Conspiracy theories have moved from being a taboo issue to a heated issue.
This is a very important distinction:
- Taboo issues are ones you can’t talk about.
- Heated issues are ones people heatedly debate.
- Taboo issue: female sexual abusers
- Heated issue: abortion
People lose friends over hot button issues.
For example, on abortion, some people can’t be friends with someone if they support “murdering a baby” or “controlling women’s bodies.”
However, people do talk about those issues.
Prior to coronavirus lockdowns, people reacted to conspiracy theories the way people react to a taboo – uncomfortably changing the topic or dismissing the conversation entirely.
Now they heatedly debate the evidence. Big shift.
What This Change Means
Although the major focus of the heated conspiracy debates has been coronavirus and lockdowns, this trend extends even to conspiracies unrelated to the virus. Regardless of your perspective on conspiracy theories, this is a major social shift that has implications for other issues. The point of this post is not to take a side on any particular theory, but note the change in discourse.
The way people handle hot button issues is different, even if it looks similar.
Conspiracy theories are way more popular than anyone in the mainstream wants to admit. Just look at the numbers that recent conspiracy documentaries are drawing. This is not “fringe,” but as mainstream as any other special interest or identity group.
The nature of taboos is that they can keep very common from public discussion or connection. For example, think about how being gay was treated in previous eras. Although common throughout history, the taboo prevented those who were from connecting around their shared identity. Many gay writers describe feeling like they were the “only one” who felt the way they did, only to later learn there were many more like them than they could have imagined. Once the taboo was lifted, those who shared that identity become a social force.
Similarly, as the taboo around conspiracy theories lifts, there may be a lot of questions that become okay to ask in public – even if some still react the way a pro-choice person might react if you asked “why do you support murdering babies” or a pro-life person might react if you asked, “why do you want to enslave women’s bodies?”
You can see this trend even in corporate media. Large media companies aren’t ignoring the massive views conspiracy material is getting. Instead, they are writing “debunking” articles and debating the claims of these theories. This is the way you handle a heated issue, not a taboo. Heated issues are argued, taboos are ignored or assumed bad from the premise of the articles that do acknowledge them.
Now, the debate is here.
For more recent writing on conspiracy narratives check out:
And subscribe to my email list here.