Monday, April 7, 2014

Conspiracy Theories - Incompetence More Than Insight?

There are a few laws or theorems if you prefer,  that need to be applied to Conspiracies before one shouts them to the world. One thing Conspiracy Theorists seldom do is apply the right rules to vetting the subject of their typically ridiculous theories. The conspiracies they hammer us with in the media and online, which are usually more wishful thinking than fact, simply because of the nature of things that fit the theorist's conspiracy mold, typically are not reviewed well.

Or if they are well reviewed with the right filtering factors applied (like Occam's Razor), they simply ignore their findings and continue on; because at some level it makes them feel better because action, even incorrect action, feels better than non-action. Which oddly enough is typically what lead to the situation of a subject of a conspiracy theory in the first place, and not conscious thought, or conspiratorial collusion.

One of the obvious things about conspiracy theories are that they tend to be things that weren't conspiracies to begin with, but after the fact, because of a lack of information or transparency, they appear as there having been a conspiracy. Usually however, there wasn't. It was just how things played out over time. It's similar with recorded history wherein by simply writing out history, changes history, changes what actually happened, and in that small (sometimes large) variation is where conspiracy theories are born.

Occam's Razor is one of the best:

"Occam's razor (also written as Ockham's razor from William of Ockham (c. 1287 – 1347), and in Latin lex parsimoniae) is a principle of parsimony, economy, or succinctness used in problem-solving. It states that among competing hypotheses, the one with the fewest assumptions should be selected. Other, more complicated solutions may ultimately prove correct, but—in the absence of certainty—the fewer assumptions that are made, the better." - Wikipedia

Hanlon's Law is a Conspiracy Theorist's bane: "Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity."

There are methods to apply to conspiracy to prove or disprove is to a reasonable degree, something theorists tend to avoid doing as it kills their theories. Theories which are fun for them, cathartic, and spire their inner fears which supports the theory in a never ending cycle.

For those addicted to conspiracies, a form of belief system that is fueled by lack of information and distrust of authority, and underlain by a sense of having little control in life, it is much the same mind type as are those addicted to religious beliefs, what is referred to as a "monological belief system".

My desire (and more importantly, pleasure) to believe in aliens and UFOs as a child in the 60s, became initially inflamed with I started to hear of other conspiracies. I thought those once in charge, in their sharing hidden knowledge, with information once allegedly disallowed to the masses, was a great and exciting thing. My first conspiracy was one by General William Westmoreland who ran the Viet Nam war. After Viet Nam he wrote a book which I read, which spawned many other conspiracies.

It was an interesting theory I cannot now remember and I cannot find that book any longer, which says something in itself. But my first thought after reading his book was not to merely believe or disbelieve, but to study just what conspiracy theories are, how they work, who were attracted to them, and why they happened. This is an important and key point in those who grab on to conspiracy theories and those who don't. Many of those who simply do not pay any attention to conspiracy theories, are not relevant in this consideration, as to ignore them from the start with little or no thought, indicates another type of individual altogether.

What is important is, for all of those who do pay attention at least initially and do look into them, what is the key deciding factor between those who keep going and those who see a conspiracy theory as simply white noise that appears to be something, but in the end logically just isn't. For me, when I read the General's book, I fell into a part mid book that just seemed questionable to me. So I researched it and his theory, for me, began to fall apart. I was stunned. How could such a high level official seriously believe in such nonsense? Was he just trying to make a buck on a book he saw was fictional, but sell-able? Or did he really believe what he was trying go convince others about.

I think he really believed it, at least at the time. But in my finding it was very likely his theory was not true, it brought up the question of how was that possible? That was my break, with conspiracy theories. Rather than try to swallow what he was selling, I instead looked into how it was possible he could believe what he was saying, and how others could believe something that to me appeared to be easily debunked. As it turned out, there was a certain type of personality (which I learned more about a few years later when I got my university degree in psychology) and certain elements needed that support a conspiracy theory as rational to that group of individuals. There are also those who know absolutely that it is an incorrect theory and yet, continue to push that theory for political and financial ends to better their position in some way.

