Tuesday, March 08, 2016

Conspiracy Theory...

I was thinking about this last night... we treat 'conspiracy theory' as if all conspiracies are made up by nutcases. But we know some real conspiracies have happened, some recently while some in the distant past. The level of respectability seems to be directly related to the known facts about the cases in question.

For instance, Holocaust deniers are completely wacko. The evidence that it happened is strong. We have photos, eyewitness testimony, documents and physical evidence in the form of existing building and survivors. To deny that the Holocaust happened is the mark of somebody who hasn't got much stuff inside their skull. People who claim it was completely made up are just short of being completely insane, and the vast majority of the world is in agreement that those such conspiracy theorists are either nutso or so consumed by a certain type of hate that the truth doesn't matter at all to them.

But another common conspiracy theory doesn't provoke such a strong reaction. The JFK assassination has a number of different theories surrounding it, but it's relatively respectable to wonder about that. The reason, in my opinion, is because those theorists usually don't deny reality to make their case. Instead of saying, "it never happened" they say, "it looked like it happened this way, but really happened this other way". As a result, they aren't seen as so completely off their rockers as people who deny the Holocaust.

They are both conspiracy theories, but one is more acceptable on multiple levels than the other.

Moving on to modern conspiracies... we've got Birthers and Truthers.

The people who deny Obama's nationality are in the same league as the first group above. There is plenty of evidence to indicate the President was born in the United States, but they ignore the newspaper's birth announcement and the birth certificate released by Hawaii and the nationality of his mother, because, again, they have a certain type of hate that isn't satisfied by reality.

The 9/11 Truthers are another kettle of beans altogether. They don't deny it happened, but argue that planes hitting a skyscraper couldn't take it down. To most of the public, who saw videos of the planes and saw the reaction of the people in New York, it's simply obvious that plane + building = boom. But the Truthers argue the planes, even with their heavy loads of fuel, couldn't have done that type of damage. While most people find Truthers' beliefs a little odd, they've gained some supporters through apparently well-reasoned videos and calm spokespeople... although most of their efforts fall apart quickly when experts start to point out mistakes in logic.

Then there are other types of Truthers... the Sandy Hook Truthers make me boil with rage. Not because of their beliefs, which I consider simply delusional, but because of their actions. The fact that they are harassing the grieving families and denying that the children ever existed is enough to make me want the Truthers tossed in jail. If they left the families alone I wouldn't have such an issue with them, but those Truthers are trying to prove something false that the vast majority of the population knows is true. In order for their reality to exist, first responders, school teachers, government and media would all have to be colluding in such a way that is impossible. And, once again, the reason behind the Truthers' beliefs is a certain type of hate, this one drive by extremist radio hosts and "news" channels, claiming that people are going to take away gun rights. It doesn't matter and most people in favor of gun rights don't want to take away all guns: the nutcases start believing in this vile type of nonsense because they've been taught to hate... thus proving that they are, in fact, the kind of people who shouldn't own guns. Ironically.

Do I have a point? I'm not sure.

Sometimes conspiracies happen. We know about the Business Plot, attempts to kill Hitler, the Gunpowder Plot and Watergate. Conspiracies aren't generally secret for long, because people talk, people make mistakes and the truth is usually lurking around a corner and not impossible to find. Many, maybe even most, conspiracies fail because people are not perfect and most conspiracies rely on people being way better at hiding things than they really are.

But when we talk about "conspiracy theorists", the ones we actively dislike - the ones that people find themselves disgusted with - are the ones who deny existing proof due to some sort of agenda. Simply having a conspiracy theory isn't necessarily bad... it's when that theory supports a preconceived notion in such a way that denies reality that other people start to think about throwing the theorist in a loony bin.

Does this mean we should close our eyes and stop up our ears when a conspiracy theorist starts talking? No... I'll listen to or read about their theories, but I'll also be looking for signs that they are ignoring facts and aiming to support a particular pet belief. And then I'll treat them, and their theory, with exactly as much respect as deserved.