Is patriarchy a conspiracy theory?

"Conspiracy theories? As if you have lost someone to a sect »

The psychoanalyst and satirist Peter Schneider has a clear stance on conspiracy theories in times of Corona. But how do you deal with people who threaten to drift in an extreme direction?

Mr. Schneider, it seems that since the corona pandemic broke out,numerous new conspiracy theories are circulating. True or not?

True. Although I cannot judge how numerous the new ones really are. These theories are often set pieces of old conspiracy theories and new elements. Not all of them are as easy to distinguish from one another as “9/11 was an inside job” and the theory of the reptilians.

What is the reason some people are currently more receptive to conspiracy theories?

About the person: Peter Schneider

Peter Schneider studied philosophy, German and psychology. The 62-year-old lives and works in Zurich as a psychoanalyst. He was a private lecturer in psychoanalysis and professor for developmental and educational psychology at the University of Bremen. For many years, Peter Schneider has also worked as a satirist (SRF3 and SonntagsZeitung) and columnist (TagesAnzeiger and Bund). He is also the author of numerous books.

Many say the reason lies in the fears and uncertainty caused by the pandemic. That is certainly not wrong. But there is also a much simpler reason: Because something happened again that can be easily explained in terms of one or more conspiracy theories. If you were to play conspiracy theory bingo, in which you have to tell a story using randomly selected terms, then choosing Virus - China - Laboratory - Vaccination - Bill Gates - 5G would be a combination of wishes in which the conspiracy story virtually writes itself .

Corresponding videos on the net are sometimes clicked millions of times. From you too?

Yes. I am currently working on a lengthy essay on this subject, so I cannot avoid doing it. However, I can't stand such videos for too long, although I can understand their creepy fascination and they are sometimes highly entertaining. In a documentary about the dangers of cell phone antennas from «Western Wall TV» I almost pissed myself laughing. What struck me about this one post, however, is that it is shot in the same serious, threatening tone that characterizes many consumer magazines that discover a customer trap around every corner - only here it is particularly over-the-top. For example, when every imaginable illness is listed for what feels like ten minutes in the post, which is caused by cell phone antennas, and the moderator then adds another honesty and deadly serious «and many others» appends.

Are there population groups that are particularly prone to conspiracy theories?

At the so-called hygiene demos there is a colorful mix of people. Conspiracy theories are certainly very popular with the AfD, where resentment against the political elite is constantly being stoked. But also on the left (I mean the party) there are always conspiracy theorists. Anti-Semitism is itself a conspiracy theory, which is why anti-Semitic elements can be found in almost all conspiracy theories. On the one hand, education protects against conspiracy myths; On the other hand, there is also the type of engineer or doctor who uses scientific methods to prove why Corona is harmless or 5G deadly. Men are more likely to be on this track, while the esoteric conspiracy scene in the style of Christina von Dreien is more female. The problem is, on the one hand, it is difficult to say exactly what a conspiracy theory actually is, and on the other hand, different groups may be drawn to different conspiracy theories. And there is also soft conspiracy theory, which can be annoying crazy or almost originally funny.

In New York we once had a Greek taxi driver who wanted to explain to us who was to blame for everything, including the crucifixion of Jesus. At first I thought: Great, now we're driving halfway through the city with an anti-Semite ... But then it turned out that he blamed “the Greeks” for all the disaster. At least that was so original that I didn't even bother to refute it. Something like that can easily be dismissed as a quirk, and in this case it was completely unaggressive.

Have you already seen similar examples in Switzerland?

No. But nowhere else either.

A long-time friend, politically more left-wing, normally intelligent and otherwise a thoroughly pragmatic person, suddenly clings to abstruse conspiracy theories about the corona pandemic. She feels bullied by the Federal Council and claims that a totalitarian system is being set up in the wake of the Corona crisis and that basic rights are being curtailed.

She is obviously exaggerating a real problem. We were or are still being bullied. Some think this makes sense because it helps fight the pandemic and the state of control is only temporary. The others consider this to be grossly exaggerated, for the beginning of the end of democracy, or whatever, and bite into the scandal.

It almost seems to me that it could become the new philosophy of my acquaintances. How is something like this possible? Is it typical of the time?

It happens again and again; It is only typical of the time in so far as there is a good opportunity to do so at the moment, insofar as freedoms are actually limited and people like-minded for one's attitude can be found. In quieter times, with a theory that the reptilians from Middle-earth want to subjugate us all, you tend to be limited to a small circle of like-minded people on the Internet.

How should I deal with the fact that people I actually like form their own realities and answer scientific questions with “I don't think so”?

If it is not too bad and does not immediately become the central topic of every conversation, you can simply dismiss it and change the subject. Intensive discussions with proselytizing followers of anything are so unproductive because you simply cannot fight the jumble of numbers, facts, allegations, implications and so on. This requires an effort that no one can endure in the long run. Especially since no one has the encyclopedic education to evaluate all claims and, if necessary, to refute them. In addition, you want to have a relaxed chat with your friends or, if you like, have lively and controversial discussions - but not about any nonsense that doesn't interest you at all.

The tricky thing about conspiracy theories is that they always contain a few grams of probability and make their followers feel much smarter than the rest of humanity. This feeling then ensures that the few grams of probability become certainty.

