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The truth about conspiracy theories

15 June 2010

We’ve all heard them: conspiracy theories on how the government or some other powerful organisation is plotting to make our life more difficult and/or fool us to continue to believe in commonly accepted ideas.  They range from political views (“The US government staged the 9/11 attacks to rally support for the invasion of Iraq”) to outright loony (“Most western governments are currently working with extraterrestrial technology in order to keep the population in check”).

How to break your neck. Apparently.

A common sign that you’re being exposed to a conspiracy theory is the use of the word ‘apparently’.  If anyone starts a sentence with the word ‘apparently’, you can be almost certain that the statement that follows is false and probably a conspiracy theory.

For example: you’re sitting in an airplane and happen to overhear two men talking.  One say to the other: “Apparently, the crash position the airlines advice you to take in case of an emergency landing is not to lessen the risk of personal injury. Instead, it’s designed to kill you instantly by breaking your neck.  That way the airline only have to pay out compensation for the death of a passenger rather than ongoing compensation for potentially lifelong rehabilitation, which would be much more expensive.”

Or this one: “Apparently, NASA never landed on the moon since it proved too expensive. Instead, they shot the whole thing in a studio in New Mexico.  That’s why you can see the American flag wave in the wind when they planted it on the ‘surface’, even though there IS NO WIND ON THE MOON!”.

Waving in the wind. Apparently.

Of course, most of these conspiracy theories are easily rebutted.  The airlines, for instance, might indeed save money on making sure no one survives a crash, but they’d lose far more from scaring people off from flying with them due to the high mortality rate.  And the flag on the moon didn’t wave in the wind; that’s just what a flag looks like in a vacuum after an astronaut has planted it in the ground.

A true conspiracy theorist is never fazed by logical counter-arguments though.  Anyone criticising their favourite theory is obviously secretly working for the government, or stupid enough to believe the official propaganda.

I think one of the reasons conspiracy theories so easily get hold of peoples imagination is because we all instinctively distrust powerful and faceless organisations.  Sure, the politicians in charge can be seen on TV often enough, but we rarely see the heads of MI5/MI6, CIA, KGB (now FSB) or Mossad. National security organisations tend to keep out of the media, for obvious reasons. This air of mystery combined with a sense of absolute power is a fertile breeding ground for paranoid thoughts.

Government controlled demolition. Apparently.

Paranoia also make us feel important.  You’re the center of attention, everyone is out to get you.  They probably got extensive files on you in their secret archives (just to the left of those extraterrestrial artifacts).  And, as a bonus you will appear well-informed in comparison with your peers.  It will allow you to say, in a condescending manner: “You got that from watching the news, did you? Don’t you see – that’s what they WANT YOU TO BELIEVE!”

In a way, conspiracy theories and paranoia is the new religion, and with it we get a new wave of fanatic ignorance.  The latest trend is to threaten ‘skeptics’ who dare question ‘the truth’.  Like the woman who photographed the mushroom cloud from the United Airlines 93 crash in Pennsylvania on 11 September 2001.  Since that cloud doesn’t fit with the conspiracy theory that the plane was apparently shot down by the US Air Force, she’s now being harassed and bullied that she should ‘confess’ that the photography is fake, or else..

Hmm, is that warning bells I hear ringing?

11 Comments leave one →
  1. 9 July 2010 09:23

    I watched ‘Conspiracy theory’ on telly yesterday, with Julia Roberts and Mel Gibson. He gives an alarmingly convincing performance of being a crazed conspiracy theorist (perhaps not much acting was required?) who works as a taxi driver in New York seeing conspiracies everywhere. Then (lo and behold) he stumbles on a REAL conspiracy – it is an American film after all – where THEY set out to kill him for his precious knowledge..

    Honestly, you could almost be forgiven to believe that someone is publishing these films to create some kind of conspiracy theory frenzy – perhaps with some dark and mysterious motive? Oops.


  2. 17 November 2011 08:55

    Actually, for a great deal of the insanity going on in the world, Conspiracy Theory is the only explanation that makes sense …


    • 17 November 2011 14:46

      I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s the ONLY explanation, but it is certainly an explanation. A false one, but an explanation none the less.


  3. 17 November 2011 20:03

    A false one? Hold me tight …


    • 18 November 2011 06:03

      Whatever do you mean? Please explain in more detail.


      • 18 November 2011 20:23

        Apologies, I was being gently sarcastic.
        You promptly declared the assumption false out of hand—as if your mind is made up, closed, and you wouldn’t even consider the possibilities.

        The possibility I consider is that the ‘Conspiracy Theory crackpots’ — as ludicrous as their claims appear to be; might just be right. Brrrr.

        With the seemingly unstoppable efforts to make the disparate nations of Europe into a single empire; with what can only be the deliberate attempts to destroy the American dollar in the face of all common sense — other than ‘hidden agenda’ what credible explanation can there be?

        The ‘hold me tight’ is an English/American expression: think of a child terrified by the (non-existent) Big Bad Wolf when entering the woods with a trusted adult. Adult tells child “No such thing”, but the child, still a little dubious, seeking comfort from strength and confidence, gets closer and says “Hold me tight” …


        • 18 November 2011 22:15

          Thank you for clarifying your point!

          Obviously, there are actual conspiracies – humans are political animals after all. The purpose of this post was more about exploring why we are so prone to believe in even the most farfetched and paranoid ideas.

          Re the European Union: to me the motive behind unifying Europe is pretty transparent – it’s about power. Just like China is investing in their Space programme to demonstrate their financial and technological power, Europeans are uniting to recapture the former glory of the Roman Empire, the Napoleonic era and, most recently (and most infamously), the Third Reich. So I don’t see a secret agenda to destroy America, just the regular political power games that have been going on for thousands of years.


  4. 2 January 2012 23:27

    Hey There Heinakroon,
    I was wondering on a similar note,, Think about it. Most conspiracy theories are extremely wacky and vague, etc.

    What if they are all created by THE MAN to prevent the “truth seekers” from looking for the real truth behind it all?

    Like red herrings that ultimately bog them down in trivialities, compared to the real truth.

    This is – of course – the ultimate conspiracy theory.

    Think about it.
    Catch you again soon!


    • 3 January 2012 18:35

      You mean cultivated paranoiac disinformation? Yes, it’s possible, I guess, but my experience of government agencies is that they’re incompetent at best and completely useless at worst. I somehow doubt that they would be able to manufacture and maintain such ‘fake’ conspiracy theories. But perhaps some military organisations could?


  5. Argus permalink
    3 January 2012 18:26

    Back to your original illustration—I’ve often wondered why airlines and other transportation systems don’t seat people facing towards the rear … ?


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