It seems that I bit off more than I could chew. I started writing this post about two months ago and it’s slowly grown out of control. I became fascinated, and just a little bit obsessed, by all of the conspiracy theories I’ve been hearing around town and the bigger view of what makes people believe them. Following links endlessly down the rabbit-hole, I’ve spent many a day and night researching each of the various tangents. It’s given me interesting insight into the human condition and social theory constructs. I hope you find it as fascinating as I did in compiling it. And please comment!
Many thanks to Wikipedia for the wealth of information, much of which I’ve paraphrased below. As this post is simply a rumination and not an academic paper, I haven’t bothered to exhaustively credit or footnote all of the sources.
Note that this discussion only represents theories (which locals take as fact) that I’ve heard discussed around here in Vilcabamba. There are many wonderfully more outlandish theories. Here is the full list, and here is a sampling from A to Z.
The seminal reference book General Psychopathology defines three main criteria for a belief to be considered delusional:
- certainty (held with absolute conviction)
- incorrigibility (not changeable by compelling counterargument or proof to the contrary)
- impossibility or falsity of content (implausible, bizarre or patently untrue)
Many, if not most, of the expats living here in Vilcabamba exhibit the classic indicators of delusion.
New World Order
One theory holds that the Illuminati is behind the so-called “New World Order“. This is ironic, since the organization was originally set up by freethinkers, secularists, liberals, pro-feminists, etc who were bent on overthrowing the existing oppressive ruling class of the 18th Century. Of course, some believe that the Illuminati have been operational for thousands of years. Others believe that Skull and Bones and other modern secret societies are today’s continuation of the Bavarian Illuminati. By the way, the Wizard of Oz was an Illuminati mind control project funded by the CIA. Where does it stop?
Then there are the Freemasons. This conspiracy theorizes that the founding fathers of the United States interwove Masonic symbolism and sacred geometry into the Great Seal of the United States (on the one-dollar bill – the words “Novus Ordo Seclorum” means “New World Order”… well, actually, it doesn’t, but wouldn’t it be creepy if it did? It makes you think, doesn’t it?), the National Mall, and even the street layout of Washington, D.C. All as part of a great plan “to mystically bind their vision of a government in conformity with the Luciferian plan of the Great Architect of the Universe who has tasked the United States with the eventual establishment of an hermetic ‘Kingdom of God on Earth’ and the building of the Third Temple in New Jerusalem as its holiest site.”
“The Pentagram connected to ‘The White House’ is geographically up-side down. A classic, or rather the classic logo of Satanism! Also important to point out is the fact that ‘The Pentagon’ is angled at thirty-three degrees (as in the thirty-three degrees of Freemasonry) and that at this angle appears as an another upside-down pentagram!” Notice how the large pentagram on the left is completely arbitrary – any geometric symbol could have been laid on top of the street layout.
Didn’t expect religion to enter the fray this early, did you? In point of fact, many of the conspiracy theorists are anti-semites who believe that the Jews are behind it all. One variation of this gathers together the Jews, Masons, and Communists as world dominators! As it is patently obvious that the world is not being run for the benefit of Jews, identification of the Jews as the Secret Rulers of the World is often associated with Holocaust denial. Also since most positions of wealth, power, and influence are in fact held by Gentiles, a favorite occupation of conspiracy theorists is identifying Gentiles as Secret Jews to make up the deficit.
Which brings us to the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, an antisemitic canard published in 1903 which propagandized the idea of of Jews taking over the world. Despite the fact that the book has been widely proven to be a hoax, it is still often quoted in contemporary conspiracy literature. On the other side of the spectrum is the belief that the “Fourth Reich” have been working behind the scenes since the end of World War II to enact at least some of the principles of Nazism (militarism, fascism, conquest, widespread spying on citizens, use of corporations and propaganda to control national interests and ideas) into culture, government, and business worldwide, but primarily in the United States.
U.S. Government entities
Many conspiracy theorists believe that the Council on Foreign Relations is a front organization for the Round Table as a tool of the “Anglo-American Establishment”, which they believe has been plotting from 1900 on to rule the world. David Rockefeller was chairman of the board for 25 years, which fuels the fear that the Council is in fact an international banking cabal bent on subverting national sovereignty in favor of a central private bank which will control all the world’s nations from private hands. The Trilateral Commission (also founded by Rockefeller!!!) is widely viewed as a co-conspirator organization. [Which the Straight Dope has this to say: "you might at least try to be paranoid about something reasonably up-to-date. The TLC-as-world-conspiracy theory peaked during the early 80s, and has now pretty much gone the way of the hula hoop."] The United States Federal Reserve Bank is often implicated for starting or sustaining wars purely for economic gain. Sustained conflict forces the U.S. government to borrow money from the bank, allegedly increasing the profits of the “international bankers”. The Federal Reserve is also claimed to have engineered the Great Depression in order to steal wealth from the American people.
The Project For A New American Century is a (now defunct) group of right-wing American politicians and pundits who argued for a stronger military and a more interventionist approach to foreign policy, in particular the invasion of Iraq. As some of the founders of PNAC included Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and Paul Wolfowitz, the PNAC may be said to have failed at the sine qua non of secretly running the world, which is to do it secretly, rather than publishing your agenda on the Internet and then using legitimate means to openly gain positions of power.
Besides the Council on Foreign Relations, the Trilateral Commission, Skull and Bones, Bohemian Club, and Club of Rome, a handful of similar organizations are also said to pull the strings – including selecting presidents and prime ministers, starting wars, and orchestrating the media. Apparently the entire planet is run by a mere 7,000 people (who are all “in on it”).
The Bilderberg Group is often cited as being one of the major ruling synarchists behind the New World Order. The most remarkable thing about the Bilderberg Group is that its ideologically diverse members manage to achieve consensus on their agenda for the entire world in a conference that lasts for a mere three days per year. This hasty approach to global domination may possibly explain why the world is in a bit of a mess. The Rothschilds, Rockefellers, Phipps’, DuPonts, Vanderbilts, and Bush family are one of about 13 dynastic bloodlines presented as the real rulers or would-be rulers of the world. During WWII, Ezra Pound openly named the Rothschilds as the masters of a clique of banking houses that caused the World Wars in order to profit from them and get countries in debt to the lending central banks, which Pound claimed the Rothschild interests owned and thereby exercised control of a nation’s policy by having the power to issue the nation’s money.
Former President Bush secretly makes the well-known secret sign of secret Satanism in a secret public place.
As is well known, all the people who rule the world participate in secret Satanist rituals for which there is no evidence because they’re secret. Nonetheless, we know that this is true because YOU’VE JUST GOT TO CONNECT THE DOTS, PEOPLE!!! WAKE UP!!!
The 9/11 conspiracy is a fascinating one to investigate, seeing as how it ties together many other conspiracies. This post is already too long as it is, but if you want to read an excellent rebuttal to the “truthers” point by point, I recommend the Popular Mechanics investigation. They spent months chasing down each refutation which resulted in a compelling and well-sourced report. It begins:
The 9/11 Truth Movement invariably describes the mainstream account of 9/11 as the “government version” or “the official version.” In fact, the generally accepted account of 9/11 is made up of a multitude of sources: thousands of newspaper, TV, and radio reports produced by journalists from all over the world; investigations conducted by independent organizations and institutions, including the American Society of Civil Engineers, Purdue University, Northwestern University, Columbia University, the National Fire Protection Association, and Underwriters Laboratories, Inc.; eyewitness testimony from literally thousands of people; recordings and transcripts of phone calls, air traffic control transmissions, and other communications; thousands of photographs; thousands of feet of video footage; and, let’s not forget the words of Osama bin Laden, who discussed the operation in detail on more than one occasion… The mainstream view of 9/11 is, in other words, a vast consensus. By presenting it instead as the product of a small coterie of insiders, conspiracists are able to ignore facts they find inconvenient and demonize people with whom they disagree. [...] One of the chilling things about 9/11 denial is how blithely its adherents are able to accuse their fellow citizens of complicity in evil.
