Was 9/11 a conspiracy by the US government to gain more Big Brother control and garner immense profits for a select group of politicians? Do Jews have a secret mission to take over the world by orchestrating wars and social upheavals? Was Princess Diana murdered by the royal family, the communists, the mob? These are all mainstream conspiracy theories that I read about in my most recent book Voodoo Histories: The Role of the Conspiracy Theory in Shaping Modern History by David Aaronovitch. Let me first preface that I was a guy who was dazzled by the 9/11 conspiracy popularized by the film Loose Change. The facts, expert opinions, and mesmerizing footage in the film all convinced me that 9/11 was a conspiracy. I did not become a 9/11 conspiracy evangelist but I did voice my opinion if it ever came up in conversations with friends or family. This was my attitude until I was introduced to Voodoo Histories and was able to read the history, psychology, and societal obsession with conspiracy theories.
There are conspiracies for each and every generation. Back in 1903, the famous Protocols of Elders of Zion was published and hugely circulated for the next 50 years; fostering antisemitism by famous people like Henry Ford and you guessed it-Adolf Hitler. Pearl Harbor was the conspiracy of the 1940’s which convinced a huge group of people that FDR was a very evil man. The JFK assassination, MLK assassination, and moon landing were all conspiracies associated with the 60’s. After that was Princess Diana, Da Vinci Code, and 9/11. I missed a lot but those are some of the big ones. As you can see, we as a society love the conspiracy theory. I did to, until I learned about how prevalent they are and how easy it is to pick apart each and everyone of them.
I learned that conspiracy theorists use a few convincing tools to give validity to their hypotheses. First they attempt to bring supposed experts to the table who agree with the conspiracy. These experts many times are not experts but rather only hold high degrees and have limited applicable experience. Second they cite a source, that cited a source, that cited a source, so there is very little truth left from the original fact (think of that game where you whisper a message down a line and it changes from person to person). Third, when authorities try to disprove a conspiracy, they are said to be naive or are in someway being controlled by the conspirators.
The other important reason why conspiracies are so common is our affinity to story telling. Conspiracies are sexy, different, out of the norm,and humans by nature like drama. Also, conspiracies come about whenever there is social or political change. These changes usually propagate conspiracies by the losing party: transfer of government control, transfer of societal morals, or transfer of group power. Losers go down kicking and screaming and many times use conspiracies as a poor-sport anthem. Also, conspiracies are very profitable for those who write about them-Google all the materials surrounding The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown. Lastly, conspiracies make us feel smarter, more researched, and more caring then the stupid sheep who believe in the status quo.
In the end, conspiracies are harmful because they shape a very inaccurate picture of history, create unneeded paranoia, and many times create resentment to certain groups of people. The Protocols of Elders of Zion framed Hitler’s thinking that Jews were inferior and needed to be exterminated. My advice is to critically access all information, look at the credential’s of the authors, and think of the unrealistic probability of the conspiracy hypothesis. Understanding accurate history will make you better informed to make political, social, and individual decisions that will make you wiser in the end.
Summed up Learning Sentence:
The sheer number of conspiracies out there shows that humans love a story and the arguments against each conspiracy are more convincing then those for the conspiracy.