Why I Am Not A Conspiracy Theorist

It is deeply troubling and upsetting to me that it is even necessary for me to broach this subject again [1]. Even moreso than most types of speculations, I find dwelling on conspiracies to be unpleasant and unprofitable, and yet there is a substantial amount of friends and acquaintances that I have who are huge conspiracy nuts. This troubles me, because at its basis conspiracy theories fail in their premises, and lead to very dangerous conclusions. So, I thought it worthwhile for my more rational readers to understand why I am not a conspiracy theorist. If you are rational, it will probably also explain why you are not one either.

At its core, conspiracy theories, of whatever kind they are, share a fundamental logical fallacy, a fallacy of omnipotence and omniscience. Being human beings, we ought to be aware of our own blundering and incompetence. Even those of us like myself who are fairly bright have “blond moments” on occasion. After a long flight and feeling very jet lagged, I once asked two Chilean twins their age, right after another, after knowing they were twins. Similarly, after a couple of sleepless nights while at a skiing trip, I failed at Trivial Pursuit at remembering the first area code in Los Angeles, which was my area code at the time, 213. I could go on, but the fact is that for our own limited capabilities of rationality to be reliable requires a fairly precise set of circumstances–enough food and water and sleep, or else things go wrong. We all ought to be aware that we are far from omnipotent and omniscient as individuals.

This problem is compounded when we move from individual knowledge to that of groups. There is a tendency among those who are ignorant to view groups as monolithic and far more powerful than individuals. This is a lie. If anything, groups of people are less competent at most intellectual tasks than individuals. We all know the behavior of mobs (you can check out any of the #Occupy videos for this behavior, or any riots after a sports championship). What do mobs of people do? “We just won (or lost) a Championship.” (Awkward pause). “Let’s destroy stuff!” And so they do. They burn cars, throw things at armed police officers (not a very smart move, though most police officers are thankfully not prickly people), and generally cause mayhem. All of this exhibits the intelligence of stampeding herds of wild animals, which is what a mob is. When crowds act as one, they do so on the lowest common denominator of behavior, which is pretty low. That sort of mob think is responsible for a great deal of vandalism, as well as the witch hunts that we rightly consider to be the height of uncivilized behavior. So, even when groups of people act in unison they generally do so in a suboptimal manner.

We might assume that they can omniscience and omnipotence when they are acting rationally, right? Not so fast. There are various problems and difficulties in getting people to act in concert. That is because unless one desires very limited rote tasks, one is limited to persuasion, which is notoriously inefficient. You might be able to coerce or threaten a group of people to vote for a sham election (it happens all the time in the world), but to really motivate people, either you need to mobilize people who only care about a single issue (these people who approach herd animals in intellectual capabilities) or you need to limit the options down to a reasonable level (two to four, roughly) where you can motivate a large enough people to choose A over B, C, or maybe D because it is clearly the least of the evils. And even then you probably cannot motivate them to like it very much.

It is extremely inefficient to mobilize conspiracies on a large scale. Either massive amounts of bribery are required or it requires a division within a given society or organization that is so deep that the organization or society probably isn’t capable of doing anything all that great anyway. Generally highly polarized societies are the sign of a nation (and government) in gridlock, not one that has the capabilities to successfully plot atrocities against its own population. When we forget the simple details that human beings are not omnipotent and that skeptical and cynical people (people like myself) are not the material of which successful conspiracies are made, we forget that governments are made of people like us, and not gods.

One of the results of the inefficiency of motivating people to do even the simplest tasks (like voting) in an optimal manner is that attempts to persuade or woo others into anything approaching concerted behavior requires a lot of communication. This sort of thing is exactly what destroys a real conspiracy. Written evidence, especially of the kind on e-mails or internet forums, is the worst sort of way to plan a conspiracy, even when people are trying to do one. Let me give an example.

