I consider myself somewhat of a reformed conspiracy theorist. I think I have a valuable insight into the topic; not only because of the depth of research I’ve done into various theories, but because I think I understand the accompanying perspective/mindset in a unique way. No, I never committed to really wacky beliefs, but I certainly didn’t remain detached. I believed loosely in some form of shadow government and would speculate about all sorts of things like RFID tags and HAARP. The problem with such a mind state is the inconsistency. One day I could be quite convinced that fluoride had damaging effects on the pineal gland (the so-called Third Eye) and the next I’d be rationally skeptical of the very same theory. There’s undeniably clouded thinking involved, and for many, at least some level of mental illness. Unfortunately, this has led to “conspiracy” becoming a buzzword used to discredit and delegitimize, independent of analysis of validity of claims.
I think the central problem with how people dismiss conspiracy theories is throwing the baby out with the bathwater. We now seem to be fine with discarding large bodies of information with even the slightest hint of conjecture, presumption, or anything seemingly pseudoscientific. Heuristics are necessary, of course. I don’t expect people to listen to someone raving about ancient astronauts for hours on end. But I also think we need more patience when it comes to new hypotheses. For example, if you were to indiscriminately reject anything relating to perpetual motion, you might end up unwilling to effectively theorize or acclimate to new findings about time crystals. I don’t pretend to understand non-equilibrium matter and gauge invariance/symmetry, so I have no basis for repudiating speculation about how it relates to perpetual motion.
A less esoteric example relates to 9/11. Yes, it’s quite absurd to believe that the events of 9/11 were orchestrated by the Bilderberg group, or Freemasons, or the Illuminati or dozens of other “secretive” groups. Conjecturing and implicating groups in this way is irresponsible and should be discouraged. On the other hand, calling someone an idiot for showing skepticism regarding the collapse of WTC 7 is not productive. Sure, there might be abundant information now, but asking why it “looked like a controlled demolition” should not be met with outrage. Calling people crazy only drives them further away from rationality. Being dogmatic in your dismissal of conspiracy theories can even end up in fallacy.
If someone tells you Jim Morrison’s dad was responsible for the Gulf of Tonkin incident (a false flag operation) and you know nothing about it, I think an appropriate response might go something like “I don’t know anything about that, I’d have to look into it to be able to comment” or if it sounds a little far-fetched “I doubt that”. An inappropriate response would be an ad hominem attack on their character (ex. calling them a “crazy conspiracy theorist”).
If someone comes across sincere, reasonably dispassionate, and they’re willing to engage, hear them out for a minute or two. As much misinformation as there is, conspiracy theories are interesting, if only as fiction. The theories about Sumerian mythology stemming from Zecharia Sitchin are fascinating. Theories about Stonehenge and pyramids creating electromagnetic fields, theories about parapsychology from Dean Radin, or the multitude of ideas about Göbekli Tepe; these are all intriguing and amusing. Even if they’re talking about flat earth, moon landing, Bigfoot, and Area 51, they might have something interesting to say, despite their judgement errors. These people hold genuine beliefs, whether or not they are nonsense. The world is filled with people you disagree with, the best way to reconcile this is to hear them out, and insert reason where you can.