? It’s not just because it isn’t. And we have pictures and

Dave Carillo: Math all fake, by the way. But yes, go ahead.

Steve Pearlman: But never in the flat Earth literature and highly reliable YouTube video source material that I have seen. Have I heard what the benefit is from those controlling the dome over the flat earth in which we live to making us believe that the Earth is round? If the Earth is flat, then it’s flat. And if we live in a dome, OK, we can handle that.

Dave Carillo: I have a question for you on that. Is the flat Earth held up by something? Or are we just comfortable saying that the Earth is flat and it’s still floating in space?

Steve Pearlman: It’s very unclear as to where the flat earth and the Dome exist if there isn’t a larger universe outside of it. The whole thing is so hard for me to understand what is the objection to roundness? I don’t even get where Spheeris City is a problem, right? What about yours, Dave? What is your favorite conspiracy theory?

Dave Carillo: The one I find most intriguing is the I don’t even know what they call it, but you know the one about how the lizard people come from underground and their lizard people. But they’re in disguise and they’ve infiltrated and they’re taking over the world and individuals will post pictures of world leaders, but it’ll be at a weird angle or there’ll be a weird lighting sort of situation. And as such, we’re supposedly able to see the lizard ness. I find it compelling because I guess it’s just tough for me to think about a bipedal race of lizards that evolved underneath the Earth’s crust or in the center of the Earth, or somewhere near or underneath the Earth, coming up and being able to disguise themselves so well as humans.

Steve Pearlman: I just want it on record for the podcast that I think lizard overlords could be great. I’m really glad they’re here if they are, and I just want everyone in our lizard overlords to

Dave Carillo: Know that when you hedge your bets on that, and I think it’s so compelling because any number of times when you see a world leader seemingly act against the interests of so many people, it would almost make just as much sense to find out that they were some sort of like Evil Lizard or part of an evil lizard race. At least it would make more sense. Or maybe it would be more comforting if there was that kind of evil, rather than just them doing it because they know that they own stock and tear gas incorporated. And so if there are more riots, then they get more money from their tear gas stock or something.

Steve Pearlman: You’re talking about Justin Trudeau of Canada, right?

Dave Carillo: I don’t know. He’s pretty suave looking.

Steve Pearlman: If there is one, I think that’s to whom you’re referring.

Dave Carillo: That’s one of the reasons why I went with this lizard example is because one of the things that would make me buy into the lizard thing these inherently evil lizard population trying to take over the world is because that gives me an immediate knowledge and understanding and closure about why this world leader who’s supposedly in it for the betterment of a large majority of people would potentially be making a decision that would only benefit so few.

Steve Pearlman: Well, I guess that brings us into how we should define conspiracy, and this is what’s critical for today’s podcast. When we think of conspiracy theories are go tos are these large, all encompassing, paradigm shifting conspiracy theories? We think about JFK, we think about moon landings, we think about flat earths and alien invasions and so on and so forth. And those are part of the conspiracy theory. Mwilu. Of course, there’s no question about that.

Dave Carillo: All right. They’re just

Steve Pearlman: Classics. But what we really want to talk about today is the fact that people see conspiracy much more often throughout their lives than just these large, encompassing conspiracy theories. In fact, there’s research that one of the main reasons people are apt to want to quit their job or believe that they have been fired from a job is when they in fact believe that there is some kind of conspiracy at their office or at their workplace. And that could be some kind of cabal of coworkers who think this or think that about you or conspiring to take your place, or what have you or other conspiracies that we see in our lives amongst family and friends, people see conspiracies everywhere. One of the things that we have to make clear in this podcast is that there are some of those conspiracies, and they probably happen a great deal in the sense that any time you have a group of people make a decision that would affect you outside of your purview. That, in effect, fits a looser definition of a conspiracy. It does not mean that we need to be paranoid or people are out to get us. And that’s where we want to start getting into and teasing out some of the important factors that are at play in this and how to make smarter decisions about what conspiracies are, where they’re happening and how to act in your world.

Dave Carillo: So, yes, sadly, I think we’re going to have to push the aliens aside for the moment. And I want to, at least for the purposes of this podcast, coined a term something like a low level or everyday conspiracy theory, one that is an earth shattering but could potentially affect an individual’s daily lives. In one of the articles we have in front of us entitled I Know Things They Don’t Know, the authors synthesize a good portion of the research about this when they say quote conspiracy theories also appear to have important consequences, such as negatively influencing health decisions, decreasing intentions to engage in politics, increasing people’s desire to leave their workplace and reducing environmental behavioural intentions.

Steve Pearlman: Once we start to engage a conspiracy theory, it is disempowering in a certain respect and we’ll talk about where it feels empowering, but where it’s disempowering is that because conspiracies are things we cannot effect by their nature. It prompts people to withdraw their participation from whatever that scenario is.

