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Conspiracy Theories Reflect Erroneous Values, Not Feeble Intellect

Watching the documentary The Truth vs Alex Jones made me realize that intellectual curiosity isn’t neutral but values-driven. It can be trite (Tupac lives!) or dangerous (Sandy Hook was a hoax). 

Our values — high or low — determine the intent of our questioning. When motivated by trust in the common good, after a mass shooting, people display empathy, indicating concern for others (Why would someone want to kill kids?) or shift into pragmatic problem-solving (Surely we can now pass a minimum of legislation that even most gun owners support?).

Contrast this with conspiratorial curiosity, which furthers their and others’ sense of separation and futility. They feel free to ask whatever questions, raise issues however distracting, and call attention to minutiae that is, at its core, incapable of revealing truth because truth (the unity of all) is never the goal. 

They insist, as did Jones, to be driven by benign rather than malefic intent, shielding their “innocent” questioning from discerning scrutiny. Conspiracists are, truthfully, victims of unbridled curiosity and, therefore, unconstrained by relationship to and concern for others and the whole. 

Intellectual curiosity is a worthy human trait when directed to helping us understand one another and improve the world around us. But when it’s not conditioned by goodwill, more facts and evidence only deepen rather than dissipate the illusion, as one Sandy Hook parent realized when a six-month dialogue with a conspirator ended with her insistence that only exhuming his child’s body would be definitive proof of his murder.

Rather than confronting conspiracists with facts or demonizing them, we must rebuild institutional trust, setting aside personal gain for the common good. Doing so can break the spell that prevents many today from harnessing intellectual curiosity to inspire hope, healing, and unity rather than fear, hurt, and separation.


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