HOW NOT TO LOOK LIKE AN IDIOT: Lesson 3: “Conspiracy Theories”

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ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON 9/23/09

These (Were) trying times for Republicans (When this article was first written). Not only did we lose the (2008) election, we got pantsed. Control of both houses and the presidency have been lost. We’re involved in two unpopular wars, we‘re bordering on a third, the government is deeply in debt, the international economy is in the crapper, and whether wrong or right, the strong public consensus is that it’s entirely our fault. Whether you’re a die-hard Bush supporter, or a moderate who feels mistakes were made, I think it’s pretty obvious that the party and its members are having a bit of an image problem right now.

To that end, I humbly submit this guide on how we can change our reputation and not be perceived as paranoid racists and raving religious fanatics, at least on a one-to-one basis.

(I'm re-printing this series, even though we're winning now, simply because we *can* still blow it. Anything that helps us avoid that is a good thing, right?)

LESSON 3: “Conspiracy Theories”

I have this shirttail relative, an uncle who was always showing up and having long, seemingly-rational discussions about conspiracies. He was one of those guys who seemed smooth - good clothes, good diction, good delivery, seemed to be very well educated, and knew what he was talking about. Of course he was barking nuts, but I was too young to know it. He’d rail on over dinner in the 1970s about how “Washington and Moscow are not enemies, they’re working together, and Moscow is calling the shots,” and about how the Freemasons run the country, nay the world, and soon nothing (Excepting the John Birch Society) would stand in their way to prevent them from their evil goal of…uhm…ruling the world? Wait, don’t they rule the world already? That can’t be it. Anyway, soon there will be nothing to stop the freemasons from achieving their nefarious goal, whatever it is…Now that I’m thinking about it, I’m pretty sure it’s got something to do with the Crab Nebula, but I could be wrong. I assume that’s nefarious, but I don’t really know why. I mean, if they already *ran* the world, wouldn’t their purpose be better described as “Status Quo?”

I digress: The point is that I loved the hell out of my uncle, and always looked forward to his visits. I was less enamored of his son, my cousin, who used to beat me up whenever they crashed at our house, but, eh. That’s life, I suppose. My uncle, though, was great. He’d wax on about the secret - and disturbing - nature of the Democratic party; he’d explain (To everyone’s clear annoyance) about why using decaffeinated coffee was *good* for enemas, but regular coffee was bad; he’d tell us all about how all the world’s ills could easily be cured by chiropractors, if only the damn evil satanic AMA would stop blocking their medical accreditation. I loved listening to him. He seemed like one of those knowledgeable, urbane, fatherly Dr. Kildare types, who just know stuff. Even when I was a bit older, and I began to realize that he was off his nut most of the time, I still liked listening to him. His world seemed so much more vital and passionate than the real one, so much more interesting. Shadow governments, eternal struggles between illuminati and an equally-shadowy band of republican businessmen in central Georgia, wildly revisionist history, samizdated newsletters with terrible grammar, egregious spelling errors, and alarming accusations that you could never trace back to their source- it was all so much more interesting than my world of spelling tests and will-she-or-won’t-she-go-skating-with-me anxiety. Although I was pretty sure the world didn’t work the way my uncle said it did by the time I was 16 or so, I still felt like it’s the way the world *should* work. It was just so much more fun his way.

Of course my uncle had mental problems out the ying yang. I’m not saying this to make fun of him (Though that’s your loss, it’s always a laugh-riot when it happens), just to point out that we’ve all met a lot of these seemingly-sane crazy people, and occasionally we listen to them more than we should. And if their schizophrenic babblings are repeated enough times, they become an urban legend and then a cultural meme, and there’s just no getting rid of them, no matter what you do. You can be the most rational, well-meaning, non-insane person in the world, having a discussion about - I dunno, the Foreign Policy with China, or whatever - and then you innocently let slip one of my uncle’s “Facts” genuinely assuming them to be true, and not bothering to verify it - and you’ve instantly destroyed yourself in the eyes of the person you were talking with. If they know better - and most people *do* know better - then once you start rattling on about how Chinese people evolved from different primates than everyone else, or start talking about how the Koran embraces homosexuality (When in fact, it does exactly the opposite!), you’ve blown it. You are labeled as a loonie, and it will be very, very, very hard - if not impossible - for you to reestablish your credibility.

Why should you care?

