This dreadful warning did the job then: we changed our mind and escaped a hypothetical danger (or lost our chance to observe the lifestyle of a different group). Later, I thought a lot about how this information could have reached my uneducated and illiterate grandmother, whose worldview had been formed in a region controlled by the Russian Empire. One of the most popular conspiracy theories is about the Jewish plans to take over the world, and only naïve grandmothers do not believe this one. This fake document, published in Russia in the early 20th century under the title “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion”, spread all over the world, was multiplied into hundreds of thousands of copies in America and was taught in German schools as a historical fact. This “document” is still the main reference for the antisemitically inclined.
Fear is one of the main reflexes designed for survival, but it is not always global hypotheses, such as The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, that trigger this reflex in the hinterlands. Along with the real fears of the rural population, such as famine or drought, there are also hypothetical fears stemming from folklore. For people who lived in groups in a dangerous environment for a long time, going outside the borders of the group’s area of residence and being active at night was life-threatening. Interpreting a sound coming from an unknown source behind the trees as a sound of a terrible predator was a method of self-preservation. If it was not a predator, we would be simply and safely mistaken. If it was, then we would be protected from a real danger. It is highly likely that this primitive fear formed village folklore: bad things happen on the outskirts of the village, and mythical creatures such as monsters, jinns and demons roam the village at night. Again, it is probable that in the right conditions, this primitive fear will dominate city folk’s entire being as well when they are in the countryside. It is always waiting in the recesses of our brain to emerge as a reflex in response to a suitable stimulus.
There are old men in every village saying that they used to tame jinn or that met their demons when they were young, but sometimes village folklore is enriched with urban myths. When a villager returning from military service talks about a flying saucer he saw in the city where he served, some villagers remember seeing a flying saucer, and some then see a flying saucer after that. Flying saucers too are a source of danger, because its passengers are different from us and kidnap people. A materialistic person in one of the villages once told the young men seeing off and meeting the cattle in the darkness of dawn and night, “If you see something in the dark that resembles an unknown creature, make sure to come closer and you will definitely see an ordinary object: a wheel, or a bush, or a wild animal. If you don’t look, you will be saying your whole life that you have seen demons.” One night, boys dressed in white blankets scared the watchmen of a vineyard guard, and the next day the watchmen were excitedly babbling about some screeching demons in white waving their arms. But those who know the exact cause of one such incident still do not think that other legends have similar material causes and easily believe them.
The urban environment of the late 1980s and early 1990s was also rich in legends invented and popularized by charlatans who exploited people’s desire to control their own destinies, live healthy and be rich. The psychics, who were a dime a dozen and opened offices everywhere, could easily cure any disease with the “energy” they possessed. Astrologists would simply tell people what was awaiting them based on their birth date and say they could help avoid those dangers. The world was ceasing to be dangerous, we were owning it, and it was becoming a comfort zone. For example, dark-skinned actors in foreign movies were surely of Azerbaijani origin (in the Turkmen version, some of the famous Indian actors were of Turkmen origin). At noon, people saw a caravan of camels instead of a train in the tunnel of the Tbilisi metro, and the Georgians waiting for the train converted to Islam. The Turkish army was the strongest in the world, and no one could occupy our lands fearing Turkey. The illusion of wealth was relatively problematic because there is a concrete measure of wealth. This problem, like having a jinn as one’s slave, could be solved by selling “red mercury” that everyone was talking about but no one saw. Everyone wanted to be an intermediary in this lucrative business, everyone was looking for a client. Although no one knew what it was for, it was believed to be a very important substance. There was always a friend of a friend of a friend who knew a guy who knew a guy who could arrange it if necessary. The substance called “red mercury” was as real as jinns, but people needed hope, and these legends were making the world a safe comfort zone where fear was replaced by hope.
