Conspiracy theories in full swing

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Conspiracy theories in full swing

The author is a political news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

Conspiracy theories are often fascinating. When the cause and background of an incident are not clear, some want to believe there is some power or secret organization behind it. When first encountering of a conspiracy theory, one may say out loud, “It doesn’t make sense,” but think inside, “You never know.” Anyone would be intrigued by claims that the U.S. government intervened in the Sept. 11 terror attacks or that the Apollo 11 landing on the moon was staged.

Most of these conspiracy theories are fabricated based on some likelihood, combined with presumptions and a jump in logic. It uses human psychology that wants to believe incidents don’t happen by chance but rather have backgrounds and objectives.

When a political enemy is pointed out as the cause of an incident, the conspiracy theory serves a factional ideology. Notable examples are the rumor of “human sacrifice” spread among some progressive groups at the time of the 2014 Sewol ferry tragedy and the “struck a rock” and “submarine collision” theories at the time of the 2010 attack of the Cheonan warship. In the post-truth age of “I am right, you are wrong,” the rumors turn politics into a religion. It has become hard to agree on truth. Noam Chomsky, an honorary professor at MIT, said that conspiracy theories are the intellectual swear words offered by people who want to interrupt others trying to learn more about the world.

However, in the process of verifying conspiracy theories, the truth sometimes gains sustenance. In the process of refuting the claims of conspiracy theorists, the claim that the Cheonan sinking was caused by a North Korean torpedo attack was repeatedly affirmed. In the case of the National Intelligence Service’s public opinion manipulation case, many people initially accepted it as a “conspiracy theory of political maneuvering,” but it was revealed that there was an organized manipulation of public opinion between 2009 and 2012. The process of seeking the truth is not in vain even if it takes time and effort.

After a Democratic Party lawmaker on Nov. 7 claimed that the Itaewon disaster may have been caused by the police engrossed with waging a war on drugs, Justice Minister Han Dong-hoon called him a “professional conspiracy theorist,” but was met with strong backlash. I hope Han will be more serious about calling something a conspiracy theory. It is the people, not Han himself, who judge whether something is really a conspiracy theory or not.
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