The Political Benefits Of Conspiracy Theories.
There is a good article in Budapest Times by Péter Krekó, Jobbik needs Jews to run the world.
Krekó draws out themes which are not just confined to the Far Right in Hungary, but find resonance in Britain and elsewhere across the political spectrum:
“Psychological & political ‘benefit’ of conspiracy theories
Conspiracy theories enjoy immense popularity. Virtually all communities (in Western and Eastern societies alike) have their own well-established ones. In the United States, for example, 75-80 per cent of the population believes that the official version of the Kennedy murder, the “lone killer” theory, does not fit the truth. Sixty-two per cent of Americans believe that the Bush government had prior knowledge of the September 11 terrorist attacks but deliberately kept quiet about it. A third of Brits are convinced the accident that killed Princess Diana was in fact an assassination. Almost 80 per cent of the populations of certain Muslim countries think that the governments of Israel and the United States carried out the September 11 attacks rather than a group of Arabs.
Research here in Hungary also indicates the widespread popularity of conspiracy theories. According to a representative survey carried out together with Medián at the end of 2009 based on our questions, more than two-thirds of those canvassed agreed with the statement that “we never find out the truth from the media and the news, and everything important happens behind the scenes”, and half agreed that “during the crisis powerful financial circles joined forces to destroy Hungary’s economy in an effort to colonise the country”. Eighty-eight per cent of the respondents agreed with at least one of five conspiracy theories, while 23 per cent agreed with all. Some research suggests that conspiracy theories have a strong subconscious effect on our way of thinking: although they exert a powerful influence on us, we delude ourselves that we ourselves are immune.
Conspiracy theories comfort
What explains the extraordinary appeal of conspiracy theories? Their chief psychological benefit is that they provide psychologically comforting explanations for unexpected and shocking events that are otherwise difficult to explain. It is not coincidental that such theories thrive following crises, natural disasters and assassinations. Conspiracy theories are capable of explaining an incredibly broad sphere of phenomena based on very little and can be applied to many new events. Psychologically they are comforting because they help to distinguish between good and evil and project responsibility onto a named enemy, as well as providing an outlet for hostile feelings.
Conspiracy theories allow us to continue to believe that the world is essentially just. If people living in Arab countries take the view that the governments of Israel and the United States carried out the September 11 attacks, then they can avoid facing up to the problem of Islamic fundamentalism burdening their own communities. If a group of conspirators (MI6, Mosad etc.) was behind Diana’s death, then we can escape the upsetting thought that the death of a wonderful person can be caused by something as banal as a drunk driver.
The social psychological benefit of conspiracy theories extends even beyond that: they help to explain adverse social events, reconstruct the past and predict future events, call attention to threats to our own group, spur the members of our own group to collective defence, and provide ostensible moral justification for cruelty and violence towards external groups.
The Jews, of course!
The villains in modern world conspiracy theories typically realise their plots with the cool rationality of “homo economicus”, taking advantage of modern institutions and the latest technology. However, conspiracy stereotypes connected to Jews can be regarded partly as an archaic, collective legacy of the historic past. Conspiracy theories about Jews sprang up in the Middle Ages, in a different form to those of today and embedded in a different, magical-transcendent world view.
They were blamed, for example, for the destruction of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem in 1009 and the Rome earthquake of 1020. Jews were also held responsible for the famine that struck Europe in the 14th century, leading to repeated pogroms on French soil. Some people even ascribed the plague that claimed the lives of almost a third of the population of Europe to a Jewish conspiracy designed to wipe out Christian communities despite the fact that the Jews were also among its victims.
Social fears and emotional unrest are fertile ground for the manufacturing of conspiracy theories, with Jews frequently becoming the targets of collective scapegoating.
I think that, in the 21st century, we tend to underestimate the extent and nature of scapegoating. How it has mutated and evolved, taken on new plots (for example, the supposed five dancing Israelis or the organ libel), yet the primary target for that scapegoating hasn’t changed much, it is Jews, and that is where Péter Krekó came in.