If there’s one thing that the internet loves (apart from porn, arguing and cats), it’s a good conspiracy. Wander away from the main path and you’ll quickly find yourself in a world where secret agencies are assassinating Presidents, who are Muslim, which is taking over Europe thanks to the EU, which is controlled by the Freemasons, who faked 9/11 so that the Illuminati (who were born in Kenya) could move into Area 51, which is covering up the New Alien World Order (at the bequest of the CIA) in order that the United Nations can take your guns away because they’ve uncovered a secret that will destroy big business. Also the Jews are in there somewhere. They always are.
As it hardly needs to be said, these theories are a load of nonsense. By simply playing sinister music, drawing absurd conclusions based on scanty evidence or valuing the opinion of some guy who writes in ALL CAPS above that of an actual expert, you can make a conspiracy out of anything. Also blaming the Jews is like the Swiss Army Knife of conspiracy theories, you can use it in any situation. Now, there is a good argument for just ignoring this nonsense, but unfortunately conspiracy theorists are a part of society so you will probably have to interact with them at some point. Or like me, you might have a morbid fascination with people who have the strangest opinions.
(Personally, I am of the opinion that 99% of conspiracy theories are nonsense, hence why I say “most” theories. I do this to allow myself some wiggle room in case some evidence shows that an actual conspiracy did exist. If only actual conspiracy theorists paid such attention to the evidence and a reluctance to jump to conclusions.)
Either way, when you read a couple of conspiracy theories, you start to notice a common flaw in most of them (apart from the fact that they’re usually driven by paranoia rather than fact). The flaw is that they fall apart if you reverse them. Usually, people take an event and work backwards to form a theory about what group planned it as a conspiracy. However, if you work from the opposite direction by taking the alleged group and asking if the event is the best way to fulfil their aims, the answer is almost always no. That’s how you debunk most conspiracy theories, simply reverse the process and work from plan to event, rather than event to plan.
For example, take one of the most famous conspiracy theories, the idea that the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Centre was an inside job by the US government. The theory is that the planes themselves could not demolish the Twin Towers, so explosives were planted inside them by the US government in order to provide a justification for the War on Terror. Now reverse the theory and work from the planning to the event. Imagine you are President Bush and you want to go to war in Iraq. To be honest, America isn’t exactly the most peaceful of nations and has been at war for most of its history so this isn’t too hard of a sell. No offence to any Americans reading this, but it’s not Sweden or Switzerland, invading a third world country isn’t much of a new step.
Nor is it clear why planes are essential to the plan. Surely when devising this plan they checked as to whether or not a plan actually can destroy the Twin Towers. If, as the conspiracy theorists claim, it cannot, why would they still use planes? If (as the meme mocks) jet fuel can’t melt steel beams, why would the CIA do it anyway and hope no one noticed? If explosives are the only way to destroy the building why not just claim that the terrorists planted the explosives?
If the whole point of 9/11 was to provide an excuse to invade Iraq, then why not use terrorists with an actual connection to Iraq? Why have 15 (out of 20) Saudi terrorists, if it’s really Iraq and Afghanistan you want to invade? Invading Iraq is by no means the natural conclusion from 9/11 so if it really was a false flag, they were making quite a leap of faith.
The other bits of supposed evidence, when reversed, actually weaken the claim that there was a conspiracy. Another question that theorists ask is how did building 7 collapse if it wasn’t hit by an airplane? Actually, this proves that there was no conspiracy, because why would the CIA destroy a building and just hope that no one noticed there was no reason for it to collapse? Surely if they are going to fake an attack, they’ll fake an explanation too? Conspiracy theorists seem to view the CIA as evil geniuses and complete idiots at the same time.
Then there is the matter that in order to execute this plan, you need to get the co-operation of the main security agencies pretty much as soon as you assume office. You will then need thousands of people to carry out the plan and hope that not a single one of them reveals your plans or has any qualms about murdering thousands of their fellow citizens. You will need everyone to completely ignore basic physics and engineering (if it is true that building don’t fall like that and planes alone couldn’t make them fall).
Another popular theory is the “birther” conspiracy that claims President Obama was really born in Kenya. Again, if you reverse it and view it from the alleged instigators point of view, it makes no sense. Why would a woman living in Hawaii spontaneously move to an undeveloped colony, give birth and then return home all for no reason. Or if you think that he grew up in Kenya, then why is there absolutely no evidence of this? Why does no one remember a white American woman (which would be a rare sight) and her son? How did she manage to get an ad placed in Hawaii newspapers celebrating Barack’s birth?
If Obama did grow up in Kenya, did he just think that no one would notice this when he ran for President? Did he just presume that no one would notice that he didn’t have a birth certificate or that there was no record of him for his early years? Again, it seems to view Obama as part evil mastermind and part idiot.
Aliens are a whole category of conspiracy that makes no sense at all if reversed and viewed from the aliens, not the human’s point of view. Why would another species travel light years through space just to have sex with some humans? Considering that they would have evolved completely separately from humans, we would probably share more DNA (and therefore chance of reproduction) with a carrot than an alien. Nor does it make any sense that the aliens would want to eat us as for the same reason, we would almost certainly be poisonous to them. Also considering the expense they would have to go through in building spaceships and the food required for the journey, travelling to another planet for food is a terrible use of resources.
I could go into detail about the unreliable nature of the “witness” evidence, but that’s looking at the wrong end. It makes more sense to ask why no one has ever seen any of these spaceships, either through a telescope or on Earth? How does a spaceship land, kidnap humans from their homes for decades and not a single time is there a reliable witness or solid evidence (by which I mean more than a blurry black and white photo that could be anything)? Why are these aliens so humanlike? Wouldn’t something from a far away planet be completely different? Why do they resemble humans or even more oddly, the aliens from TV and movies?
Holocaust denial is a special kind of conspiracy in that while it is as delusional as the above, it is also incredibly hateful. A holocaust denier infested the comments of this blog a while ago and it was not a pleasant experience. His belief was that the Holocaust never happened but it wouldn’t have been a bad thing if it had. However, he never explained how this “hoax” was pulled off. How did a small socially excluded ethnic group manage to convince the world that millions of them had been killed? Many Eastern European cities had large Jewish Quarters that were empty after the war, if there was no Holocaust, then where did the Jews go? Records exist counting those killed and many Jewish families can point to family members lost, so did these people not exist or are they hiding somewhere?
They seem to assume that a couple of Jews claimed millions were murdered and everyone in the world accepted this as fact, without any questioning. Once again, conspiracy theorists believe in a conspiracy that is both extremely powerful, extremely devious and extremely stupid.
So that’s an easy way to deal with conspiracy theories that cuts through their nonsense. Best of all, it skips arguing on their terms which is a mostly futile exercise (trust me; never let the conspiracy theorist choose the battleground). Of course, some conspiracy theorists just straight out lie and fabricate quotes and “evidence” that only exist in their heads. When this happens, there is no room for debate, all you can do is call them out on their nonsense and move on.
Here is a funny comedy sketch parodying the illogic of most conspiracy theories and was a partial inspiration for this blog.