On Conspiracy Theories

People never cease to amaze me. I am used to reading Chinese, North Korean and Russian propaganda. It’s comical to read, but sad when you think that 20% of the world’s population has to read this garbage due to censorship.

So imagine my frustration when a friend sent me this:

And I’m pouring myself a glass of plentiful water being like

How are you supposed to respond to these things? It’s not the first time, and over the years, I’ve tried various strategies. The three I’ve settled on I like to call Truth, Ridicule and Instigation.

Truth

You can always fight lies with truth. A while back I was trying to sort through the hype about the HPV Vaccine. My doctor at work said it was fine, but I had heard stories about it acting as a contraceptive. So I dove in, reading an awful lot of technical papers. Turns out, the one study that said the vaccine was a contraceptive was poorly done, and every Catholic source I found said the vaccine is fine, although also recommending it not be mandated.

Ridicule

Watch Baghdad Bob in action at about the 7 minute mark!

The invasion of Iraq exposed many Americans to the Iraqi Information Minister, Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf, or more commonly known as Baghdad Bob. During the invasion, we were inundated with interviews where Baghdad Bob would deny claims that any American forces had entered Iraq or Baghdad, with such memorable quotes as “They’re coming to surrender or be burned in their tanks.” and “There are no American infidels in Baghdad. Never!” Americans, in typical American fashion, were not impressed, and soon al-Sahaaf was featured on countless memes, YouTube videos and even had a website devoted to him.

From http://www.holtorf.com

Instigation

Instead of fighting the allegation, you force it one level deeper. When someone asked me whether 5G caused COVID-19, I told them “Only the Huawei 5G. That’s why we have to build 5G from Verizon.” Or when someone claims that climate change is a government conspiracy, I tell them “It’s worse than that. Ever since the U.S. captured the Nazi weather machine in Svalbard, our scientists have been making all sorts of dangerous changes!”

A good instigation has a kernel of truth that is easy to find on the Internet. In the 5G case, its the push by the U.S. to build their own 5G infrastructure. In the climate case, its the (true) fact that the Nazi’s had a weather outpost on Svalbard that was one of the last places to surrender during the war. Heck, the Nazis even had a weather station in Canada! Maybe the Inuits were working with the Nazis to overthrow the Canadian government…nah, couldn’t be true, could it?

You can easily do your own instigation, and you should! The best format is:

  • Hyperbole – Actor – Kernel of Truth – Outright Lie –

My favorites are:

Hypberole:
It’s worse than you know…
I have insider information…
A study that was covered up said…
I found this site on the Dark Web that said…

Actors:
The radical left
The vast right-wing conspiracy
The underground Communist movement
Russian spies
Vatican II
The Nazis
The Illuminati

Truth and Lies are easy, a bit of Googling and you’ll learn some interesting history. Occasionally, places like the Onion help you out, like when they reveal that government vaccine trackers malfunctioned.

Instigation seems cruel, but the more I used it, it made me realize two things. First, when you learn about history, you realize that governments are made of people that are flawed. Conspiracy theorists will connect a few dots of information to come up with some wild accusation, while the reality is a lot more mundane. I tell people that the golden rule for government conspiracy is “Never attribute to government conspiracy what is better left to incompetence, greed or lust for power.

Applying that to the current status of Michigan’s COVID-19 shutdown is perfect. The current Governor is a jerk. She’s using the crisis to push her own agenda, beat down on people she doesn’t like, and it wouldn’t surprise me if she profits from it in some way. But is she part of a bigger conspiracy? Doubtful. You’d be giving her too much credit by saying that.

The other thing I realized is that we’re all sucked into conspiracy. Plenty of people reading this will think they are somehow too smart to be fooled by conspiracy. To that I say, you’re not. Lots of people believed Bernie Sanders and/or Donald Trump was being funded by the Russians. People doubted whether Barack Obama was a U.S. citizen, despite the FBI having investigated the matter. People still believe there are UFOs at Area 51.

On a small scale though, we all fall victim to this. How many people think drinking 8 glasses of water a day is recommended? Or that flossing your teeth is a good thing? Despite living in the information age, we’re terrible at actually challenging our beliefs. We could read about vaccines and flossing, sift through campaign finance records, and learn about unique history…or we could share social media posts that appeal to our emotions instead of reason.

Humans are unique for many reasons, but perhaps the biggest is our ability to reason and logically question the world around us. Social media makes it too easy to be lazy, put people in stereotyped boxes, and accept old-wives tales as truth. We could all do better.

This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, or any other government agency.

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