Friday, August 22, 2014

Why Some People have a Phobia of Conspiracy Theories

     (This article is the second version of a blog post I wrote a few months ago.  The first version was somehow lost.  No, I don’t suspect that it was destroyed by reptilian shape shifters that didn’t want you to read it.  My schedule has relaxed enough now that I’m able to write a second version of this article.  I hope it’s as informative as the first (missing) version.)

     We’ve all seen articles purporting to explain why some people are attracted to conspiracy theories.  The rationale behind the articles is that, if someone is aberrant enough to suspect that politicians sometimes have ulterior motives, this suspicion requires a socio-psychoanalytical explanation—from a safe distance, of course; and it should be performed only by someone who recognizes the danger of examining the facts for oneself.
     In a previous article, “Why Some People are Attracted to Conspiracy Theories,” I broke all the rules and presented my politically incorrect findings.  Yes, I admit it; I’m a thought criminal.
     It's highly curious that a belief in conspiracies is considered aberrant enough to warrant socio-psychological analysis; but no one seems to question why some other people are addicted to official narratives and have a phobia of conspiracy theories.  It’s as if the official narratives are the default explanation of events (like the reasonableness of wearing a hat as protection from the blinding rays of the sun), and that skepticism of official narratives is considered an oddball alternative (like wearing a lampshade over your head).
     (Actually, it’s the conspiratophobe who likes to imagine “truthers” as the sort of people who wear lampshades—probably so that people around the “truthers” will not be blinded by the dazzling light of truth.  Doesn’t it seem odd to “accuse” a political opponent of wanting to know the truth?  For what it’s worth, the opposite of truther is liar.)
     In the article, “Why Some People are Attracted to Conspiracy Theories,” I gave three commonly given explanations and showed the absurdity of all three.  To give equal time to conspiratophobes, I give three explanations for why certain other people have a phobia of anything—question, fact, or theory—that calls an official narrative into question.  Here are the three explanations:
1.    They are vain; to them, social responsibility is less important than a sense of personal reward or the approval of others.
2.    They’re either lazy or they’re moral cowards.
3.    They miss the comfort and security of their mothers’ wombs.

     They are vain; to them, social responsibility is less important than a sense of personal reward or the approval of others. This motivation is rather tricky to examine because certain virtues, such as social responsibility, are often compartmentalized.  I’ve known conspiratophobes who gave very much of themselves through organizations dedicated to helping others—deeds that brought them considerable honor and praise.  Belief in a conspiracy theory, however, calls for a similar level of commitment to the needs of others, but very few people will praise you for it.  More often, it results in disrepute and even social ostracism.
     It’s not that conspiracy deniers don’t see that there’s a problem.  Many conspiratophobes are highly intelligent, articulate people who use their intelligence in the service of self-deceit.
     Here’s the sort of example I’m sure you’ve seen:
     Let’s say the year is 2006.  You tell someone that the NSA has been conducting widespread warrantless wiretaps.  Year after year, for he automatically rejects any and all evidence you try to show him, declaring that it’s too evil to contemplate.  After all, we live in a “democracy.”  In a democracy “our” government would never do something that evil and authoritarian.  Fast forward to last year—Edward Snowden.  To the conspiratophobe, this is a recent revelation; (“Who could have known?” he says.)—notwithstanding that the evidence had been around since 2006.  Just as suddenly, the evil, authoritarian practice of widespread, warrantless wiretapping has become a good thing that is necessary to protect us from Al Qaeda or some other boogey man of the day.  All that is needed now is an extra-constitutional Presidential Directive defining the limits of a practice that has already overstepped constitutional limits.

     They’re lazy or are moral cowards.  When a citizen has a healthy skepticism of those in power, he assumes a burden that he had not had before the skepticism arose.  He’s required to use critical thinking skills instead of simply responding to spin doctor-generated stimuli—the same sort of stimuli that advertisers use to convince gullible people to pay twice as much for a pair of shoes as it’s really worth, all because it has a corporate symbol on it, or because the corporation has paid millions of dollars for a famous athlete to wear it in a television commercial.
     It’s not that they can’t get excited about something and generate energy as a result of that excitement.  They can get very excited about the Super Bowl, a rock star, the latest fad, or some other pointless diversion.  Those things don’t require taking a stand that someone else may oppose.  Those who find it fashionable to get excited about meaningless things are the very people who give the fisheye to people who display even a little passion about things that matter—such as the genocide of Palestinians (a sure ticket to being labeled anti-Semitic), the Bill of Rights (easily dismissed as the work of home-grown terrorists”), GMO (luddites), or the Bible (intolerance).  There’s always a convenient label to marginalize anyone who upsets the status quo, and to shut down a conversation so you can go back to your mindless game of moving dots around on your so-called “smart” phone.

