According to Sunstein and Vermeule, a conspiracy theory “can generally be counted as such if it is an effort to explain some event or practice by reference to the machinations of powerful people, who attempt to conceal their role (at least until their aims are accomplished).”
Today, calling someone a conspiracy theorist (CT) is essentially a way to discredit the person and invalidate their arguments. According to certain research articles, those who believe in conspiracy theories are associated with delusional ideation, low self-worth, a way of reacting to uncertainty and powerlessness, feelings of solidarity and paranoia, a lower education level and loneliness.
What about common sense?
Reading the research on conspiracy theories reminded me of one of my classes on IQ testing in clinical psychology. The professor wrote the sub-test results of a fictional client on the chalkboard and we were supposed to come up with as many possibilities as we could to explain why the overall IQ score was low.
We were all very proud of ourselves as we rambled off issues of cultural differences, lack of rapport, test anxiety, ADHD and so on.
The professor nodded his head and continued to write each possibility on the board. He then said, “There’s one more.” We continued to theorize, throwing all the possibilities we could think of out there, until we finally had to give up and say that we simply didn’t know of any more possibilities.
The professor shook his head and asked us, “What if the person is just not that smart? What if they did the best they could, and that’s all they were able to do?”
What!? You mean there’s no underlying pathology that’s the root cause of their results?! Funny how an advanced education can warp a person’s ability to use common sense!
Our governments lie to us
Why are people who question the official story provided by government agencies ridiculed?
When esteemed academic, psychologist, linguist and political activist Noam Chomsky was asked about 9/11, he replied, “There happen to be a lot of people around who spend an hour on the Internet and think they know a lot physics, but it doesn’t work like that. There’s a reason there are graduate schools in these departments,” and also, “There is just overwhelming evidence that the Bush administration wasn’t involved. Very elementary evidence. You don’t have to be a physicist to understand it. You just have to think for a minute.”
Yet when Chomsky was asked what his opinion was on Building 7, he replied that he didn’t have an opinion.
In addition to not having an opinion, Chomsky also appears to have had memory loss, or just has a profound lack of historical knowledge.
Despite the ridicule of those in the media who indignantly ask if a person really believes the government would ever act maliciously against its own people, history provides an abundance of evidence that indicate governments do act in subversive ways towards their own populations.
Consider the unclassified document, “Memorandum for the Secretary of Defense,” written on March 13, 1962, in which proposals were suggested to help gain public support for a military conflict with Cuba.
A series of well-coordinated incidents will be planned to take place in and around Guantanamo to give genuine appearance of being done by hostile Cuban forces. … Start riots near the base main gate. … Blow up ammunition inside the base; start fires. … Sabotage ship in harbor; large fires … Sink ship near harbor entrance. Conduct funerals for mock-victims. … We could blow up a US ship in Guantanamo Bay and blame Cuba. … We could develop a Communist Cuban terror campaign in the Miami area, in other Florida cities and even in Washington. … The terror campaign could be pointed at Cuban refugees seeking haven in the United States. We could sink a boatload of Cubans en route to Florida (real or simulated). We could foster attempts on lives of Cuban refugees in the United States even to the extent of wounding in instances to be widely publicized. … Exploding a few plastic bombs in carefully chosen spots … Hijacking attempts against civil air and surface craft should appear to continue as harassing measures condoned by the government of Cuba. … It is possible to create an incident which will demonstrate convincingly that a Cuban aircraft has attacked and shot down a chartered civil airliner en-route from the United States to Jamaica, Guatemala, Panama or Venezuela. … The passengers could be a group of college students off on a holiday or any grouping of persons with a common interest to support chartering a non-scheduled flight.
In I.F. Stone’s Weekly, dated August 24, 1964, it was revealed that the U.S., while on patrol in Tonkin Bay, knew about the bombings that were going to take place on two islands off the North Vietnamese coast. The U.S. intentionally moved into a position that gave the appearance that the ships were attacked by an aggressive force.