Turkey had its own local urban myths and conspiracy theories at the time. “Actually, there is oil in Turkey, it’s just America does not allow us to extract it.” “Six out of 12 scientists at NASA are Turks.” “All politicians are Freemasons, ready to sell the country,” “Deep State won’t let us.” “Actually, Turkey has built a national car, it’s just they forgot to refuel it during the test drive, and the car was stuck on the road.” Although the American-Turkish cooperation has given Turkey advantages in education and the military sector, scholarship opportunities for Turkish academics, allowed Turkish companies to win foreign contracts, allowed Turkish companies selling American products to make profit and become independent due to the gained knowledge and experience, the hostility towards America and Israel prevailed among the Turkish voters. It was not surprising that conspiracy theories in an important country like Turkey were essentially political. Doctoring up a Masonic montage of a politician before an election (for example, Adnan Oktar’s counter-propaganda against Mesut Yılmaz) could result in that politician losing the election.
The next stage of conspiracy theories growing from village to city, from city to country, from country to the global scale began with the emergence of the Internet. It turned out that the geographical scale of the theories was directly proportional to the number of communities led by unscrupulous people who exploited their numerous followers by creating an illusory zone of security and comfort around them and securing their own material, psychological, political and ideological interests through these theories. Belief in miracles, the inability to think critically and freely, and lack of scientific outlook were not unique to one village, one city, one country—it was a global problem. We see once again during the pandemic that this has not changed in a world where the education system aims to train professionals for the needs of the industry, rather than inculcating fact-checking, skepticism, independent thinking and problem-solving skills.
Belief in miracles stems from ignorance of science and laws of nature. An eccentric-looking mysterious person who claims to have benefited from an ancient source of wisdom should not be considered a miracle, but a predicted pattern. Why don’t Indian gurus, who have become popular all over the world in the last century, try to solve serious social problems in India before teaching the rest of the world? Could opposing the caste system result in them biting the hand that feeds them? Why do the citizens of the Western countries, where science is flourishing, become enthusiastic disciples of these gurus? How can they believe a person like Sadhguru who calls his act of solidifying liquid mercury by touching it “a real miracle” and claims that, contrary to what modern medicine says, mercury is good for health? This unconditional belief is a source of substantial foreign currency inflows into the country through superstitious tourists, benefiting both gurus and India. An elderly man I knew, who spoke several foreign languages and worked for an international organization, carried an envelope with ashes in his pocket. These ashes from Sai Baba’s doorstep allegedly protected him from misfortunes. It is easy to sell ordinary ashes under a guise of a miracle to those devoid of skeptical thinking.
The examples are countless. After all, scientific thinking is very new, only 300 years old. In millions of years, fear has taken roots deep in our brain, so it is very easy for us to scare and be scared. Even if this worldview is not dominant, but relevant reputable organizations and scientists do not encourage systematic questioning of dogmas, fact-checking and testing of suspicious claims, there will be thousands of those who believe that the famous American televangelist destroyed the COVID-19 virus by blowing the “wind of God”. The televangelist’s fortune is estimated at $300 million. It is not too hard to stir up primitive fear against the scientific thought that urges people to leave their comfort zone.
When I asked my Tanzanian roommate who was the most influential person in his town, he said without hesitation, “The sorcerer.” Why? Because if someone made him angry, the sorcerer could kill that person with magic. Did the sorcerer in fact kill anyone with magic? The answer was interesting: “No, no one wants to die. That’s why no one makes him angry.” We can see that such primitive beliefs are not innocent anthropological material, that they have real and negative consequences, such as the savage practice of kidnapping and killing albinos in some African countries to use their organs in voodoo.
The price of unconditional faith is high. This is not just a payment for an innocent deception, an illusion, a comfort zone. The mystics and astrologists who had predicted the doomsday in December 2012 did not explain why their predictions were wrong, while many people who believed they could wait for sunny days by lighting candles and eating canned food in the dark suffered financial losses. It would no doubt be very difficult to persuade these people to spend on scientific education even 10% of the money they spent on candles and canned goods.
A few years ago, the news that our fellow countryman, a young historian, was nominated for the Nobel Prize spread like wildfire on social media. No one pointed out that the Nobel Prize is not awarded in history, that the Nobel Committee had not nominated anyone, that the list of nominees had not yet been announced, and no one asked for what work the young scientist would receive the Nobel Prize. Instead, thousands of people clicked the like button under the post, hundreds shared it, and the “candidate” gave an interview to various websites, saying haughtily, “With God’s help, we’ll get the Nobel Prize.”
