Today is September the 11th, which means for an awful lot of people there’s an awful lot of mourning to do, or there’s people hiding behind the attacks to use ‘patriotism’ to further their cause and of course, it’s the day when conspiracy theorists come crawling out the woodwork to reveal how watching some 15 year old’s vlog on Youtube shows how it was an inside job, and that Bush and Blair were reptilian morphing aliens intent on creating a New World Order.
The problem is that most conspiracy theories focus on one incident, or something that can be endlessly dissected til in effect, it’s proof of a larger conspiracy by virtue of the smaller incident being ‘proved’ .
So for example, take this picture.
It’s an Oasis bottle in a lump of grass. Looking at this picture you’re going to think it’s on the side of a motorway, or that it’s somewhere in an inner city or anything to ‘prove’ what you think when you see the picture for the first time. You might not be an expert in discarded drinks bottles, or grass but you’ve looked at it and it backs your opinion.
You don’t especially notice the bigger picture until you pan back.
The bigger picture is irrelevant though because before you’ve informed yourself of it you’ve made your mind up based upon whatever limited information you have, not to mention what limited experience in fields which often taken the sort of scientific understanding that laymen can’t pick up quickly.
So you get a mix of confirmation bias, ignorance, misinformation or just enough science to make it seem sensible, but ask yourself how many of these theories have been peer reviewed by actual experts with years, if not decades in a field? How many stand up to more than two minutes of actual scrutiny?
As pointed out in this excellent Scientific American article, the word ‘theory’ in this context does not mean the same thing as a scientific theory.
a conspiracy theory is not, of course, a theory in the scientific sense of the word. In science, a theory is an explanation of a phenomenon that has been substantiated through experiments and testing and has become accepted by most experts in the relevant field—the theory of relativity, say, or the theory of evolution. Conspiracy theorists propose, without having collected rigorous data to support their case, that powerful people or groups are secretly plotting to accomplish some sinister goal.
Of course these stories help ties up world events in a nice, cost knot and simplifies real world events in a way that creates an easy to grasp, even an exciting narrative. It’s always about finding the smoking gun, or some new bit of information as to who was on the Grassy Knoll that day nearly 50 years ago, or what type of knife Jack the Ripper used to carve up Mary Kelly and on and on.
This isn’t to say secret things happen that bleed into the open. They do, but things like the various conspiracies around 9/11 trivialise the loss of life, and some genuinely insult any decent person to the point of anger, but the fact is that 19 people flew planes into buildings which caused over 3000 people to die. No aliens. No government plots to fly holographic photon torpedoes into buildings. No hiding of victims in an island paradise. Just 19 people who had this one astonishing plan which worked for a variety of reasons, including the incompetence of an American government but not their complicity.
Thing is what’s a greater horror? That of a massive international conspiracy involving tens of thousands or 19 people with box cutters flying planes full of terrified innocent people into buildings? The former involves this building of a mythology to make sense of it, while the latter, the truth, is simply so fucking scary it beggars belief but thinking the former is true comforts some people while giving them an escape route from reality which is depressingly scary in it’s own right.
The world is often an amazingly complicated place, so that when we don’t understand it we often endeavour to simplify it in order to avoid asking questions which often don’t have an answer, or avoid the grim reality of what actually happened because fantasy is easier to explain than reality.