Why the hell shouldn’t you care? What, you want people thinking you’re my uncle? No, of course you don’t want that. If people see you as crazy, they can immediately disregard your opinions without even considering them. If you’re a conservative, and you want to further your own viewpoints via logical argument, then you’ve just destroyed that ability. Hell, if you’re a *liberal* and want to further your arguments logically, and cite that “We never went to the moon” nut job from Tennessee (Remember him? The fatass that Buzz Aldrin decked a few years ago?), or “Bush planned 9/11” or whatever, then no one is going to listen to you. This kind of pernicious ignorance helps no one. So stop being an idiot!

That’s why you should care. Look. If the liberals want to gibber nonsense at each other, fine, let ‘em. We are supposed to be better than that. Ordinarily in these columns I take a somewhat live-and-let-live approach to things: I don’t care if you believe in Evolution or not, I’m just explaining that regardless of your personal beliefs, you need to behave a certain way in public. I don’t care *what* you believe, but you need to understand the difference between “Facts” and “Faith.” I don’t generally get in your face about “you’re wrong’ or “you’re right.”

In this case, however: There Are No Damn Conspiracies, ok? Deal with it.

When I was a kid in the 1970s, the popular space conspiracy was that we never actually *Stopped* going to the moon, we just stopped admitting we were going. In actual fact, there was a secret base on the moon that was permanently staffed with astronauts for some purpose. The purpose could be nefarious, involve aliens, or simply be Cold War one-upsmanship, depending on which deranged person you were talking to, but it was a common enough form of paranoia. It was popular from 1975 to about 1981, when we weren’t going in to space at all. Come the shuttle program in the early 80s, and suddenly the nature of the paranoid rambling changed: It wasn’t that we were *still* going to the moon, suddenly it was that we *never* went to the moon, the whole thing had been faked, despite literally millions of tons of evidence to the contrary, and tens of millions of eyewitnesses. This ‘New’ conspiracy, which supplanted the old one was easier to maintain (Having seen a few Saturn V launches first hand, I’m here to tell you: you can’t hide ‘em), and interestingly a lot of the *Same* people who preached to me about a hidden Marvel Comics-style moonbase in 1979 were the same ones claiming we’d never been there in 1982. Many of them legitimately believed it, and many of them legitimately had no memory of ever believing a different way.

They’re crazy, you see.

We’re not the only ones who fall prey to this: to this day, many Russians believe the Soviets sent a midget to the moon who died there in the early 1970s. It’s no more true than any American space myths, but this is a universal phenomenon.

Sometimes it’s just a feature of PR and/or a bad education. Most people in the US believe the first woman in space was Sally Ride (1983), when in fact it was Valentina Tereshkova twenty years earlier ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Valentina_Tereshkova ) I know some of you will argue this with me - “That’s just what they *want* you to think!” - but I’m not going to bother. You’re wrong, deal with it, move on.

Sometimes it’s a feature of mental illness, as with that Tennessee fatass. When that’s the case, it’s lamentable, we should pity the person that does it, but we should not spread the fruits of their illness around as though it were fact, even if you want it to be, even if it supports your position.
Cardinal Rule #1 of being a “Good” Conservative: Never, Never, Never, Never lie. Ever. Never spread false information, or knowingly infer people to believe information you know is untrue. Even if it supports our own political advantage to allow others to believe a lie, we *must* not do it. You want people to trust you? Have virtue. Virtuous behavior is not always the same thing as acting in your best behavior, so it’s not always easy or wise, but dammit, there’s enough lies already. It’s time to start winnowing them down.

As was once stated in Star Trek: The Next Generation, of all places, “Conspiracies are almost never suspected if they’re real, and almost never real if they’re suspected.” That’s true.

That doesn’t mean conspiracies don’t exist, but most non-hallucinatory conspiracies are fairly short-term, goal-oriented, and pretty obvious. The easiest answer is most likely the correct one. Which is easier to believe? That your best friend’s morbidly obese dad is an elite member of a secret society dating back to ancient Egypt, who’s millennia-spanning plan for world domination that is soon to come to fruition; or that he just joined a local club so he’d have someone to drink with, and could qualify for the group rate at the whorehouse on the outskirts of town? Come on, honestly. Have you looked at the guy’s equally-morbidly-obese wife? Do you *really* think this doofus from Indiana is *anyone’s* first choice to be a part of the new order? Or even their third choice? No, it’s pretty much the whorehouse option every time, isn’t it? Especially since that French Canadian chick started working there…

I know what you’re thinking: “Well, yeah, but I know this guy who’s actually *IN* the freemasons, and he was saying they really are trying to take over the world.” Ok, fine. Let’s assume he really said that and he wasn’t just screwing with you: even if he really believes it himself, that doesn’t make it true, now does it? Think about it: The same guy almost unquestionably believes that humans only use 3% of their brain power, that if you stretched his intestines end-to-end they’d reach all the way to the moon, and that the US was only one vote away from deciding to speak German at some nebulous point in the past. These are all popular urban legends, and they’re all not true.