The document goes on to state, “The process of brain-washing the public starts with off-the-record briefings for newspapermen in which all sorts of far-fetched theories are suggested to explain why the tiny North Vietnamese navy would be mad enough to venture an attack on the Seventh fleet, one of the world’s most powerful. Everything is discussed except the possibility that the attack might have been provoked.”
Biological warfare testing—San Francisco
There was also Operation Sea-Spray. In 1950, the U.S. military wanted to test out biological warfare, so a Navy ship just off the coast of San Francisco sprayed Serratia marcescens and Bacillus globigii, two forms of bacteria, in the direction of the city to observe how the infections would spread.
Of course, citizens were never informed of this test, and at least one death and several hospitalizations resulted from the testing.
Even more disturbing were the Willowbrook experiments, during which more than 700 mentally disabled children were intentionally infected with hepatitis in the hopes of discovering a cure. Several children died from the experimentation.
The government response was that the children likely would’ve contracted the disease either way, and that the data gained from the study helped produce a treatment.
Experimental measles vaccine
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) acknowledges that, in 1991, they injected an experimental measles vaccine into more than 1,500 babies without informing the parents of the drug’s presence.
It was discovered that several young children in the black community died shortly after the injections. Though the CDC insists that withholding information from the parents was a mistake and unintentional, they continued to use the vaccination on children in the Third World.
Outrageous vs. believable conspiracy theories
One of the fundamental flaws that I observed in almost all the research I explored was the failure to distinguish between outrageous conspiracy theories—such as the idea that our politicians may be lizard aliens in disguise—and the more believable ones, such as the possibility that the government bulldozed the crime scene at Waco to cover up unlawful behaviour. Much of the research often presented information and results in a biased manner.
Conspiracy theorists, racists and Marxists
In a 2011 study titled “Dead and Alive: Beliefs in Contradictory Conspiracy Theories” by Wood, Douglas and Sutton, the authors seek to understand how individuals can endorse contradictory conspiracy theories. According to them, the conspiracy theorist’s worldview of distrusting the government is so strong that it overrides contradictory conspiracies.
The article compares a CT’s worldview to that of those with extremely racist beliefs, such as Theodor Adorno, whom they suggest in relation to Nazi anti-Semitism. The authors further state that conspiracy theorists’ mindsets can be best understood as “monological” and as a “worldview” or ideology:
If Adorno’s explanation for contradictory anti-Semitic beliefs can indeed be applied to conspiracy theories, conspiracist beliefs might be most accurately viewed as not only monological but also ideological in nature. Just as an orthodox Marxist might interpret major world events as arising inevitably from the forces of history, a conspiracist would see the same events as carefully orchestrated steps in a plot for global domination. Conceptualizing conspiracism as a coherent ideology, rather than as a cluster of beliefs in individual theories, may be a fruitful approach in the future when examining its connection to ideologically relevant variables such as social dominance orientation and right-wing authoritarianism.
To state that CTs can be better understood, if viewed in the same way as orthodox Marxists, is problematic.
Marxists vs. Conspiracy theorists (CTs)
|Marxists are seeking to change the social structure so that a transfer of power can occur, resulting in a system governed by Marxist principles.||CTs are driven more by a critique (and arguably, a distrust) of those who seek and possess political and financial power.|
|A Marxist may interpret an arising event as inevitable, due to the forces of history, but the Marxist will also insist that if Marxist principles were adopted, many social injustices would be eradicated.||CTs, while possibly explaining events from a worldview of distrust, typically don’t insist on or advocate for any specific form of government practices being adopted.|
|Marxists will likely interpret all events from a Marxist perspective.||CTs aren’t necessarily bound to interpreting every event in terms of governmental distrust.|
Facebook Live Chicago beating
For example, on December 31, 2016, an 18-year-old Chicago man who was mentally challenged and diagnosed with schizophrenia was kidnapped and tortured by four other individuals. Three of the accused were 18 years old, and one was 24 years old. The story grabbed national headlines due to the video that was put on Facebook Live, as well as the fact that the victim was white and all the accused were black.
