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Conspiracy Theories: The Science Behind Belief In Secret Plots

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http://www.theguardian.com/science/brain-flapping/2013/sep/05/conspiracy-theories-science-belief-secret-plots

With constant revelations about government surveillance and possible impending war, this must be a fertile time for conspiracy theories.

You know when you put the bins out and you realise there's a bag in the corner that you'd forgotten about and you pick it up but it's so old it splits and you are suddenly surrounded by swarms of furious flies and you run indoors screaming and spend three hours in the shower, shuddering? I imagine it's a bit like that.

I'm involved in several conspiracies (apparently). When Channel 5 aired a shockingly non-critical show about moon landing conspiracies, I responded by "confessing" it was true, and inventing other "true" conspiracies, to emphasise how ludicrous the notion was. I made up conspiracies so far-fetched that I thought nobody could possibly believe them, revealing my naiveté about what people are able/willing to take at face value. But of course, it was pointed out often that I wrote this because I am a pawn of those behind the moon landing conspiracy.

Also, when I wrote a piece about Julie Burchill's attack on Transsexuals, I was told I did this because I was part of at least two conspiracies, one run by trans* people, and one dedicated to attacking trans* people. Hopefully it was separate people who were accusing me of these mutually exclusive things, but then you never know with this sort of stuff.

..

It's important to not just dismiss conspiracy theorists as "cranks", "nutters" or any other term that allows you to laughingly dismiss them. Admittedly, an extreme conspiracy theorist may have some disorder driving their actions, such as anxiety disorder, paranoia, psychosis or others. Maybe the condition isn't severe enough to warrant medical intervention, or maybe involvement with conspiracy theories is how some sufferers keep their symptoms in check, meaning it's a form of self-medicating. Or of course it could be that psychiatry itself is a conspiracy.

But mental disorders and conspiracy theories aren't directly linked by any means. You can believe the official account of JFK's assassination and still be diagnosed with schizophrenia.

Interesting that they picked the JFK assassination to make this point, my natural question is which official version can you believe and then get diagnosed as schizophrenic?

Are we talking the Warren Commission version or the United States House Select Committee on Assassinations. Both official versions and two totally different conclusions. Now in terms of believing conspiracy theories which one is correct and should the public believe?

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http://www.theguardian.com/science/brain-flapping/2013/sep/05/conspiracy-theories-science-belief-secret-plots

Interesting that they picked the JFK assassination to make this point, my natural question is which official version can you believe and then get diagnosed as schizophrenic?

Either one will do, if the voices in your head won't shut up about it.

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'the science behind belief in secret plots'

What a delightfully Soviet use of the word science (wiki: psikushka)

Pseudoscientific twaddle. If I've seen one article like this I've seen a hundred. However, I've yet to see a corporate media piece on the 'science' behind people dissonantly sticking with establishment-endorsed narratives, even when the narratives are internally inconsistent and are contradicted by evidence.

Say, for example, the US acting as 'Al-Qaeda's' air force.

Actually, not many people appear to be buying that one. So there are limits.

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I've known somebody who believed practically all of them: zionists, secret energies, the lot. He was a walking David Icke forum. He seemed pretty normal, if dull, most of the time and then lit up when he got on to these.

Whether it's a mental conditon or not I'm not qualified to judge, he was one of those posters who I've previously only met online that consider themselves "awake", they're the ones who have taken the blue / red pill and the rest of us just believe the lies.

IMO the evidence for most things being as they appear is stronger and more consistent than the evidence for everything being a plot based upon hidden agendas. There are clear exceptions of course (David Kelly) but generally I don't believe a word of the DI type stuff. Which probably means I am whatever they call people who don't believe in their stuff - "shill"?

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The author of that Guardian piece is a government agent. He works for secret government department inspired by the writings of Cas Sunstein:

Sunstein co-authored a 2008 paper with Adrian Vermeule, titled "Conspiracy Theories," dealing with the risks and possible government responses to false conspiracy theories resulting from "cascades" of faulty information within groups that may ultimately lead to violence. In this article they wrote, "The existence of both domestic and foreign conspiracy theories, we suggest, is no trivial matter, posing real risks to the government’s antiterrorism policies, whatever the latter may be." They go on to propose that, "the best response consists in cognitive infiltration of extremist groups",[29] where they suggest, among other tactics, "Government agents (and their allies) might enter chat rooms, online social networks, or even real-space groups and attempt to undermine percolating conspiracy theories by raising doubts about their factual premises, causal logic or implications for political action."[29] They refer, several times, to groups that promote the view that the US Government was responsible or complicit in the September 11 attacks as "extremist groups."

The authors declare that there are five responses a government can take toward conspiracy theories: "We can readily imagine a series of possible responses. (1) Government might ban conspiracy theorizing. (2) Government might impose some kind of tax, financial or otherwise, on those who disseminate such theories. (3) Government might itself engage in counterspeech, marshaling arguments to discredit conspiracy theories. (4) Government might formally hire credible private parties to engage in counterspeech. (5) Government might engage in informal communication with such parties, encouraging them to help." However, the authors advocate that each "instrument has a distinctive set of potential effects, or costs and benefits, and each will have a place under imaginable conditions. However, our main policy idea is that government should engage in cognitive infiltration of the groups that produce conspiracy theories, which involves a mix of (3), (4) and (5)."

Sunstein and Vermeule also analyze the practice of recruiting "nongovernmental officials"; they suggest that "government can supply these independent experts with information and perhaps prod them into action from behind the scenes," further warning that "too close a connection will be self-defeating if it is exposed."[29] Sunstein and Vermeule argue that the practice of enlisting non-government officials, "might ensure that credible independent experts offer the rebuttal, rather than government officials themselves. There is a tradeoff between credibility and control, however. The price of credibility is that government cannot be seen to control the independent experts." This position has been criticized by some commentators,[30][31] who argue that it would violate prohibitions on government propaganda aimed at domestic citizens.[32] Sunstein and Vermeule's proposed infiltrations have also been met by sharply critical scholarly critiques.[33][34][35]

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Many people need some form of belief system to get them through the day. As governments become more openly corrupt and less trustworthy, political ideologies and organised religion lose the influence they once held, there's a widening gap in the belief system market.

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I've known somebody who believed practically all of them: zionists, secret energies, the lot. He was a walking David Icke forum. He seemed pretty normal, if dull, most of the time and then lit up when he got on to these.

Whether it's a mental conditon or not I'm not qualified to judge, he was one of those posters who I've previously only met online that consider themselves "awake", they're the ones who have taken the blue / red pill and the rest of us just believe the lies.

IMO the evidence for most things being as they appear is stronger and more consistent than the evidence for everything being a plot based upon hidden agendas. There are clear exceptions of course (David Kelly) but generally I don't believe a word of the DI type stuff. Which probably means I am whatever they call people who don't believe in their stuff - "shill"?

if they're lying about xxxx, then what else are lying about?

once the logjam of blindly trusting Authority breaks, it's easy to lose perspective.

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http://www.chomsky.info/books/dissent02.htm

Take, say, a country which is at the opposite end of the spectrum from us domestically, the Soviet Union. That's a country run by the bludgeon, essentially. It's a command state: the state controls, everybody basically follows orders. It's more complicated than that, but essentially that's the way it works. There, it's very easy to determine what propaganda is: what the state produces is propaganda. That's the kind of thing that Orwell described in 1984. In a country like that, where there's a kind of Ministry of Truth, propaganda is very easily identifiable. Everybody knows what it is, and you can choose to repeat it if you like, but basically it's not really trying to control your thought very much; it's giving you the party line. It's saying, "Here's the official doctrine; as long as you don't disobey you won't get in trouble. What you think is not of great importance to anyone. If you get out of line we'll do something to you because we have force."

