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Why Do Smart People Believe Such Dumb Things?

In my formative years, I was subjected to a wide variety of spiritual and political leaders who told me, in no uncertain terms, that there were literal Satanists behind almost every element of pop culture that surrounded me. Now, we can have a discussion about what the “T” in “TULIP Calvinism” stands for at a later date, but one of the reasons why this idea seemed plausible is that it dovetailed nicely with the Christian idea of a fallen world of sin. Satanism, outright worship of the devil, is just an amplified version of what is commonly held to be true inside of conservative theological circles.

This made it easy to go beyond what is easily observable to almost everyone (this world is screwed up, and ruled by the Second Law Of Thermodynamics) and swan-dive into the realms of conspiracy theories and evil forces working behind the scenes to further their evil goals. For the record, I never really bought into it. Conspiracy theories demand a level of competence that far exceeds what most people are capable of achieving. It’s fun to empower yourself by saying “Ah-ha! I figured out their dastardly plan!,” but the fact of the matter is, there are no evil geniuses, just greedy people trying to be slightly more venial than those around them.

Pause, and pick up everything I just said, and place it on to the gun control movement.

We are told that the NRA* is behind America’s desire to own firearms. We are told that the gun lobby wants little children to be shot on the streets. We are told that it’s a vast conspiracy of dark money and white supremacists and for all I know, the John Birch Society who stand in the way of banning assault rifles and Doing Something About Gun Violence.

But what if that’s not true? What if this dark conspiracy is as real as the McMartin preschool conspiracy? What happens then?

All of a sudden, the Evil Gun Lobby turns into your neighbor who is worried about getting mugged, and went and got her concealed carry permit. It’s your co-worker who likes to shoot USPSA on the weekends. It’s the guy you know who spent a weekend going hog hunting with an AR-15. Rather than some dark, malicious, omnipresent phantom walking the Earth, seeking whom it might devour, you’ll find out that gun owners are people who accept the responsibility of being their own first responder, and are taking reasonable, prudent steps to keep themselves and their loved ones safe from harm.

Conspiracies are fun. They feed our desire for empowerment. Reality, on the other hand, can be even more empowering.


* Yes, I know, I work for them. A few minutes with Google will tell you that for literally decades, I have been derisive of the notion that the NRA is an top-down lobbying group. It is, instead, a bottom-up group, something that the leaders of the gun control movement either cannot or will not understand.