In the video, the accused can be heard yelling about their hatred towards white people and the recently elected president. As emotionally charged as this event was, the Internet wasn’t consumed with conspiracy theories in response to the actions of the accused. The vast majority of people don’t believe the government or shadowy individuals orchestrated the event, even though it was highly publicized.
Adherents of Marxism, however, pushed interpretations of the events that insisted that the ruling class is using such events to distract the working class. Regarding Trayvon Martin, a Marxist website claimed, “Racism is used to divide and conquer the working class, to divert our attention from the real problems facing us. Instead of fearing and fighting against the cuts, austerity, and crisis that capitalism rains upon us daily, we are instead taught to fear and fight each other.”
Regarding the four individuals charged with kidnapping and torture, George Gallanis of the World Socialist Website stated:
The backwardness and violence expressed in the actions of the perpetrators cannot be seriously considered apart from the conditions of grinding poverty that dominate the Chicago neighborhood in which they live and the impact of reactionary political and ideological trends such as racial politics that are so relentlessly promoted by the Democratic Party political establishment and the media. … The ISO is seeking to whitewash its own role in working to divide the working class along racial lines and conceal the class issues that underlie the growth of poverty, social inequality, police violence and militarism, as well as the rise of right-wing and racist political forces.
Marxists also provided their interpretation of the 9/11 attack and the subsequent invasion of Iraq when they stated that, “the US invasion of Iraq was the result of aggressive capitalist expansionism in order to secure threatened oil for future production.”
These examples strongly suggest that CTs are fundamentally different from orthodox Marxists. In fact, the article by Wood et al. unwittingly demonstrates this difference. Consider the conspiracy theories the authors mention in the article:
- The events of 9/11 as an inside job
- The autism-vaccine connection
- The military assault that led to the death of Osama Bin Laden
- The death of Princess Diana
The official government report on each of these events contained problematic information that, at times, contradicted itself.
In the history of high-rise buildings, only three have ever fallen due to fire damage—and all three of these instances occurred on September 11, 2001. The official story insists that the airliners that crashed into the buildings at some 80 stories high contributed to the structural damage reportedly caused by the resulting fire. However, Building 7 was never touched. Yet, it still collapsed due to the reported fire damage.
It doesn’t require a Ph.D. in physics to know that 15 stories falling onto 80 stories doesn’t result in a collapse rate nearing free-fall speeds—in all three buildings.
Thimerosal and autism
The CDC has long insisted that thimerosal, a form of mercury mixed into childhood vaccination shots, is in no way associated with autism. Yet, studies from Geier, Kern and Geir, Khaled et al. and Kern et al., along with a multitude of other studies, have demonstrated that levels of thimerosal in the body are associated with autism.
In June 2010, the South Dakota Department of Environment & Natural Resources Waste Management Program/Hazardous Waste Section “contracted a third-party laboratory to analyze the level of mercury in two brands of multi-dose H1N1 vaccines preserved with 0.01 percent thimerosal to obtain general information relative to vaccines containing thimerosal.”
The study states that, “Based upon calculations (50 ppm mercury/5 mL vial) and test results (40 ppm and 43 ppm/5 mL vial), the department determined that the level of mercury in multidose thimerosal-containing vaccines tested exceed the 0.2 ppm TCLP standard for mercury.”
Osama Bin Laden and Princess Diana
Similar problematic information can also be found in regard to the deaths of Osama Bin Laden and Princess Diana. For example, when the U.S. invaded Iraq, Saddam Hussein was captured alive and forced to face trial before the world. Osama Bin Laden was killed and his body was buried at sea, leaving a poorly developed picture as the only evidence supporting his death during the U.S. raid.
A few months prior to Princess Diana’s death, she reportedly wrote a letter to a friend stating that she feared for her life and believed some sort of car accident was being planned as the cause of death.
Questioning the official story
The point here is that all the examples Wood et al. provided as conspiracy theories offer credible evidence that calls into question the official story. However, if events appear to make sense and there aren’t significant lapses or contradictory information within the official stories, conspiracy theories don’t develop.