In 2010 there were a group of ministers that attempted to conspire against the leadership of my church because they were a bunch of power-hungry malcontents. These men were reasonably bright, college educated, well-read people who communicated for a living. Nonetheless, when it came to conspiracies they were like the gang who couldn’t shoot straight. They set up a secret forum that was busted within days. They sent incriminating evidence to the wrong e-mail list, including supporters of the church leadership that led to the message being promptly forwarded to that leadership and acted on relatively quickly (within a week or so). Their ministers gave messages that were so obviously coded that even I could regularly and accurately listen to messages and decipher exactly the code of the message from the minister. And these were smart people attempting a conspiracy [2]. Think of how less competent people would have acted.

The fatal enemy of conspiracy is communication. When attempting a conspiracy it is necessary for people to conspire. But everything they say and write can (and will) be used against them by paranoid authorities who (rightly) act harshly toward conspirators, who are rightly considered treasonous. Without a secure power base, it is impossible to safely and successfully conspire. Decentralized systems are very difficult to successfully topple, because it requires so much communication to engage in any kind of common effort that it is impossible to deny one’s conspiracy later on (like the conspiracy by pro-Slavery southerners to rebel from the Union for the cause of preserving an unjust system of plantation slavery stoked by false and ridiculous fears of amalgamation [3]). Again, a successful conspiracy in a decentralized organization or society requires unacceptable amounts of written and recorded conversation for the purposes of secrecy to be preserved, and this is in areas where a large power base is already infiltrated by conspirators.

Where conspiracies are most successful are in centralized and hierarchial organizations or societies. In such circumstances you need only lop off the head of the person in charge and a sufficient number of their followers and immense organizational power is yours. Not surprisingly conspiracy theorists themselves seem very attracted to authoritarian cults, because they project their own desires for power onto others whom they assume (often correctly) are as power hungry and corrupt as themselves, and project their own delusions of omnipotence and omniscience onto their enemies. But even this strategy has its weaknesses. For example, Brutus and Cassius conspired against Julius Caesar thinking he was a threat to the tottering and derelict Roman Republic. But they failed in killing enough of his supporters (killing the man is not enough) as they in turn were killed by the army of Mark Anthony at Philippi, and the Republic was dead anyway because it had already been corrupted from the inside out. The forms of freedom and liberty last far longer than the actuality.

In many ways, though, conspiracies and authoritarian tyrannies are mirror images of each other and necessary enemies. Many successful (and unsuccessful) conspiracies in tyrannical governments are because elites fear that they will be the next to be purged, and so they preemptively act to strike against paranoid tyrants (this is what happened with the conspiracy against the wicked pervert Tiberias Caesar and the Doctor’s plot against Stalin). Again, though, let us notice that successful conspiracies require elites, people who already have power and influence, or who think of themselves as powerful and influential people. Conspiracies do not spring from common folk, who are too busy surviving and coping to successfully plot against those who rule over them.

Sadly, conspiracy nuts and tyrannical governments are in an unhealthy co-dependent relationship. Both of them hate each other but both of them need each other at the same time, and both result from the same basic fears and insecurities. A secure and godly person is neither a conspriracy nut nor part of and a supporter of oppressive governments (we have to be careful, as always, of false dilemmas). The responses of both would-be conspirators (especially among authoritarian cults) and oppressive governments are mirror images that provoke the other into retaliatory responses based in mutual fear and paranoia and insecurity. Conspirators desiring power and influence conspire, seeking to set up alternate currencies, alternate communication networks, alternate power bases, militaries, and the like. This often
provokes insecure and weak governments to engage in spycraft against their own people, passing oppressive laws that remove liberty, collecting massive amounts of information about the behavior of their citizens (especially online behavior), and then giving draconian punishments to the people they catch in their nets, who just as likely as not are not involved in any conspiracies at all but (like me) are just loudmouths who say what they think and believe openly.

The hostility of conspiracy nuts, especially when it involves acts of terrorism, serves to justify laws that improperly and tyrannically restrict liberty. The passage and enforcement of such laws provokes more people to believe in hostile anti-government conspiracies and to act accordingly, which prompts more repression, and on and on. It may not be very comforting for someone who is not a conspirator against their government (or anyone else’s government) to be wrongly imprisoned or punished just for saying that society and its leaders are morally corrupt, which is what everyone already knows, but it should be.

That is because people conspire and bully not because of strength but because of weakness. Strong people and wise people are not threatened by the wisdom and intelligence of others. They feel free to correct, free to point out plenty of evidence, and are confident but also humble about their wisdom and intellect, recognizing their talents and skills but also their human fallibility. By having a healthy and honest appreciation of themselves, wise people are able to honestly appreciate the world around them as well. They recognize that when people fear their government or when government fears their people (or, more usually and tragically, both), it is because neither the people nor the government has accurate self-knowledge. People and governments wish to project strength to others but fear their own weaknesses. By engaging in deliberate hypocrisy they are left unable to trust others because there is no truth in them.

And without trust no godly government is possible. If we cannot trust other people because we are paranoid about their evil intentions, we are part of the problem and not part of the solution. This does not mean we ought to blindly trust others, especially in a situation like ours where so few people are genuinely trustworthy. Rather, we ought to seek company that is trustworthy and with whom we can be candid and honest, so that we need not fear others because we are confident in the protection and divine providence of God and in our own resourcefulness and in the brotherly love and respect of our own communities and families of choice. If we can respect and love our peers and leaders, and receive the love and respect of those peers and leaders, we know we are in a godly and healthy community (whether it is a family, a company, a church, or a political body). If not, we are in a corrupt and co-dependent one.

What we can and should do is take personal responsibility to form deep and abiding friendships with those with whom we can be open, so we need not be conspiracy buffs but rather be honest and sincere people who are able to appreciate the honesty and sincerity of those who are around us. If we are dishonest and conspiratorial in our own behavior, we cannot form godly and honest relationships with others. Instead we can only have tyrannical and oppressive and co-dependent relationships, because we leave ourselves unable to trust others, and without trust no genuine and beneficial relationships of any kind can be formed.

And so, I suppose it could be said that I am not a conspiracy theorist because I am a conspiracy historian. Having read enough about conspiracies I have recognized that governments are oppressive not because they are strong, but because they are weak, not because they are monolithic and united fronts against their enemies, but because they are riven by internal rivalries and overseeing divided and mutually suspicious societies largely incapable of common action because trust is lacking. As a historian of such societies, largely because of growing up in a family, church, and society that is rapidly becoming an asabiya black hole, I do not believe in conspiracies because I recognize that the emperor has no clothes. Seeing the weaknesses of my society and those governments and institutions, I do not seek to destroy them, but rather seek to make them secure enough that they have no need of oppressing others out of fear and weakness. I just wish I had more help.

[1] https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/11/06/two-people-can-keep-a-secret-if-both-of-them-are-dead/

[2] Revealingly, the Cogwa conspiracy accused the leadership of the church itself of engaging in a conspiracy to corrupt the doctrinal truth upon which we were formed. Those who are quick to conspire against others are also quick to believe that others are conspiring against them. We ought to expect this under the theory of “it takes one to know one.”

[3] https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/02/02/book-review-apostles-of-disunion-southern-secession-commissioners-and-the-causes-of-the-civil-war/

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Church of God, History, Musings and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Why I Am Not A Conspiracy Theorist

  1. jagg12345 says:

    So many people are so quick to defend that there is no possibility of what happened. But I ask you, were you there? Were you in the military private PC labs that had battle plans for the attack on the WTC and the Pentagon? I was…… so before you people who think you know everything I urge you to reconsider because at this point it is not conspiracy it is proven fact.

    • If there’s proven fact you don’t have to be conspiracy theorists–you can be historians (since I took the opportunity to talk about plenty of actual conspiracies and why most of the ones people talk about really aren’t). Governments have plenty of contingency plans (as do companies and most sane people), but to recognize a threat and plan a response to it is not to be responsible for planning the atrocity. Sane people recognize threats and potential weaknesses (and the Trade Towers were obviously a potential weakness since they had been attacked in 1993, so it was not unreasonable to prepare for those). The vast majority of contingency plans are not acted on because the threat doesn’t happen. But simply because someone is prepared for an event does not mean that they planned it. That’s where the irrational leap and the problem of mistrust become so troublesome and threatening to free society. You are an example of the problem–a free society cannot endure when its people are paranoid about its government.

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