Staunton, Sept. 3 – Conspiracy thinking is a universal “weapon of the weak,” an effort by such people to explain a complex world in simple terms, Ilya Yablokov says. It becomes dangerous when elites use it to keep the population under control, a phenomenon deeply embedded in Russian reality but found elsewhere as in the US now.
The Russian scholar at Sheffield University is the author of Fortress Russia: Conspiracy Theories in Post-Soviet Russia (Cambridge, 2018), which was translated into Russian in 2020. In a new interview, he stresses that conspiracy thinking in Russia typically comes from top down while in the US it “traditionally” comes from the bottom up (svoboda.org/a/iljya-yablokov-konspirologiya-eto-oruzhie-slabyh-/32575555.html).
Among his many important insights are the following: Yablokov argues that the covid pandemic convinced the Kremlin that on the basis of their conspiracy beliefs, people are willing to accept even death rather than have their beliefs challenged by science, an attitude that helped propel Russia to war in Ukraine.
Further, he argues, even those Russians who do not fully accept conspiracy theories are prepared to go along with them rather than challenge them openly. What that means is that they are hostages to ideas that they do not fully support. Thus, in the case of the war in Ukraine, only perhaps one in four Russians fully accepts the Kremlin’s explanation, but far more go along.
With the suppression of domestic opposition media, there is a very serious chance that after a few years, the situation will get worse even if there is opposition media based abroad, Yablokov says. Such media will inevitably lose touch with the population and decline inn influence.
And perhaps most important, the UK-based Russian scholar makes the following observation: “Today, conspiracy thinking is not simply a weapon of the weak as is usually the case because it helps acquire strength through sacred knowledge about how the world in fact works.”
“Today,” he continues, it is “the only means in any harsh authoritarian regime to acquire a certain unified view about how the world works, an integrated worldview if you like.” And that is something many Russians and many others as well are not able to live without.