As for the sciences, be careful not to let the shot go backwards. To the extent that those who, in their need against conspiracy theory, invoke "science" show a very simple understanding of science. They pretend science is a collection of true propositions that conspiracy theorists deny. This may be the way physics classes work in school, but not science. On the other hand, some conspiracy theories function like caricatures of scientific processes. Adorno once said, analogously: the bigger the nonsense, the more precise the test arrangement.

My current strategy in my personal environment is: I present my view of things fairly gently. But after one or two detours at the latest, I try to change the subject.

That seems extremely sensible to me. It is usually not the case that you yourself have the big picture. It's just that you know, according to the usual criteria for obtaining information, that the other person is telling nonsense - but in a very detailed way, knowledgeable in his own way and with excessive emphasis. You don't know better yourself, but one thing you do know: that we were not created or kidnapped by extraterrestrials and that the earth is not flat despite convincing calculations, even if we have great difficulty in proving the geometric counter-evidence. This gives rise to this specific kind of helplessness in the face of conspiracy theories: You can't beat the tank out of excessive information, out of facts, missionary zeal, figures, and experts.

And how do you change the subject in a friendly and determined manner when you are only arguing?

You probably have to say it explicitly. In a case where the conspiracy theory is clearly outlined. Then there are other issues. But some conspiracy theories also metastasize in all other possible areas, amalgamate with others, and also affect the everyday life of the person concerned. Then it's better not just to change the subject, but also to change the side of the street.

Do you also have people around you who have recently been following conspiracy theories?

Not that I know. But you never know.

And if, over time, the friends see a conspiracy everywhere behind it: Do you go into confrontation - and expose it to ridicule?

I don't believe in either. Friends shouldn't be exposed to ridicule anyway. It's just like having lost someone to a sect. You can't do much more than hope that the closed worldview will crack and open up again by itself. Often, however, one hopes in vain.

Or is it better to draw a line and end the friendship?

As a consequence, that usually happens automatically. Friendships need a certain everyday compatibility. And that is no longer the case when you see Angela Merkel on television and your friend a reptilian.

Have you ever "fallen for" a conspiracy theory?

As a twelve year old I was totally fascinated by Erich von Däniken.

Which theory by Herr von Däniken do you particularly like?

Does he have several? Stop the extraterrestrials that haunt archeology.

What does it take to cope well with the current time of crisis?

Patience and nerves.

Last question: will the corona pandemic fundamentally change our society?


The interview was conducted in writing.

These are the craziest plants in the world

These are the craziest plants in the world

Deadly poison: The miracle tree (Ricinus communis) with its fruits is considered to be the most poisonous plant on earth. The endosperm of the seeds is highly poisonous because it contains the toxic protein ricin. Ricin is one of the most potent naturally occurring toxins. If left untreated, death occurs through circulatory failure about 48 hours after poisoning. The wonder tree is native to East and West Africa

Image: iStock

Big, bigger, biggest: The giant sequoia (Sequoiadendron giganteum) in the western United States is the most massive or voluminous known creature in the world. The evergreen tree can be up to 95 meters high and have a trunk diameter of 17 meters.

Image: iStock

Climbing parasite: With a diameter of over one meter, the giant rafflesia (Rafflesia amoldi) forms the largest single flower. However, the gigantic bloom of the climbing plant only exists for a few days, then the red organ, which smells of carrion, disintegrates. A pile of black slime remains.

Image: iStock

Flowering with heating: When the flowering time approaches, the titanium arum undergoes an amazing transformation: its gigantic inflorescence shoots up to ten centimeters a day. And to attract insects for fertilization, the reproductive organ gives off a carrion odor and heats up to 36 degrees Celsius.

Image: Getty Images

Queen of the Andes: The giant bromeliad (Puya raimondii) is the world's largest bromeliad, more than ten meters high. It also has one of the largest inflorescences of any plant and is an endangered species native to the Andes mountains of Peru and Bolivia.

Image: iStock

Quite old: The giant eucalyptus (Eucalyptus regnans) grows as an evergreen tree that can reach an age of around 400 years. In preferred locations, it can reach heights of 65 meters in 50 years. It is considered to be the tallest deciduous tree in the world, possibly even the tallest tree at all. A specimen felled in 1872 was 132 meters high.

Image: iStock

Royal strength: The giant water lily Victoria is probably one of the most impressive plants on the blue planet. With up to three meters, it has the largest blade diameter. Discovered in 1840 by the botanist Richard Schomburgh, it was named after Queen Victoria. Many botanical gardens subsequently built their own Victoria houses.

Image: iStock

Pinnate leaves: The raphia palm is mainly native to tropical Africa. With a length of up to 25 meters, their leaves are considered to be the largest in the plant kingdom. They are not only very large, but also pinnate and stay on the plant after they die.

Image: iStock

Heavy fruits: The jackfruit tree (Artocarpus heterophyllus) is native to India. If you disregard breeding successes such as giant pumpkins and the like, it gets the heaviest fruits. They can weigh more than 30 kilograms.

Image: iStock

Over 4000 years old: In the Patriarch Grove in the White Mountains of California there are 17 specimens of the long-lived pine (Pinus longaeva) that are over 4000 years old. A tree whose age was determined to be 4700 years by counting the annual rings in a small drill core bears the name «Methuselah». (Archive image)

Image: iStock