We all have that crazy uncle, that friend of a friend on Facebook, or that one kid from high school that sends out the chain email style messages detailing the dooming of America. It could be about aliens landing, the impending apocalypse, or of efforts to make a one world government. My favorite of late is the government is preparing to take away gun rights so it can impose its’ will militarily. These dedicated few are the conspiracy crowd.
In the day-to-day bustle of the world there is a necessary filter that one needs when taking in information. This filter is called skepticism. Skepticism pairs with common sense. If I tell you there is a man giving a million dollars in cash away on the mall, you should be able to figure out I’m making it up. This dual processing is critical when dealing with government. I fully believe that every new government action or idea needs a careful examination of the facts to make sure things aren’t being completely screwed up. But there is a sinister difference between healthy questioning of democratic process and jumping to outlandish explanations featured on less than credible news sources which profit from fear mongering to a niche audience.
A conspiracy for this purpose will be defined as the refuting of publically accepted knowledge of an event. It could be that a government agency has been cooking jobs numbers. There was uproar from conservative commentators over the job report before the 2012 election. Since the numbers were positive, they were obviously cooked to give Obama an advantage. It could be that new gun legislation is going to use military force to seize guns, or dictate which light bulb you can use. But what is presented in these stories is a blind presentation of believing whatever evidence is put together and published on the Internet, television or in a book. Since we have the freedom of speech, any information true or false can be published, and in the revolutionized age of media this is often forgotten.
I feel silly having to say this, but 9/11 is also not a conspiracy. It’s a laughable notion that the Bush administration could help orchestrate the attacks, an administration that could barely hold a functioning government together. There is a difference between incompetence and evil cohabitation.
Deniers of climate change, global warming, or the general dangers of environmental damage fight against the evidence produced through thousands of studies by experts as if it was a collaborated effort by the worlds scientific community. Our debate should no longer be focusing on whether or not humans are damaging the planet, but how we can minimize our environmental damage without tanking our economy. That logic needs apply to everything else as well.
Sometimes less than reputable claims find their way into the mainstream. Senators like John McCain are still claiming that there was a cover-up of the consulate attack in Benghazi, despite the several months of investigation into that matter that have led to little more than a call to beef up security. This same group of congressman are filibustering Chuck Hagel for Secretary of Defense due to similar theories of his unpatriotic dedication.
The most infamous conspiracy theory in American politics is that regarding Obama’s birth certificate, because he might have been born in Kenya or worse, he is a Muslim. This too made it into mainstream Republican thought through people like Donald Trump, Newt Gingrich, and Michelle Bachmann, to the point that Obama felt compelled to release his long form birth certificate.
News outlets, believe it or not, are successful or not based on whether they can provide reliable information to their viewers. Most journalists have integrity when doing investigative journalism, so a blanket rejection of mainstream news out of some self-righteous principle is not an excuse to follow a conspiracy based blog.
Gerrymandering, rigging legislation to a campaign contributors benefit, or an expansion of limited powers are not conspiracies, they are just bad partisan acts in government that are inevitable in democracy. And the responses to most of these are through democratic process rather than a cry for violent revolution.
What baseless accusations and ideas do is hamper societies ability to cope with actual problems. By using our free speech to questioning things like Obama’s birth certificate, we have less input where it matters. Our friends and relatives that live by the stories reported on the fringe are not stupid. But their thought is driven by a pure emotional rejection of beltway logic to feed their deepest fears. They can’t trust numbers or studies published by the professionals in the field because the facts that produce their preferred policy are unobtainable. If credible evidence refutes their ideas and there is seemingly no legitimate counter point, the conclusion is then to throw something up on the internet that can’t be debunked because even the premise isn’t based on reality.
Of course there are things in our government we do not know about both bad and good. But without tangible evidence, without a leak or memo, or a whistleblower, wildly speculating and jumping to the worst case scenario is not a logic based approach that produces rightful action. If I wake up one morning and the government is going door to door seizing bibles and guns, then I will be happy to cry foul. But I will not live in a world driven by emotional fear and far-fetched evidence, and I will not stoop to discrediting legitimate opposition with ginned up facts by quasi-professional commentators and writers.
To be a more functioning society we need to be at a point where we can critically analyze evidence and determine fact when it is proven time and time again, and then argue over what to do about the very real problems that we have. But there is a large enough portion of this country, including numerous politicians, which are directly conflicting with this reality. The white noise created by questioning the very legitimacy of all authority brings us occasionally to a medieval review of whether the earth revolves around the sun. And frankly it’s exhausting. My hope is that as our tech savvy generation gradually fills positions of leadership in government and business, the degree to which I have to hear about crackpot hypotheses trickles out of the public view. But I’m not delusional. I will always get the chain emails and be forced to view a lack of critical thought on social media. But as Hillary Clinton said during her testimony on Benghazi, there are some people who just aren’t living in a fact based world.