What Are Conspiracy Theories?
Whether you use the internet frequently, attend protests or activist group meetings, or you are just the social type who strikes up conversations with people while waiting in a long line, chances are you’ve met them. They are the few, the informed, the truly enlightened among the mass of sheep of which we ignorant are a part. More often than not they inform us that they were once naïve and unenlightened just like us, but one day they saw something on Youtube or some other internet site, and started doing their “own research.” Research which, incidentally, was limited only to sites like those of professional conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and his ilk. Perhaps it was a book which “really opened their eyes.” Regardless of how they came to be aware of those things which elude the rest of us automatons, you can rest assured they are never looking back to those days of ignorance. They know who’s really in charge, and they know what really happened, that is they know the truth behind every disaster, terrorist attack, and conflict, and they are going to tell you about it. How long will they spend demonstrating their uncanny knowledge of the shadowy puppet-masters who control the world and make the news? How much time have you got?
First of all, let us make something clear. As conspiracy theories have increased in popularity over the past decades (in fact all-encompassing conspiracy theories involving shadowy movements acting to overthrow the status quo seem to trace their origins to the late 18th century, at least in the United States), so grows the conspiracy theorists’ irritation at the very word conspiracy. They allege that conspiracies happen all the time, and they likewise allege that the “official story” behind many events also involve conspiracies. This ignores the definition of the term in modern speech. “Conspiracy theory” does not mean a narrative which involves a conspiracy among its participants, but rather an alternate, and more importantly un-falsifiable alternate explanation for either an event or the world in general, which is supported by the alleged existence of a conspiracy.
In other words, it is a hypothesis where a lack of evidence is explained away by a cover-up by the alleged conspirators, known or unknown, and contrary evidence is rejected as fabricated. In other words, it’s a lot like any hypothesis only it relies on a conspiracy which amounts to “heads I win, tails you lose” reasoning to explain itself. Now that we have a working definition, and any angry conspiracy theorists are welcome to look up the modern colloquial definition, let us explore the many reasons why conspiracy theories are idiotic and serve no purpose other than to prevent real change for the better.
Some of you might have already recognized the conspiracy theorist behavior to which I alluded to above. I’m confident that few would disagree with the assertion that conspiracy theories have become increasingly popular over time. Ironically, despite this popularity, virtually every conspiracy theorist you listen to will act as if he or she is part of some exclusive group, smarter than not only the sheep of society, but in fact smarter than the conspirators themselves, considering that no matter what scheme the latter manage to pull off, they are unable to fool the former, who are apparently able to figure out the “truth” behind any event within hours thanks to Youtube and a few select websites.
In fact, because many conspiracy narratives are contradictory, many adherents of this or that particular theory believe themselves to be a step ahead of those who subscribe to lesser theories. “All those who believe the Illuminati are behind everything are barking up the wrong tree! They don’t know it’s really the Jewish cabal of bankers!” Are you starting to see why believing in conspiracy theories has a huge appeal yet? Despite this, conspiracy theorists are often faced with the observation that they are “on the fringe,” or a small minority, after which they will claim that their ideas are in fact very popular; people are “waking up” they will claim. Many people do believe in conspiracy theories, but each individual seems convinced that it’s everyone else who is a sheep. Despite all this popularity of conspiracy theories, when have we ever seen any major conspiracy theory finally vindicated? Where’s the smoking gun, where is the justice done upon the perpetrators? The only answer for the continued success of the conspiracy is further conspiracy; corrupt courts and prosecutors refuse to investigate, new hoaxers protect old hoaxes, and there’s never a whistle blower. It is for this reason that belief in conspiracy theories eventually leads to extreme frustration.
