We assume conspiracy in many cases where there isn’t one. But it doesn’t have to be a conspiracy to work in much the same way.
Conspiracy theories are attractive because they play into many of the biases we have. The world’s a complex place, and it is disconcerting to believe events are occurring randomly. Believing that somebody is in control is comforting. And it helps to provide a narrative that explains everything that’s going on.
Conspiracy theory is highly robust to facts. If evidence emerges that there may be some conspiring behind what’s going on, then that just strengthens the theory. But evidence to the contrary can be dismissed as biased, or part of a coverup, also strengthening the conspiracy theory. And chaos or confusion just make these theories seem more plausible. In many ways, conspiracy theories are antifragile.
Almost all of us are prone to believing some conspiracy or another. Just some floating around in the political climate: Trump and Russia, the Deep State, media collusion, white supremacy, white genocide, George Soros, Goldman Sachs, the Koch brothers, and dozens of others. As outrage culture increases in virulence, and the Overton window is bust open, the incidence of such theories in the public sphere continues to grow.
Memetics & Meme-Driven Behavior
The memes we are exposed to drive our behavior. We are vehicles for the memes we carry. To grasp the concept, imagine taking a look at someone’s information diet. Who they follow on Twitter, what news channels they watch, what books they read, and so on. With this information, you’ll likely be able to predict how that person will react to a given situation, or what their opinion will be on a list of issues. Continued exposure creates the illusion of truth, and you’ll know what they perceive to be the truth.
We are driven to manifest the memes we’ve internalized. What you focus on defines your reality. So people who’ve been highly exposed to Second Amendment importance will fight, and vote, to protect those rights. People highly exposed to climate change memes will consider those a top priority. Certainly, we have a degree of freedom in choosing which information we are exposed to, to match our own preferences. But even then, our mind garden is seeded from birth with certain memes from the environment around us. It is extremely difficult to fully escape the memes we were raised with; and much easier to continue absorbing similar memes that build up the memeplex around those early structures.
It Doesn’t Have To Be A Conspiracy To Play Out Like One
Memetic congruence can create conditions that look like a conspiracy where none exists. A typical conspiracy theory assumes something like backroom dealing, or at least coordination between agents. The very definition requires a secret plan or plotting of some sort.
Meme-driven behavior means no coordination is necessary. If all agents have been exposed to the same memes, they will act the same way, assuming they’ve internalized them to the same degree. For example: conservatives concerned about Islamic terrorism often rail against the way the media will refuse to immediately label terrorist attacks as Islamic, even when they’re obviously committed by jihadis. This often extends to accusations of media collusion towards this end. But it’s far more likely that these outlets, and their employees, share memeplexes that make such labeling unpalatable.
Plans don’t need to be hatched in back rooms if the behavioral path is already set. Strong memeplexes make behavioral responses predictable. Dyed-in-the-wool conservatives will oppose abortion, support gun rights, and oppose tax increases almost no matter what. Bleeding-heart liberals will support redistribution, oppose gun rights, and support abortion almost no matter what. In cases where masses of conservatives and liberals act in this way, particularly those in power, there is no conspiracy. But it can certainly look like one.
Take this beyond simple and reductive political platforms, and you can explain many conspiracy theories. They come down to people acting in their own best interests, or the best interests of their memeplexes. Memes can drive us to act in seemingly unnatural ways.
This is why memetics is so important. Control of the meme pool, and the memeplexes we build up, can coordinate large-scale action that looks like a conspiracy, even when it isn’t. Information is power.
There’s no substantive difference between, say, Nike and Asics shoes. But the former vastly outsell the latter. There’s no conspiracy here – just great marketing by Nike, and lackluster marketing by Asics.
Hence the battles for ideological control of institutions like media outlets and universities. Those coming out of Ivy League schools will, in the main, share the same memeplexes. They’ll get into positions of power and act in the interests of those memeplexes. And it will look like a conspiracy, when it’s really entirely predictable meme-driven behavior.