Conspiracy theories. The real alternative truth. What the media doesn’t want you to know about what actually happened on 9/11, how the Illuminati control the world, how the West uses political/ gay rights/ human rights activist/ International Criminal Court infiltrate and destroy perfect and morally upright African societies. Look beyond the headlines and see the shadowy forces that really control the world behind closed doors and drawn curtains.
It’s cloak and dagger stuff that can draw out a surprising amount of outrage, anger, and very personal insults during circular arguments that lead nowhere.
Do they hold any merit or are they simply grown up fairy tales that we tell ourselves to explain away the unbearable anxiety that comes with living in a world with so much injustice, uncertainty, chaos and disaster?
I don’t know. But what I do know is that they offer a fascinating glimpse into the irrational part of our brains, and that none of us are truly immune from them, or other bias.
My thoughts on conspiracy theories:
A good conspiracy theory cannot be disproved: You know why? The person dismissing the link between vaccines and autism as nonsense is either so deeply brainwashed that they cannot see the ‘truth’ in-front of them, or they are part of the conspiracy. These people are usually called ‘sheeple’ and need to ‘wake up’ by reading Natural News.net (and how cancer can be cured with peaches) and other dubious websites that come off as ‘scientific’ but in actual fact are elaborate fronts to sell dubious supplements and ‘cures’.
Consider the Catholic Church Tetanus vaccine campaign against the World Health Organization, UNICEF and the nebulous ‘West’. According to the Catholic church, these vaccines are a secret sterilizing campaign to control the population of Africa. Well and good, except that the WHO denies this, and has plenty of science to back this up. However, the church trumps this over and over again by calling on independent labs to carry out tests that are never conclusive enough to settle the matter once and for all, but just convincing enough to keep casting doubt.
The question remains, however, why WHO would want to sterilize people in secret, and yet at the same time provide crucial life saving drugs worldwide in places where the government couldn’t be bothered to. Why save lives and then engage in a convoluted plot to prevent conception? And although these sterilization scares have been popping up since the 70s, birth rates in developing countries are still double digit.
Because their goal all along, aside from eradicating preventable diseases and supporting fragile health care systems, is also to sterilize poor people in the most tedious, round about and inefficient way possible.
I would say WHO’s plan sounds a lot like something made up by a cartoon villain,which means it is pretty lousy and ineffective.
A good conspiracy is based on a grain of truth: Back to the WHO / Catholic church saga. This is not the first time these accusations have sprung up, and it will not be the last time. First off, WHO has very well documented experiments on said contraceptive vaccine, except that it failed and is yet to yield any viable result. But the facts are there, regardless, that they did attempt to make such a vaccine.
Another more unpleasant example is the fact that, throughout history, medical experiments have been carried out on populations perceived to be inferior. American doctors withheld treatment for black people with syphilis without their knowledge to study the effects of the disease. Nazis performed gruesome experiments on Jewish captives in camps. Pharmaceutical companies have been known to dump sub-standard drugs into poorly regulated (read, third world) markets.
This is one reason why conspiracy theories, no matter how crazy, are so convincing. Because they really could happen. Because there are people out there without scruples and with agendas that could be harmful and the power to execute them. It’s just that their agendas are rarely as sweeping as we would like to believe, and more often than not, if there are enough people involved in the scheme, someone somewhere with their own motives will blow the whole thing out of the water. (Which is how most nefarious plots have been uncovered.)
A good conspiracy resolves the deep anxiety we have about the world: All conspiracy theories seek to explain seemingly random but unfortunate situations/ events that do not have a clear cut cause. That do not have clearly demarcated good and bad sides.
A very scary example is the current outbreak of the Zika virus in Brazil that coincides with a spike in the number of children born with microcephaly. The much vilified WHO, in typical scientist speak, says that there is a strong connection between the two, but stops short of confirming a definite link.
Meanwhile, Monsanto, the evil food corporation that will kill us all with their GMO monstrosities has been blamed for introducing GM modified mosquitoes, and introducing a pesticide to kill mosquito larvae, that could also be blamed for the birth defects. For a while there, there wasn’t much information, and that was enough time for people to conclude that the Zika virus is part of Monsanto’s evil plan for world domination.
Unfortunately, we know very little about how our world works. Well meaning interventions often have unintended consequences. And especially now, when, more than ever, humanity is interfering with our environment so much that, not only is climate change a given, but also that some scientists argue that we should name this age the ‘Anthropocene’, or the age of the humans. (Who drowned the oceans in plastic, killed off most other animals and suffocated themselves with carbon dioxide.)
This will probably get worse in the coming years, so we can certainly expect more theories about how the Americans introduced Ebola to West Africa (then inexplicably offered help to curb it and played a part in ending the epidemic) and have now moved on to phase 2 of their sinister experiment in Latin America.
A good conspiracy is a quasi- religious endeavor: Defending a conspiracy theory is very similar to defending your religion to a non-believer, and vice versa. It is something that becomes part of your identity, something that you choose to believe in. Once that happens, we move from objectivity to ‘beliefs’.