The popularity of conspiracy theories may be traced to the Cold War, the media, justified anger and distrust at proven government malfeasance, the need to distinguish oneself from the masses, the necessity but inability to understand the complexities of the political and economic world and perhaps even just plain boredom. In a world where the masses of humanity feel they have no control in an impersonal system, it brings comfort to be able to put a human face on the whole thing. Politics and power struggles are complex, and believing in an omnipotent shadow government which seems to “win” every time may seem frustrating, and to be sure it is, but at the same time it is comforting because the believer has constructed the villains in their own imagination. Like a child who is confident that the monster in their imagination cannot hurt them if they are under a blanket, conspiracy theorists are certain that the government who supposedly killed roughly 3,000 people in one sitting will not make them disappear for posting the “truth” all over the internet. Small wonder it is then, that conspiracy theories also seem to be self-perpetuating in a way. Should one accept one conspiracy theory, it opens the door to accepting others, or at least feeling forced to pay them due respect since once you threw out logic and reason to embrace one theory, you can’t really start applying critical thinking to another, no matter how crazy-sounding, without being conspicuously inconsistent. Common indeed is the occasion when one is in a debate with a conspiracy theorist, who offers up conspiracy theories about prior events to justify the conspiracy theory they are currently defending.
I do not venture to coin my own terminology here, but there tend to be two kinds of conspiracy theories that you will encounter, and they generally overlap. Some conspiracy theories relate to specific events such as 9-11, Pearl Harbor or the assassination of JFK. People who are not real conspiracy enthusiasts may subscribe, and possibly quite apathetically, to alternate explanations of single events, while either not subscribing to some massive overall conspiracy theory. These massive, overall conspiracy theories are the ones which explain why the other conspiracies happen. First let’s explore, in a general way the smaller conspiracy theories.
Imagine a major historical event. Chances are that even if you are well informed, unless you are a history buff, a teacher, or just really interested in one particular major event, you probably don’t know many details. Ask an American what happened at Pearl Harbor, and they will most likely tell you that Japan attacked the US. Conspiracy theorists, while possessing little knowledge of history as a whole, often focus on details of major events cherry-picked by those theorists who came before, sometimes decades before. These details, often incorrect, distorted, or presented out of context, become the holes in the official story. So perhaps I come off as a well-spoken, historically savvy individual, and I inform you about how the Japanese had intended to sink the American carrier fleet at Pearl Harbor, yet those carriers just happened to be out at sea when the attack came. Could it be a coincidence, or is it proof of prior knowledge? What the conspiracy theorist won’t tell you, and what you probably wouldn’t know unless you were well read on the subject, is that not only did all the carriers in question have clearly defined tasks at the time (such as delivering fighters to Wake and Midway islands), but the Enterprise was actually due back in Pearl Harbor about an hour before the attack. More importantly, in those days, and according to the naval doctrine followed not only by the US but also Japan and the rest of the world, aircraft carriers were classified as fleet scouting elements as opposed to capital ships. The prevailing doctrine dictated that battleships, not carriers, were the most important elements of the fleet, and Japan was successful in striking what both sides would have considered the crucial element of the Pacific fleet. We understand the value of the WWII aircraft carrier in hindsight, based on the lessons the US Navy would learn in the course of the war. See what difference a little context makes?
This provides us with two important lessons about individual conspiracy theories. The first lesson is that these theories often attack the conventional narrative by pointing out what are alleged to be suspicious coincidences. Yet any serious history enthusiast, especially a military history buff, should be well aware that history is full of amazing coincidences, where the fate of millions was often decided by one fateful decision or mistake. Consider, for an extreme example, the fact that the fall of Constantinople in 1453 was due in large part to the Turks discovering an unlocked gate into the city. Coincidences are often discovered in hindsight, meaning that at the time of an event, or just prior, the agents involved often could not predict the significance of their action.
The second lesson, which is far more important if we want to understand how these theories are spread, is that because so many people are often understandably unaware of circumstances surrounding various events, one can easily advance a conspiracy theory by stating it with confidence, bringing up selective facts, even if incorrect. After being impressed by the presentation, and based on already existing beliefs, an individual may look into the event, choosing to trust only those sources in favor of the theory and rejecting any evidence toward the “official story” no matter how solid. While looking for holes in the official story they often forget that they never really knew what the official story was, and thus can’t be sure if the “holes” they are reading about are really holes at all.
