Sunday, April 17, 2016

A Thought on Conspiracy Theories

My son is fond of history, and so, being of his generation, that means he watches a lot of Youtube videos about historical topics. And it is a quite uneven lot. Some are dull, prosaic presentations, kind of like what the History Channel used to do before they decided ratings really did matter. Others, well, let's just say they tend to be a bit more colorful.

Last night, he asked me about one story he saw. In its, someone claimed genetic tests had been done on the bone fragments found outside Hitler's Berlin bunker and claimed they did not match Hitler's expected genetic profile. My son was eager to find out what I thought, mostly because he knows I am pretty good at letting the air out of the more nonsensical claims, and, for better or worse, he thinks I am pretty amusing when I mock these more loopy versions of history.

Unfortunately, this time I am afraid I was a bit more dull and to the point. All I had to point out was one simple fact. If these studies had been done, and were done by someone even vaguely reputable, don't you think it would have been news across the world? (I also pointed out that, even if the bones were someone else, there were plenty of eye witnesses to Hitler's demise and incineration, people questioned by Allied interrogators very motivated to establish the truth. Not to mention that the Russian's had a pretty strong ring around Berlin at the time an Hitler's appearance was pretty well known. If Himmler could not escape in disguise through much looser Allied lines, what chance did Hilter have?)

Fortunately, my son did get a bit more entertainment mileage out of me, as I realized the likely response my claim would meet at the hands of a dedicated conspiracy theorist. The news media, being in on the cover up, would have ignored the evidence. To prevent embarrassing the government, or maybe because some government helped Hitler hide, or for whatever reason, maybe they would conceal the truth. (It is a perennial favorite claim of conspiracy theorists that the media is in on it, whatever it may be.)

So I pointed out that, even if some news agencies were covering up something, what could inspire every single reporter to do so? Imagine, you are a reporter, you could become famous and fabulously rich overnight by revealing not just a shocking truth, a truth which is important enough on its own to make you famous, but also reveal a conspiracy of silence and all that implies. Would not one reporter take that risk given the incredible rewards?

Which made me realize one other shortcoming of every conspiracy theory. They all rely upon a bizarre contradiction. They allege that everyone involved with the conspiracy will continue to lie, to their nation, the news, their family and friends, absolutely everyone, that they will conceal or destroy evidence, fabricate other evidence, lie under oath, frame innocents, even kill people, all to advance the conspiracy. And yet, these incredible masters of deception, people without an honest bone in their bodies, will be scrupulously loyal to the conspiracy to such a degree not a hint will leak out. And they rely not on the existence of one, or a handful of such people, but that every single member of the conspiracy will be this interesting honest liar, this dishonest man of honor. Someone who will lie, cheat and steal, but not break his word.

Let's face it, it is absurd enough just to imagine a conspiracy of many people will remain hidden, that not one member will have second thoughts, or disagree with the group's decisions, or simply make a mistake, and reveal something important. But to imagine that these people are simultaneously masters of deception, willing to commit every crime imaginable, and yet will remain loyal to this degree? That is absurd.

Look, we have mob informants. We have KGB and CIA turncoats. We have learned the secrets of the Freemasons and every other secret society. Why, the Sicilian Vespers was revealed to some people even before it happened. In short, in any group eventually someone will find some reason to turn on the others and let the secret slip. Maybe anger at the group, or a desire for fame or money, maybe because their opinions change, or they have change of heart about the reasons they joined, whatever. People are not static.

So, does it make any sense to imagine 9/11 could have been an "inside job" and yet no one ever let it slip? Or that Kennedy was assassinated by some large organized conspiracy and not one member has had a reason to leak the truth? I am sorry, but human nature simply does not match the world envisioned by conspiracy theories.

I was a little more animated and amusing when telling this to my son, but the point was pretty much the same. Which surprised me a little, as it seems an 11 year old boy can grasp these simple facts, yet many supposedly mature adults spend much of their lives studiously ignoring them.

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