Dave Carillo: Stay away. We’re going to be aware, but we’re going to stay away

Steve Pearlman: And think about that. I want to take us back to Dave’s point earlier about what conspiracy theories give us, and we’ll talk about something else they give us soon. But what they give us is this sense of having an immediate answer and a sense of closure. And we want to make it clear, therefore, that when we’re talking about these everyday conspiracies, things like this do happen in our lives very frequently, and they’re not necessarily sinister. They’re just part of social dynamics or workplace dynamics or what have you. And they could also be sinister. And it is important, therefore, that we recognize when we might be buying into them, when we are rushing for this sense of closure and why. Therefore, it can prompt us in an unhealthy way to withdraw from that situation, to feel disempowered, to feel like we have an answer, but we can’t affect it. That’s where the notion of conspiracy theory plays a sinister role in our lives. It’s not that they necessarily don’t occur, it’s how we’re reacting to them and the consequence on our behaviors as a result.

Dave Carillo: So that leads us into this first nugget, which is from Zaire in nineteen ninety two quote. Every opinion is a marriage of information and predisposition information to form a mental picture of the given issue and predisposition to motivate some conclusion about it. It’s not necessarily that this information doesn’t exist out there, but that we’re thinking about it a certain way and that certain way is potentially causing negative effects on how we live and how we interact with other people.

Steve Pearlman: It’s affected by our predisposition to see it, and then it’s affected by our predisposition in terms of how we go and choose to act or rather more to the case often not act as a result of identifying it, right?

Dave Carillo: That brings us nicely into our clip, where we see Sterling Hayden and Peter Sellers interacting with each other in Dr. Strangelove. Sterling Hayden is the head of the Air Force there in Arad, and Sterling Hayden has taken it upon himself to launch a few hundred nuclear missiles and order bombers to the USSR to preemptively strike them based on, it seems, some of his thinking about the way of the world. So you’ll hear actual gunfire, and that’s George C. Scott’s army trying to break into Sterling Hayden’s Air Force to try to stop this whole thing. And of course, Peter Sellers is trapped in Sterling Hayden’s office and you hear them interact.

Steve Pearlman: So this is Hayden talking to Peter Sellers, and you’ll hear the conspiracy machinations at work. Listen, for some of those things that we start to talk to you about predispositions to believe, helplessness, a need for closure and need for simple answer and so on. As you listen to this clip, play out.

Dr. Strangelove: Mandrake yesterday. Have you ever seen a comic drink, a glass of water? Well, no, I can’t say I have jack vodka. That’s what they drink, isn’t it? Never water. Well, I believe that’s what they drink, Jack. Yes or no account. Well, they call me ever drink water and not without good reason. Oh yes, I am. I don’t quite see what you’re getting at. Yeah, water. That’s what I’m getting out of water. Mandrake water is the source of all life. Seven tenths of this earth surface is water. Why do you realize that 70 percent of you was water? And as human beings, you and I need fresh pure of water to replenish our precious bodily fluids? That’s beginning to understand this mandate. And have you never wondered why I drink only distilled water for rainwater and only pure grain alcohol when it did occur to me, Jack? Yes. Have you ever heard of a thing called fluoridation? Fluoridation of water? Yes, I have heard of that, Jack. Yes. Yes. Well, you know what it is? No. No, I know what it is now. Do you realize that fluoridation is the most monstrously conceived and dangerous communist plot we have ever had to face?

Dave Carillo: That’s a perfect example. You see that he’s dealing with, like some fairly basic information coming in, 70 percent of our planet is water, 70 percent of our body is water. Fluoride exists, but the way fluoride goes into water.

Steve Pearlman: But commies never drink right?

Dave Carillo: Because I’ve never seen one. Right. Have you ever seen one drink a glass? Exactly. And so there’s plenty of legitimate, reasonable information being placed into this worldview, and his predispositions are acting on it such that now he’s got a fairly tight conspiracy theory going on. And that’s why he chooses to

Steve Pearlman: Act and think about how neatly it seals everything, right? It’s just such a clean answer. All the problems are simply because of water fluoridation, and that’s why commies only drink vodka, and that’s why we have to annihilate them. I mean, it’s just it’s as plain as the fake nose on a lizard’s face, Dave.

Dave Carillo: Yeah. Well, that’s just it is the lizard inside a skit. Maybe it’s not fake. Maybe it’s not a fake nose. Maybe it’s like inside a human scrotum. It’s I think they’re inside the human body sort of thing where it’s like a gigantic human body.

Steve Pearlman: But well, now you’re changing your whole conspiracy theory.

Dave Carillo: I’m just going to keep morphing it until I come up with the most perfect answer to this.

