It’s important to realize something about the fringe of any movement: they’re not connected to issues the same way most people are.
For example, if you asked what the defining issues in American politics are to a more reasonable person, you’d probably get an answer like “big versus small government,” or “the culture wars/abortion” or something like that.
People who believe the government takes the census because they plan to put us in camps (yes, that is an elected representative saying that. “Disgrace” does not begin to describe this) cannot really articulate how people approach a sense of value, I suspect. They’re clueless about what “standing for something” means – they only know how to be paranoid and suspicious of everyone and everything else. They treat what is good as “obvious,” but if you watch closely, what is “obvious” for them can shift dramatically in a matter of seconds.
In short: it looks like they’re moral only because they’re fearful. The truth is that they’re amoral, given that they can’t see other people have values that have to be taken seriously. They can’t even see what values they themselves have that might have to be taken seriously. The reason why they’re amoral is that one can’t make moral decisions and be entirely unreasonable: to do this is to only be superstitious, not religious.
Now I know this sounds strange because as a way of analyzing things, I take the proposition that our attachment to law is much more of a passion for the ancestral than anything approaching reason (cf. “Is Politics Reducible to Rhetoric?”). I also hold that religion and reason do indeed divide sharply: the former is so practical that it can entirely abandon prudence for the sake of telling someone what one has to do immediately and exactly. The latter gets so theoretical that a proper concern of it can be “are the beings numbers?”
So can we bridge this gap, or do I have to contradict myself openly here?
I think the answer is actually pretty simple – people who are into conspiracy theory act like they know everything: they’re not acting like human beings. They have their hands on some greater truth that none of us know, and we need to be convinced of. Any real person is some combination of reason and passion, and “rational” should be able to win out in “rational animal” at key points.
The “not acting like a human being” line of thought seems to explain the strangest thing about people who are immersed in conspiracy theory: many of the ones I know personally are very, very religious, and take the authority of individuals in their Church more seriously than anything else. But I know there are ultra-nationalists of all sorts who “think” the same way, plenty of anarcho-libertarians and anarcho-socialists, Communists (yes. real ones), atheists who make a point of shouting their atheism loud and proud, many Progressives who are always fighting a “system” and speaking “truth to power,” etc. It’s very difficult to unite these groups because on paper, it looks like all of them have different reasons for believing junk like “9/11 was an inside job.”
But the more pressing reality is that they talk the same way, act the same way, and are sensitive to the same insane things. And there’s almost never a limit on how low they can go except their own fear, which is not a sense of shame. They’re united by the fear that someone else has control over them, so much so that they willingly subjugate themselves to a cause where some think superficially the same. I guess that last idea may explain why we’re not overtly repulsed by their inability to be moral – they didn’t make a conscious decision to be moral or immoral, they just don’t know how any of this works. They get their hands on what they think is the truth and expect the world to conform to it. When the world doesn’t, their “truth” tends to change, and most certainly also their grip on reality.