It’s hardly surprising that conspiracies began circulating as soon as Jeffrey Epstein was found dead of apparent suicide in a Manhattan prison one morning in August. Epstein, the wealthy and well-connected financier charged with multiple counts of sex trafficking, probably had dirt on the Clintons, the thinking went. They probably had something to do with his death.

The story swirled on Twitter with an assist from President Donald Trump, who himself retweeted it. That it was one of the easier false claims of today to debunk made no difference. “Conspiracy theories aren’t fueled by facts,” Washington Post reporter Abby Ohlheiser wrote at the time. “They are fueled by attention.”

Seeing the world through the lens of a conspiracy fosters a sense of empowerment that can be intoxicating. It is not difficult to understand the emotional power of believing that we’ve cracked a secret society, that we see the “deep state” for what it is, controlling our government and all. It’s why I can understand how, as polls suggest, most Russian citizens don’t believe America ever went to the moon. I can even make sense of that old-turned-new plot that has caused some Americans to question the roundness of the earth. The ideas have a veneer of “reasonableness.”

Conspiracy theories have probably been around as long as humans have been reasoning. But they are seemingly spreading faster as postmodernism has lapsed into what some philosophers now call “supermodernism.” Supermodernism is a result of information inundation. It’s signaled by folks who give up on questions about what is true and who has the right to tell the correct master narrative. Because ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

Issue: