First, I think we must distinguish between conspiracies in the legal sense, and conspiracy theories. Conspiracies are any time that two or more people get together to break a law. Conspiracy theories are “hidden hand” theories of history – around for ages in the case of the Illuminati for example, or newer theories, in the case of the Pearl Harbour, JFK, 9/11 and Alien theories – which claim that history is dictated, or at least severely influenced, by secret groups.
There have been millions of conspiracies in history. There are some that have no doubt never been revealed but the ones we know about have been spectacularly unsuccessful for the most part. The most successful mass conspiracy I know about is the British government’s attempt to keep the secret that they had cracked Ultra, the German code-machine, during World War II. They kept it for a few years. Then the war ended the the necessity disappeared and everyone knew about it. Most other conspiracies are revealed to us through the conspirators themselves, and the odd intrepid journalist.
These conspiracies are very, very different from conspiracy theories, which claim that all or at least significant events are plots of groups of people. Conspiracy theories posit / presuppose a number of premises that I can’t possibly agree with, based on my own life experience and the reading I do of history, politics, psychology, sociology, biology and so forth.
Most conspiracy theories imply
- that there is a class of people who have similar interests: to be rich and powerful, to keep secrets and perform secret rituals; and that these interests are always or nearly always aligned
- that this class has a limitless supply of trustworthy lackeys to do their bidding
- that there are some people who are better able to understand and control themselves and those around them than normal human beings
- that given their super- or extra-human abilities to manipulate others to their wills, that their wills are only evil or self-interested and never good or altruistic; that these people are evil people
- that these people are incredibly secretive and ritualistic, despite their abilities
- that the conspirators are not subject to events and circumstances like normal human beings
- that they can turn their intentions into action better than other human beings; that they can will something and it will be done
- that they can plan something extremely complicated and have it come off to the minutest detail without a single mistake
That’s an incomplete list, but it should be okay.
Why do I disagree with these premises?
- Class theory cannot explain much. Think about yourself. What class are you? I am either a bourgeois or a prole, depending on who you read. But I do not identify with either. I have about 15 labels I would think of before I called myself ‘son of middle class parents’.
- Having a lackey class for the controllers of society is even more implausible, unless it was an obvious thing, such as in a society like India’s and these lackeys would still be human (i.e. prone to discussing what they are up to with others)
- Some people are better than others at knowing what they want and getting what they want and others are worse, but they aren’t uniformly distributed to one class of society or another.
- People are neither good nor evil; psychology tells us that people’s behaviour can be bad or good primarily based on circumstances and not on some kind of inborn morality.
- People are not particularly secretive en masse, though individuals are; most people desire to leave some kind of legacy and this involves publicizing their deeds to at least their family; ritualistic people are not normally super intelligent.
- Human beings are profoundly affected by their circumstances whether because they have nothing or because they have everything and in between; though this might seem like a case to claim there is a paranoid master race, it also means that they cannot plan incredible schemes very well.
- Nobody can perfectly translate their intentions into action; observe yourself tomorrow and see how that works: what exactly did you achieve / fail to achieve? How are you different from somebody pulling the strings?
- Nobody gets everything they want.
- Everything planned encounters life and doesn’t go according to plan; what actually works out perfectly?
In addition to these objections to the premises of conspiracy theories, I also object to the behaviour of the “true believers” of conspiracy theories. They behave essentially like religious zealots and do not accept research or logic. They
- exhibit Kolakowski’s law of infinite cornocopia: there will always be arguments in favour of the conspiracy theory, despite any and all evidence to the contrary
- ‘fail to apply occam’s razor’ which is a standard principle of reasoning
- are emotionally attached to the existence of the conspiracy and to defend it they resort to name calling
- look at a majority of “experts” saying something is impossible and a tiny minority saying it’s possible and they side with the tiny, mentally imbalanced, minority always
- behave like they are the “chosen,” privileged to their information; this information makes them superior; they claim that people who ask them questions are delusional and are buying the line sold to them by the government or whoever (even though a person asking questions, such as myself, is a skeptic and a rigorous fact checker)
- have beliefs that are exclusionary: either you believe in conspiracy and you are part of the “elect” or you don’t and you’re a tool of the government.
Any thorough, rational and honest investigation of these theories leads to one conclusion: they are made up. We can never answer all our questions about any event but that in no way implies that there was some kind of plot keeping us from knowing the “truth.”