People love conspiracies – at least they do when they're fictional

September 17, 2010

By Craig McKee

So are you evil, naive, crazy, or disloyal?
Based on how most people seem to react to the subject of conspiracies, you’d think we’d all fit into one of these categories.
Why evil? Well, if you take the position that anyone who refutes a conspiracy theory that you like must be part of the dark and powerful elite that wants to crush the truth and enslave the masses, then this might be the one that speaks to you. This goes with the “all or nothing” attitude. It`s kind of the reverse of George Bush`s “If you’re not with us, you’re with the terrorists.”
Naive can go both ways: one side thinks the other is naive to believe in either absolute. You’re either naive to think there would never be a hidden conspiracy, or you’re naive to think there’s one around every corner.
Crazy is pretty much exclusively what the anti-conspiracy people accuse the conspiracy theorists of being. If you don’t take every political event at face value, if you question the version of events espoused by the government or the media, then you’re part of the lunatic fringe. I know a lot of people who think this way. I prefer not to discuss the subject with them.
And my favourite: disloyal. The “anti-“ people sometimes like to question the patriotism or loyalty of anyone who might think they’re being lied to by their government.  They have no problem imagining enemy governments would lie to their people or do cruel things. But our government would never do that.
It’s funny that people will watch a Hollywood movie like Enemy of the State (Will Smith), Three Days of the Condor, The Manchurian Candidate, or any of the Bourne films, and they have no trouble believing the premise. We cheer for the hero who is the only one who knows there’s a conspiracy. “Why doesn’t everyone see it?” we ask. But then we leave the theatre and all that openness goes out the window.
Somehow it’s believable, but it still couldn’t happen in real life.
I really can’t relate to people who reject virtually any conspiracy possibility. And they often don’t just express disagreement or scepticism, they scoff at the idea, they smirk about the idea, they dismiss it with a wave of the hand. I’m not a big fan of condescension.
One of my friends, during a lengthy debate on the subject recently, told me that if you believe in conspiracy theories, you must believe in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. We don’t talk about this anymore.
Apparently this person believes that all the bad things that happen in the world are carried out by individuals, acting alone, often because of some kind of mental disorder. I’m not sure even a cursory look at human history would back this up.
This makes me wonder exactly what type of person is open to conspiracy theories, and which type automatically rejects them.
I remember the first time I heard that some people believe the moon landing was a hoax. I’ll admit I was intrigued. I read what I could find on the subject, pro and con. After doing so, I concluded that this theory was unlikely. Not treasonous, just unlikely. I didn’t agree with it because I read the facts. I looked at both sides. I used my own brain instead of relying on CNN or the New York Times.
Obviously any opinion that is arrived at without thought is of questionable value. And any opinion arrived at with complete contempt for the opposing point of view can be unreliable.
But the point I think many people forget is that conspiracies – by their very nature – are meant to be secret. They are meant to appear to be something else. And if they’re carried out reasonably competently we’re only too happy to believe the illusion. It’s easy to believe in a conspiracy when things are bungled, as in the Bay of Pigs fiasco, but we have to actually use our brains the rest of the time.
I’m sure that if you suggested in late 1963 that President Kennedy had been taken out by the CIA or the Mafia, you would have received a very hostile reaction, or at least a dismissive one. Now, three-quarters of Americans believe he was killed as part of a conspiracy.
That wasn’t so hard, was it?
Maybe we should all drop the arrogance and the insults and debate facts. Maybe the truth wouldn’t be that hard to find after all.


    1. I’m not sure if I can go along with what they’re saying about symbolism on the ten dollar bill. Some of it seems like a stretch. But there’s a lot to be said about people with power who prefer to remain in the shadows. In fact, that’s how I arrived at the name for this blog.

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