     They miss the comfort and security of their mothers’ wombs.  An addiction to official narratives is key to their paradigm for “understanding” the world around them.  In their world, there are no stakeholders but themselves, and the world revolves around their desire for security and happiness.
     In their world, the news media have to tell them the whole truth at all times because the news media have only one stakeholder: the newspaper buyer or the news program viewer.  Like the babe in the womb, they fail to see the owners, investors, sources, creditors, advertisers, and others who also have a stake in the news media.  As often as not, the other stakeholders have interests that are completely against the interests of the newspaper buyer or television watcher.  (See here)
     In the world of conspiracy denial, politicians have only one stakeholder: the voter.  The conspiratophobe’s one measly vote (if he votes at all) is more than a match for campaign donors, high-powered lobbyists, intelligence agencies, foreign diplomats, international bankers, and many others—if they enter his thinking at all.  At the same time, politicians (most of whom have never created value in their entire lives) have the magical abilities to do things that everyone knows can’t be done—such as creating millions of jobs just by signing a name to a sheet of paper.  (See here.)  
     The world as imagined by your typical conspiratophobe is a world that hasn’t existed since he was in his mother’s womb, or in story books his mother read to him as a small child.  It’s a world populated by magical beings that exist only to perform miracles especially for the conspiratophobe.  In short, a typical conspiratophobe is someone who has an irrational aversion to reality because reality calls for responsibility and is sometimes uncomfortable.

     A conspiracy theorist, by contrast, is the following:
1.    Someone who believes that human events are caused by humans.
2.    Someone who believes that politicians sometimes have ulterior motives.
3.    Someone who believes that the assassination of Julius Caesar wasn't a spontaneous event.
4.    Someone who believes that Richard Nixon “knew something” about Watergate before he read it in the Washington Post.
5.    Someone who, when a politician says, “Read my lips,” also takes care to watch his hands.
6.    Someone who believes, as Lord Acton did, that “Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
7.    Someone who believes that politics, by its very nature, is conspiratorial.
8.    Someone who, when a politician pats him on the back, is smart enough to know whether the politician is just feeling for a place to put the knife.  When a politician pats a conspiratophobe on the back, he’s attaching a sign that says, “I’m gullible. Trick me.”

     Here are a couple of videos that the average liar (the opposite of truther) dares not watch:

Monday, February 3, 2014

Why Some People are Attracted to Conspiracy Theories

     This article is the first part of a two-part series.  The working title of the second part is tentatively titled “Why some People are Attracted to Official Narratives.” 
     No doubt you've already read articles with titles like “Why some People are Attracted to Conspiracy Theories.” All such articles have taken the approach that official narratives are the default view, and that any rejection of an official narrative is an aberration that needs to be explained in socio-psychological terms. 
     Logic, fairness, and respect for Truth, however, demand that both phenomena—attraction to, and automatic revulsion to, conspiracy theories—must be evaluated by the same standards.  Let’s begin with the most common arguments offered by conspiratophobes.   In the next article, we’ll deal with the conspiracy theorists. 
     If you’re in need of a socio-psychological term for conspiracy theorists, just call them conspiratophiles. If you require a term to explain what kind of theorist a conspiratophobes is, you may call them excretory theorists; that is, people who believe that “stuff” just happens.
     In trying to explain some people’s attraction to conspiracy theories, conspiratophobes typically offer three explanations:
1.      Conspiracy theorists tend to be distrustful of authority figures.  This leads them to look for alternative explanations.
2.      Official narratives sometimes leave some questions unanswered.  Conspiratophiles tend to “fill in the blanks” with explanations that seem to fit their worldview.
3.      Academic studies have shown that, typically, conspiracy theorists don’t actually propose theories; they simply point to “anomalies” in the default explanation.
     Regarding point #1, it’s entirely true that conspiracy theorists tend to be distrustful of authority figures.  The most notorious conspiracy theorist in American history—Thomas Jefferson, by name—is a case in point.  Below are some of his conspiratorial opinions:

