Friday, June 15, 2007

Just an Idea...

I'm working on an idea, so this is just a rough sketch. But I think that a great deal of the power and durability of conspiracy theories comes from the plausibility of individual elements and their relationship to real events. I'm not making any claim for the truth of these theories, only putting forward a possible explanation of why they are convincing to so many. I'll give a few examples:

JFK's assassination

The major part of the conspiracy theory surrounding JFK's assassination revolves around the plausibility of a conspiracy to assassinate the president of the United States as a means to achieving political and economic ends.

We need not assume any hypotheticals in this case for a little known historical fact is that prominent wealthy citizens did in fact conspire to overthrow Franklin Delano Roosevelt in a fascist military coup. This conspiracy (like the alleged plot against JFK) was based on dissatisfaction with the president's efforts against communism. We also know that both government and media suppressed information about the conspiracy. On the government's part, this may have been based partly on a belief that the fact that the coup plot had been revealed would prevent the president's enemies from carrying out any future coup attempts.

The contradictions within publicly available evidence on the JFK assassination (many due to mere human error), the Justice Department's refusal to reinvestigate despite a court order, and recent findings by FBI ballistics experts contribute to the "plausability" of a conspiracy to assassinate JFK. This is not to say that the story is true, only that its relationship to known facts makes it convincing to many.

UFO's and Alien Visitations

There are many plausible elements here. We know that extraterrestrial life is possible and perhaps even probable. We know that space travel is possible and that, while we are limited by our current technology and knowledge of physics, an alien civilization may not be. We know (due to France's decision to release all of its files)that 25% of UFO sightings have been deemed "class D" or unidentifiable despite physical evidence and multiple reliable witnesses. We know that the government has maintained secrets for decades and continues to do so. Many of these secrets have been substantial, including the Verona project that broke the Soviet code and found evidence of Soviet spies in the highest echelons of the U.S. government.

Because of the events surrounding the now famous "War of the Worlds" incident, we know that the government would have reason to fear a public panic if proof of alien visitations were revealed. Some skeptics have pointed out that very few people panicked due to Orson Wells' legendary broadcast of a "martian invasion." They are correct but arguing from the wrong data. Most who heard that broadcast knew it was a fictional radio program, so they would obviously not have panicked, just as we today would not run screaming from our homes after an episode of the X Files. Those who believed it was real panicked. This is the relevant part, after all, since a government announcement that aliens are visiting us would definitely be taken as the truth.

As for the anal probings and tracking devices supposedly implanted in "abductees," this too relates to a plausible if highly unlikely scenario. Knowledge of actual scientific experimentation from recent history offers an "analogy." We humans "tag and release" animals so that we may study them. We've also carried out brutal, painful experiments on other humans, those we deemed "inferior." Is it any wonder that people think that some highly superior alien race may commit such acts? Wouldn't "they" view us as inferior or perhaps even as animals?

Some skeptics have argued that any alien civilization sufficiently technologically advanced to visit earth would be culturally advanced enough to avoid such barbaric behavior. Unfortunately, we have no information that would allow us to claim a relationship between technological and cultural advancement on an alien world. We do know that technological advancement on our world has accompanied behavior that is far from culturally advanced. In the 20th century, one of the most technologically advanced civilizations in the history of our world brutally murdered 12 million people in the Holocaust, invaded dozens of nations in an attempt to rule the world, and carried out various atrocities against its weakest citizens, including the mentally ill and handicapped.

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I believe that such theories (whatever their truth value) are convincing to people not because these people are delusional (although some of them surely are) but because these theories contain plausible elements that are highly convincing in conjunction with one another. These elements would obviously be bolstered by some emotional/psychological factors, however, they are not unique in that regard.

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