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A Response to Eric Oliver and Tom Wood's article on Conspiracy Theories

thoughts & comment — 28 May 2015

OLIVER AND WOOD'S ARTICLE in the 2014 Christmas edition of New Scientist presents what appears to be an extremely naive and one-dimensional view of conspiracy.

Anyone who labels those who believe in Conspiracy theories as "our neighbours in tinfoil hats" is either out of touch with the real world or deliberately trying to minimise the impact of conspiracy disclosure. The fact is that humans conspire, always have and always will, and the more power humans have, the bigger the conspiracies they can and do perpetrate. Indeed, history is one big litany of conspiracies! And yet… many otherwise rational people do not believe that our governments and corporations would conspire against us, and deride anyone who does. This is actually an irrational position to take.

Would governments really conspire against the people who elected them? Yes, unfortunately they do. The list of examples is endless, from Watergate, Project MKUltra and Operation Northwoods to the Iran-Contra Affair, the Gulf of Tonkin incident and CIA drug running. Anyone blowing the lid on these conspiracies at the time were immediately dismissed as "conspiracy theorists", until an accumulation of evidence made these conspiracies undeniable to the general public.

The important issue here is that when these conspiracies are proved to be true, they are still "conspiracies". We are so used to dismissing conspiracy that when they are exposed, we immediately relabel them as crimes or scandals, rather than viewing them as conspiracy theories that have become conspiracy facts. Conspiracy does not just disappear in the light of exposure.

Our governments and the military-industrial complex do conspire, often against the very people whose taxes support them, and to dismiss this fact as "tinfoil-hat conspiracy theory" only sacrifices truth for a politically correct paternal view of authority and military-industrial power, a view that those in power are endlessly peddling from the media outlets they control. (If you think that is conspiracy theory, just look up the CIA's Operation Mockingbird, a conspiracy fact that indicates government control of the major media outlets, a control that today can only be orders of magnitude greater now that practically all mainstream media outlets are owned by just five or six mega corporations.)

The thing is that those who hold power never want the general public to know that that power is often shamelessly abused. This is why power is safest distributed among the people; as soon as power is concentrated (for example in Brussels for the EU), corruption escalates. Again, this is just unfortunately human nature, coupled with the fact that the type of people drawn into politics tend to be the type who enjoy power, and therefore are most likely to abuse that power.

Before the age of the Internet, uncovering conspiracy was much more difficult as it was left to whistle-blowing journalists and newspapers, both of which often had strong allegiances to the very governments and other organisations that perpetrate most of the conspiracies. That is why investigative journalists often had difficulty finding newspapers who would print their stories, and why conspiracies often took many years to break. But when the Internet arrived, official information filtering and censoring was bypassed, and putting out information to the general public became a doddle. (Sites like WikiLeaks have made whistle blowing much easier, which is why such organisations are always in the cross-hairs of those who wish to control information.)

The downside of the Internet is that it is unfiltered and therefore includes every conspiracy theory going, and most conspiracy theories are unproven at best — as is the case with all theories, including scientific theories (or they would be escaled to the status of scientific laws). But this is actually a small price to pay for bypassing official censorship.

So people today, thanks to the Internet, are much better informed than they were just a decade ago. And this is one reason our governments and corporations are so keen to impose controls on the Internet: it represents the greatest threat to centralised power, which is secured by the control of information. (Is that statement a conspiracy theory?) Free information, and power dissipates.

This free electronic information flow means that conspiracy theories no longer hide in the shadows because they are ignored by the mainstream media. And the propensity of over half of the population to accept conspiracy theories is not necessarily just a "tendency to assume that unseen predators are lurking or that coincidental events are somehow related," although that might play a role, but rather a rational response to experience of how governments and corporations actually behave.

Each time a conspiracy theory turns into conspiracy fact, there is a natural tendency for the mainstream media to present it as some kind of aberration — an exception — perpetrated by a rogue faction. Damage is minimised in this way and the game can continue to be played. But many are starting to believe that practically all those in power naturally conspire (consciously or unconsciously) to increase that power, so that conspiracy is the norm rather than the exception.

Oliver and Wood believe that the widespread belief in conspiracy is an indication of the irrationality of the general population — a lack of scientific education — something to be derided and mocked. But what they are actually exposing is their own bias towards a worldview in which people in power do not conspire, media organisations report fairly and anything outside the remit of mainstream science does not exist. This is irrational and shows astonishing epistemological naivety.

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