These individual conspiracy theories are often used to explain things such as wars, especially unpopular wars or wars unpopular to those of a particular political slant. The explanation goes that the government needed some pretext to go to war, and thus some event is engineered, or an attack is permitted. Now there are proven cases of this happening throughout history. We have solid evidence for example, that Germany engineered what amounted to a “false-flag” attack by Poland on German territory in 1939. How does this compare then, with the allegation that 9-11 was engineered to justify an attack on Afghanistan and Iraq? The Bush administration certainly tried to relate 9-11 to Iraq, yet if it was behind the attacks, why were they able to somehow fly the planes into buildings, demolish them with explosives unlike any kind used in controlled demolition, but despite all of this they were not only unable to put even one Iraqi patsy on any of the planes, but they couldn’t even plant one piece of evidence proving the existence of actual WMDs in Iraq? They couldn’t even forge some fake documents tying Iraq to 9-11 or planned attacks within the US. A half-assed attempt was made to claim that Mohammed Atta, leader of the hijacking cell, had met with Iraqi intelligence agents in Prague, but this was easily debunked.
In the end the administration admitted there was no tie between the government of Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda, that there was no connection between Iraq and 9-11, and in so many words they also admitted that they had not found any trace of the weapons which they had proclaimed to exist prior to the war. Why take all that risk to manufacture a pretext for war, only to give it all up later?
The fact is that while conspiracy theorists will attempt to muddy the waters by focusing on select details, the overall explanations behind these theories, as described above, are rather absurd. If there were truly a conspiracy behind 9-11, why would there be such risk in involving so many people in a conspiracy? The fact is that there are real life power struggles in politics, and there are powerful people with the money and influence to find real, hard evidence. If the evidence provided by so-called “experts” who support the conspiracy theory was truly solid, those powerful people would have a great interest in it, because whoever manages to blow the lid on this conspiracy is looking at immortality as one of America’s greatest heroes. We are talking monuments, streets getting renamed, two terms as president. Forget all the nonsense about thermite and “free-fall speed”; if any of this evidence was anything but worthless, someone with influence and power would be funding investigations, taking great personal and financial risk to do so. They do not sell books, they do not sit around discussing it on forums; the truth does just sit there on a Youtube video while the world turns as if nothing monumental has happened. Somebody goes out and finds the evidence, and if someone covered it up they find out who did it. The motivation for being the individual or faction who blows the lid on the conspiracy is just as strong, if not stronger, than those who would wish it to remain secret.
The second reality check is thus- since when did the government need to obtain a believable pretext for war? When was the last time you heard of a referendum on going to war in America? A pretext is usually needed only to maintain a country’s image internationally, and often to acquire allies. Powerful nations, particularly the US, do not need to provide convincing pretexts when they are providing economic aid, investment and/or arms to much of the world. Even if some governments think the pretext is flimsy, are they going to make waves when the US is providing them with the weaponry that keeps their corrupt, junta-like government in power?
Claiming that pretexts are needed to ensure election and reelection is also a dead end. Conspiracy theorists allege, either explicitly or implicitly, that the government is either controlled by shadowy behind-the-scenes elements, or at least that both parties are the same (the latter notion actually being true). Sure, maybe these puppet presidents want to be reelected, but according to conspiracy theorists it’s not really in their hands. Johnson used the Gulf of Tonkin incident as a pretext to expand the scope of US involvement in Vietnam, but that pretext wasn’t enough to save him when the Tet Offensive demonstrated how unwinnable the war really was- a fact which Johnson was clearly aware of since he declined running for reelection. When an imperialist nation wants to go to war, it does. This decision is not made democratically.
Big Conspiracy Theories
The “big” theories are those that attempt to tell you just who is behind all of these events. Here is where the impersonal capitalist system gets a human face and you find out who is really controlling the world. The culprits are many- secret societies like the Skull and Bones, the Illuminati, for example, or there is the age-old conspiracy of “world Jewry.” Occasionally the latter has been substituted with “international bankers” or “the banking cabal”; those who espouse such theories are often unaware that these terms were in fact euphemisms for Jews. The conspirators, no matter how many times their plans are exposed by intrepid internet forum posters with Youtube accounts, always win. When America lost a war, such as in Vietnam, it was according to plan. When they conquered in Iraq, all was well. When the pretext for war failed and America lost face on the international scene- that was planned too. Nothing is left to chance, and no factions form within to try to usurp power.
Nothing is beyond the power of the conspirators. Let us take for one example, the claim oft-repeated by Neo-Nazis that the Holocaust was a hoax perpetrated by world Jewry, the Allies and in particular the Soviet Union and its socialist companions. This hoax somehow managed to survive the Cold War, where the USSR never attempted to produce any evidence so as to embarrass their former allies turned enemies, something which would have proved particularly useful considering the USSR’s position in regards to Israel and Zionism. Far more perplexing is the fact that the USSR went through a major political change in 1956, and then collapsed entirely in 1991, radically changing its entire system and experiencing a rise in nationalism which has historically gone hand-in-hand with anti-Semitism.
Despite this, and more importantly the opening of the Soviet archives, not one scrap of paper has been found providing any information whatsoever as to how this hoax was perpetrated. No blueprints for fake gas chambers, no scripts to feed to witnesses, no memos, nothing. For some reason the USSR kept the “hoax” a secret during the Cold War, when it provided arms, training, and support to the enemies of the very country for the founding of which the Holocaust was allegedly manufactured. And when that state finally collapsed and its system totally changed, not one person was able to catch even a glimpse of any evidence proving this “hoax.”
This doesn’t even address the question as to how the hell this “hoax” could have possibly been planned and executed in the first place—a plan which would require the hoaxers to know the fortunes of the war ahead of time, as well as have access to the leaders of the UK, the USSR, the US, various Communist parties and many other individuals before the war even began. They would all have to be in contact with each other, despite the fact that many of these nations were hostile to one another at the time. And with all their planning and communication, not a scrap of hard evidence related to the planning of this hoax remains. The conspirators always win.
The goal of the conspirators is power. The ultimate goal, according to many adherents of such ideas, is the creation of a New World Order, a one-world government. The term New World Order is often attributed to George H.W. Bush, and has appeared in US military documents. Bush was not speaking of a one-world government however, but rather something more akin to a world in which superpowers and powerful blocs of nations police the world, under the aegis of the UN, enforcing international law as opposed to being locked in fierce competition for domination. In a way, he was merely describing the normal state of the world in a capitalist system, evolved to its highest stage of imperialism.
Even during the Cold War, this situation already existed. The superpowers drew up spheres of interest, and intervened and policed their respective areas more or less with impunity. Despite competition and proxy wars, neither superpower crossed a line when it came to territory acknowledged to be within the opposite’s sphere. For this reason NATO did not intervene in Hungary in 1956, or Czechoslovakia in 1968. On the other hand the USSR did not intervene in Chile in 1974, or Nicaragua under the Sandinista movement. As much as they were rivals, both had reason to avoid open conflict while it was possible.
According to believers in the “one-world government” theory of the New World Order, one day foreign troops, most likely under the authority of the UN and with the assistance of traitors in the American government, will invade the US, and lock millions of people up in concentration camps. Why they would do this exactly is rather bizarre, seeing as how overwhelming evidence shows that the US still exercises considerable power in the world despite the economic crisis and two ongoing military quagmires. That this world, made up of many countries whose regimes are either dependent on, or at least very friendly to the United States, would then military invade the US is simply ludicrous. People in countries like Turkey, Chile, Vietnam or Greece would probably be dumbstruck at the idea that their countries, historical recipients of US imperialist interventions of various kinds, would one day join the Chinese (who have been pretending to be communists) and the Russians (who have since 1991 not been pretending to be communists) in invading and occupying the US. I am probably going out on a limb but a gut feeling tells me that many of these “patriot” types who espouse such theories somehow subconsciously feel some kind of guilt over US imperialism, and have a desire to experience life as an underdog struggling against a foreign oppressor.
As if the idea of America losing its sovereignty to the rest of the world weren’t idiotic enough, the universal gun-grab, the declaration of martial law, and the UN invasion are always “just around the corner.” Like the rapture so often associated with fundamentalist Christian preachers, the invasion has been just around the corner for quite a long time, no less than twenty years in fact. It’s always the predicted result of the next major natural disaster, disease epidemic, economic crisis, or terrorist attack (which of course must be a false-flag attack carried out by the government itself).
First let’s make something entirely clear- Americans don’t need to worry about losing their sovereignty, or more importantly their Constitutional rights to some foreign invasion by other countries. In fact the opposite is true; other countries need to worry about their governments being overthrown, their people bombed, and their entire nations being starved via economic embargoes. The world’s foremost superpower is not going to give up its position willingly, and if a one world government were even possible, it would most likely be run by the United States. This is irrelevant however, because a one-world government will never be.
The fact is we live in a capitalist world. One of the crucial elements of this capitalist system is the flow of capital, commodities, and labor around the world. While it might seem for a second that the removal of borders would better facilitate all this, the opposite is actually true. From the perspective of the ruling classes of the world, but particularly those of the strongest nations and power blocs, breaking down borders would be disastrous for a number of reasons. First let’s start with the issue of commodities.
Multi-national corporations often rely on tariffs and protective trade policies to protect their market share and profits. For all their love of the “free-market,” corporations will run to Mama Government any time they feel threatened by cheaper or better foreign goods, and these corporations have the greatest influence in politics. Additionally, if the world were without borders, people who want certain products could easily travel to where demand for a certain product is low, and thus cheaper, or to the source of production, and buy those products at much cheaper prices. Anyone could go to Indonesia and set up a business buying cheap shoes at the point of production and selling them for prices far lower than Nike sells them now. Nike is able to sell their shoes at such prices because they have the resources to have the shoes produced and ship them around the world whereas most of us cannot afford to do the same. Worse still for Nike and large corporations would the havoc this would wreak in the labor market.
Capitalists need a world in which they can freely move capital around, yet at the same time have access to cheap labor as well. Immigration is a major source of cheap labor, and borders and immigration laws are a major part of keeping wages low. Right now, undocumented workers in the US provide the capitalists not only with a pool of workers who are forced to accept low wages, but who also have no ability to organize for better conditions because of their legal status. If there were no borders and immigration laws, these laborers could demand better conditions without fear of deportation. The leading capitalist nations, either for the purpose of exploiting immigrant labor or just cheap labor within those countries, rely on maintaining an imbalance in the world backed up by borders and their immigration laws. Erase all that and they wouldn’t be able to maintain this imbalance.
Borders and sovereign governments also play an important role in providing cheap labor because these states embroil themselves in a race to the bottom, in order to attract multi-nationals by offering tax-holidays and free-trade zones, in addition to the cheapest, non-union labor. If all these territories are no longer sovereign nations, this competition would be greatly hindered if not eliminated entirely. Corporations benefit from having various governments out-bidding one another for the cheapest labor and facilities. Of course one might argue that just as state legislatures within the US also do their best to attract investment with low taxes, anti-union laws, and corporate friendly policies, in a world without borders anyone who doesn’t like the conditions in their country can simply move to a territory with higher standards of living. It would be no different from an American living in a very low-wage state moving to a state with higher wages and better labor laws; it is one’s right as a citizen.