Since many of these same people who believe that the September 11 attacks were a false flag operation carried out by the United States intelligence community as part of a strategy of tension to justify political repression at home and preemptive war abroad, some of them have become convinced that a more catastrophic terrorist incident will be responsible for triggering the process needed to complete the transition to a police state.
Speaking of police states, there is a great deal of fear surrounding “Big Brother“. As a privacy advocate, I do find the increased use of Social Security Numbers to track citizens in the U.S. troubling. And putting RFID chips into U.S. passports in 2006 was really dumb – I recommend anyone owning one of these new passports keep it in a shielded sleeve (against petty identity thieves more than against Big Brother). But the idea that we’re being tracked via UPC bar codes? Please. I’ve even heard talk that “they” can track your phone even when the battery is removed! I do what I can to inject healthy doses of science and reality into such discussions. The facts are pretty scary, though – reading about the UK’s vast Orwellian system of surveillance does make me question whether I really want to live in London someday.
One World Government
Many folks here believe that the New World Order will be implemented by martial law after a dramatic coup d’état by a “secret team” (using black helicopters) to bring about a new world government, possibly controlled by the United Nations and enforced by U.N. peacekeepers. Nevermind the countless logistical problems with this scenario, do you really believe that UN peacekeepers would turn on their own people? And haven’t the conspiracy theorists noticed the almost complete powerlessness of the U.N. and the unwillingness of even moderates within the American Establishment to give it anything but a limited role?
Fears of a North American currency union are stoked by newsmen as mainstream as CNN’s Lou Dobbs (who is also a “birther“, further calling into question his sanity). Despite the concept of uniting Canada, the U.S. and Mexico into one economy being so far-fetched, it garnered no less than 43 congressional signatures when a resolution denouncing such action was introduced to the U.S. House of Representatives in early 2007. The theory is pushed by Swiftboaters, Minutemen, and anti-immigration Representatives as a scare-mongering tactic. As one skeptic put it, “this is simply another in a long line of conspiracy theories embraced by a lot of extremely naïve people. ‘Naïve’ because for anything remotely reassembling this to occur would mean several countries enacting changes against their own best interests. And ‘naïve’ because the sort of structural and political changes needed would require a rather large investment in time, resources and political work – much of it occurring by necessity in public view.”
Many of the organizations that I hold dear and that I feel can (and have) bettered the world (NASA, CDC, UN, WHO, EU) and others I hold not so dear and agree are destructive (IMF, World Bank, WTO) are held to be part of the strategy of implementation for this “New World Order”.
Skepticism of the NWO
There is no doubt in my mind that the plutocrats are busy conniving global capitalism (at the expense of Marxism, socialism, or any other proletariat government) through government/military interventionism to protect the interests of transnational corporations (“Inverted Totalitarianism“). But the idea that this superclass is conspiring together for united world domination just doesn’t ring true in my opinion. As my sole fellow skeptic in town is fond of saying, “We wish governments were that well organized! But the fact is that they’re simply inept and bad at keeping secrets – else how would we know about Abu Ghraib or Mai Lai.”
My reaction to these NWO conspiracy theories are summed up by G. William Domhoff in a March 2005 essay entitled There Are No Conspiracies:
There are several problems with a conspiratorial view that don’t fit with what we know about power structures. First, it assumes that a small handful of wealthy and highly educated people somehow develop an extreme psychological desire for power that leads them to do things that don’t fit with the roles they seem to have. For example, that rich capitalists are no longer out to make a profit, but to create a one-world government. Or that elected officials are trying to get the constitution suspended so they can assume dictatorial powers. These kinds of claims go back many decades now, and it is always said that it is really going to happen this time, but it never does. Since these claims have proved wrong dozens of times by now, it makes more sense to assume that leaders act for their usual reasons, such as profit-seeking motives and institutionalized roles as elected officials. Of course they want to make as much money as they can, and be elected by huge margins every time, and that can lead them to do many unsavory things – but nothing in the ballpark of creating a one-world government or suspending the constitution.
Besides, if world affairs really were run by a central controlling group, then there would be no need to spend billions of dollars a year on surveillance of foreign governments, right? I mean, the “rulers” would already know what was going on in other nations if they were controlling things in the first place. The fact is, we’ve heard this all of this before – (and more history of conspiracism here) – in the mid-20th century, the conspirators were usually said to be crypto-communist sympathizers who were intent upon bringing the United States under a common world government with the Soviet Union; but the dissolution of the U.S.S.R. in 1991 undercut that theory.
Mark Partridge wrote last year in Diplomatic Courier:
I am skeptical that “global governance” could come much sooner than 200 years. For one thing, nationalism – the natural counterpoint to global government – is rising. Leaders and peoples around the world have resented Washington’s chiding and hubris over the past two decades of American unipolarity. Russia has been re-establishing itself as a “great power”; few could miss the national pride on display when China hosted the Beijing Olympics last summer; while Hugo Chavez and his ilk have stoked the national flames with their anti-American rhetoric. The departing of the Bush Administration could cause this nationalism to abate, but economic uncertainty usually has the opposite effect.
Another point is that attempts at global government and global agreements have been categorical failures. The WTO’s Doha Round is dead in the water, Kyoto excluded many of the leading polluters and a conference to establish a deal was a failure, and there is a race to the bottom in terms of corporate taxes – rather than an existing global framework. And, where supranational governance structures exist, they are noted for their bureaucracy and inefficiency: The UN has been unable to stop an American-led invasion of Iraq, genocide in Darfur, the slow collapse of Zimbabwe, or Iran’s continued uranium enrichment. That is not to belittle the structure, as I deem it essential, but the system’s flaws are there for all to see.
I’ve got sobering news for CT’s: nobody is in control. I view conspiracy theories in the same light as religion: an easy way to explain away the random complexities of life. But the fact is, all you see is all there is – there is no higher power orchestrating our minuscule, meaningless lives, just as there is no secret cabal directing human affairs or controlling us. It’s entirely up to us to give meaning, purpose, and direction to our lives. And that’s a very freeing thought, in my opinion – but it comes with a responsibility that CT’s don’t want to face.
Mind control is a central theme in many of these theories, naturally. Everything from subliminal advertising to brainwashed sleeper agents (Project MKULTRA) to hi-tech psychological warfare (Silent Sound Spread Spectrum). The government and mainstream media are often accused of not only being involved in the manufacture of a national consensus but a culture of fear due to the potential for increased social control that a mistrustful and mutually fearing population offers to those in power.
The seeds of these mind-control claims are well-established facts, in fact many of them have been officially admitted to by various agencies such as the GAO. It’s well known that at the conclusion of WWII, the U.S. and other governments recruited former Nazi scientists. Some of these scientists studied torture and brainwashing, several of whom had just been identified and prosecuted as war criminals during the Nuremberg Trials. Many secret U.S. government projects grew out of this program (see Project CHATTER and Project ARTICHOKE). Their purpose was to study mind control, interrogation, and behavior modification through the use of chemical, biological, and psychological means on mostly unwitting subjects, such as hospital patients. Throughout the 1950′s and 60′s, 44 universities, 15 research foundations, and 12 hospitals collaborated with the CIA, although sometimes unknowingly. Research was carried out in pursuing the holy grail of a truth serum for interrogating Soviet spies, as well as on techniques for manipulating foreign leaders such as Fidel Castro. Some go so far as to say that creating a “Manchurian Candidate” subject through mind control techniques was a goal of MK-ULTRA and related CIA projects.
Theodore Kaczynski (the Unabomber) was one of the subjects of these experiments at Harvard University from 1959 to 1962. One can only imagine what that did to his psyche, leading to his eventual murder spree. On a more positive note, Merry Prankster Ken Kesey, author of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, volunteered for MK-ULTRA experiments while he was a student at Stanford University. Kesey’s ingestion of LSD during these experiments led directly to his widespread promotion of the drug and the subsequent development of hippie culture. Interestingly, the major outcome of the government’s famous LSD experiments were the subject’s absolute and utter certainty that they were able to withstand any form of interrogation attempt, even physical torture. Useful for our boys, but not as a truth serum!
It wasn’t only the U.S. government committing these morally reprehensible non-consensual experiments – the Canadian and U.K. governments also got into the act. In fact, the main Canadian researcher (Donald Cameron) became the president of both the American and Canadian Psychiatric Associations – how twisted is that? To push the irony even further, Cameron had also been a member of the Nuremberg Medical Tribunal which investigated Nazi crimes of the very same nature that he later commited. Although the government at times has tried to cover up this sordid history, it has also issued public retributions and apologies from top brass, including President Ford to CIA Director Colby. The U.S. Government has also settled out of court to the tune of millions of dollars to families of some of the thousands of victims.
Here is the full list of mind control and “organized stalking” conspiracies. It’s fascinating reading. Especially for a shrink about to commit this woman. Kidding. Sort-of.
Fluoridation of water is often given as a method by which the government is controlling (or poisoning) the population. This one is particularly galling- I couldn’t give a rat’s ass if the CT’s die from abscessed teeth, but let our children grow up healthy, OK? Besides, this conspiracy theory is as old as the hills. To whit: “[Fluoridating water is] better THAN USING THE ATOM BOMB because the atom bomb has to be made, has to be transported to the place it is to be set off while POISONOUS FLUORINE has been placed right beside the water supplies by the Americans themselves ready to be dumped into the water mains whenever a Communist desires!” [emphasis as in original]
I was just copied on a group email from a new arrival to town:
Friends, believed it or not, a big part of the reason i left the States is because i got fed up with being poisoned by fluoride every time i took a shower. Well, i guess the joke’s on me. I recently found out that ALL of the salt in Ecuador has fluoride added! The Global Pathocrats (GPC) can’t easily add fluoride to the drinking water here, so they simply make sure that everyone gets their daily dose of this dreadful bioaccumulative toxin which kills your pineal gland and turns people into compliant sheep by putting it in ALL of the salt. What a wonderful world we live in. The average person is so brainwashed that they actually believe the GPC propaganda that fluoride is an essential ingredient to dental health.
Suffice it to say that this is complete poppycock.
Many nutcases people believe that AIDS was created by the U.S. Government as a method of population control or outright genocide. Several prominent black activists believe that AIDS was created as a weapon against black people.
A lot of people around here are worried about chemtrails – those white linear cloud-like formations that occur behind high-altitude aircraft. People swear there has been a rise in the amount of these (which couldn’t have anything to do with an increase in flight routes nor increased observation of the skies), and that these “chemtrails” are part of a nefarious plan by the government to control the population through mind-control, pacification, or simply genocide. Huh. Now we’re meant to fear clouds. I shot down a lot of the chemtrail conspiracy in my last post, but suffice it to say that if there were a campaign to introduce foreign chemicals to the population, it would be simpler and far more effective to put them into the water or food supply; or, if inhalation were really necessary, to release them from ground-based vehicles. Maybe that’s a new conspiracy we can spread!
I’ve heard a lot about how supposed FEMA camps will be used for the internment of suspected subversives, making little effort to distinguish true threats from ideological dissidents. “Contemporary concentration camps” they call them. “They’re building them by the thousands! I saw it on YouTube!” We’ve seen this before – back during the Kennedy administration the federal government expanded mental health services, and one bill provided for a new facility in Alaska. One of the most widely listened to right-wing radio programs in the country (hosted by a former FBI agent) had millions of Americans believing it was being built to intern political dissidents, just like in the Soviet Union. Of course isn’t any more true now than it was then.
People here are really worried about the “forced” vaccinations being rolled out in the U.S. this month for the H1N1 virus. Depending on who you talk to, the vaccines are actually slow-acting poisons or nanobots to be activated at a later date (presumably to turn us all into zombies?!) Those who refuse the vaccine will be arrested and taken to the FEMA internment camps. I’m tempted to hang around Vilcabamba another few weeks just to say “I told you so” when nothing of the sort happens.
The New York Times put it perfectly in a recent article: “As soon as swine flu vaccinations start next month, some people getting them will drop dead of heart attacks or strokes, some children will have seizures and some pregnant women will miscarry. But those events will not necessarily have anything to do with the vaccine.” These things occur with regularity no matter what – a coincidence of occurrence does not equal causal effect. Really, Statistics 101 and Critical Thinking should be required courses before one becomes a conspiracy theorist.
In a related story, actress and model Jenny McCarthy won a Pigasus award last year for her activism in publicly encouraging parents not to vaccinate their children against measles, mumps, diptheria, etc – because she bought into the bunk that vaccines cause autism (which has been thoroughly debunked). This is a serious public health problem – outbreaks are on the rise because of the antivaxxers. Many of the antivaxxers are simply snake oil salesmen peddling their wares using fear-mongering as marketing. As one doctor put it, “Children have died because they haven’t been vaccinated. And when a large enough segment of the population doesn’t get vaccinated, we lose our herd immunity, and more people die. This type of antiscience thinking is getting people killed.” It’s been found that the risk of contracting a given disease is lower if you are completely unvaccinated yet living in a highly vaccinated community than if you are completely vaccinated and living in a relatively unvaccinated community. Why? Because vaccines don’t always take. What does that mean? You can’t minimize your individual risk unless your herd – your friends and neighbors – also buy in.
Speaking of anti-science, I’m sick of it. A lot of the ex-pats around here actually look down on using logic and the scientific method to explain the world. They pretend to use science, but it’s pseudo-science in actuality. Not only are many people here anti-science, they’re also anti-intellectual. It’s like a return to the Bush years or the middle ages. They claim we’re in the Age of Aquarius – which is meant to be an evolvement to Enlightenment – but all I see is heads buried in the sand.
[Another example of people not using their noggin: NASA is about to "bomb" the moon to find water. Leaving aside the PR blunder of NASA in using the term 'bomb', people around here are freaking out - it's going to throw the moon off course! Hellooooooo, that's like saying, "don't talk too loud, or the people in China will here you." Their sense of scale is all whacked. Really people, try using your head once in a while.]
By the way, if somebody tells you that the Apollo moon landings were faked, just punch them in the face as Buzz Aldrin did! Really, I’m not often proud of my country, but this particular conspiracy theory is appallingly disgraceful to the extraordinary men and women who accomplished that Herculean task. One of the groups perpetuating this “theory” is the Flat Earth Society. Yes, Wilbur, they still exist in this day and age of satellite imagery and such. Check out this profile of one of their main proponents or this forum if you’re in need of a laugh. Apparently the sun and moon are only 32 miles above us and the “cosmos” is a mere 3100 miles away (oh and it’s flat too, you know.)
This handsome wall chart of global tyranny will be the envy of all your paranoid friends.
Now to the really juicy stuff: alien conspiracy theory! From Wikipedia: “The common theme in such conspiracy theories is that aliens have been among us for decades, centuries or millennia, but a government cover-up has protected the public from knowledge of an alien invasion. Motivated by speciesism, these aliens have been and are secretly manipulating developments and changes in human society in order to more efficiently control and exploit it. In some theories, alien infiltrators have taken human form and move freely throughout human society, even to the point of taking control of command positions. A mythical covert government agency of the United States code-named Majestic 12 is often cited as being the shadow government which collaborates with the alien occupation in exchange for assistance in the development and testing of experimental aircraft and weapons systems for the militarization of space to achieve full-spectrum dominance.”
Like so much else in life, it’s difficult to separate fact from fiction. The U.S. Government has investigated UFO’s over the years, mostly doing a bad job of it. PCT’s (paranoid conspiracy theorists) would point to this as a cover-up. I call it bureaucratic ineptitude. Parsing the Wikipedia entry for MJ-12, it appears that much of the supporting evidence for such a group have been fakeries and hoaxes. However, this doesn’t deny government involvement. On the contrary, it’s been widely demonstrated that the Air Force committed a complex disinformation campaign against UFO researchers in order to distract them from the secret military testing going on in locations such as Area 51.
One of the main Ufologists to be fed disinformation was Paul Bennewitz, who was convinced he had uncovered proof of alien activity at Dulce Base, New Mexico. Bennewitz created a communication system that he believed enabled him to electronically communicate with what he was convinced were ET piloted ships flying to and from the base. Furthermore, he began to track the electronic frequencies ET’s used to control individuals who had been abducted and implanted with miniature electronic devices. The stories (here and here) are irresistible:
“Thomas alleges that there were over 18,000 of the short ‘greys’ at the Dulce Facility. He has also seen reptilian humanoids. One of us came face-to-face with a 6-foot tall Reptoid which had materialized in the house. The Reptoid showed interest in research maps of New Mexico and Colorado which were on my wall. The maps were full of colored push-pins and markers to indicate sites of animal mutilations, caverns, the locations of high UFO activity, repeated flight paths, abduction sites, ancient ruins, and suspected alien underground bases.
“…The security level goes up as one descends to the lower levels. Thomas had an ULTRA-7 clearance. He knew of seven sub-levels, but there MAY have been more. Most of the aliens are on levels 5, 6, and 7. Alien housing is on level 5. The only sign in English was one over a tube shuttle station hallway which read ‘to Los Alamos.’ Connections go from Dulce to the Page, Arizona facility, then to an underground base below Area 51 in Nevada. There is a vast network of tube shuttle connections under the U.S. which extends into a global system of tunnels and sub-cities. “
And on and on… zombies, alien-human hybrids, vats of humanoid bat-like creatures (“Mothmen“) – it’s as good a read as any sci-fi (because it’s REAL!!!)
Of course if you compare the detailed reports from the two stories linked above, there are significant critical differences in their descriptions of the alleged facilities.
The Montauk Project is a similarly outlandish tale. Word has it that on a military base on Long Island in 1983, The Government was able to open a portal in spacetime back to 1943 in order to connect with the ill-fated Philadelphia Experiment. The funding for all this came from a large cache of Nazi gold found in a train by U.S. soldiers near the Swiss border in France. Of course it did – can’t leave out the Nazis or it wouldn’t be a good conspiracy theory. Oh, and they used the “time tunnel” at Montauk to travel to Mars. One woman even says she was raped by a reptilian alien at Montauk. Sounds like a lot of therapy is in her future.
Alien Abductions, Creation Myths and Reptilians, oh my!
Ferne and I met a woman the other day who says she was abducted by aliens as a girl. She was experimented on through her nose and belly button, and something was planted in her abdomen. She believes she may have “birthed” an alien baby, but was then returned to the same moment in time from which she was taken (i.e., she didn’t experience “missing time“.) It’s fascinating because if you were to meet this woman, she would seem completely sane to you. She works at a high level in IT, has a husband and child, hobbies, friends, etc. No outward signs of schizophrenia or psychotic delusions. Many years later (after recalling and processing these memories through various techniques) she went to the doctor to have an (alien) implant removed from behind her ear. She says the doctor described it as approximately the size of a bullet. But did she have the object examined? This part of the story she glossed over, which made the entire episode suspect in my mind. She went on to tell us there are many different kinds of aliens “living in the matrix” all around us – Greys, Reptilians, Light Beings..
At the beginning of time, she explained, everything was love and unity. Somehow fear entered this dimension and fractured the whole, creating the sun, moon, stars, and other entities, hence creating the matrix. The matrix is created and endorsed through fear; the reptilians live in between dimensions (see an episode of the new Doctor Who for more info!) and only come out where there is fear. She said that the matrix will change in 2012 (see below for more on this end-date). This change may be a reversal in the magnetic poles on Earth, or it could be a new consciousness. She actually said that “the matrix will be rebooted”. The matrix consists of a number of programs that keep us humans in order – not thinking, and foremost, not challenging authority. For example, there is the religious program, the work program, the get-married-and-buy-a-house program, etc. (see the movie “The Matrix” for more information! Really, most of this stuff is lifted directly from science fiction but taken as fact).
Naturally, the Illuminati are behind it all – but in this telling, they are a race of reptilian humanoids known as the Babylonian Brotherhood, and many prominent figures are reptilian, including both Bushes, Hillary Clinton, Tony Blair, Queen Elizabeth II, Kris Kristofferson, and Boxcar Willie! Alien abductions tend to run in the family, so this woman’s goal is to protect her daughter to keep that from happening. Of course it goes without saying that she should purchase alien abduction insurance.
The book she recommended we read above all else is David Icke‘s The Biggest Secret: The Book That Will Change the World. In it, he explains that most world leaders — including quite a few U.S. presidents — are actually shape-shifting reptilian beings from a different planet who start wars and are responsible for horrific events like 9/11 in order to promote fear and hatred, which gives them strength. Oh, and they’re seven feet tall and suck human blood. I am not making this up. Icke proposes that “Ordinary people are being massively duped into believing that the ordinary course of world events are the consequence of known political forces and random, uncontrollable events. However, the course of humanity is being manipulated at every level. The Global Elite arrange for incidents to occur around the world, which then elicit a response from the public (‘something must be done’), and in turn allows those in power to do whatever they had planned to do in the first place.” This “pyramid of manipulation” is orchestrated through hierarchical structures involving banking, business, the military, education, the media, religion, drug companies, intelligence agencies, and organized crime. “The Rothschilds, Rockefellers, the British royal family, and the ruling political and economic families of the U.S. and the rest of the world come from these SAME [alien] bloodlines. It is not because of snobbery, it is to hold as best they can a genetic structure – the reptilian-mammalian DNA combination which allows them to ‘shape-shift’.” David Icke, by the way, draws crowds by the thousands wherever he speaks, and his books sell quite briskly in dozens of countries.
Breaking News: Balloon Boy Just Wanted to Warn Us about the Lizard People!
Contactees vs. Abductees
“Contactees” are differentiated from “abductees” by their narrative, which are more benign than in abduction scenarios. Contactees report visitations from spiritual “Space Brothers” who are disturbed by the violence, crime and wars that infest the earth. However, despite their global concerns, the Brothers never land their flying saucers in front of the United Nations building, the White House or the Kremlin to spread their message. Instead, they invariably select obscure people (dishwashers, road crew members, assembly-line workers, sign-painters and taxi-drivers), whom often have a long prior history of involvement with mystical sects. Almost every contactee asserts that the urgent message of the Space Brothers is religious rather than technical; extraterrestrial religions as reported by the contactees are generally difficult to distinguish from a blend of Christianity and Theosophy.
Types of Aliens
Regarding the various types of aliens, one study found that “In North America large-headed gray aliens predominate, while in Britain abduction aliens are usually described as being tall, blond, and Nordic, while South America tends toward more bizarre creatures, including hairy monsters.” Another researcher notes that the critical difference between Brazilian reports of “spiritual space surgeons” and “typical” alien abductions is that Brazilians perceive the phenomenon as “pleasant and spiritual” while abductees report “terror.” I find this interesting, for it highlights the cultural biases of different human societies in the myths we create. Presumably real alien abductors would not discriminate based on national borders – unless the various alien races have worked out a sharing plan with each other!
Perhaps aliens are actually fairies.
Ancient astronaut theory posits that aliens have visited Earth many times through the ages and that this contact is linked to the origins or development of human cultures, technologies, and/or religions (i.e., “Jesus was an alien”). Some even believe this explains the so-called “missing link” between apes and humans – that aliens gave DNA in order to propel our evolution. Proponents point to what they perceive as gaps in evolutionary and archaeological records, and to what they see as absent or incomplete explanations of such data. They further point to archaeological artifacts that they argue are anachronistic or beyond the presumed technical capabilities of the historical cultures with which they are associated (so-called “out-of-place artifacts” such as Stonehenge, the Moai of Easter Island, and the Giza pyramids) and artwork and legends which are interpreted as depicting extraterrestrial contact or technologies. Scientists maintain that gaps in contemporary knowledge of the past do not demonstrate that such speculative ancient astronaut ideas are a necessary, or even plausible, conclusion to draw. Regarding supposed out-of-place artifacts, archaeologists generally dismiss these claims as extreme cultural centrism (the belief that a particular culture couldn’t have created an artifact or technology due to a lack of knowledge or materials). The fact is, many experiments have taken place to demonstrate how these massive structures could have been built using only the technology and materials available at the time, and all have been successful.
Zecharia Sitchen is another oft-quoted proponent of ancient astronaut theories. According to Sitchin’s interpretation of Babylonian religious texts, which contravenes every conclusion reached by credited scholars on the subject, a giant planet named Nibiru with a 3600-year orbit occasionally passes by Earth and allows its sentient inhabitants to interact with humanity. These beings, which Sitchin identifies with the Annunaki of Sumerian myth, were humanity’s first gods. A quote from Sitchen:
“[The Nibiru] gave Mankind civilization. These details dovetail with Sumerian texts according to which Ea [the Sumerian god also knowns as Enki] was the leader of the first group of astronauts from Nibiru who splashed down in the Persian Gulf and waded ashore, dressed as Fishmen (Fig. C)… The locations for the search for the ‘Enki Connection’ have been indicated by Lucyna Lobos, a Polish seer, who in a keynote address at the symposium asserted that the god Enki had left at those sites instructions how to create an Earth Shield to protect our planet from the catastrophic effects of the looming proximity of the returning planet Nibiru, alias Planet X. She warned that efforts must be accelerated to find this data and create the shield before 2012.”
Why did the Nibiru come to Earth in the first place? For the gold. You see, Nibiru was dying from being so cold (as it is usually far from the sun) – so they decided to build an atmospheric shell to trap the planet’s heat. So they came came to Earth to mine our natural resources, but with their small numbers they soon tired of the task and set out to genetically engineer laborers to work the mines. After much trial and error they eventually created homo sapiens: the “Adapa” (model man), or Adam of later mythology.
I don’t mean to make fun, but it sure feels like he’s in on the joke.
Collision Course with Earth
Many of Sitchen’s followers (but not Sitchen himself) believe that Nibiru is on a collision course with Earth. Originally this was meant to occur in 2003, but when that failed to occur, the main proponent revised the date to 2012. Reading the details you’ll see that none of the physics matches our current understanding of reality, yet NASA receives hundreds of emails a week about it. “Planetary scientists are being driven to distraction by Nibiru,” notes science writer Govert Schilling, “And it is not surprising; you devote so much time, energy and creativity to fascinating scientific research, find yourself on the tracks of the most amazing and interesting things, and all the public at large is concerned about is some crackpot theory about clay tablets, god-astronauts and a planet that doesn’t exist.”
Skepticism of Alien Conspiracy
Of course, the atheist in me insists on pointing out that belief in any of the above is no more bizarre than belief in God, angels, spirits, immortality, etc. The only difference is that “God” is a culturally accepted delusion, while aliens are less so. But it’s frankly unimaginative – the universe is far more complex and beautiful than we can possibly imagine. Furthermore, it strikes me as incredibly self-centered and egotistical to think that out of the impossibly huge universe, aliens select these few people as “chosen ones”. As Richard Dawkins said, “The truth is quite odd enough to need no help from pseudo-scientific charlatans.” In times gone by, lighting, rainbows, and magnetism were thought to be of supernatural origin until they were understood by science. Can’t the same be said today of unexplained phenomenon? Further, the fact that myself and others who believe in science (or to put it another way, don’t believe in the occult) have never experienced an unexplainable phenomenon would suggest that such experiences are at least partly brought on by the subconscious minds of those who do believe.
Neurologist Dr. Michael Persinger reports that “Nearly every basic element of mystical, religious, and visitor experience has been evoked with electrical stimulation” of test subjects’ brains. Dismissing the idea that alleged abductees are simply cranks, Persinger goes on: “Most people who report these experiences [alien abduction] display average to above average intelligence, are not ‘crazy’ and are very aware of the social and personal consequences of their experiences upon their families, friends and vocational opportunities.” His research points to psychosocial explanations, including hallucination (surprisingly common in the sane), temporary schizophrenia, epileptic seizures and parasomnia — near-sleep mental states (hypnogogic states, night terrors and sleep paralysis).
The desire to transcend this life, to move to a higher plane, to leave this body, to be selected by a higher being for some special task….each of these can be seen in the desire to be abducted by aliens as easily as in the desire to be one with God or to have an out-of-body experience. Researcher Goodrick-Clarke puts forward a thesis on the driving force behind occultism: Behind its many varied forms lies a uniform function, “a strong desire to reconcile the findings of modern natural science with a religious view that could restore man to a position of centrality and dignity in the universe.”
According to theories of anxiety relief and control, people turn to magical beliefs when there exists a sense of uncertainty and potential danger and little to do about it. Magic is used to restore a sense of control. In support of this theory, research indicates that superstitious behavior is invoked more often in high stress situations, especially by people with a greater desire for control.
In The Demon-Haunted World astronomer Carl Sagan pointed out that the alien abduction experience is remarkably similar to tales of demon abduction common throughout history:
“…most of the central elements of the alien abduction account are present, including sexually obsessive non-humans who live in the sky, walk through walls, communicate telepathically, and perform breeding experiments on the human species. Unless we believe that demons really exist, how can we understand so strange a belief system, embraced by the whole Western world (including those considered the wisest among us), reinforced by personal experience in every generation, and taught by Church and State? Is there any real alternative besides a shared delusion based on common brain wiring and chemistry?”
Of course, the occultists reply that what used to be interpreted as demons were actually aliens all along.
Therapist Gwen Dean noted 44 parallels between alien abduction and satanic ritual abuse (SRA). Both emerged as widespread phenomena in the late 1970s and early 1980s, both often use hypnosis to recover supposed lost or suppressed memory. Furthermore, the scenarios and narratives offered by abductees and SRA victims feature many similar elements: both are typically said to begin when the experiencer is in their youth; both are said to involve entire families and to occur generationally; the alien examination table is similar to the satanic altar; both phenomena focus on genitals, rape, sexuality and breeding; witnesses often report that the events happen when they are in altered states of consciousness; both phenomena feature episodes of “missing time” when the events are said to occur, but of which the victim has no conscious memory.
Interestingly, some abductees experience the sensation of being both human and alien at the same time, a phenomenon called “dual reference.” Dual reference emerges in hypnotic regression sessions wherein the subject reports pre-birth or pre-life existence as one of the same species that later abducts them. Which implies that at least some “humans” (perhaps even those you think you know and love) are part alien!
Ultimately, the lack of any credible evidence seems to be the most damning thing to alien conspiracy theory. When the PBS investigative program Nova put out an offer to have scientists analyze and evaluate any alleged implants of abductees, they did not get a single person willing to have their so-called implants tested or verified. So all we have to go on is abductee’s beliefs that it happened and the account they give of it.
From the Skeptic’s Dictionary:
Abductees are very much analogous not only to mystics, but to medieval nuns who believed they’d been seduced by devils, to ancient Greek women who thought they’d had sex with animals, and to women who believed they were witches. The abductees’ counselors and hypnotherapists are like the priests of old who do not challenge delusional beliefs, but encourage and nurture them. They do everything in their power to establish their stories as orthodox. It would be very difficult to find an abductee who has not been heavily influenced in their belief by reading stories of aliens or by seeing movies featuring aliens. Given a great deal of encouragement by a believing community, and reinforced by the high priests of the alien abduction cult, it is not difficult to understand why there are so many people today who believe they have been abducted by aliens.
Further, if there are beings clever enough to travel around the universe today, there were undoubtedly equally intelligent beings who could have done so in our ancient or medieval times. Yet the delusions of the ancients and the medievals are not couched in terms of aliens and spacecraft because these are our century’s creations. We can laugh at the idea of gods taking on the form of swans to seduce beautiful women, or of devils impregnating nuns, because they do not fit with our cultural prejudices and delusions. The ancients and medievals probably would have laughed at anyone who would have claimed to have been picked up by aliens from another planet for sex or reproductive surgery. The only reason anyone takes the abductees seriously today is that their delusions do not blatantly conflict with our cultural beliefs that intergalactic space travel is a real possibility and that it is highly probable that we are not the only inhabited planet in the universe. In other times, no one would have been able to take these claims seriously. [...]
Some of these aliens are destroying crops around the globe in an effort to impress us with their artistic abilities or to communicate to us in strange symbols just how much they like our planet’s cattle. Of course, inquiring minds want to know why beings with the intelligence and power to travel billions of miles to our planet would spend their time mutilating cows, experimenting on otherwise unremarkable people, or carving up wheat fields.
I have a difficult time accepting the commonly held belief that the U.S. (and perhaps other governments) are covering up alien activities on Earth and liaising with them in order to obtain technology in exchange for knowledge and testing on human biology. I keep coming back to the difficulty involved in such a massive cover-up – wouldn’t someone involved tell their spouse/child/brother? Yet there is scant evidence for this. Cover-ups on such a scale seem to push the limits of plausibility in my opinion.
Here’s a good one: I heard the other day that Nazis continued their space effort after the war from their base in Antarctica. Germans landed on the moon (this seems to be directly lifted from the sci-fi show Alternative 3) as early as 1942 and established an underground base there. Some believe that the Antarctic base is an entrance to the hollow earth. There is even a Gnostic religion that believes an enormous space fleet is on its way to Earth which, when it arrives, will join forces with the Nazi Flying Saucers from Antarctica to establish the Western Imperium. I’m not making this up!
Space is Big (the facts)
Astrobiologists generally agree it is probable there is life elsewhere in the universe and that some of that life is intelligent. However, people have a difficult time grokking the incredibly vast distances of deep space. The nearest star to us (Alpha Centauri) is some 24 trillion miles away. Even traveling at a million miles an hour, it would take more than 2,500 years to get here from there (unless, of course, our alien visitors have been right next to us all along, simply in another dimension).
Most star systems are much further away than Alpha Centauri by many orders of magnitude. But even before seeking out in a given direction, there is the question of locating intelligent beings. A signal from any planet in the universe broadcast in any direction is extremely unlikely to be in the path of another inhabited planet – space is so vast that planets make up an infinitesimally small portion of it. Due to the distances involved, waiting for a signal might require waiting longer than any life on any planet might last. Finally, if one does get a signal, the waves carrying that signal would have left thousands (if not millions) of years earlier and by the time it’s source is tracked down, the sending planet may no longer be habitable or even exist.
When we look out into the night sky (say, for other civilizations) we’re looking back hundreds of thousands of years in time – possibly long before or long after sentient life existed in that region. Furthermore, we live on the edge of our galaxy (10 million light years in diameter), our galaxy is not in the center of our galaxy cluster, which is itself not in the center of the universe (93 billion light years in diameter).
So the problem of distance is compounded by the fact that timescales affording a “window of opportunity” for detection or contact might be quite small. Advanced civilizations may periodically arise and fall throughout our galaxy or others, but this may be such a rare event, relatively speaking, that the odds of two or more such civilizations existing at the same time are actually quite low.
You can see there are a number of difficult challenges to overcome in potential aliens even finding Earth (let alone identifying our leaders and communicating with them without the general populace becoming aware!) The failure of the SETI program to detect anything resembling an intelligent radio signal after four decades of effort appears equally damning to the evidence of extraterrestrial life nearby. Perhaps we really are alone in the universe.
Astronomer and UFO researcher J. Allen Hynek presents several more reasons to doubt alien visitation:
- Despite worldwide radar systems and Earth-orbiting satellites, UFOs are alleged to flit in and out of the atmosphere, leaving little to no evidence (unless, of course, every government, observatory, radar operator, and amateur astronomer are “in on it”). On the other hand, there have been occasional incidences of exactly this, such as the mass sightings of large, silent, low-flying black triangles in 1989 and 1990 over Belgium, tracked by multiple NATO radar and jet interceptors and investigated by Belgium’s military. The sheer number of reliable sightings does make one wonder.
- Space aliens are alleged to be overwhelmingly humanoid, and are allegedly able to exist on Earth without difficulty (lacking “space suits”, despite the fact that extra-solar planets would likely have different atmospheres, biospheres, gravity and other factors, and extraterrestrial life would likely be very different from Earthly life.) For this reason, I would be more inclined to believe in the “praying mantis-like” aliens than in humanoid ones like the Greys. After all, why would an alien race look anything like us, including being bipedal or even carbon based? The fact that so many supposed alien encounters are with beings that look vaguely human only reinforces the notion that these sightings could in fact be hallucinations or false memories.
- Reported UFOs are often far too small to support a crew traveling through space, and their reported flight behavior is often not representative of a craft under intelligent control (erratic flight patterns, sudden course changes). I’ll give you an example of a prosaic explanation for such a UFO sighting here in Vilcabamba – the other night, Roger saw two UFO’s bobbing and weaving up, over, and in front of the mountain in front of him. The characteristics matched what other people around here have seen. He finally realized, however, that the “UFO’s” were simply fireflies six feet in front of him. He had been fooled by the perspective.
My Surprising Conclusion
After spending the past month researching this subject, I’m surprisingly finding myself conducive to the idea that some UFO’s may in fact be alien craft. One only has to look up the unexplained phenomena surrounding cattle mutilations to start to wonder. Certainly the vast majority of UFO sightings have plausible explanations. There have, however, been a number of well-documented observations of UFO’s by large groups of people, reliable witnesses including military pilots (and here) and engineers, going back to the 1940′s and the first widely publicized abduction, in 1961. Many people around here have seen UFO’s, and I’ve had a difficult time thinking of a plausible explanation for some of the stories when dozens of people saw the same thing from many different perspectives all over town. There does seem to be something there.
Many military and government studies have been conducted over the years into UFO’s, most of which conclude that the technology for these objects cannot be found here on earth. While I find it a stretch to think that government(s) have been secretly colluding with aliens (although they have been sued for this), there is evidence that information has been suppressed in order to avoid large-scale panic (on the order of the 1938 War of the Worlds broadcast) since we have no defense if such an invasion were to take place. Some go so far as to believe that the Strategic Defense Initiative (America’s satellite-based laser defense system built by Reagan, nicknamed “Star Wars”) was not built as a defense against the U.S.S.R., but rather against a potential alien invasion – although I find that dubious.
I know what you’re thinking: let’s buy Josh that tin-foil hat for Xmas!
On the other hand, maybe they’ve already surveyed us and simply went away when they saw we are made of meat.