Democratic societies can't really work like that, because the state can't control behavior by force. It can to some extent, but it's much more limited in its capacity to control by force. Therefore, it has to control what you think. And again, democratic theorists have understood this for 50 or 60 years and have been very articulate about it. If the voice of the people is heard, you'd better control what that voice says, meaning you have to control what they think. The method Otero mentions there is one of the major methods. One of the ways you control what people think is by creating the illusion that there's a debate going on, but making sure that that debate stays within very narrow margins. Namely, you have to make sure that both sides in the debate accept certain assumptions, and those assumptions turn out to be the propaganda system. As long as everyone accepts the propaganda system, then you can have a debate.

Conspiracy theories are dangerous because certain assumptions are invariably being challenged and so the propaganda system breaks down.

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The very term 'conspiracy theory' was invented by the state's communications and belief systems department (the BBC) in order to undermine any counter assertion to its official message often by tagging them and thereby associating them in the minds of the targets (us) with truly outlandish claims.

On occasions they have tested their systems to extreme (such as the moon landings and assassination of President Kennedy) in order to ensure they still work and to weed out 5th columnists and seditionists.

Some claim that promotion of the term 'conspiracy theory' can be traced back to after the JFK assassination when people were talking about the possibility of a second gunman, which would have meant, by definition, that JFK was the victim of a conspiracy

Global Research: “Conspiracy Theory”: Foundations of a Weaponized Term

“CIA Document 1035-960” was released in response to a 1976 FOIA request by the New York Times. The directive is especially significant because it outlines the CIA’s concern regarding “the whole reputation of the American government” vis-à-vis the Warren Commission Report. The agency was especially interested in maintaining its own image and role as it “contributed information to the [Warren] investigation.”

The memorandum lays out a detailed series of actions and techniques for “countering and discrediting the claims of the conspiracy theorists, so as to inhibit the circulation of such claims in other countries.” For example, approaching “friendly elite contacts (especially politicians and editors)” to remind them of the Warren Commission’s integrity and soundness should be prioritized. “[T]he charges of the critics are without serious foundation,” the document reads, and “further speculative discussion only plays in to the hands of the [Communist] opposition.”

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I've known somebody who believed practically all of them: zionists, secret energies, the lot. He was a walking David Icke forum. He seemed pretty normal, if dull, most of the time and then lit up when he got on to these.

Whether it's a mental conditon or not I'm not qualified to judge, he was one of those posters who I've previously only met online that consider themselves "awake", they're the ones who have taken the blue / red pill and the rest of us just believe the lies.

IMO the evidence for most things being as they appear is stronger and more consistent than the evidence for everything being a plot based upon hidden agendas. There are clear exceptions of course (David Kelly) but generally I don't believe a word of the DI type stuff. Which probably means I am whatever they call people who don't believe in their stuff - "shill"?

If a conspiracy theory involves a small group of people, all of whom have a direct interest in maintaining the conspiracy and would have had the capability to arrange the conspiracy then it's worth closer examination.

If it involves lots of people, or people who don't really benefit, or involves extreme levels of competence, or requires entirely new science/engineering specifically for the purpose of the conspiracy.. then no.

For example, at least some Kennedy theories may fit the 'few people all involved' criteria (i.e. CIA cell assassinates him). Still not proof, but they don't instantly fail.

Whereas, for example, the 'WTC7 deliberately blown up' theories fail on the number of people required (to wire the building), many with little direct interest, competence - it would have required a lot of prior arrangement to make it go exactly to plan - and the problem that those promoting the conspiracy have to basically ignore the science and observations.

It's a bit like when people go on about VIs.. you can't use the argument in isolation. As in 'Any evidence against [insert conspiracy theory here] must be planted/promoted by the Conspirators/VIs and is therefore proof of of The Conspiracy'. That way lies true madness.

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If it involves lots of people, or people who don't really benefit, or involves extreme levels of competence, or requires entirely new science/engineering specifically for the purpose of the conspiracy.. then no.

so the US govt wasn't covertly working on developing an atomic bomb in 1945?

