Thursday, July 14, 2005


A word on conspiracies

Because I did a little post titled "How to drive conspiracy theorists mad" (because I knew its content would), Simply Appalling got a number of links that placed me firmly among the "conspiracy theorists." So perhaps it would be well to explain (again) my thinking on these matters.

At the moment there are conspiracy theories large and small, and there are probably some of which I'm not not even aware. Currently some of the most active surround 9/11, the London bombing, the previous election fraud, and the Valerie Plame affair. Then there are the perennials—the Kennedy assassination, the Iran-Contra affair,1 the Jewish capitalist cabal, Freemasonry, Opus Dei. And let us not forget UFOs and alien abduction.

I do not wish to conflate them, imply that they have equal validity or invalidity, or mock them and then dismiss them—which is the most commonly used technique for reassuring the public that everything we see and hear is on the up and up. On the other hand, I do not believe in any of them (with the exception of ... well, nevermind) with the sort of credulity that I accord to, say, the theories of evolution or relativity.

I'm open-minded to the evidence, but while I'm familiar with the broad outlines of most of them, I'm certainly no expert on any of them. And more importantly, I am not investing my time in their pursuit. There are any number of people who are—for which I'm glad, or better—appreciative.2

But the reason for not investing time in them is equally important: The largest conspiracy—to put in place an unbreakable lock on the power of the United States (and the world—or so these conspirators hope) is an ongoing enterprise occurring before my eyes and yours. Indeed, some of the aforementioned conspiracies (such as 9/11 and the London bombing and the election fraud) are merely tactical.

Personally I'm less interested in the tactics than in the strategy. The conspirators devote enormous amounts of energy and resources into framing what it is they're up to. How else can they hide in broad daylight? But if you dismiss the framing, the outline of their activities could not be plainer. And you do not need to believe that the WTC fell because of a controlled demolition to appreciate that.

The impetus for this post, aside from the points already mentioned, came from an odd little article that appeared in May in Scientific American by one Michael Shermer, who is the founding publisher of Skeptic magazine and director of the Skeptics Society. The purpose of his article was to bash 9/11 theories of which he writes,

The single best debunking of this conspiratorial codswallop is in the March issue of Popular Mechanics, which provides an exhaustive point-by-point analysis of the most prevalent claims.

That alone would be an extraordinary statement,3 but here's the breathtaker—

The mistaken belief that a handful of unexplained anomalies can undermine a well-established theory lies at the heart of all conspiratorial thinking (as well as creationism, Holocaust denial and the various crank theories of physics). All the "evidence" for a 9/11 conspiracy falls under the rubric of this fallacy. Such notions are easily refuted by noting that scientific theories are not built on single facts alone but on a convergence of evidence assembled from multiple lines of inquiry.

It was just such unexplained anomalies that led to the overthrow of Newtonian mechanics by that crank physicist Einstein in his General Theory of Relativity. Surely Mr. Shermer is familiar with the perturbation in the orbit of Mercury. What Mr. Shermer calls a "fallacy" is in fact the essence of the scientific method. We cannot prove (as in mathematics) hypotheses or theories; we can only disprove them through the detection of "anomalies." It is an anomaly in itself that this writing should appear in the pages of Scientific American.

Of course, to speak of the sum of the activities of the oligarchs as a "conspiracy" is to introduce another frame. This new hip word "framing" is just another way of speaking of a verbal structure through which we interpret events—less weighty perhaps than the previously hip word "paradigm." If we were to put it into the jargon of science, the frame usually falls somewhere between an hypothesis and a theory, which has been elaborated, tested and retested over time. But unlike its scientific kin, the "frame"—since it may be used as a technique of social control and manipulation—mostly goes unanalyzed.

In any case, like the hypothesis and theory, any such frame may be put into question by contrary evidence. So far that evidence—that it is not the intent of the oligarchs to seize power in as permanent a manner as they can devise—has not been forthcoming.

In the meanwhile, keep your sense of humor.

Related posts
Great American Myth #1 (6/19/04)
The death of the Left? (11/27/04)
Thinking about death? Vote Bush! (8/1/04)
Bad idea of the century (2/28/05)
The Second American Revolution goes nuclear (5/16/05)
A small point about a large conspiracy (5/25/05)
Superfluous beliefs (6/10/05)
In their last throes (updated) (6/11/05)
Christo-Republican cadres (6/22/05)
How to drive conspiracy theorists mad ... (7/7/05)


1The Iran-Contra affair is a publicly acknowledged conspiracy. Only the details remain hidden, such as whether George H.W. Bush was a participant. Whether Ronald Reagan was aware of it really doesn't matter, since he was no more in charge than is the current pResident. [back]

2I have absolutely no sympathy for the banning at DailyKos of certain "conspiracists." Please see "The Trouble with Normal" at Rigorous Intuition on this. [back]

3For responses to that article, try here or here. [back]

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