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November 21, 2017

Who hasn’t been attracted to a good conspiracy theory once in a while. I remember when young seeing a documentary going through all sorts of factors that illustrated we did not ever land on the moon, and for a short while being convinced. My response was to do my own research though, I sat and watched over live footage from the original moon landings. It seemed clear to me this would have required such a level of conspiracy that it is much simpler to take the view that we did land on the moon, and these conspiracists are just struggling to get their heads round an event they did not partake of themselves. I notice this often as a problem people have, not just in relation to conspiracies, but in relation to many things. An inability to use their imagination to see the reality of an event based on evidence they are provided. Take the Las Vegas shooting lately, there seem to be many who doubt the event happened, who, even presented with video footage, claim they are all “crisis actors”, rubber bullets, etc.. Many at the event themselves you hear on the footage trying to assure others, its not real, its just firecrackers, things like this. With some we then see that scepticism soon put to bed when a person next to them is hit, or a bullet goes whizzing past their ear.

And this is the problem we have, many will never accept something is real till they are literally smacked around the head with it, and so there will always be this tendency with conspiracy theories. Of course this does not generically discredit all conspiracy theories. Debunker style thinkers suffer from an equally uncritical habit of mind. They start from the “official” narrative and discredit all others based on any bit of evidence that supports the official narrative. They have preloaded themselves in favour of one narrative, and so they are looking at all evidence with this bias. While the extreme conspiracy theorist is a gullible type, ready to believe any coherent narrative, the extreme debunker is the sceptical type, not ready to believe anything other than what status quo, current opinion dictates. They try to leave out this last bit, the debunkers, imagining they are just being sceptical in a neutral way, but there always underlies these people a dogmatic unhesitating attachment to a mono narrative. You have to take each case on its own merit to avoid these fallacies. Because if you don’t you are just confirming your own prior prejudices.

I am not going to go into the specifics of some conspiracy theories here. I am just looking to analyse some of these features of it, in relation to certain personality types. As it is a great case study for developing our critical reasoning faculties. There are many emotional biases pushing us to one conclusion in favour of another. The person who believes strongly in a conspiracy, for instance, may have a personal axe to grind with the event. They may be looking for notoriety, playing off others need to believe in something different. They may just be one of those people themselves, looking to find a meaningful narrative in events, so always reaching for one even when the evidence is insufficient. But these are all very human errors. And some of them are not even, in principle, errors at all. For this drive to create narratives is hardwired into us. It may seem like an error compared to the hard science physical truths of atoms and electricity and such like. But a narrative in many aspects of human life is the most real account we have. Such as how we understand history, religion, evolution. We have to create a narrative and fit ourselves within it. We have no choice but to do this, because we are perspective based beings who need to find their orientation in the world, and this is one key way in which we do this, by building coherent narratives.

So, what can we do? How can we be more rounded in our understanding? I argue that it requires both improving in our imaginative capacities and in our reasoning skills. The debunker has focused too much on the reasoning skills alone. The regular conspiracy theory believer has focused too much on letting his imagination fly high, and has forgot to apply critical reasoning to his imaginings. On top of this, we need to hone our sense of the real. And to do this requires both imagination and reason. Many lack the imagination to accept real events, while having plenty of imagination to accept conspiracy theories that make things the simple fault of one person or group. They are struggling with both too much and too little imagination. Too much in their convoluted narratives that postulate far out causes of mundane events. Too little in their refusal to see that often events don’t have a simple human author who we can blame or praise. We must construct narratives yes, to orientate ourselves in the world. But don’t confuse this with the existence of a grand narrator who wrote a story for us to find. For we create the narratives, we create our social reality. I guess this is maybe the grandest conspiracy theory of them all, and yet it is true.

Do people conspire to control this human narrative? You can be damn well sure they do. Does this render one group always the source of these narratives? Much more doubtful, however, given the nature of the world we now live in, technology and such like do allow much greater control over narratives now than ever before. Propaganda has advanced in its methods so much now. And this information can be propagated around the whole world in seconds. To think specific wealthy and powerful groups of people would not want to make use of this to spread their message over others message, would be very naive to say the least. But also, I still don’t think the control over the message is perfect. It is still far from perfect in fact. And I think there will always be a countervailing tendency in our human nature to rebel against this control of the message. The Apollonian urge always comes up against the Dionysian urge in our nature. Victory is never complete, this is one of those dynamic factors of human life and human history.

It has to be borne in mind that as much as specific influential people try to control a social situation with their plans and schemes, there are always unintended consequences. Always things crop up that they had not intended. Yes, they are trying all the time to perfect the science of controlling human reactions, and yes, maybe one day they will achieve this. It could well be a real threat to human life and society. For I think it is obvious controlled humans will not flourish or breed with the same vitality, and so the human stock would degenerate over time. Still, I say this day has not yet been reached, and so surely the response, is not to complain and bicker and be cynical, but to make the most of our last bit of human freedom while we still have it. Let the dead bury their dead, as Jesus says, and have no thought for the morrow. We can be the creators of our own demise by thinking things are going to get bad. We can make it reality. So we may as well have more faith and belief in the freedom that we have. A form of pascals wager you could say. Be the author of your own narratives, and be aware of narratives you have constructed up to now, or taken on from other people for how to understand your place in the world. Don’t then take that as reason to react against that narrative as purely manipulative, false and oppressive, for narratives are a part of our identity and sense of belonging. Avoid these extreme reactions, calmly be aware of how it all places you in this world, without judging, glorifying, or condemning. It is not false, it is not true, it is not a conspiracy, it is just a reflection on who you are.

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