Story Telling and Conspiracy Theories

I’m fascinated by stories – not so much with the content but with their role in society and the ways in which they bind us together in groups (and, as a result, also divide us).  With the rise of fake news, it’s very easy to put what seems like an unstoppable torrent of conspiracy theories as being peddled by the ignorant few (albeit, in some cases, a huge number in itself).

Yet is that too simplistic?

In ‘The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human’, Jonathan Gottschall makes an interesting point which I’ve been thinking about recently:-

“It’s tempting to blame general backwardness or ignorance for this epidemic of conspiracy. Tempting, but wrong. As David Aaronovitch explains in his book ‘Voodoo Histories’,

‘Conspiracy theories originate and are largely circulated among the educated and middle class. The imagined model of an ignorant, priest-ridden peasantry or proletariat, replacing religious and superstitious belief with equally far-fetched notions of how society works, turns out to be completely wrong. It has typically been the professors, the university students, the managers, the journalists, and the civil servants who have concocted and disseminated the conspiracies.’

Conspiracy theories are not, then, the province of a googly-eyed lunatic fringe. Conspiratorial thinking is not limited to the stupid, the ignorant, or the crazy. It is a reflex of the storytelling mind’s compulsive need for meaningful experience”.