Endword on UFO’s
The first CIA Director, Vice Admiral Roscoe H. Hillenkoetter, stated in a signed statement to Congress, reported in the New York Times on February 28, 1960, “It is time for the truth to be brought out… Behind the scenes high-ranking Air Force officers are soberly concerned about the UFOs. However, through official secrecy and ridicule, many citizens are led to believe the unknown flying objects are nonsense…” In 1962, in his letter of resignation from NICAP, he said, “I know the UFOs are not U.S. or Soviet devices. All we can do now is wait for some actions by the UFOs.”
The problem of course preventing serious scientific study of UFO’s is crackpots like Sitchen and Icke giving the entire subject a laughable name. In a 1969 lecture U.S. astrophysicist Carl Sagan said: “The idea of benign or hostile space aliens from other planets visiting the earth [is clearly] an emotional idea. There are two sorts of self-deception here: either accepting the idea of extraterrestrial visitation by space aliens in the face of very meager evidence because we want it to be true; or rejecting such an idea out of hand, in the absence of sufficient evidence, because we don’t want it to be true. Each of these extremes is a serious impediment to the study of UFOs.” In other words, it’s difficult to avoid the certainty trap.
Most of the above conspiracy theories tie neatly together into the 2012 end-date phenomenon. These theories are predicated on the interpretation of the Mayan calendar ending on December 21, 2012. For starters, even Mayan scholars do not all agree on that specific date. Secondly, as I learned when I lived in a Mayan town back in Guatemala, they do not consider the date to be apocalyptic in the least – on the contrary, it is “a cause for celebration and the cycle will continue uninterrupted by any cataclysmic event.” Further, I question why we would give any more credence to the mythological predictions of a civilization from the recent past than to any other “seer”. Do the Mayans (or the Sumerians, or Nostradamus) have some magical purchase on world events that today’s scholars cannot access? Why place more trust in ancient neolithic traditions than in the observations of modern science? There’s nothing wrong with studying and respecting our predecessors’ history for what it was, but turning things over and believing that scientific knowledge of the natural world has only decreased over time just seems crazy to me.
Folks around here cite as proof the quasi-scientific belief that the earth will soon experience a geomagnetic reversal (usually incorrectly referred to as a polar shift). The inconvenient facts: the Earth is indeed overdue for a geomagnetic reversal and has been for a long time (even since the time of the Mayans), because the last reversal was 780,000 years ago. However, geomagnetic reversals take up to 5,000 years to complete, and do not start on any particular date.
Again, I point to history and the countless doomsday predictions we’ve seen before. Y2K was another direly predicted date that ultimately became a non-event. A lot of people came down here and built bunkers preparing for the end of the world. 6/6/06 was meant to be another one, as was the Harmonic Convergence of 1987, remember that one? The convergence was purported to have “corresponded with a great shift in the earth’s energy from warlike to peaceful.” I don’t remember much of anything special happening that year, and if anything the world has gotten less peaceful, not more. On May 27, 2003 Planet X was supposed to collide with Earth. Glad I didn’t take shelter for that one. James Randi lists 44 distinct end of the world predictions that all came and went unfulfilled. Dare I say it that 2012 will suffer the same fate?
Analysis and Criticism of Conspiracy Theories
Having explored many of the contemporary conspiracy theories, I’d like to wrap things up by breaking down where these memes originate and what makes them so compelling that people not only subscribe to them but go out of their way to embrace and embellish them.
We begin with a nice chart contrasting the rational thinker with the paranoid:
The rational thinker
1. Checks the evidence carefully and doesn’t rely on uncertain evidence
1. Grabs onto a few pieces of evidence and defends them inflexibly.
2. Doesn’t care which evidence he must let go.
2. Seemingly irrationally seizes onto something and won’t let go.
3. Seeks a realistic answer in simple and familiar processes.
3. Invokes complex, unrealistic scenarios controlled by powerful forces behind the scenes.
4. Accepts only what he can critically assess (falsifiable ideas).
4. Deals in explanations that can never be critically assessed (unfalsifiable theories).
5. Is willing to live with unresolved explanations for long periods.
5. Demands quick, even immediate explanations.
6. Accepts the roles of chance and human foibles.
6. Invents scenarios when nothing ever goes wrong.
7. Uses same rational approach in the rest of his life.
7. Approaches many other “events” in the same irrational, paranoid way. (i.e., both people are consistent across their lives.)
8. Finds empowering explanations.
8. Feels powerless before these huge forces (victims).
9. Accepts all demonstrated evidence.
9. Will not face evidence that destroys his theory.
10. Is willing to live with some fraction of unexplained or contradictory evidence.
10. Insists on fitting everything into his explanation, often by explaining difficult items as further evidence of conspiracy.
11. Tries to keep everything in proportion.
11. Often seizes single pieces of evidence and blows them out of proportion.
12. Will change ideas a new evidence emerges.
12. Sticks to preconceived notion regardless of new evidence.
13. Open, flexible, empowered, strong.
13. Preconceived, rigid, victimlike, cowardly.
Cognitive Bias and Patterning
Psychology Today notes:
Cognitive biases distort our judgments and allow us to maintain beliefs despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Some of these biases include the tendency to see patterns where none exist, and to interpret new information and recall old information in ways that confirm our expectations and beliefs. Most of the time we’re unaware of these biases and overly confident that our perceptions represent the objective truth.
Richard Dawkins says that “The human mind is a wanton storyteller and even more, a profligate seeker after pattern. We see faces in clouds and tortillas, fortunes in tea leaves and planetary movements. It is quite difficult to prove a real pattern as distinct from a superficial illusion.”
Look at the Face on Mars for a perfect example – when the photos from the 1976 Viking orbiter were published, our brains, which have been hard-wired by evolution to see faces in random patterns, indeed saw a face in the clumps of rock and sand. People went crazy. But when one views the higher-resolution photographs of subsequent missions, this pattern disappears. There are thousands more examples, from seeing the Virgin Mary in a grilled cheese sandwich to hearing Satanic messages when playing rock music backwards to anthropomorphizing random groups of stars into constellations.
The Controlling “Other”
In analyzing the 9/11 conspiracy theories, Time magazine comments on the public’s reason for embracement: “the idea that there is a malevolent controlling force orchestrating global events is, in a perverse way, comforting.” It concludes that “conspiracy theories are part of the process by which Americans deal with traumatic public events” and constitute “an American form of national mourning.”
Check out this quote from a famous conspiracy theorist:
“How can we account for our present situation unless we believe that men high in this government are concerting to deliver us to disaster? This must be the product of a great conspiracy on a scale so immense as to dwarf any previous such venture in the history of man. . . .What can be made of this unbroken series of decisions and acts contributing to the strategy of defeat? They cannot be attributed to incompetence. . . .”
Sounds like someone railing against the “New World Order” of Cheney and his cronies, right? In fact, the quote is from Senator Joe McCarthy, speaking in 1951 about the vast army of Communists he claimed had infiltrated the U.S. government.
Skeptics argue that the paranoia behind a conspiracy theorist’s obsession with mind control, occultism, surveillance abuse, Big Business, Big Government, and globalization arises from a combination of two factors, when he or she: 1) holds strong individualist values and 2) lacks a sense of control. The first attribute refers to people who care deeply about an individual’s right to make their own choices and direct their own lives without interference or obligations to a larger system (like the government). But combine this with a sense of powerlessness in one’s own life, and one gets what some psychologists call “agency panic”, intense anxiety about an apparent loss of autonomy to outside forces or regulators. When fervent individualists feel that they cannot exercise their independence, they experience a crisis and assume that larger forces are to blame for usurping this freedom.
