Respect Fear

Conspiracy theories often crop up during times of uncertainty and fear: after terrorist strikes, financial crises, high-profile deaths and natural disasters. Past research suggests that if people feel they don’t have control over a situation, they’ll try to make sense of it and find out what happened.

Well, that’s reasonable. That text is from an article in Time Magazine, which then went on to speciously concatenate theories about “lizard overlords” with concerns about corruption in federal agencies that benefit multi-national corporations against public health, of which there are well-documented historical precedents and patterns.

People who are afraid that their governments withhold information are factually correct.

People who are afraid that government programs might sacrifice certain categories of people in service of an undemocratic notion of “the public good” are validated by historic and recent events.

People who are afraid that for-profit corporations could sell known harmful, addictive, or unsafe products have plenty of case data to underlie their concern.

We all know that valid fear can magnify itself excessively until it’s difficult to sort out trauma from paranoia. We know that the cure to this is patience, understanding, and honesty.

I am very concerned by the general lack of empathy for people clinging to so-called “conspiracy theories” as explanations of a world that has demonstrated itself to be terrifying, duplicitous, and pathologically profit-seeking.

Wonky claims about who, what and why in no way invalidate the fears or their entirely valid causes.

I expect governments, political activists, and journalists to make this distinction, to treat their citizens with respect and empathy, not with hostility.