Another example: two young people with no relevant education called genetics “interference in God’s work,” genetically modified products “horrible weapons,” and the UN a conspiratorial organization in their book and TV appearances. The list of reference in the book was self-explanatory, as the young authors did not bother to cite serious scientific sources on the subject, relying instead mostly on the conspiracy theories of Turkish authors. It was clear that they were not aware of the great potential of genetically modified plant and animal products, for example, in the problem of food shortage and their use in medicine. They may have received a grant to publish this book, which was expensive to print, advocating in return ideas that are not only useless, but in fact harmful to society. Describing genetics, one of the highest achievements of science, as an “interference with the divine order” in a country where not a single book on genetics has been published is a result of illiteracy and irresponsibility.
Or we could recall the newspaper that did two extensive interviews with Adnan Oktar, one of the greatest swindlers of our time. Of course, Adnan Oktar took this opportunity to disseminate his talking points. Suppose there is no science journalist in newspapers and on TV, but why is there no tradition of inviting someone who can make counterarguments for objectivity? Not a single book on evolution has been published in our language, while the books of that very Adnan Oktar about “rotting” evolution ended up on the shelves of the National Library. Because of his lies, many of our citizens believed that the West had rejected the theory of evolution. It would be interesting to know what percentage of our biology teachers can now understand and teach evolution correctly.
We are living in the time of a pandemic, which is a very fertile ground for various conspiracy theories. One of the previously popular hypotheses was that vaccines were harmful, and that the real goal of vaccination was to reduce the population. Another hypothesis was that food was dangerous. People burned various food products, made videos, shared them on social media, feeling like a superhero who revealed an important secret and saved people from danger. Now they are waiting for a vaccine to end the current pandemic and stock up on food. Note also that all of these theories that have become popular in our country are not original but “copy-paste” hypotheses.
We manifest with reflexes coming from our genes that the world is not designed for us and is a dangerous place. These genetic reflexes ensured that we did not stray from our group in the primitive environment where predators roamed. Reflexes still remain, but someone reconstructs that dangerous environment of primitive life to serve their purposes, inventing illusory dangers. There is no doubt that ignorance of the theory of evolution, which reduces human reflexes and psychology to a material basis, such as survival, reproduction, and enhancement of social status within a group, creates a favorable environment for such hypotheses. The biggest drawback of these hypotheses is that they distract us from real, pressing problems.
Why are conspiracy theories so popular? Why are people so eager to believe them? Why do they ignore so easily the first counterarguments that come to mind? Why so many hypotheses spread rapidly where there is already one hypothesis that has not yet lost its popularity? Why are scientific explanations less trusted than conspiracy theories?
The process by which science as a mature institution begins to verify facts and create and test hypotheses is only three hundred years old, and the global education system does not prioritize making scientific and skeptical thinking a habit because it is unaware of the cost of ignorance. It is gratifying that some Western countries becoming aware of this issue have begun to integrate important components of the modern worldview, such as critical thinking, civic science, and scientific literacy, into the education system.
Since they appeared, Homo sapiens have fought for survival in a dangerous, unprepared, non-user-friendly environment. Predators, poisonous plants, insects, drought and ice age, attacks by neighboring tribes have shaped the idea that the world is a dangerous place. In such a world, the naivety of Pollyanna, the famous fairy tale heroine, could easily result in death. The assumption that the area was full of enemies and real danger did not do much harm, at most, it was a little stressful. Denying danger in the real presence of danger is tantamount to death. It is safe to mistake the howling of the wind for the howling of a wolf, while the converse is unacceptable from the perspective of the evolutionary principle of struggle for life. Various sects trying to isolate themselves from the world and viewing the environment as hostile is also a result of these reflexes. The sects of the new age and traditional religions serve to spread lies by ignoring the real dangers of the world, presenting illusory dangers in their place, and convincing their members that they will make the world a comfort zone.
Religions inoculate people with the idea that the world is designed, created and governed by a single force. In somewhat secular societies that have not mastered scientific thought, divine power can be replaced with secular power. Believing that about 8 billion people in nearly 200 countries with different religious, political, economic and military interests and the people that govern them can be managed by a small group of people (Freemasons, the Illuminati, the Committee of 300, the Rothschild family, heads of multinational companies, aliens, reptiles, etc., depending on the geography) with a single goal provides a simplified and relaxing comfort zone that replaces the analysis of world history and the complex nature of international relations.
