Tree-Hugging Dirt Worship

February 19, 2012

Conspiracies are a Fact of Life

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — paragardener @ 4:45 pm

From time to time, I see a book or article published that asks why people believe in conspiracy theories, and what can be done to help the poor fools. Michael Shermer, writing in Scientific American, sees conspiracy theory as a result of cognitive biases, such as “patternicity,” the human tendency to find patterns, whether or not they are there, and “agentism,” the tendency to imagine that intelligent actors have caused things to go the way they’re going. Erik Hayden, writing in the Atlantic Wire, suggests that Machiavellian people believe in conspiracy theories because they would participate in conspiracies themselves (“Sure Cheney flew remote control planes into the towers. That’s what I’d have done to push the Patriot Act through and invade anywhere I liked.”)

Asking why people believe in conspiracy theories is totally ridiculous, like asking why some people believe in apes. The skeptic can point to a mountain of shady evidence that leaves one in doubt about Sasquatch, but we know damn well that there are chimps and orangutans in this world, and we know just as well that there are real conspiracies (people working together to commit crimes). John Wilkes Booth did not act alone!

The role of conspiracies in history is highlighted by that most charming of American institutions, the CIA. The CIA defines covert operations as activities “conducted or sponsored by this Government… but which are so planned and executed that any U.S. government responsibility for them is not evident to unauthorized persons and that if uncovered the US Government can plausibly disclaim any responsibility for them.” So besides intelligence gathering, the CIA is the authorized criminal wing of the government. Obviously, there are going to be a lot of conspiracies hatched there: toppling the democratically elected governments of Guatemala and Chile, installing the Shah in Iran, conducting “secret” wars in Laos, Cambodia and Angola, attempting to invade Cuba and assassinate Fidel Castro, slipping johns LSD and watching them get in on with hookers from behind a one-way glass, selling heroin and cocaine in America, arming the Taliban, and on, and on…

At this point, some conspiracy skeptics differentiate between “conspiracies” and “conspiracy theories.” “Conspiracies” are undeniable and well-documented crimes like the Watergate break-in or the murder of Julius Caesar; “conspiracy theories” are any conspiracies I don’t or won’t believe in. People who abuse the language in this way deserve to be called “deniers” — denying things is neutral, and you should deny false things, but just the same the word suggests “Holocaust denier” and “addict in denial,” so go for the cheap hurt. Allow me to illustrate:

Conspiracy theorist: “FDR totally knew that the Japanese were going to bomb Pearl Harbor.
Skeptic: “Nuh-uh. There’s no way that people in government knew the attack was going to happen, yet no one leaked the information to the public. That is just a ludicrous conspiracy theory.”
Conspiracy theorist: “Oh, well, I guess I should’ve known you’d be one of those Pearl-Harbor-Inside-Job deniers.”

I make fun, but just as there are people who will believe the thinnest of conspiracy theories (“Nazis secretly dominate world events from their base inside Hollow Earth”), there are a whole lot of people who are seriously in denial about the possibilities for conspiracy. Despite the frequent occurrence of conspiracies in the real world, conspiracy theory is to be marginalized from all discussions of politics or history.

Look up “New World Order” on Wikipedia, and you will find two main entries (plus various entries on books or musical acts):

When George H.W. Bush told us that he was building a new world order, that was meant in the “politics” sense: “Despite various interpretations of this term, it is primarily associated with the ideological notion of global governance only in the sense of new collective efforts to identify, understand, or address worldwide problems that go beyond the capacity of individual nation-states to solve.” According to Wikipedia, the new world order spoken of by Establishment figures is a positive, benign, problem-solving order.

“In conspiracy theory, the term New World Order or NWO refers to the emergence of a totalitarian one-world government… Numerous historical and current events are seen as steps in an on-going plot to achieve world domination through secret political gatherings and decision-making processes.” Thus, if you don’t like the elites creating interlocking trade organizations and treaty obligations that are fusing into one worldwide agency of control, you are a conspiracy theorist, outside of the realm of reasonable, normal debate. Develop a positive outlook on the elites who build those international controls, and you could add your input to the “New world order (politics)” page.

Explaining something with a conspiracy theory is not something crazy, like blaming witches for your problems. Conspiracies are happening every day. Since criminals generally want to hide their activities, it can be hard to prove or disprove any given conspiracy theory; sometimes we may not all agree as to whether something was a conspiracy or who was behind it. I don’t believe in calling my opponents crazy, by scientifically examining the reasons for their bizarrely mistaken beliefs, or by excluding them from mainstream discussions. Conspiracy theories can be investigated through evidence and reason, just like any other stories about the world.



  1. You make an excellent point about the interpretation of “new world order” — if you just mean that the world has evolved in some presumably beneficial way as led by altruistic governments, that’s all fine. But if you think it evolved in a directed way and the directors’ agenda was arguably negative, then you’re a conspiracy theorist. So the definition is entirely based on whether you’re interpreting events in a pro-elite or anti-elite manner. If anti-elite, then you’re a wacko.

    More soon….

    Comment by freelearner — February 20, 2012 @ 3:57 am

  2. For both “conspiracy” and “conspiracy theory” as you use the terms, do you mean the more literal and general sense of the term — i.e., to act together, with a common purpose, from the Latin “to breathe together” — or the more specific, legal sense in which the common purpose must be criminal in nature? In other words, for purposes of your polemic, is such a thing as a “benign conspiracy” or “benign conspiracy theory” possible?

    Comment by mike — February 20, 2012 @ 10:47 pm

    • I mean “conspiracy” mainly in the criminal sense. When elites secretly pull strings in a coordinated way, against public interest, that could be considered a conspiracy whether or not specific laws are being broken — it’s a plot against the people, just like a literally criminal conspiracy. Of course, the perps likely think that they are improving or saving the world. A benign conspiracy? People coordinating to perform mass civil disobedience or exchange raw milk.

      Comment by paragardener — February 21, 2012 @ 2:00 am

      • Can’t disagree with you on that!

        Comment by mike — February 21, 2012 @ 4:49 am

  3. Sometimes i feel like the global elite are trying desperately to hand the wheel over to a bunch of monkeys who just want to sink the ship. Other times i feel like those dicks really did have everything planned 500 years ahead of time!!

    Comment by nate — March 21, 2012 @ 11:29 pm

  4. I think that the elite are entertaining the Tea Party monkeys because the Tea Party is pushing for austerity… our debt-to-gdp ratio is not so terrible, which makes it harder for bankers to dictate policy. Luckily for them, the Tea Party masochists vote “beat us, beat us!” Why the elite is bent on austerity, I’m not so clear on.

    Comment by paragardener — March 22, 2012 @ 1:18 am

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