Paranoia and Conspiracy Theories

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Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. was in private practice for more than thirty years. He is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the states ...Read More

The conspiracy theories are many and weird. For example, all of us have heard about the government cover up of visits by extra terrestrial beings to planet earth. Some people claim to have seen flying saucers in the sky while yet others claim to have been kidnapped by these beings, brought to their saucer and submitted to intrusive physical examinations.

One of the more painful theories is that the murder of 18 children in the New town massacre was committed by the government to give them an excuse to take guns away from Americans. In fact, some conspiracists assert that the massacre never occurred. They insist that it was a media event created toward the same goal of taking our guns away.


The horrific 9/11/01 attacks on the World Trade Center have also been blamed on the government as a way to get us into war in Iraq. Another version of this plot is that the Israelis attacked the World Trade Center in order to blame it on the Arabs.

One last example of these theories is that the United States never did land on the moon and that the entire thing was a charade to fool the world during the Cold War.

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The list of these theories can go on for some time.

What are the reasons for these beliefs in plots and why do they all involve government cover-ups?

Psychologists have been speculating for some time about this.

First, it’s important to say that conspiracies do happen. In fact, there is a kernel of truth or possibility behind all of these theories. Perhaps that is the reason why so many Americans believe in these theories. Given the national feeling of suspicion towards government at this time, it becomes understandable that there would be a tendency to believe in these conspiracies. Whether it’s the damage Richard Nixon did in our ability to trust government or Ronald Reagan’s assertion that “Government is the problem,” or a cultural aspect of American life that has always distrusted authority, we have an immediate tendency to believe that the government is up to no good.

Then, too, psychopathology is involved in the process of weaving these theories. Psychologists state that those whose personalities tend to be authoritarian are more likely to believe in conspiracies. In need of a sense of control over events, conspiracies provide them with an explanation for those events over which they cannot exert control.

It is also thought that the process of finding conspiracies behind these events is due to a strong sense of individualism. Individualists, if they feel that their independence is threatened find dark forces behind that are threatening to rob them of their freedom. That is why we hear the anti gun control people state that even having back ground checks would result in the government having lists of gun owners who could then be pursued later on, when the government want to remove those guns. In this, there is a sinister belief that the government is all powerful, all controlling and about to swoop down on all of us in order to enslave the American people. That is quite paranoid thinking.

All of this is happening as America tries to function in a world that seems increasingly chaotic and war-like. It will be important for all of us to hold onto some kind of objective way of thinking and not get swept into the paranoia. Remember, we have a democratically elected government. The next presidential elections, as of the writing of this article, will be in 2016 with important congressional elections coming in 2014. It’s important to fight paranoid thinking by reminding ourselves that all we have to do is vote.

Your comments and questions are encouraged.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD

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