So let’s define our terms, shall we?

First of all, “Conspiracy” doesn’t have to involve world domination, playing ‘hide the alien’, or some evil government agency watching you pretty much 24/7, even in the can. Most *real* conspiracies are pretty small potatoes by comparison: For instance Carl Sagan conspired with his buddies to cook up a paper on “Nuclear Winter” that used tendentious conclusions drawn from entirely inapplicable and limited observational evidence - on another planet - to sell their point: That Nuclear War would bring on another ice age. They published their paper, gave speeches before congress, and to this day everyone assumes a major Nuclear War would bring about global cooling, despite the fact that there’s really no evidence to support this.

Why did Sagan do this? Mainly ‘cuz he was kind of a leftist who didn’t feel his views were getting enough attention. And what was his view? Get this: “Nuclear War is Bad.” Wow! I never would have gotten that on my own, thank you Carl for pointing that out.

So there’s a successful conspiracy for you: some eggheads lying to stupid people in congress (But then I repeat myself) in order to achieve a goal that was rendered more-or-less irrelevant by the end of that decade. Pretty much useless and embarrassing.

Here’s another one: In the 1960s, the US and the USSR were involved in a little thing called “The Space Race.” Long story short: we won. The Soviets attempted to cover up the whole thing by claiming they’d never been in any silly old race to the moon, and that they weren’t going to squander their assets on something as frivolously capitalist as peaceful exploration. Except, of course, that they were lying. They were trying every bit as hard as us to get to the moon, and in fact they were ahead in the race until 1968.

When they finally gave up in 1974, they scrapped their N1 moon rockets, told everyone to shut up about it, and claimed it never existed. That’s right folks: There really *was* a moon conspiracy, only it was Soviet, and it was trying to cover up what a bunch of technically inferior goobers they were.

“So how’d that work out for ‘em?” you ask.

Not so well, really. If anyone was gonna’ pull off such a thing, it’d be the Soviets, who could simply kill people likely to blab. Added to which the USSR was in many ways cut off from the outside world, and their moon project was mostly run from a remote location far from prying western eyes. If ever anyone was going to say “ok, you sixty thousand people, we’re all going to agree this never happened and never speak of it again,” and make it stick, it would be the Soviets, right?

And yet the CIA knew about the N1 program long before their first attempted launch, they actually got satellite footage of one of the rockets blowing up on the pad in 1974, and by the late 1979 UK groups had gotten wind of a “Superbooster” that the Soviets were “About to start constructing.” This was obviously the N1, though they misinterpreted it as a project that was yet to be, not one that had been buried. The 1981 book “Space Technology” has a surprisingly accurate diagram of an N1 which they’re calling a “G-1-e,” and they even managed to get the dates right on it.

My point being that if 30,000 or so highly educated, patriotic soviet engineers fearing for their lives and the resources of a superpower behind them couldn’t be trusted to keep their mouths shut, then that morbidly obese dude we talked about earlier with the frequent flyer’s card at the brothel clearly isn’t going to be able to either.

Secondly: Secret Societies are not really all that secret. And most of ‘em aren’t interested in world domination. The Mafia is a Secret Society. You think they care about world domination? The Trilateral Commission is *not* a secret society. Their chairmen are - at present - Joseph Nye, Peter Sutherland, and Yotaro Kobayaski. It took me less than thirty seconds to discover that because it’s public knowledge. Answer me this: What the hell kind of secret society tells you the names of its members? Hell, *My* identity is more secret than anyone in the Commission. (I’ve got stalkers, you see.) You can go in any good library in any university in the world and figure out what the rituals and “Secrets” of the masons are with probably less than a day’s worth of reading. There is no freakin’ illuminati, at least not in the sense that the whack jobs mean it. “Anonymous,” the group fighting Scientology, is technically a secret society, but they’re pretty obvious, and they have a clear goal in mind, which they’ll either accomplish, or die trying.