 (Ahem!  Just remember what private banking institutions did to us in 2008 and on a few earlier occasions.)
     “Single acts of tyranny may be ascribed to the accidental opinion of a day; but a series of oppressions, begun at a distinguished period and pursued unalterably through every change of ministers, too plainly prove a deliberate, systematic plan of reducing [a people] to slavery.”  (Ahem! George W. Bush’s acts of tyranny and war making progressed unabated throughout the reign of Barack Obama.  Except for the dates of these events, it’s virtually impossible to tell which “President” committed which offense.)
     “But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security….The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States.”  (Thus, our nation’s founding document, the Declaration of Independence, was built on conspiracy theory.  The thirteen colonies declared their independence, not only for what the British regime had done to them but for what Jefferson and others claimed that the British regime was planning to do to them.)
     "Confidence is everywhere the parent of despotism.  Free government is founded in jealousy, and not in confidence….The two enemies of the people are criminals and government, so let us tie the second down with the chains of the Constitution so the second will not become the legalized version of the first….In questions of power then, let no more be heard of confidence in man but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution." (Notes from various drafts of Jefferson’s Kentucky Resolution of 1798)
     If Mr. Jefferson were alive today, we should not be surprised to hear of his name being added to the DHS terrorist watch list.
     Let’s turn to explanation #2: That some people are attracted to conspiracy theory as a means of “filling in the blanks” in unanswered questions.  Actually, I have never heard of anyone doing that.  Almost invariably, the blanks are filled in, but conspiracy theorists think that the blanks have been filled in incorrectly.  Let’s look at a few examples:
  1. World Trade Center Building #7 imploded at near free-fall speed into its own footprints because of _(a)_________________ and (b)______________.  (Conspiracy theorists refuse to accept the answers (a) two small fires that firemen said they could put out with two lines and (b) twelve feet of parapet that was broken away from the roof of Building #7.
  2. The Pentagon was damaged when a (a)(who) _______________________  (b) (did what)      _____________________________.  (Conspiracy theorists refuse to accept the answers (a) novice pilot who was unqualified to fly a Cessna 172 (b) expertly flew a Boeing 757, effecting a 370-degree turn during a steep dive at 530 miles per hour, upon which he leveled off and hit the Pentagon at close to ground level without disturbing so much as a blade of grass.)
  3. (Multiple Choice)  Who is Victoria Muñoz?
    1. A close acquaintance of Nancy Lanza, the mother of Sandy Hook shooter Adam Lanza (December 2012).
    2. An eyewitness to the Boston Marathon bombing (April 15, 2013).
    3. An eyewitness to the Watertown, Massachusetts, shootout (sic) (April 19, 2013)
    4. An eyewitness to the Albuquerque, New Mexico, stabbing (April 28, 2013). .
    5. All of the above.   (Conspiracy theorists refuse to believe that E is the correct answer.  Of course it was just a coincidence that all four women had the same face and hair, same voice, and same mannerisms.)
     Finally, let’s look at explanation #3: That’s the assertion that conspiracy theorists usually don’t offer conspiracy theories; they simply point to “anomalies” and use those anomalies to question the official version of events.
     That’s an incredible assertion.  Anomalies, by definition are facts (facts that "deviate from what is standard, normal, or expected.")  As I've often said, a fact can’t be a theory.  How can someone be called conspiracy theorist if he offers facts rather than theories?
     Further, it’s an understatement to use the word anomaly to describe impossibility.  While many dubious events present suspicious anomalies, conspiracy theorists rarely rest their cases on unanswered questions or anomalies.  Almost without fail, the tipping point is the discovery that the official explanation of events is impossible.
     For example, it’s impossible for a man to use a rifle to kill someone if that rifle is locked in the trunk of a car.  It’s also impossible for ordinary office fires, which burn no hotter than 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit, to liquefy steel, which liquefies at no less than 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit. 
     It may seem curious that an academic can come up with so ludicrous an assertion that conspiracy theorists usually don’t have conspiracy theories.  A casual glance at the dictionary should clear up any puzzlement over this (ahem!) anomaly.
      One of the definitions of the word academic is, “having no useful or practical purpose.”  I’m a university instructor, so I should know.  Here’s how it works:
     People at a university decide to host an academic conference; that is, a conference that has no useful or practical purpose.  They issue a call for academic papers—papers that (unlike toilet paper) have no useful or practical purpose.   The quality of the papers are reviewed according to academic standards; that is, if the reviewer suspects that something in the paper has a useful or practical purpose, either that part of the paper must be changed or the paper is rejected altogether.  The people who go in for that sort of stuff are called academics; so that should tell you all you need to know about those people.

     In part two of this series, I will attempt to examine the perceived inner needs that drive some people to blindly accept even the most risible narratives that talking heads and other authority figures hand them.  (Hint: If they questioned authority figures even once, they’d have to leave the womb, think for themselves, and take responsibility for their lives.  They may even—heaven forbid!—have to turn off their television sets.)