There is nothing wrong with beliefs, except that you cannot argue with someone about their beliefs productively or successfully. As humans, we are so invested in defending our beliefs that our minds play a trick on us – we seek only evidence that reaffirms our beliefs and dismiss anything that doesn’t. (The next time you are arguing with someone, track how much you time you spend actually listening and trying to understand what they are saying as opposed to waiting for a space to repeat your counter argument in a louder voice.) It’s okay, we all do it.
So once we move from facts to beliefs, it’s game over. It simply cannot happen because in doing so, you challenge a person’s very essence, leaving the other person with no choice but to double down and scream louder about the lizard people.
A conspiracy theory is like a virus: Good conspiracy theories have so much staying power that they never entirely go away. No amount of scientific evidence, rational discourse or facts can challenge the theory. Why? Because they are not falsifiable. This means that any counter-evidence can be dismissed as ‘you are part of the conspiracy’ or worse still ‘you are a ‘Sheeple’ that blindly follows the West.
Once you are infected with a virus, it cannot be cured. So the answer is to prevent infection. Yet conspiracy theories spread because, unlike boring, hesitant scientists with their ‘it is highly probable’, ‘there is great consensus’, blah blah blah…the theory smacks you in the face ‘WHAT THEY DON’T WANT YOU TO KNOW ABOUT VACCINES AND AUTISM’ or, ‘PEACHES AND CANNABIS OIL CAN CURE CANCER, BUT BIG PHARMA WONT HAVE ANY OF IT’
Sometimes the most ignorant speak in the most confident tones. How do you prevent infection? Take some time out to do some research. Find out both sides of the argument and you will soon notice a pattern. Avoid websites that use CAPS LOCK to highlight their most important point. If you spot the word sheeple, run away.
A good conspiracy must absolve individuals from responsibility: When you are up against the Lizard people, when all the money and fame in the world is controlled by the Illuminati, when the political and economical situation at home is secretly being controlled by sinister Western forces with even more sinister agendas, what can the mere individual do?
For example, every so often (especially during times of economic hardship) great African leaders (and all dictators in all of history) decry Western (or other) meddling and interference with the goal of imposing western/ foreign values onto our virginal societies, corrupting our morals and turn us into stooges. (Bonus points, they want us all to start practicing homosexuality.) Think Boniface Mwangi, who is clearly being paid by the West to destroy Kenya. Or the ICC, which has long been UNFAIRLY targeting African leaders, including our very own Ruto and Kenyatta. Conveniently forgetting the fact that we dragged the ICC into our own mess in the aftermath of the 2007 post-election violence.
No matter, because these are shadowy Western forces .
This narrative is seductive because, if everything is a conspiracy, if the individual has no agency, then all one’s personal failures can be excused.
So you see, the REAL reason we are poor, or unsuccessful is because THEY won’t let us. Those Lizard People. Or the West. Oh and if you try to fight them, THEY will take you down, because they can’t be having any of that.
Conspiracy theories distract us from very real and very serious problems: Conspiracies are much more exciting than admitting that the vast majority of problems that we have in the world are exceedingly complex, involve an unbelievable number of causes and are very difficult to solve. Questions like why so many parts of the world are so poor. Questions like why some countries are more equal than others. Questions like how much of local policy is controlled by special interest groups (republicans funding abstinence only programmes in Africa to prevent HIV; the role of evangelical churches in the rise of violent homophobia for example.) Questions like why corruption is so rampant and why companies are allowed to siphon resources from developing countries while paying ridiculous baby taxes in said countries. Questions like why the IMF has been offering terrible advice since forever and why no-one has taken them to court yet. Questions like whether our current economic model can reasonably allow all countries in the world to enjoy living standards that the global North currently does. And wondering if there is anything we can really do about it.
It’s much easier and neater to lay the blame at the feet of the Illuminati.
Conspiracy theories can be dangerous: Despite our reliance on science and modern medicine every day, we still insist that our beliefs trump expert research and opinion. People have died as they tried to prove that they can cure cancer with homeopathy, that they can prevent autism by not vaccinating their children and of course by trying to pray away all manner of treatable but dangerous illnesses. It hasn’t worked so far, but beliefs trump evidence and reason far too often.
In a way, this kind of thinking demonstrates just how far the world has come in terms of technology and knowledge. We have become so far removed from devastating epidemics that we can’t understand why these mysterious injections are still necessary. We can go to the dentist and so will not die from an infected molar. We don’t consider childbirth as a life threatening event. Surviving childhood illnesses is considered normal. We are educated enough to ask questions and challenge the book learnin’ people but not invested enough to read past catchy headlines.
Conspiracy theories exist because they fulfill a need to explain disturbing events such as disease outbreaks, disruptive technology and major scandals. They fill in the blanks of our limited knowledge and reaffirm the belief that there is order in the world, and that there is good and bad and that the two are distinctly separate. They reduce the complexity of events that we can scarcely explain, and in so doing, translate our unspecified anxieties into focused fear and anger at specific (although largely non-existent) groups. They help us form a narrative that explains the world we live in, that analyses the random events that happen into neat categories with clearly marked heros and villians.
They give us a sense that we are privy to secret knowledge in a world we find ourselves ill equipped to deal with.
But they also tell us that the world is a messed up place that is brutal and unfair. They tell us that none of us really know what exactly is going on, and that is very scary.
Nothing is ever as simple as it seems.