Conspiracy Thinking May Kill Us All

Shavaun Scott
9 min readAug 21, 2021

What You Need to Know About the Conspiracy Mindset

Photo by Sammy Williams on Unsplash

(The following is a condensed excerpt from the chapter on conspiracism in my recent book The Minds of Mass Killers: Understanding and Interrupting the Pathway to Violence).

Conspiracy stories surround us. The tales have gotten stranger and stranger over time: alien lizard people kidnapping children and drinking their blood; cannibal “Deep State” cabals secretly running the government; Covid-19 vaccines that contain tracking devices and cause sterility. Though conspiracy theories have always been part of the human experience, we’ve seen a burgeoning in recent years, as flat-Earth proponents blend in with anti-vaxxers and those who maintain the moon landing was a hoax. As with other facets of extremism, conspiracy theories have been amplified and spread on social media.

Conspiracies and violence

Like other traits, conspiracism can also be viewed on a spectrum, ranging from mild suspiciousness about things that could be plausible to firmly held, bizarre beliefs that cannot possibly be true. While it’s theoretically possible that a group rather than a solo assassin killed JFK, it is odd to believe that JFK is still alive and secretly running The Illuminati.

There are reasons for this tendency that originate in our neurobiological system; it serves as a protective factor. Evolution has wired us to scan the environment for potential danger.

At the mild level, conspiracy theories have little consequence in an individual’s life. It’s not paranoid to occasionally wonder if people at work like us or if some are talking behind our back. Sometimes a boss really is out to get us.

Moving toward the higher end of the conspiratorial spectrum into the pathological territory, we see people building cohesive groups around paranoid themes, which typically involve an evil “other” seeking to cause harm to “the good people.” In this way, conspiracy theories build a sense of camaraderie among like-minded people who oppose a common enemy while building false narratives and feeding perceptual distortions.

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Shavaun Scott

Psychotherapist and writer, exploring uncommon bravery and shining light on the human experience.