Home Concepts Decison Making & Problem Solving The Crises of Expertise and Belief: Sample Chapter

The Crises of Expertise and Belief: Sample Chapter

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Feeling out of control and powerless

Research by Benjamin Dow and associates (2023) shows convincingly that when people feel powerless or out of control, the likelihood that they will believe conspiracy theories is increased – especially when propagated by a convincing manipulative leader. As noted previously, people who feel unempowered are more likely to believe a leader who is emphatic and absolute (“Only I …” type language), versus a leader who is equivocal or more balanced.

For example, an environment like Covid 19, with the ambiguity of its origins, debate about its treatment and concerns about the risks of receiving the vaccine, leaders who base their language on scientific facts are more likely to be equivocal (we don’t have all the facts yet, and there are few absolutes). They are then perceived as less effective. This is despite the possibility that emphatic leaders are spewing total “Bullshit” (see the “Bullshit Receptivity Assessment” in a later chapter).

The notion that those who believe in conspiracy theories tend to support in autocratic and authoritarian leaders is bolstered by recent research by Papaioannou et all (2023):

(Our) study’s results bolstered the notion that feelings of political powerlessness might connect conspiracy beliefs with autocratic support. Those exposed to the conspiracy-rich text felt more politically powerless and showed greater endorsement of autocratic leadership.

Conspiracy believers feel powerless, especially in VUCA-Plus environments and seek out authoritarian “strongmen” (almost always men) that seem to share their beliefs and fears, but vociferously and unequivocally voice that they will save the day and make them feel safe. Unfortunately, some of these authoritarian strongmen leaders stoke and exaggerate these fears in order to entrench their leadership power and influence.

The Need for Chaos

Psychological research also describes a mindset amongst some groups of people that is described as “the need for chaos”. This is a concept that refers to the motivation or desire of some people to disrupt the existing social order, challenge the status quo, or create uncertainty and unpredictability. Some possible reasons for this need are:

  • A lack of control: Some people may feel frustrated with their lack of control, influence, or power in their personal or social contexts and resort to chaos as a way of expressing their discontent, anger, or resentment.
  • In-group identity: Some people connected with an in-group may use chaos as a means of asserting their identity, individuality, or uniqueness and to differentiate themselves from others or from the mainstream culture.
  • Curiosity: Some people may be curious about the consequences or outcomes of chaotic events and scenarios and want to explore or experiment with them.
  • Adaptation: Some people may have developed a high tolerance or preference for chaos due to their exposure to unstable, unpredictable, or violent environments in their childhood or adulthood and may find it difficult to cope with order, stability, or harmony.
  • Boredom: Some people may simply feel bored with their routine lives and seek excitement, novelty, or stimulation by creating or participating in chaotic situations.
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