Why Are Conspiracy Theories Bunk?
A Look at the Stories Behind the Stories
Wikipedia describes a conspiracy theory as “an event being the result of an alleged plot by a covert group or organization or, more broadly, the idea that important political, social or economic events are the products of secret plots that are largely unknown to the general public.” They are stories that go against the conventional historical consensus Their entry has dozens of examples from assassinations, wars, medicine, famine to the supernatural. They run the gamut from the believable, but improvable to the wild, and ridiculous. Many of them are stories behind relatively minor historical events, but a few are unbelievable explanations for major historical occurrences. It seems like the bigger the event, the more ridiculous the story.
I do not believe in most of the major conspiracy theories. The terrorist attacks of 9/11 were the product of murdering Jihadists, not a plot by the Bush Administration or the Israeli Mossad. I don’t believe the world is run by the Illuminati, Freemasons, International Bankers or other organizations. The Apollo flights actually landed on the moon, they weren’t faked on a soundstage. AIDS came from African monkeys, it wasn’t developed by the CIA in the 1970s to control the Black race. JFK was assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald acting alone, he was not a patsy for (take your pick) the Cubans, Soviets, the Freemasons, the Mafia, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon or the Teamsters. Elvis died in 1977 and is still dead, and the US Government isn’t hiding aliens and their spacecraft in Area 51.
Don’t get me wrong, conspiracy theories make very entertaining cable “documentaries” and these stories can make excellent movies. (in fact one of my favorite movies “Independence Day involves aliens and spacecraft in Area 51.) But I take them for what they are: entertaining fiction. But well made movies like “Wag the Dog” and others contribute to the popularity of these theories because they make complicated stories sound plausible.
I don’t believe these theories, not because I have researched them down to the most minute detail, but because they are implausible. People tend to talk. As Michael Shermer said in Scientific American in 2009 “Complex conspiracies are difficult to pull off, and so many people want their quarter hour of fame that even the Men in Black couldn’t squelch the squealers from spilling the beans. So there’s a good chance that the more elaborate a conspiracy theory is, and the more people that would need to be involved, the less likely it is true.
Listed below are a few more reasons for my skepticism.
In 1973-74, Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward of the Washington Post led the nations press in investigating President Richard Nixon ’s involvement in the Watergate scandal. Nixon resigned in August 1974, and the press was credited with bringing down a Presidential Administration. In many ways this was the high point of journalism. Since then it seems the goal of the press is to find the story that will take down a powerful person or institution. Just ask Tiger Woods. How popular is Penn State now? As much as the press loved Bill Clinton, they loved reporting on his various affairs and his dalliances with a White House intern, Monica Lewinsky
If there was a germ of truth in any of the conspiracy theories listed above, the press would be all over them. The liberal press hated George W. Bush and bashed him mercilessly for real and imagined misdeeds, mistakes and actions. If they could connect him in any way with involvement in the 9/11 attacks they would with gusto. The press bashed him for invading Iraq because he and other (even people across the aisle) believed the Iraqis had weapons of mass destruction. They would have crucified him if there was anything tying him to the attacks and the death of over 3000 Americans. He would be in jail today. Reporters do not report stories like this because they simply aren’t true.
As a prelude to starting World War 2, Nazi Germany accused Poland of aggression as an excuse to invade that country. They staged an elaborate ruse as evidence that the Poles had attacked a German radio tower. When it was announced to the German people, they believed Poland was the aggressor. While it may be possible for a government to fool it’s people in societies that don’t have our freedoms, in countries with Freedom of Speech and Freedom of the Press it’s nearly impossible. Sooner or later a major lie is going to revealed.
It is possible for a government to carry out covert operations in a foreign country or develop secret weapons. These events occur when a very small number of people who are sworn to secrecy are involved. The events listed above were major news stories which involved a lot of people who were not members of the government and thus were not sworn to secrecy.
For example, a country with an authoritarian government would have believed the Obama explanation that the murder of our Ambassador to Libya recently was the result of a protest that went out of control. It took about 36 hours for it to be proven that it was a planned terrorist attack. For a government like ours to attempt to orchestrate something like a fake moon landing or a 9/11 terrorist attack would be political suicide. It would be found out sooner rather than later. Governments tend to be (relatively) honest because they know the consequences if they are caught in a lie. Let’s face it, governments do a lousy job of lying, As G. Gordon Liddy, of Watergate fame once said “the problem with government conspiracies is that bureaucrats are incompetent and people can’t keep their mouths shut.” (He should know!)
I always wondered why some people believe in these crazy theories. I do have a couple of ideas. First they have to want to believe them. They may be skeptical people by nature who don’t like the source of the popular “consensus” For example some members of the Black and homosexual communities believe AIDS was invented by the CIA to control those populations. That is not to say, there is not history there. For most of this country’s history, Blacks lived under slavery and later institutionalized persecution and prejudice. When a story like this gets any footing, it can be believed by people who don’t investigate it too deeply. They see it as just a continuation of past events. Also, when faced with something as devastating as AIDS, they look to others to blame because they don’t want to admit that behavior is the cause of the problem. They would rather look to a big amorphous, faceless organization that’s safe to blame.
Also, there are some people who are contradictory and argumentative by nature. They believe that Government or Big Business is hiding the truth behind the simple stories.
They believe in “Questioning Authority” and these theories (on the surface) seem to make sense.
Lastly, some people simply are gullible. They believe anything they are told. If something seems believable and the people they associate with believe it, that’s good enough for them. Many times they don’t research the issue, but let the opinions of family, friends and neighbors influence them.
So why are conspiracy theories so numerous? Most of these stories can be very emotional, and with faced with a general distrust for Government or Big Business, some people tend to take facts out of context, and make a story that they can believe. One that points to another power which they believe benefits greatly from the event. (for example, there is one conspiracy that says medicine is sitting on a cure for Cancer. Medical and drug companies make billions a year treating it. A cure would kill the “goose that laid the golden egg”)
I can honestly say I had a lot of fun researching this Hub. When I first got the idea to delve into this subject, I though that there were only a few big conspiracy theories. In found out there were dozens (and certainly I didn’t see all of them). It was enjoyable reading those stories. They ranged from sensible stories to absolutely ridiculous claims. (According to the English Writer and speaker David Icke, the world is run by the Babylonian Brotherhood, a group of shape shifting, reptilian humanoids. He claims that Queen Elizabeth II, Boxcar Willie and the entire Bush Family are members!). In future Hubs I plan to examine a few of the more prominent conspiracy theories more closely.
At the top, I said that that I did not believe in conspiracy theories. That doesn’t mean that the authorities tell us everything in their official explanations. I’m sure that there are details about 9/11, the JFK assassination and other events that the public does not know.
Conversely, there may be details of conspiracy theories that are true. But by and large they are unbelievable.