May 31—What if I told you that nearly 2 in 10 American adults believe pigs actually fly?
How about 15% believe in the Tooth Fairy?
Or that the same percentage is certain that The Joker (Batman's nemesis) really exists?
"Preposterous!" you'd say. "No sane person believes in such fantasies!"
Or how about this even more outlandish notion?
Fifteen percent believe that the government, media and financial worlds in the U.S. are controlled by a group of Satan-worshipping pedophiles who run a global child sex trafficking operation.
"Ludicrous!" you'd exclaim. "Nobody would believe such an outrageous lie!"
Au contraire, mon ami!
A survey taken in March by the Public Religion Research Institute, "a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to conducting independent research at the intersection of religion, culture, and public policy," found that a full 15% believe in this preposterous idea.
That's about 37 million believers.
The survey took a random sample of 5,149 adults in all 50 states and an additional 476 who were recruited to increase the participation of those living in smaller states. Interviews were conducted online during March.
So if you're in a room of 100 adults, look around you and try to grasp the fact that, on average, 15 of your roommates would believe in the Satan-worshipper theory.
That's more than the number, on average, in the room who would be left-handed (10), red-headed (2) or over six-feet tall (8).
Meanwhile, there would generally be no one in the room who suffers from delusional disorder, which occurs in just 0.2% of adults.
So how do you explain that 15 of your roomies would ascribe to the outrageous, outlandish, ludicrous, inane, unhinged theory based on the idea that a cabal of Satan-worshipping pedophiles rule the world?
In an interview posted on the website of the American Psychological Association, Dr. Karen Douglas, a psychologist with the University of Kent in Canterbury, England, gives it a shot.
"As far back as we can remember," Douglas says, "people have been having these conspiracy beliefs and having these suspicions about the actions of hostile collectives of individuals. This is just the way that we are wired up to some degree."
But, really! It's one thing to believe that Lee Harvey Oswald didn't shoot John F. Kennedy. It's quite another to imagine a vast underground of pedophiles conspiring to dictate world conditions.
The scenario, of course, is based on the vast and complex web of conspiracy theories that form the QAnon movement, which first proliferated online in 2017 and has grown exponentially in adherents.
Former President Donald Trump, according to QAnon, is the chosen one to save the U.S. from the cabal of Satan worshippers. (That seems pretty preposterous, too!)
Trump, famously, has consistently declined to discredit QAnon.
Some will blindly follow the former president to any dark psychological corner. Others, it seems, reason that the more outrageous a conspiracy theory is, the more believable. In other words, it sounds too crazy to not be true.
But don't listen to me; listen to someone who has studied the human mind and conspiracy theories.
"This is quite a common rhetorical tool that people use when they talk about conspiracy theories, that everybody else is some kind of sheep, but that they know the truth," Dr. Douglas says.
"Having that kind of belief ... that you're in possession of information that other people don't have, can give you a feeling of superiority over others.
"People who have an overinflated sense of the importance of the groups that they belong to, but at the same time, the feeling that those groups are underappreciated .... draw people towards conspiracy theories. ...
"In having those sorts of beliefs, you can maintain the idea that your group is good and moral and upstanding, whereas others are the evil doers out there who are trying to ruin it for everybody else."
In other words, to QAnon believers the other 85% of us are ignorant fools.
To which I say: Watch out for those flying pigs!
Editor Scott Underwood's column is published Mondays in The Herald Bulletin. Contact him at email@example.com or 765-640-4845.