So ask yourself this: if there is an evil all-knowing conspiracy ruling the world, if they know everything we do and everywhere we go, then why is the world such a shambles? Wouldn’t it be in their interests just to, you know, tidy the place up a bit? Ask yourself this: How could America fake going to the moon successfully for nearly 40 years, when the Soviet Union couldn’t keep their own *inability* to go to the moon secret? Ask yourself this: What’s the big freakin’ secret, anyway? I mean, really, why in the holy hell would anyone go to this level of trouble for this length of time - thousands of years? Seriously, what could justify that?

Nothing, that’s what.

So, yeah, Conspiracies exist: Conspiracy to obstruct justice, conspiracy to commit murder, conspiracy to cheat on your taxes, the conspiracy of fat dudes to cheat on their wives without getting caught, but these are all pretty piddly. The *Grand* conspiracies of Byzantine complexity and baroque goals that people rave about do not. Just the thought of them violates entirely too many rules of human nature and history. They simply don’t exist. How the hell can our conspiracy-nut friends claim to know what’s *really* going on and yet not know about real, honest-to-God failed conspiracies like the ones I cited above?

Don’t believe me? No, of course you wouldn’t. Right now you’re thinking that I’m “One of them,” paid by my satanic masters to mislead you with false information, or at best I’m some kind of rube who’s utterly blind to what’s “Really going on.”

Ok, fine. I’ll tell you what: prove me wrong. There’s an easy way to do it: Just go out and start a conspiracy to take over the world yourself. No, seriously: Every millennium-spanning world-conquering form of conspiratorial institutionalized despotism has to start somewhere, right? So go create your own, and take over the world simply to keep the Illuminati and the Freemasons and an odd little man known only as “Fatumpsh, the Cheerful, Wandering Fornicator” from getting it first. Go ahead. I’ll not stop you. Hell, I’ll wish you luck, probably. It’s not like your cabal could do a worse job than whoever’s presently running the world, right? If you can do that, then I’ll gladly and publicly take my hat off to you and admit my fundamental wrong-headedness in all this. (That’s a bargain, by the way: Republibot 3.0 Hat Removal ceremonies start out at $3000 bucks, and go uphill steeply from there, but they’re worth it, and they almost never fail to eke a few tears out of the audience. I’ll give it to you free, though, if you can take over the world. And prove to me that you did it.)

For those of you who didn’t immediately jump to the conclusion that I’m “One of them,” think about it: Is it easier to explain the price of oil by means of greed and supply, or by some crazy thing that Ptolemy is said to have done 2200 years ago? Because the easiest explanation is most commonly the best one.

Think on this: Why keep it secret? Some charismatic young buck shows up saying “I want to take over the world in the name of Peace and Niceness and Me and, time permitting, Quality Footwear,” and a hell of a lot of people would probably be willing to sign on openly. Hell, Fidel Castro had amazing amounts of success with the Quality Footwear angle, and no, I’m not joking.

Think on this: If you have to bend over backwards to hold on to your theory, then it doesn't make sense in the first place. When my Uncle insisted that Moscow was calling the shots in 1979, it seemed vaguely plausible. When he was still maintaining it in 1995, it was embarasing. He was claiming that Moscow was *still* trying to turn the world to communism by *Appearing* to collapse and turn capitalist, thereby...causing...uhm....something involving the Crab Nebula to...uhm...happen. If you have to get apologetic to make it work, then it didn't make sense in the first place, and it's time to let go of it, and get that job at Arbys.

Think on this: Did the Confederate States of America do anything secretly? No, they did it more-or-less on the spur of the moment. Was Hitler covertely lining up his ducks for the day when his great grandkids could take over England? Did Chairman Mao meet secretly in the shadows to discuss the eventual maybe-one-day fate of his illicit order? No. They just went and killed an ass-load of people who dared to disagree with them. There is a much more immediate, and vastly easier road to power, and that's simply *Taking* it.

My point in all this is simply that an obsession with Conspiracy Theories is the hallmark of (A) Mental Illness (B) Ignorance and/or (C ) a combination of A and B. Do not talk about them, because if you do, you're not going to just look like an idiot, you're going to *be* an idiot.

So just knock it off, do not tolerate it, do not encourage it, drive it from you. There are enough lies in the world already without nurturing more with fear and ignorance.

It's time to start telling the truth.

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