Steve Pearlman: But so look, one of the things that we really want to get to here is that the reasons that people move towards conspiracy is because it offers these neatly cinched, tied and knotted with a bow on them, explanations of the world. And therefore it actually ceases the critical thinking act. And there’s a motivation for doing that as well, especially in terms of larger conspiracy theories. There is a lot of research that people are drawn to this who have a disposition to want to feel as though they are unique and they want to move into these understandings because it allows them to step above the rest of the world in a certain way. They have a special understanding that experts can have even the best scientists don’t have. Certainly that you don’t have whoever you are listening and you don’t have it, and you can hear that in Hayden as well. This idea of passing on the specialized knowledge to Peter Sellers that he is one of the few alone who really understands the devastating nature of fluoridation, which actually helps with teeth, by the way, the devastating nature of fluoridation. And this is why he’s only drinking distilled water and think about how good he feels and unique and special he feels when he’s drinking his distilled water or one hundred percent grain alcohol relative to those schmucks who are out there drinking regularly filtered water or, heaven forbid, unfiltered water, or even the maniacs who are rinsing with fluoride for the sake of their dental health.

Dave Carillo: But again, we’re talking about these low levels, these everyday conspiracies. I want to draw a distinction here between the kind of predispositions that we’ve talked about in the past, like when we did a podcast on cognitive closure. Cognitive closure may not necessarily get you the best deal in a negotiation, but this idea of cultivating conspiracy theory because of these predispositions could be worse.

Steve Pearlman: So first step, look at your life and identify where you feel as though there’s one of these everyday conspiracies at work, and maybe you don’t feel there is one, and that’s great, but maybe you’re identifying something you’ve recognized in your life where you feel as though there are some. Machinations at play that are a little beyond your control that are affecting you and want you to think about what are your predispositions to see that as a conspiracy? What comfort is it giving you to be able to identify that? And where is perhaps this desire for some uniqueness or separation fueling that? And that could even be people who gossip and want to give this specialized information that they alone know, passing that along to their colleague?

Dave Carillo: Right, exactly. Exactly. It might not be a conspiracy theory that you necessarily hold as true, or you might just hear this kind of thinking

Steve Pearlman: We’re so-and-so at the office of sleeping with so-and-so. Now there’s a no. There’s a specialized knowledge to be able to get involved with. It might explain some of their behaviors toward you or toward the office.

Dave Carillo: That said, I know for a fact that so-and-so is sleeping with so-and-so.

Steve Pearlman: They haven’t found a while, they haven’t for a while.

Dave Carillo: So and so and so and so they are. They are of loose morals.

Steve Pearlman: I’m not judging the morality of them sleeping together, Dave, but I will say that I don’t want to picture it right.

Dave Carillo: No, neither do I.

Steve Pearlman: Then also think about where have your actions been curbed in such a way in response to identifying this conspiracy? Have you adopted any sense of powerlessness? Have you decided it’s not worth thinking about it anymore? You can’t affect it in some way? Or is it making you feel negative about yourself in a certain respect? So look at your life and think about where these conspiracies might be. Again, very loose term for the use of conspiracies, these everyday, low level conspiracies. Think about how you’re perceiving them and what’s going on. And then we want to talk to you about how do you steel yourself against these and how do you steal colleagues and friends against buying into larger, more destructive concepts of conspiracy? And that’s something called inoculation theory and inoculation theory, just as it would be with respect to actual inoculations against diseases, vaccinations which actually work. That’s where the term was intentionally adopted, and the idea is that we can inoculate ourselves to a degree against the negative repercussions that we have when we buy into conspiracies and even into seeing conspiracies and basically to distill a lot of information about inoculation theory down to something very simple. There are four things you need to know about it.

Steve Pearlman: The first thing is this generally speaking, they can work if you train yourself to be inoculated. If you train your kids and your friends to be inoculated, it can have an effect. Second, what is it to be inoculated? How does that work? Always work through hard evidence as much as possible. Try to see what’s really there, what evidence you really have, as opposed to what might be gossip. What might be speculation? Third, examine your predispositions about things. Where are you predisposed to want to have a simpler explanation, where you predisposed to want to feel a particular uniqueness with respect to conspiracy going on in your life? And finally practice and give yourself time and give people time between the time they get an inoculation in terms of learning how to look at evidence and focusing on data and the time that they’re confronted with the conspiracy so they have time to practice it when those things are in place. What the evidence shows is that people actually can not only be inoculated against the immediate conspiracy, but it can have a lasting effect in terms of their ability to be more skeptical of and more reasoned about other conspiracies that they might encounter or at least perceive.

Dave Carillo: Nice work boiling inoculation theory down to those four points. And the last thing comes from the research we have that suggests that eliciting analytic thinking is effective in reducing that kind of conspiratorial belief. And one of the reasons why is that analytic thinking prompts a very careful and deliberate evaluation and processing of information, and we want you to do the same thing in terms of that deliberate processing of information. Take time to reevaluate the information that you have and try to come to a conclusion based on that reevaluation, rather than maybe some of the predispositions or the jumping to conclusions or those intuitive moves that our brains would otherwise be. Totally happy do it.

Steve Pearlman: And that’s why, for this podcast, we made sure not to talk about Bigfoot because Bigfoot’s real totally. It’s obvious that Bigfoot is real. Absolutely day. The world will know that Bigfoot is real.


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