If events appear to make sense and there aren’t significant lapses or contradictory information within the official stories, conspiracy theories don’t develop.
This suggests that CTs aren’t beholden to a worldview that makes them see everything through the eyes of overwhelming distrust, but they’re instead using deduction, logic and common sense to decide if an official story makes sense and isn’t inconsistent with known evidence.
Wood et al.’s description of CTs as monological, speaking only within their own system and ignoring their context in all but the shallowest respects, is inaccurate and misrepresents CTs. Furthermore, the Wood et al. study is invalid by design, because it offers no control group to compare results with.
Belief in contradictory theories may be just as prevalent among CTs as it is among any other group concerning other issues. Furthermore, the authors’ measures failed to demonstrate the link between a monological belief system and conspiracy theories. Their closing statement, “Believing that Osama bin Laden is still alive is apparently no obstacle to believing that he has been dead for years,” seems to question the intelligence of individuals who may consider or even believe in some conspiracy theories.
Did the authors provide evidence for their stated theory? No, not in any scientifically meaningful manner. Take the statement, “conspiracism constitutes a monological belief system.” First, we have to ask what a monological belief system even is.
Ben Goertzel stated that a monological system is a belief system that lacks communication and only sees events or phenomena from one perspective. However, research doesn’t support this assertion. In fact, some research has even supported the idea that conspiracy theorists are more open-minded and more open to experiences than other individuals.
Be the wise old goat in a flock of sheep
Other researchers have claimed that conspiracy theories are the result of feelings of powerlessness and an attempt to regain a sense of control in life. Researcher Viren Swami states that having truth or information others don’t can reassert feelings of agency.
According to Swami, via an article in the New York Times by Maggie Koerth-Baker, “It can be comforting to do your own research even if that research is flawed. It feels good to be the wise old goat in a flock of sheep.” Regarding feelings of control, he said, “while believing George W. Bush helped plan the Sept. 11 attacks might make you feel in control, it doesn’t actually make you so.”
The article went on to say that people who didn’t obtain information to debunk conspiracy theories “were more likely to withdraw from participation in politics and were less likely to take action to reduce their carbon footprints.” (Global warming had to fit into the issue in some way!)
What all these articles and theorists again fail to discuss is how the vast majority of conspiracy theories are the result of:
- Significant gaps in government explanations
- Outright contradictions within evidence and the official story
- Significant evidence excluded or not addressed
The reasons most often given by those who reject any questioning of the official 9/11 account focus on the effects it’ll have on society at large.
While Maggie Koerth-Baker may convince herself that individuals who suspect or believe our highest political figures were in some way involved in 9/11 are providing themselves with a sense of control, the reality is actually the opposite.
The reasons most often given by those who reject any questioning of the official 9/11 account focus on the effects it’ll have on society at large. In a September 2008 debate on The Agenda with Steve Paikin, Jefferson Flanders of New York University insisted that “the notion that the US government would be complicit in the murder of 3000 citizens, I think poisons civil discourse.”
Flanders went on to insist that keeping something like the government’s involvement in the 9/11 attacks secret would be nearly impossible and was therefore unlikely. Flanders never actually dealt with the evidence put forth by the other guests on the show that implicated the government. Instead, he relied on theoretical reasons why it simply couldn’t be true.
Conversation with a 9/11 CT critic
A recent conversation I had with an ardent critic of any 9/11 conspiracy theories supported my above observation. Jon, as I’ll call him, put forth Flanders’ argument that trying to pull off such a hoax would require the co-operation of many different people from many different agencies. and that someone would’ve come forward and leaked information and evidence that implicated the government.
I pointed out that the argument:
- Avoids all evidence that suggests otherwise.
- Isn’t an argument based on physical and/or historical evidence, but on a theoretical assertion that assumes the difficulties that would hypothetically be involved in carrying out such a mission.
