Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Problem With Stupid Conspiracies

With Osama bin Laden dead and a fresh wave of wild speculative doubt wafting in the air, what better time than now to discuss the damage done by conspiracy theorists?

Basically every major event that has happened in the US since the assassination of JFK has been accompanied by conspiracy theories. The moon landing, 9/11, and Obama’s citizenship are just three examples of events prior to the death of bin Laden that some segment of society is unwilling to accept as true.

It is not the conspiracy theories themselves which are particularly harmful. Rather, it is the modern tendency of media (both mainstream and alternative, like blogs) to latch onto any compelling story, regardless of its veracity. After all, even if a conspiracy turns out to not be true, it’s good for ratings and readership, because a story about how the moon landing was faked or 9/11 was an inside job or Obama is a Kenyan is something that piques the curiosity.

And of course, if it’s in print or on TV, then it must have some shred of truth, even if it’s not completely accurate… right?

It’s strange, really, how individuals can reject an agreed upon idea in favor of a conspiracy with very little evidence. If those who doubt the “official” story held even a fraction of the skepticism for secondary theories as they do for the original, conspiracies wouldn’t have a leg to stand on. Alas, there are certain types of people who will believe anything they’ve been told, so long as it disagrees with what that individual perceives as authority.

To be fair, there are certain types of people in this world who believe whatever they have been told first. However, just as silly is to believe everything you’ve been told second. “You shouldn’t believe everything you’re told,” is a strange ideology to be adopted by individuals who would have you believe theories that are as flimsy as they are elaborate.

It is this dynamic that is at work when it comes to the spread of conspiracy theories: selective skepticism (or perhaps selective faith, as usually the conspiracies repeatedly originate and propagate from the same sources, a sort of pseudo-authority).

Perhaps the greatest harm of unfounded conspiracy theories is the oft repeated mantra of the conspiracy theorist: question everything. It’s good to question everything, though there doesn’t seem to be a lot of questioning when it comes to conspiracies.

When you have one segment of society saying, “Don’t trust [insert person or group here],” and then spouting ignorance in the same breath, it has a counter-productive outcome. It makes regular people look at skepticism with… well… skepticism. It’s not healthy for a society to shut out opposing views, and conspiracy theorists are guilty of inundating our culture with a nearly never-ending stream of baseless bullshit, giving a bad name to those who doubt responsibly.

It comes down to credibility, and conspiracy theorists are ruining the credibility of skepticism, largely by reserving all of their skepticism for the truth and all of their faith in lies they want to believe, making their opposition’s position all the more respectable in the process.

In the end, you have one group that refuses to question and another group that only questions those who check their facts, and skepticism dies.

But this is merely one problem caused. There is another, this one perhaps more damaging, which must be considered.

We are not gods. I know this is a ridiculous statement that shouldn’t need to be stated, but I feel it’s important to point out. We are mortal, and our time is not unlimited. What’s more, there are problems in this world which are imperative and will not wait for universal consensus. Since this is the reality of our existence, we don’t have time to question every little thing.

Conspiracy theories occupy an alarming amount of the public’s attention, which is short enough as it is. Using the case of Osama bin Laden, I can’t believe how much time has been spent just discussing the conspiracy theories. “Why was he buried so quickly at sea?” is just about the least important question I’ve ever heard. I can think of a thousand more important questions, not least of which is, “Can we leave the Middle East now?”

Odd, how if you consider my question, the other conspiracies don’t even matter. Suppose we marched right out of Iraq and Afghanistan now (we won’t, sadly), would you care if the killing of bin Laden was a hoax?

Maybe years from now, after more information is actually available, there will be a slow news day when nothing much is actually happening and we can all sit down and discuss whether we’ve all been fleeced. I’m suggesting we question, but at a reasonable time and with all the facts possible. I’m not suggesting we just go along with whatever happens, but all I see happening right now is pettiness on the side of Obama haters and a further closing of eyes and ears on the side of Obama supporters.

Trust me, even if you’re convinced it’s a hoax, it’s better to bring it up closer to an election.

There are questions that make sense to be asked right now, like, should the US be carrying out operations which are clearly meant to be assassinations without trial? How about: why is this president being subjected to more scrutiny than Bush? Is America just making up for lost time, or is that certain older, “whites only” water fountain generation unable to get over the fact that we have a black president?

Did the last one piss you off? Frankly, who cares. That question doesn’t matter, and if you get upset about it, are you really upset about my question, or the fact that America is a country on the way down, with double-digit unemployment, a comical wealth gap, and no future? There is plenty we should be questioning, but in my opinion, people have occupied themselves with modern mythologies which help explain how they see the world, but play no part in fixing the very real troubles we face.

Abandon distraction.


  1. This is why I've attempted to stay away from some of the more wacky conspiracy theorists like Alex Jones. He too often does the cause of true skepticism of government harm by making critics of the state look like weirdos and nuts.

  2. And what would the effect of immediately burying him at sea have on the sensible questions?

  3. I've actually told people to stop talking to me unless it's about something other than another conspiracy theory. Sure they've been getting annoyed, but I'm tired of fighting a losing battle when it comes to debunking them.

    Excellent post.



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