Saturday, March 14, 2009

It's a conspiracy!

Humans are interesting. They do a lot of weird shit seemingly without rhyme or reason, but I've come to one important conclusion about people: They're consistent.

Sometimes people appear to act irrationally. "Wow, I didn't see that coming." This is probably because you're working with incomplete information, which may or may not be intentional on the part of the person in question. If someone fucks you over out of the blue, I promise you that you're not the first person they've done it to. It's even possible for a person to be consistently inconsistent, but this is rare and is a conclusion to which one ought not jump. Spend more time with a person like this, get to know more about them, and you'll see trends -- I can almost guarantee it.

Anyway, I have a buddy who, like most of my friends from the USMC, is a bit of an extremist. Whatever he does -- whether it's being a feckless layabout, being generous, violating rules, working, whatever, he does balls to the wall with generally questionable results. His biggest problem is probably because his lack of attention span or follow-through isn't safe from his overall extremist ways. He recently created a conspiracy theory website, and has enthusiastically invited me to join his cause. This blog entry is devoted to him, which he will probably read, so it may be written with kid gloves because I love this guy like a brother. But it's something I think about a lot. The topic today is:

Why I don't do conspiracy theories

Conspiracy theories are fun to think about, and occur to a lot of people naturally because folks tend to be suspicious, accusatory, and like feeling victimized. The innerwebs has exacerbated the whole conspiracy craze, putting people with similar theories together and creating a lot of group cohesion vs a common enemy, whatever that may be.

That's not the real problem I have with conspiracy theories. My biggest issue (among some other smaller ones) is that they promote intellectual laziness. Here's how.

  • You can't lose

    If you end up being right about your conspiracy, you look cool, write a book, etc.. If conspiracy theories gain momentum, huge sums of money and man hours are devoted to proving them wrong. If you're completely wrong, it doesn't matter. There's no risk or accountability. Lazy.

  • Convenient Built-in Mechanisms

    By their very nature, conspiracy theories attempt to tackle issues involving "all powerful" and usually detached entities that exist above society's radar, calling them out on their shady, immoral, or manipulative activities. These entities are usually in the form of some nameless, faceless government agency, or a popularly demonized political figure. The convenient things about the idea of omniscient government agencies is that they can do whatever they want without any oversight or any restraints. This allows conspiracy theorists to say "Well, they're in on it" or "That's what they want you to believe" when their theories are categorically debunked by credible sources without entertaining the idea that there might be something to these stories. Lazy.

  • Fear-based, exploitative, and dishonest tactics

    Scaring ignorant people into believing your assertion using partial information is dishonest. Obviously conspiracy theorists aren't alone in doing this, but it's their bread and butter. This is crucial because conspiracy theorists are not there to inform, they are there to influence -- big difference. They're pushing some thing for some reason, which is annoying and insulting when it's done through half-truths or intentionally incomplete information. Just because it's not a lie doesn't mean it's not dishonest. And Lazy.

    So to recap, we have:

    a) Win-win/no accountability or responsibility for being wrong, and classic burden-of-proof shifting tactics during debates
    b) Convenient built-in mechanisms and canned responses that theorists use when faced with evidence refuting their theory which "enables" them to continue making the same assertions ad nauseum
    c) Fear-based tactics which exploit the ignorant using dishonest tactics

    Sound familiar? Maybe....Something else I "don't do"?

    wait for it.......
    waaaaaaaait for it........

    Religion!

    Conspiracy theories surrounding religion are brilliantly ironic. I "don't do" religion for the same reason that I don't do conspiracy theories. It hinders progress by setting up a situation impossible to disprove based on flimsy rhetoric. The burden of proof is intentionally shifted, allowing folks to make an assertions and watch the very people they are trying to convince run around and find out the truth. When faced with contrary evidence, the conspiracy theorist AND the religious zealot will cling to their beliefs -- which is what they are, beliefs -- using uncreative, canned responses which end any conversation or exploration of the truth. It's all very convenient and, I'll say again, intellectually lazy on the part of those who espouse the theories.

    And that, my frengs, is why I don't do conspiracy theories.
  • 15 Comments:

    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    I'm with you on most of this Paully, especially on the generally destructive nature of most things when taken to the extreme. Conspicuous by it's absence, however, is any mention of exceptions.

    I can think of about a half dozen real-deal conspiracies (Suez, Iran Contra, Watergate, Panama...) throughout history that have dramatically changed the world as we know it, and have had a few no B.S. (without drugs!) spiritual experiences too.

    Most of the hype is undoubtedly hype, but, like a good racial stereotype, there is often a kernel of truth at the root.

    Truths, half-truths, and lies?

    - Fadi

    1:47 AM  
    Anonymous Tony said...

    You need to blog more often. This shit is pure gold.

    8:31 AM  
    Blogger Hammer said...

    First-rate work here, Paul. Fits nicely with Heinlein's Razor. "Never attribute to conspiracy that which can be adequately explained by stupidity" and its many derivations. (The link is to Hanlon's Razor, but read down a bit and you'll see why RAH comes into it.)

    I legitmately worry about how easy it is for folks to create their own individual custom reality these days. Don't get me wrong, hyper-customization is great for lots of things ranging from kitchens to performance cars. But basic, day-to-day reality?

    This will not end well.

    11:30 PM  
    Blogger Paul said...

    fadi -- good points, but i know you're just looking for ways to justify your current stockpile of weapons. keep it up tho, as i believe the Houlehan Jamboree is set to take place at your fortress.

    tony -- thanks :D

    hammer -- i think people have always created their own custom reality, but what's most disturbing is the fact that people do so by choice and in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, which im sure is what you meant by "these days". ill check out that link tomorrow -- bedtime now!

    1:17 AM  
    Anonymous Matt said...

    Without conspiracy theories, how will I rationalize my blinding hatred of Jews?

    4:46 AM  
    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    I'm a little late to the party on this one Paul, but I'm sure you'll forgive me.

    First: If you haven't already, then watch the Cohen Bros movie Burn After Reading. It mirrors your post quite nicely and I feel that if they were ever to make an homage to Heinlein, this would have been it.

    Second part goes to Fadi: I agree that there is always the exception, but you've gotta agree that there's some glossing over in your examples. There are always levels of truth, but it's the stink that gives the true conspiracy theory BS away. Rational minds can be temporarily tricked, but you have to willingly ignore that gut feeling that tells you this is hummus actual bologna.
    http://www.psychologie.tu-dresden.de/i1/kaw/diverses%20Material/www.illusionworks.com/html/ames_room.html

    JoeG

    12:43 PM  
    Blogger bertjwygant said...

    God helps those who help themselves........................................

    1:58 AM  
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    2:38 PM  
    Blogger 方便 said...

    happy to read~ thank you!..................................................

    2:28 AM  
    Blogger 舞台 said...

    生命是一頓豐富的宴席,有人卻寧可挨餓..............................

    3:49 AM  
    Blogger 簡單嗎 said...

    感謝予我如此動感的blog!........................................

    12:24 PM  
    Blogger 毅力 said...

    I do like ur article~!!! ........................................

    11:41 AM  
    Blogger 快樂結局 said...

    我來湊熱鬧的~~^^ 要平安快樂哦........................................

    11:41 AM  
    Blogger 玉苓 said...

    You may be only one person in the world, but you may also be the world to one person.............................................

    2:40 PM  
    Anonymous Matt said...

    Dude, how bout you write a fucking blog post?

    12:39 AM  

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