Hofstader's essay has never been more relevant, but this passage in particular caught my eye:
... the idea of the paranoid style as a force in politics would have little contemporary relevance or historical value if it were applied only to men with profoundly disturbed minds. It is the use of paranoid modes of expression by more or less normal people that makes the phenomenon significant.
Most people are not malicious or paranoid, but that also means they are not judiciously skeptical either. They are not in the habit of testing their own understandings of things, as a defense against the fact that (to slightly misquote Feynman) it's the easiest thing in the world to deceive yourself.
A friend of mine and I were talking about the mindset that is drawn to conspiracy theories. He cited a discussion from the Adam Ruins Everything podcast, where they had a researcher on the subject who compared conspiracy theories to junk food. "They're often a source of relief and control for people who believe them," my friend explained, "absolving them of responsibility, explaining their lack of personal agency. But that initial relief turns poisonous through overconsumption. It's not that conspiracy theorists are crazy or stupid; they're often quite the opposite. It's that they're hurting in a way they don't understand and living in a society that doesn't help people cope with emotional pain." The way I put it was, they didn't think themselves into this corner, therefore they can't be thunk out of it.
My extension to all this was: Most of the folks who seem to be deepest in conspiracy-theory talk are folks for whom society has not provided with good mechanisms for coping with feelings of powerlessness and helplessness. Many of them tend to be angry white guys, the one segment of society that tends to be worst equipped to deal with feeling left out. It doesn't matter if they actually are; what matters is they feel that way. Most men aren't in the business of looking for ways to deal with those kind of intimate emotional agonies, and society hasn't traditionally afforded them a great many socially acceptable avenues for dealing with them. So they latch onto something that explains away their pain by making it all someone else's fault.
Something else I've noticed is that these feelings of powerlessness don't necessarily correspond to any actual lack of power. You have people who have all the money and influence in the world who feel this way. As Robert Lindner once put it, proletarianism is primarily a matter of attitude. If you don't feel like you're in control, no amount of actual power will suffice.
It sure explains why some people who have no apparent need to believe in conspiracy-theory nonsense indulge in it. From it they draw an emotional strength not provided for them by much else in the world. It bestows upon them a feeling of how things can be comprehensible and manageable. It is a perverted implementation of Václav Havel's concept of hope as not the feeling that things will all eventually turn out okay, but that the idea that things will all eventually make sense.
New York City
Other Lives Of The Mind