A generation of melomaniacs who grew up in the 2000’s gulped a bitter reality the day Chester Bennington was found dead in his house – the beacon of hope for many battling depression, dejection, or hopelessness in general, had surrendered to the ultimate dread of his fans. The coroner confirmed the death to have been caused by hanging, and ruled out any possibility of foul play.
In a harrowing time like this one would expect Linkin Park’s frontman’s sea of followers to pray, hold memorial services, post page-long testimonials on social media about how Chester’s lyrics had unveiled their plight when they couldn’t express it in words themselves, or just spend the entire day listening to Linkin Park albums front to back and back to front. That would be the normal thing to do.
But normal is boring, right? Rely on a particular category of people to see any event – be it tragic or ecstatic – as a reason to put on their Sherlock-hat and dig deeper for the real reason behind a turn of events. Since the countdown had begun for conspiracy theorists to produce an alternate explananation for the musician’s death, time wasn’t wasted and the very next day came up with allegations of suspected murder. The reasoning goes such – Bennington was a close friend of Chris Cornell (another renowned musician) who too committed suicide on 18th of May this year, and was about to reveal the actual cause of his demise when he was tactfully killed. I didn’t have the stamina to Google what this other actual reason was.
As ridiculous as you would say my next statement is, it is true – despite knowing these claims may very well be baloney, we would love to believe it’s true. Perhaps only to spice up the mundane and linear line-up of supporting evidence we are served.
What makes conspiracy theories – be it aliens being the original architects of Egyptian pyramids or Saddam Hussein having been in possession of a stargate – so enticing?
Christopher French, a professor of psychology at Goldsmiths, University of London, explains: “As a species, one of our greatest strengths is our ability to find meaningful patterns in the world around us and to make causal inferences. We sometimes, however, see patterns and causal connections that are not there, especially when we feel that events are beyond our control.”
The attractiveness of conspiracy theories may arise from a number of cognitive biases, and “Confirmation bias” is the most pervasive cognitive bias and a powerful driver of belief in conspiracies. We all have a natural inclination to give more weight to evidence that supports what we already believe and ignore evidence that contradicts our beliefs. Chester worded chartbusters that appealed to the masses in its ability to express the abysmal chaotic internal conflicts his listeners would never have been able to understand or explain on their own. Surely the man weilding the pen would know how to deal with these emotions himself. Surely he knew a way out the distress. It’s difficult for fans to believe that the artist who rescued them could ultimately end up being a victim himself and bring about his own destruction.
Chester Bennington performing “Numb” in a live concert
Another relevant cognitive bias is “projection.” People who endorse conspiracy theories are more likely to engage in conspiratorial behaviours themselves, such as spreading rumours or tending to be suspicious of others’ motives.
On a parallel note, people who are strongly inclined toward conspiratorial thinking will be more likely to endorse mutually contradictory theories. For example, if you believe that Osama bin Laden was killed many years before the American government officially announced his death, you are also more likely to believe that he is still alive.
We are a product of a world that thrives on deception, scams, espionage – the fact that we are not satisfied with what authorities tell us to be true can be seen as an evolutionary defence mechanism. We know that the first row of packaged food on a rack in a supermarket are always the ones nearest to the expiry date. We are aware that the salesperson at the mall will oversell a mediocre apparel just to clear the unsold stock.
Like a pathogen, our system rejects the first “official report” of any major event (election results, a high profile death, a major heist, etc) that is made public, especially if it does not suit our taste. We put them in a box with a label that reads in capitals “ COVER-UPS”.
Perhaps thats why, even today, Scoody Doo remains one of our favourite cartoons.
-by Zaiceka Ahmed