I wrote this three part series several years ago but felt that it was not the right time to publish it. Time has passed so I’ll let you be the judge.
Warning: it’s got a bit of sarcasm… ok… a lot of sarcasm. If that’s the sort of thing that bothers you, please stop reading now. Otherwise, I trust it will be thought provoking and helpful.
CONSPIRACY THEORIES, PART I
You may have been duped by all those media reports on 9/11 about the “terrorist attacks” on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, but of course anyone with a brain knows that the US government organised the attacks in cooperation with Al-Qaeda.
Oh, and did you know that the world’s most powerful people are all part of an alien race of lizard people? Even Princess Diana said so (just before she was murdered)…
For some reason, conspiracy theories seem to breed in the human mind quicker than cockroaches in a city apartment. Of course, some conspiracy theories have been proven to be true and are widely acknowledged as such. And then there are lizard people.
A universal tendency
If conspiracy theories were limited to one religion, nationality, or socio-economic group, we might find some external reason for our attraction to these theories, but the facts are actually quite opposite.
Conspiracy theories seem to gain acceptance across the religious/non-religious spectrum; across educational barriers; across age ranges, political attitudes, and economic differences. In other words, it’s not just Christians, Anglo Saxons, poor, or right-wing people who are prone to conspiracy thinking. It’s a universal human trait.
Not only that, conspiracy thinking gains acceptance across all fields of study. There are conspiracy theories about history, theology, politics, science, technology, business, and just about every other area of human study and existence. In other words, the human tendency to create and believe conspiracy theories expresses itself in whatever we do. It’s universal.
But the fact that we humans have a universal problem which has universal expression doesn’t answer any questions. Actually, it raises more questions when we understand that humans are fundamentally depraved creatures.
Why are humans drawn to these theories? What drives this tendency toward conspiracy thinking? We’ll explore that at a future point. Right now, I just want to identify three traits that tend to characterise conspiracy theories.
Three traits of conspiracy theories
1) The first and key element in a conspiracy theory is that there tends to be repression of evidence.
You’ll hear a conspiracy theorist say things like “Of course we don’t have the documents. Why would the conspirators allow those to survive?” or “If you were part of a grand conspiracy, would you leave any evidence to incriminate you?”
These types of statements are just another way of saying “There is no proof. And that’s our proof!” Sounds stupid, doesn’t it? But this use of no evidence as evidence for a theory is modus operandi in conspiracy thinking.
2) Second, conspiracy thinking is generally based on limited and anecdotal testimony.
A quick look at any one of the many websites devoted to conspiracy theories will reveal pages and pages of detailed—though usually unprofessional—analysis of a few small pieces of evidence (a picture, a video clip, a sound clip, a written testimony, etc.). The only thing better than unprofessional analysis of the limited data is the analysis of a disenfranchised professional like “Dr. Conventional-Medicine-is-Evil” who is a “FULLY QUALIFIED MEDICAL DOCTOR” but who began to question the system after his daughter got the flu from another doctor’s child… blah blah blah.
At the end of the day, the person who gave the testimony is rarely available for elaboration (usually due to abduction by the responsible government agency, religious organisation, alien race, etc.) and often doesn’t even agree with the theory under discussion.
3) Finally, conspiracy thinking tends to view conspirators as extremely smart and extremely dumb at the same time (a corollary to this third rule is that those who believe conspiracy theories are extremely smart while of course those who are duped by the “official version” are extremely dumb).
This third characteristic is best illustrated by the government’s ability to keep their interactions with certain “unidentified flying objects” hidden from generations of citizens all the while being unable to keep said flying saucer from hovering in Granny Smith’s back yard long enough for her to snap a (grainy) photo.
Another illustration is a couple of NASA guys’ ability to con the whole world into believing they were on the moon while they were actually sipping Coke and telling jokes in a desert studio, all the while forgetting to check to see if the shadows were all going in the same direction.
Well, that’s a real (if somewhat satirised) picture of the characteristics of conspiracy theories. What drives humans to think this way? We’ll look at that next.