Therefore, we tend to reject theories and rumors -- and facts and truths -- that challenge our worldview and embrace those that affirm it. Knapp’s 1944 thesis that rumors “express and gratify the emotional needs” of communities during periods of social duress.
It’s easy to assume that lack of education is the culprit when it comes to people believing rumors against logic and evidence -- for instance, that Barack Obama, whose mother was an American citizen and whose state of birth has repeatedly said his birth records are in good order, isn’t a legitimate American citizen. They arise, in his view, to “express in simple and rationalized terms the uncertainties and hostilities which so many feel.”If, on the one hand, you think you should blame rumor-mongers and rumor believers for not doing their homework, you can, on the other hand, give them credit for striving pretty hard to explain phenomena they find threatening.
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I applaud the effort, but I’d prefer to do away with the insecurity and uncertainty that feed wacko theories and rumors in the first place.
A modicum of stability, a fair and functioning economy and polity -- those have to be what we strive for.
Over the last few months, a lot of writers have dusted off Richard Hofstadter’s classic 1964 essay on the paranoid style in American politics just so they can explain away the loony rumors and conspiracy theories coming from the far right.
But no amount of intellectual condescension is going to make those powerful untruths go away.