Conspiracy theories are a lot like a good Clancy novel. They build to a dramatic finish. They suck in readers and convert them to followers. A good conspiracy theory puts all the pieces together that don’t make sense, ties them up in a neat package and says “You are a hapless victim and it’s not your fault.” Now you can turn off the responsibility and the guilt and go right on being a couch potato. The billionaires and the beautiful people are doing it to me. I’m the downtrodden victim. It may not be exactly comforting, but some how it is compelling.
It’s also a trap.
Let’s see how many doomsday conspiracies I know (please fell free to add your favorites);
1. The Government is ignoring UFO’s. Project Blue Book was a coverup. The first security briefing a new President gets reveals exactly what is hidden in Area 51, then he is sworn to never reveal it on pain of “panicking the masses”. The Government has secret UFO technology that will be used for (pick one) defending the Earth, giving up the human race for slaves, beating down the Soviets.
2. The New World Order, alias the Illuminati, alias the Bilderbergers, owns the Fed and will soon impose world slavery. They are the puppet masters behind the US and European governments.
3. The Bank of International Settlements owns the Fed and all the national banks and controls the world economy money supply and they are about to crash and trash it in order to impose a World Government that will make most of us slaves.
4. Under the direction of a secret cabal the US has built hundreds of internment camps as part of a plan to execute the people who resist and incarcerate all but the faithful slaves. They employ black helicopters and are involved in training our own soldiers and those of foreign nations to enforce their orders when the government suspends the Bill of Rights and the Constitution. The US cabal blew up the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, in order to get the insidious Patriot Act passed, the TSA to do warrantless strip searches and to take our guns away.
5. The Soviet Union is secretly being reconstructed by Putin with the cooperation of the rogue elements in the US and Europe. Their aim is to reduce the living standards of the US to conform with the poorer nations so we can be combined under one Communist state tyranny.
6. China is plotting to take over the world simply by sequestering all the wealth and resources for itself and then annexing first Taiwan, then Korea and Japan. The offshore Chinese are very secretive and have made a deal with Beijing to use their $4 trillion to develop China and consolidate their control. They already have the cooperation of Chavez and Castro, who are their agents in this hemisphere.
7. Iran plans to build many atomic weapons and conduct an atomic jihad in order to create a Shiite Crescent that will stretch from Turkey to Pakistan, and then they will assume the throne in the new Islamic Caliphate and convert the rest of the world to Islam or the sword.
8. Secretly, an industrial consortium is dumbing us down using chemicals and “franken-foods” to make us pliable slaves and ignorant consumer/workers. They plan to reduce the population by starvation and chemical sterilization.
9. None of the above, we will all die by Armeggedon as the Bible says in Revelation, except for the few who have found Grace.
10. Any combination of the above.
Do any of the above conspiracies have a basis in fact? Probably all of them. History is full of conspiracies: Communism, Lao Tzu, the black slave trade, Julius Caesar, Ghenghis Khan, the British Empire. For every one of them that we can list there are hundreds that went down in thorough obscurity. Wars involve conspiracies and so do revolutions. We only record the successful ones.
However, the REALLY BIG conspiracy theories have several characteristics in common: They are huge, generally world-wide. They are secret. There is nothing you can prove because they are secret, There is nothing you can do because no one will believe you because they are secret and you can’t prove anything. The logic is quite circular.
In real life things are not neat. Many events are quite random. The economy, like the weather, is a system in quasi-chaotic state. It has several tipping points and the equilibrium is easily disturbed with unpredictable consequences. Over longer time frames, demographics and the fortunes of nations are also quasi-chaotic. In such systems, a bigger push often does not move the same things a bigger distance, it does something quite different. This chaos upsets conspiracies. There is no deterministic way to deal with these things.
Confronted by all this random activity, our minds try to make sense of it. We script the chaos into a pattern that may not be there. Conspirators try to guide this process for their own ends. Like the Face on Mars or the Man in the Moon, the pattern disappears from another angle. Many conspiracy theories are just false pattern recognition.
One of the uses of conspiracy theories, however, is for disinformation. Someone is trying to influence your decisions. Think of it as an advertisement for a hidden product that you really don’t want. So what are they trying to make you do? Do you really want to do that, or are they trying to frighten you into doing what you should not do?
We are all making plans for something. It may be the next trip or a wedding or a retirement. Your family may be conspiring to hold a surprise birthday party. The really ambitious planners are trying to take over a company, or a state government, or even the world. They may be very good at planning and they may have a lot of resources, but when that plan involves lots of people, lots of time and lots of territory it inevitably runs into the laws of chaos. As my father used to say, those people put on their pants one leg at a time, same as you do. All the various conspiracies and all the conspirators are in competition with each other, and that is going to produce a hodge podge of mixed results. If they succeed even in part, it is more blind luck than plan.
When I’m confronted by an important conspiracy theory I try to ignore it. I stick to my own agenda and refuse the distraction. Sometimes the thing just keeps coming back in my face and stops my progress. Then I have to deal with it, but not as a conspiracy but as a problem to be solved. Can I get any facts? Do I know anyone involved? If the theory is true, can I draw any testable conclusions? The Web is a vast resource, and secrets are very hard to keep.
Don’t be a conspiracy nut. Keep an open mind and learn to think clearly. Dig up real data and discount unfounded opinions. If you can’t do any of that, ignore it - you won’t be able to change anything and you don’t need the distraction.