A mind is like a parachute
It might save your life,
but you have to know how to use it first.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Maybe You are Already a Conspiracy Theorist and Don't Know it Yet

What an exciting idea for a movie.  Some guy is just going about his business feeling smug for not being so stupid as to believe that The Boston Marathon Bombing was a false flag terrorist attack, when something happens and he realizes that he has been part of a conspiracy all along.  Or maybe a woman is living a perfectly normal life, regarding the poor lost souls who believe in conspiracies with a mix of pity and contempt when she is suddenly informed that the very principles she uses to guide her own life are nothing but oversimplified conspiracy theories.

Of course, these things could never happen in real life, right?  Because there are those who grasp reality and those who let their imaginations get the best of them.  And we are the smart ones.  We always live in the real world and leave the fantasies to others.  We are so much smarter than everyone else... and proud of it.

On The Rachel Maddow Show the other night, Ms. Maddow interviewed Alice Hoagland, a woman whose son died on Flight 93, the 9/11 plane that went down in Shanksville, PA.

Visit NBCNews.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

This video won't load on an iPad, so if you want to watch it, you can Click here.

The interview starts at 14:46.  Alice Hoagland uses words like "loony" to describe conspiracy theorists.  She recounts that she admonished them at one point:
You really need to consider a theory before you take it to your bosom, and, folks, you're being sold a bill of goods here.
She explains that these folks "reduce everything to theory" and
I've come to the conclusion that you really can't talk to these folks, you can't reason with them because they are so invested in the crazy story [they have gotten hold of].
And later she explains she simply thinks of them as "mental patients" because "they are off their rockers".

Well that is a stern appraisal from someone who (we hope) has a firm grasp of reality.  One could assume based on her dismissal of these crazy loons (who are so invested in their own ideas that they can not accept anything else), that Alice Hoagland is a lucid thinker in charge of her own mind.  Certainly she would never ascribe to anything so nutty as a "conspiracy theory."

Well let's think back to a few things we have said about conspiracy theories.  This is what we know:

1) To a conspiracy theorist, everything that happens is intentional.  It is part of a plan.

2) Conspiracy is linked to anxiety.  The more anxious something makes us about our place in the world, the more traction conspiracy theories will have.

3) Conspiracy Theories have an Event, Story, Reveal, Puppet Masters, and a Grand Plan.

And as we have touched upon but have not quite gotten to, the "evidence" that "proves" conspiracy in the minds of those who Ms. Hoagland calls "loonies" is usually not very straight forward.  It usually takes a lot of supposition and stretching to join the logical threads.  The lack of concrete evidence does not deter conspiracy theorists who say you must infer from the cracks in the official story.  The doubt cast in your mind by our imperfect ability to witness reality is where you must draw your assurance that conspiracy theories may be true.  We will explore this more later, but it was a critical component to touch upon now.

Because I want to examine this from a new angle.

What is one of the first things we hear when an inexplicable death occurs, especially of a child or someone in a horrible random event, like a bombing at a public spectacle?  Someone usually says it was part of "God's Plan."  The solace they offer is that we can't understand the mysteries of the world and that horrible and inexplicable and seemingly undeserved tragedies befall us in life, but we shouldn't worry, because God has a plan.

Earlier I wrote:
 It is very unnerving to live in a world where transformative (and usually horrible) events can take place without warning and for no good reason.  So a conspiracy theory seeks to provide peace of mind by showing how the seemingly random event was not random at all but was in fact part of someone’s plan. 
Ms. Hoagland herself claims that the best way she can think of to deal with conspiracy theorists is to use the "serenity prayer".
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.
If this is true, we can assume that Ms. Hoagland is not an atheist.  Yet wasn't she just chastising these crazy people for boiling everything down to theory and, basically, not doing the math?

Mr. Universe
I want to spend a great deal of time on this so I will be coming back to it quite often.  Not because I think that if you believe in God you must be insane, but rather just the opposite.  If you can be a sane person and believe in God, then you must be very careful about the names you call others who believe things that they have no evidence to support.

And just as importantly, we need to realize that the quest for answers and order in the universe that leads us to the idea of God is part and parcel the same drive that leads conspiracy theorists to their explanations.

Remember my comment:
The Grand Plan is the explanatory bow that ties up the package into a neat orderly and self contained idea.
I was talking about conspiracy theories at the time, but couldn't I just as easily have been talking about religion?

There are those who will claim that there is a difference here.  But there is no difference, not of any significance.  Whether I believe that the government faked the 9/11 attacks in order to take away our freedoms and start a war in the Middle East or I believe that God hand selected the victims of the Sandy Hook massacre because he has a Divine Plan for how the universe unfolds, I am ascribing speculative motives to powerful forces with not a shred of evidence beyond conjecture.

Now, don't forget, I have gone to some pains in my past comments to stress that part of having an open mind means that you must accept that anything can be true, at least at first blush.   So I am not saying that there is no God and there is no Divine Plan.  But it is undoubtedly the same mental process that makes one seek order from existential chaos which produces the conspiracy theory or makes us quest for God .   Maybe there is a god pulling levers and controlling the universe.  I happen to doubt it. But I wouldn't call someone a loony for thinking so, or at least not any more of a loony than anyone else who believes conspiracy theories.  And I am suspicious of people who begrudge others their quest for order in a chaotic world.  I may find their answers a little too pat.  I may think they don't comport well with reality as I have experienced it.  But that would apply equally well to many religious people I have known as it would conspiracy theorists.  Who am I to be the arbiter of where someone seeks order and meaning?

Is a person who says that the Boston Marathon Bombings were a false flag attack more wrong than a person who claims that a rape resulting in pregnancy is God's will?  What if the person says that neither event was God's will but God had the power to stop it and did nothing (presumably because he has a plan)?  As soon as you bring your faith in God into a discussion of conspiracy theory, you have lost the intellectual high ground.

So one more time, just to summarize.  Ms. Hoagland argues that you just can't REASON with these people, and then cites the serenity prayer as her coping mechanism.  Does that really sound like reason is the guiding principle of her life?  It sounds more like her faith is what gives her strength.  Yet she belittles others for having an unshakable belief in something she disagrees with.  It may be true that they have no rational reason for believing what they do about 9/11.  But does she have a rational reason for believing in God?  Can we really expect others to believe only what is reasonable while we ourselves resort to faith to define our place in the cosmos?  Is there a map that shows us where reason applies and where faith is necessary?   Is faith just something we use when we want to believe something but can't find any evidence for it?  What does it say about your own awareness if you allow yourself to believe in things which are not logical but call others loonies for holding illogical beliefs?

I know, I am probably barking at the moon.  As Ms. Hoagland herself suggested, you just can't reason with some people.

No comments:

Post a Comment