An additional argument that questions the validity of this position is the practice of the military operating on a fragmented, need-to-know basis that prevents military personnel from knowing the full consequences of their orders. The underlying principle is that since we’re so severely limited in knowledge of how the government works behind the scenes, basing arguments upon positions that lack such information is highly problematic.
9/11: Let’s look at the facts
As mentioned, within all of history, only three high-rise buildings have collapsed due to supposed fire damage, and all three of those buildings fell on 9/11.
London’s Grenfell Tower caught fire on June 14, 2017 and burned for 24 hours before the flames were brought under control. As you can see in the photo on the right, some sections of the building gave way and partially collapsed.
Yet, during the 9/11 attack, the Twin Towers and Building 7 collapsed in about 12 seconds and collapsed into their own footprint, meaning that they collapsed straight down and didn’t fall into any neighbouring buildings. The testimonies of demolition experts provide evidence that the buildings fell just as buildings do when they’re rigged with explosives for demolition. There are multiple reports from firemen, police and pedestrians who reported hearing several explosions prior to and during the collapse.
Jon acknowledged these issues and stated that he’d reviewed the evidence. One issue in particular, the supposed plane that flew into the Pentagon, had really made him stop and question the official reports from the government. Jon is a strong Democrat and a very intelligent person. He in no way believes that the U.S. government is guilt-free, and doesn’t consider himself a “sheep.” In fact, Jon even stated that he believed the government was involved in the shooting of president John F. Kennedy.
Intrigued, I questioned him about his reasons for rejecting the possibility of governmental complicity on 9/11. He sat quietly for a second, and then said that he needed to rephrase what he initially stated. Jon then said, “I don’t want to believe that our government would have any involvement in an attack that killed 3,000 American citizens.”
Jon’s denial of evidence that implicates the U.S. government in the attacks on 9/11 is an effort to gain control over the terrifying idea that our own government would harm and kill thousands of innocent American citizens.
The CT, however, acknowledges this fear but courageously continues to examine the evidence. They then allow that evidence, rather than fear, to determine their conclusions.
Being dedicated to truth has always been a dangerous endeavour.
Researchers have spent an inordinate amount of time trying to discover why people believe in conspiracy theories. Perhaps their time would’ve been better spent investigating the possible reasons people don’t give these theories more serious thought and contemplation.
Chomsky is an intelligent man. How could he not have an opinion on Building 7?
Perhaps, more importantly, investigations into the emotional and psychological make-up of those who ridicule and demean people who question the government’s official accounts of events should be more thoroughly explored. Perhaps an investigation into the mind of Noam Chomsky, who without hesitation attacked and demeaned a student who asked about 9/11—but then stated he had no opinion on how Building 7 collapsed at near free-fall speed, even though it was never struck by a plane—would be a worthy endeavour. Chomsky is an intelligent man. How could he not have an opinion on Building 7?
The real question, of course, isn’t why Chomsky doesn’t have an opinion; rather, it’s why Chomsky is afraid to share the opinion he does have. Another question to ask is who takes the greatest risk when discussing conspiracy theories. If a CT changes their mind about government involvement in 9/11, then the result is more trust in the government. However, if Rachel Maddow or Bill O’Reilly, who’ve both viciously and mockingly attacked CTs, were to change their minds about the government’s involvement in 9/11, then their entire way of reporting the news—and perhaps even their ability to continue reporting the news—would come under question.
Socrates, Jesus, Joan of Arc, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr.: those dedicated to truth and seeing things clearly and accurately have always been a thorn in the side of those who wish to rule and control others through fear and manipulation. The attempt to pathologize those who refuse to unquestionably accept official reports handed down by government agencies, especially when those reports are contradictory and conflict with evidence, is a method that’s been used to discredit critics throughout history.
However, scientists and researchers today, at times, join with those seeking to discredit any critics. This violation of the public’s trust of those who identify themselves as unbiased researchers is especially troubling, and further demonstrates the crisis scientific research has found itself in today. Nevertheless, courageous citizens who care little for the expert opinions of these scientists will continue on in their search for truth and justice!