Let us also not forget the incredibly profitable world of the military-industrial complex. Fueling this lucrative business is the ongoing arms race; every new weapons system is justified by the claim that the existing arsenal of leading nations and their allies is becoming obsolete. The existence of rival blocs and the proliferation of new weapons systems ensure a steady flow of income for a group of capitalists who are known to wield a huge amount of influence in the highest political circles. One might argue that these contractors would be able to sell their wares for the purpose of maintaining this world order and putting down the revolts which would surely occur if an attempt is made to maintain huge imbalances in standards of living in the world. This argument is also specious since this world-army would already possess more than adequate weapons to put down any revolt. Military innovation is driven by competition with the arsenals of rival nations, especially superpowers which possess resources to purchase and field ever-improving technology. At the moment there are those within US military circles who are seriously concerned with the latest generation of Russian and Chinese fighter jets and SAMs. This sells weapons far more reliably than the threat of sporadic revolts by small groups of insurgents throughout a world controlled by one huge military machine.
Let us also not forget that the ruling classes of many nations are indeed in competition with each other. A one world government means that everyone shakes hands and becomes friends with one another. Is the American ruling class willing to share profits, power, and influence with those of the other industrial nations? Are the rulers of the EU willing to do the same? Imperialist powers will cooperate so long as it is profitable and beneficial, but sooner or later every market gets snatched up and a war erupts to re-draw the lines on the globe. No borders would spell the doom of many corporations, which would no longer be able to depend on their government and their trade policies to protect their interest. They could no longer rely on their government to use its military or economic leverage to open one market while denying it to others, or to domestic producers in that country. Why would they give up such power?
The Coup de Grace
Once we come to understand why the idea of a world government under the current system is a total farce (and it would be ludicrous to believe that the current ruling class would endeavor to create a socialist system, which would be inherently contrary to their interests), we must acknowledge the most damning indictment against conspiracy theories. That is put simply as thus- the powers-that-be in the world have no need for conspiracies. They have no need to hide. When they want to go to war, they go to war. They do not have to take the risk of carrying out some phony terrorist attack, killing thousands of their own citizens and thus providing someone within their ranks an easy road to power via blowing the whistle. There was nothing in the world stopping Bush from going to war on Afghanistan or Iraq; 9-11 simply made things convenient by getting people in a frightened, over emotional state. President Bush and those of his ilk could count on the fact that a great deal of the population was ignorant, and that portion of the population which thought itself informed was in fact awash in the flotsam of dead-end conspiracy theories.
South Park once addressed the 9-11 conspiracy, portraying it as though the whole conspiracy theory itself was actually concocted by the Bush administration to create an image of omnipotence and cunning. It almost rings true in a sense. If I were in the shoes of Bush, or Obama for that matter, I would prefer most of all that all my most radical citizens to be chasing phantom conspiracies rather than figuring out how the system actually works. If people believed in conspiracy theories, they would be convinced that all my mistakes were in fact intentional and planned as part of a larger, diabolical scheme. They would be frustrated by the seemingly futile struggle to “wake America up,” and they would be so busy arguing on forums and watching Youtube videos that they would never see the real oppression right in front of their faces. Yes, one might argue that the proliferation of conspiracy theories themselves is in fact a conspiracy, were it not for the total lack of evidence linking the ruling class with most of these theories.
The fact is that the problem in the world isn’t some hidden cabal, nor is it some shadow government. If you want to see the real inner machinations of the world’s rulers, open your paper to the business section, or next time you’re on a flight crack open that business journal. You can listen to Alex Jones all you want, but so long as you believe you are being paid for all the time you spend at work you are still just as much of a “sheep” as anyone else. So instead of believing in phony enlightenment and self-serving fantasies about being “in the know,” why not step back from the trees and take a look at the forest. What you see is far more insidious than any of those theories you have read about, but the good news is that unlike those shadowy, ever-elusive puppet-masters, these rulers do make mistakes. They are mortals bound by the same system as us, regardless of their position within that system. The internal contradictions in that system continually provide for the downfall of its rulers, and ultimately pave the way to their eventual overthrow. Capitalism is the real monster, and this monster can bleed. We will never bring it down, however, if the majority of the working class are stabbing wildly in the dark, striking at shadows.