Michael Barkun, author of A Culture of Conspiracy: Apocalyptic Visions in Contemporary America, contends that conspiracism attracts people because conspiracy theorists “claim to explain what others can’t. They appear to make sense out of a world that is otherwise confusing.” There is an appealing simplicity in dividing the world sharply into good and bad and tracing “all evil back to a single source, the conspirators and their agents”. Barkun notes that “conspiracy theories are often presented as special, secret knowledge unknown or unappreciated by others”. For conspiracists, “the masses are a brainwashed herd, while the conspiracists in the know can congratulate themselves on penetrating the plotters’ deceptions”.
Tim Boucher, in his Integral Approach to Conspiracy Theory, makes the point that
“the main way that people understand things is through creating and telling stories. Stories place disconnected events and characters into a coherent framework that allow us to intuitively understand the motivations and effects of actions. Some stories are rooted in reality but become distorted through transmission, while others are changed on purpose. Still other stories are invented almost out of thin air. Part of being a good conspiracy theory investigator is being able to track down the origins of stories. Where and from whom did they originate? Under what circumstances? What might have been the motivations of the people who were telling the story?”
In the bit of research I’ve done, I’ve noticed how several of the stories I’ve heard can be traced back to a single source which was obviously a fabrication. But it got repeated so many times that, like the children’s game of telephone, it took on a life of it’s own.
Scientific American’s chief skeptic Michael Shermer makes an important observation about the conspiracist method: “The mistaken belief that a handful of unexplained anomalies can undermine a well-established theory lies at the heart of all conspiratorial thinking (as well as creationism, Holocaust denial and the various crank theories of physics). All the ‘evidence’ for a 9/11 conspiracy falls under the rubric of this fallacy.” A successful scientific theory organizes masses of information into a coherent, well-tested narrative. When a theory has managed to explain the real world accurately enough for long enough, it becomes accepted as fact. Conspiracy theorists, Shermer points out, generally ignore the mass of evidence that supports the mainstream view and focus strictly on tiny anomalies. But in a complex and messy world, the fact that there might be a few details we don’t yet understand should not be surprising.
Thomas W. Eagar, an engineering professor at MIT, notes that conspiracy theorists “use the ‘reverse scientific method’. They determine what happened, throw out all the data that doesn’t fit their conclusion, and then hail their findings as the only possible conclusion.”
While I understand the motivations and psychology behind conspiracism, I’m still flabbergasted by the hypocrisy. CT’s claim to be free thinkers, yet they can’t deal with actual dialog and debate. Any criticism or presentation of other theories or explanations is shut down if it doesn’t fit into their pre-existing world view. I’m all for questioning the government, but shouldn’t we be equally questioning of other conspiracy theorists? It’s this lack of critical thinking that gets me fed up with these conversations.
To be clear, many conspiracy theorists are smart people. I’m not belittling them or “making them wrong.” For example, I’ve met several scientists and engineers here in Vilcabamba who have done complex “experiments” and have “proof” they believe to be true that “water has a memory”, for example. But you have to ask yourself in all of these examples – if this revelatory finding is indeed true, why hasn’t it been published in peer-reviewed journals? How can this one obscure person be the sole keeper of such ground-breaking work when there are thousands of labs around the world doing pure research in this area? As Michael Schermer said, “Smart people believe weird things because they are skilled at defending beliefs they arrived at for non-smart reasons.”
I further believe that conspiracy theories result from a rather pessimistic view of the world and it’s people. The interpretation of world events as necessarily sinister, what some call “furtive fallacy“. Why assume the worst? Personally, I choose to live in a world where people generally have good intentions.. certainly, power corrupts and greed causes people to do some terrible things.. but not all the time, and not by everybody. Take Bill Gates as an example – the conspiracy theorists would say he’s stinking rich, therefore he much be “in on it” somehow, screwing it to the rest of us. But a quick reading of the facts reveals that in just 10 years Gates has done far more to help the poor and downtrodden of the world than Mother Teresa did in her entire lifetime.
Tim Boucher also points out there is a victimization complex at work: “if you decide at the beginning of the game that some other player has more power than you and did you wrong, then you’re going to act like that for the rest of the game, even when you may not really need to.” Robert Anton Wilson also cautions against handing others all your power: “Paranoia is a Loser script; it defines somebody else as being in charge around here except me. I prefer to define myself and my friends as the architects of the future.”
The whole thing feels like an abdication of responsibility. If everything is preordained by the NWO / aliens / 2012 / what have you, then that relieves us the responsibility as individuals to make the world a better place. It also sets up an easy scapegoat for any and all of our problems, by assigning a “them” who is against “us”. I much prefer the more difficult but ultimately more productive world view that we’re all in this together, and it’s up to us as individuals to change the world (by changing ourselves). By bridging the divides.. by communication and understanding of our fellow man, by breaking down the walls that divide us – not by erecting yet more walls and barriers. [I'm thinking of MLK and Ghandi here. Surely the PCT's would admit in those cases that one person was able to change the world?]
I have the same problem with anyone who blames the Big Bad Government for their problems. Who is the government? Us! If you don’t like what the government is doing, then get up off your lazy ass and change it! These people should feel privileged that they live in a society where they can make a change – a far different position to be in compared to most of human history.
Naomi Wolf gives us her take:
Usually, conspiracy theories surface where people are poorly educated and a rigorous independent press is lacking. So why are such theories gaining adherents in the US and other affluent democracies nowadays? Today’s explosion of conspiracy theories has been stoked by the same conditions that drove their acceptance in the past: rapid social change and profound economic uncertainty. A clearly designated “enemy” with an unmistakable “plan” is psychologically more comforting than the chaotic evolution of social norms and the workings – or failures – of unfettered capitalism. And, while conspiracy theories are often patently irrational, the questions they address are often healthy, even if the answers are frequently unsourced or just plain wrong.
In seeking answers, these citizens are reacting rationally to irrational realities. Many citizens believe, rightly, that their mass media are failing to investigate and document abuses. Newspapers in most advanced countries are struggling or folding, and investigative reporting is often the first thing they cut. Concentration of media ownership and control further fuels popular mistrust, setting the stage for citizen investigation to enter the vacuum. Likewise, in an age when corporate lobbyists have a free hand in shaping – if not drafting – public policies, many people believe, again rightly, that their elected officials no longer represent them. Hence their impulse to believe in unseen forces.
Finally, even rational people have become more receptive to certain conspiracy theories because, in the last eight years, we actually have seen some sophisticated conspiracies. The Bush administration conspired to lead Americans and others into an illegal war, using fabricated evidence to do so. Is it any wonder, then, that so many rational people are trying to make sense of a political reality that really has become unusually opaque? [...]
The real problem with this frantic conspiracy theorizing is that it leaves citizens emotionally agitated but without a solid ground of evidence upon which to base their worldview, and without constructive directions in which to turn their emotions. This is why so many threads of discussion turn from potentially interesting citizen speculation to hate speech and paranoia. In a fevered environment, without good editorial validation or tools for sourcing, citizens can be preyed upon and whipped up by demagogues [...]
We need to change the flow of information in the Internet age. Citizens should be able to more easily to leak information, pitch stories, and send leads to mainstream investigative reporters. They should organize new online entities in which they pay a fee for direct investigative reporting, unmediated by corporate pressures. And citizen investigators should be trained in basic journalism: finding good data, confirming stories with two independent sources, using quotes responsibly, and eschewing anonymity – that is, standing by their own bylines, as conventional reporters do.
The History Channel and the Fox network, among others, continually produce programs capitalizing on people’s fears about all this stuff. The programs are full of hearsay and shoddy facts and are only made because they sell, but people take them as gospel and quote them as sources of proof. The author of one book that was quoted on one of these programs said that it was “45 minutes of unabashed doomsday hype and the worst kind of inane sensationalism”. Many of these programs are written by science fiction authors yet presented as established scientific theory.
Speaking of, I heard that L. Ron Hubbard, founder of Scientology, was a science fiction writer and founded the religion as a joke with a friend to see how far they could take it!
I look forward to your comments.