It is important however, to consider the difference between my path and that of those who believe in these conspiracies, the point at which I branched off to learn about the theory of "conspiracy theory", and those who simply eat up the perceived conspiracy and ran with  it. They like to use various techniques to quelch dissent in their beliefs, such as by being demeaning, calling those who don't believe in what they believe in as "sheeple" (for people who are sheep following the flock of the ignorant masses), something which elevates them in their beliefs and objectifies those who disagree with them. Objectifies others as is done by soldiers in war so they can more easily kill the perceived enemy. Except that in this case, the "enemies" are fellow citizens.

What I found in researching what a conspiracy theory is, rather than simply focusing on a specific theory in particular, saved me a lot of time over my lifetime in realizing that the majority of popular conspiracies are simply bunk, and those attracted to them have a certain type of personalty and view of the world, based in a general distrust and perceived lack of control in their lives which affects them deeply and personally. The belief  that our government is a super secret, super capable institution, says more about conspiracy theorists than it does about our government, or their abilities or desires.

I find there seem to be far more people believing in conspiracies in the extreme movements, in the "right" or "left" political arenas, but more so for some reason on the right, in the conservative and Republican movements.

We should indeed pay attention to our world, to find out what's going on out of our view, but we should also realize when it's time to move on, to take other action then complaining and making noise, like removing people from office in a general sense, or protecting ourselves in a more personal sense. It is just important to be on guard that you are not simply of a certain mindset that makes you susceptible to silly conspiracies and focus on what is provable and reasonable and not something that will inevitably turn out to be simply a mass delusion, of which now a days there are so many.

If you are going to shout about conspiracies to the world, before you add to the dissonance in the mainstream, study what conspiracies are, and apply that judiciously to your beliefs. You may think that simply by making noise right OR wrong, it will help regardless as others will also look into it and eventually the truth will come out. Many times, there simply is no "truth" to be found out, just more incompetence and stupidity.

Don't attribute more capability of secrecy and institutional skill where there is none and therefore become one of those on the stupidity side of the argument. Because then you are just doing yourself and the rest of us a disservice, adding to the groundswell of chatter and nonsense, and that helps no one.

For more on this, I highly suggest you research more about conspiracies themselves rather than any one conspiracy. Then apply what you have learned to a particular conspiracy, pick your favorite conspiracy and see if it doesn't begin to fall apart on you. Here are three articles from Scientific American to begin with, but don't stop there, until you have as solid a handle on what conspiracies are as you do believing in them. These are three interesting and useful articles.

From Nov 17, 2010 |by Michael Shermer - The Conspiracy Theory Detector:

The more that it manifests the following characteristics, the less probable that the theory is grounded in reality:
  1. Proof of the conspiracy supposedly emerges from a pattern of “connecting the dots” between events that need not be causally connected. When no evidence supports these connections except the allegation of the conspiracy or when the evidence fits equally well to other causal connections—or to randomness—the conspiracy theory is likely to be false.
  2. The agents behind the pattern of the conspiracy would need nearly superhuman power to pull it off. People are usually not nearly so powerful as we think they are.
  3. The conspiracy is complex, and its successful completion demands a large number of elements.
  4. Similarly, the conspiracy involves large numbers of people who would all need to keep silent about their secrets. The more people involved, the less realistic it becomes.
  5. The conspiracy encompasses a grand ambition for control over a nation, economy or political system. If it suggests world domination, the theory is even less likely to be true.
  6. The conspiracy theory ratchets up from small events that might be true to much larger, much less probable events.
  7. The conspiracy theory assigns portentous, sinister meanings to what are most likely innocuous, insignificant events.
  8. The theory tends to commingle facts and speculations without distinguishing between the two and without assigning degrees of probability or of factuality.
  9. The theorist is indiscriminately suspicious of all government agencies or private groups, which suggests an inability to nuance differences between true and false conspiracies.
  10. The conspiracy theorist refuses to consider alternative explanations, rejecting all disconfirming evidence and blatantly seeking only confirmatory evidence to support what he or she has a priori determined to be the truth.

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