The truth about conspiracy theories
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”).
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!”.
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.
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?