The super-secret plan of the group that rules the world from behind the scene is exposed by uneducated writers, and, ironically, this revelation is disseminated unimpeded through social media that belongs to those very groups (if the whole world is in their hands, of course, they must have effective tools such as social media, otherwise there is a serious internal contradiction in the theory).
Jeans, AIDS, the theory of evolution, the American lunar project, the COVID-19 pandemic, Coca-Cola in the service of Zionism, the Overmind, the September 11 terrorist attack, vaccinations, climate weapons, the New World Order, Freemasons, and even Einstein’s plagiarism, and other plans that are “exposed” by conspiracy theories, though colorful, are the product of the same way of thinking.
Modern readers will be surprised to learn that jeans were once considered a conspiracy specially invented by Levi, a Jew, to promote immorality. People on the street wearing jeans probably would not believe it. Conspiracy theories will constantly change and update, and today’s conspiracy theory will become a part of everyday life tomorrow. Nevertheless, the conspiracy mindset will continue to invent new claims, which, unfortunately, will have a real cost.
Conspiracy theories are in fact banal and have common features. First of all, they are paradoxical. Normally, a clandestine plan has to be thought out so skillfully that it would be difficult to convince people of its existence. However, these hypotheses are exposed by incompetent “researcher” writers in a few hours of sitting in front of a computer, gaining them a large number of supporters. The authors of these claims do not have an elementary understanding of the terms and concepts they use in their hypotheses. Those who speculate about viruses do not know the difference between viruses and bacteria, and those who expose 5G do not know the difference between ionizing and non-ionizing radiation. These people have not obtained any classified documents, they have not worked in any serious research center, they do not have serious sources of information, and yet they keep putting their names under great revelations.
Usually, “secret plans” are made in America, and Israel is only one not harmed by these plans. The pandemic is said to be an American game, but America is one of the most affected countries. There were no victims of the pandemic in Israel, but later it turned out that there were. The statements that it was a divine punishment for infidels was quietly forgotten in Islamic countries when coronavirus cases were revealed there as well, but in order not to leave the information field empty, new hypotheses were put forward.
One of the previously popular claims was that a cure for cancer has already been found but is hidden (who needs this drug to remain hidden and why doesn’t it occur to them to sell it to millions of people think and make a lot of money?), and that there are no cancer deaths in Israel. Why don’t those claiming this “fact” do a little research and check Israel’s rankings in cancer death statistics?
The lack of fact-checking practice, which should become a routine, does not just make people stubborn, inspired by ignorance. It also results in serious material damage. One of the most popular hypotheses of the pandemic period is the confident assertion of a connection between 5G and the spread of the pandemic. This claim has turned ignorant stubborn people into ignorant pests. In some countries, 5G stations were attacked and set on fire by barbarians. In others, governments spent extra funds to tighten security at those stations.
What and who is the source of this claim? Is it based on any scientific research? Are there reports of reputable organizations on the subject? The claim was first made by Kris Van Kerckhoven, an ordinary Belgian doctor, in the Belgian newspaper Het Laatste Nieuws. Chris is also the co-author of a book on natural remedies, such as love, dance, and laughter. The popularization of the book, albeit with such a ridiculous claim, has certainly boosted the sales.
In the 21st century, when any claim can be easily put into circulation, it is difficult to find time to refute all of them individually. Young citizens especially need to develop the skills of skeptical thinking, fact-checking, scientific literacy in order to be able to draw their own conclusions and decide whether something is correct or not, rather than being deceived by incompetent charlatans. Wouldn’t someone who believes in the connection between 5G and the pandemic just as easily believe a scammer who claims to have eradicated an infection with online hypnotherapy? (There is such a scammer, and the press is supportive of him as he promotes his “method” of treatment.)
Scientific literacy disrupts the plants of incompetent, unscrupulous, illiterate scammers who want status and easy income and creates a sense of intellectual pride. Only then can we focus on real problems instead of pseudo-problems and commit resources to solving real urgent problems, rather than filling the pockets of frauds.
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