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If a conspiracy theory involves a small group of people, all of whom have a direct interest in maintaining the conspiracy and would have had the capability to arrange the conspiracy then it's worth closer examination.

...

I've just made a sarcastic post on an e-cig thread about how unfeasible it is that governments all round the world could be secretly plotting to drive smaller producers out of the market.

My take is that '**** up vs conspiracy' is very often a false choice.

There's often also a structural/ systemic element to these things. People and organisations with similar motivations and similar backgrounds will tend to act in similar ways, as if in concert.

In the case of e-cigs that structural element will be a factor and will incorporate, yes, behind the scenes lobbying and back-handers.

If I were looking to covertly control the masses I wouldn't concentrate on maintaining a whole series of plots, out of equilibrium with the society in which they'd operate. I'd implement institutions that inherently tended to behave a certain way by design.

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so the US govt wasn't covertly working on developing an atomic bomb in 1945?

The science behind it wasn't new (others were working with the same aim). There was also an obvious and straightforward motivation and result for it.

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When the Snowden revelations started to be published, I shrugged my shoulders thinking anyone who's interested in this stuff knows about it already and those that didn't know must expect that governments are behaving this way.

Apparently not, judging by the fallout, a lot of people including politicians and corporate journalists, neither knew about nor expected their governments to be snooping on and storing everything.

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Today I stand as a non believer. So many incredible things have been rewritten in our lifetimes such that the things you thought were true, apparently are no longer so, that it is now both possible to believe anything and nothing at the same time.

We now know the Vietnam war was started as a deliberate false premise by an attack on a US boat. We know the WMD folder was 'false'. There are even questions about Pearl Harbour today. And this is where we now stand disbelieving at face value chemical attacks.

I think more and more about the limitations of our own historical narrative that lauds our monarchy and noble upper chamber. Why did the question of money supply and land get removed from common discourse...to the extent it was removed even from academic economics? So many questions typically by narrow and selfish self interest rather than 'evil' plot and all the quasi religious feelings that conjours up - but no less important and powerful.

The Vietnam war was in progress for many years before the Gulf of Tonkin incident (which certainly way played up to get congressional approval for a full on war..) But.. by definition, it was possible for a small number of motivated people to massage the news/message - and the timing left just 3 days between incident and effective declaration of war.

This is the mark of a 'genuine' conspiracy - act quickly, restrict information dissemination until it's too late. See 'reichstag fire'. Doesn't require a great deal of planning or subtlety; indeed, too much planning makes it harder.

It is a matter of record that the US suspension of trade with Japan (especially oil and scrap metal) in 1941 forced the Japanese into a 'attack or surrender' position. But they didn't think there would be an attack on Pearl Harbour. Of course, with hindsight it was 'obvious'..

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Or how about Syria

There are plenty of recorded cases where Western governments and intelligence agencies have covertly supported Islamic extremists, stretching back to Afghanistan in the 80s and beyond.

Some of the people responsible have written books about it. Think tanks associated with the US government wax lyrical about it

It's also a perfectly logical, if somewhat cynical, thing to be doing.

Until recently did most people know about it or expect it? Does this practice get much coverage in the corporate press? Is talking about it irrational conspiracy theorising?

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It is a matter of record that the US suspension of trade with Japan (especially oil and scrap metal) in 1941 forced the Japanese into a 'attack or surrender' position. But they didn't think there would be an attack on Pearl Harbour. Of course, with hindsight it was 'obvious'..

If you ramp up the sanctions and threats, shove enough troops on active alert status in harm's way, sooner or later there's a good chance an incident will happen, without any direct planning.

If a politician plays that kind of game, instead of dressing some of his own troops up in foreign uniforms, is that a 'conspiracy'? If I suggest that's what the US may have been doing with Syria is that irrational?

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If you ramp up the sanctions and threats, shove enough troops on active alert status in harm's way, sooner or later there's a good chance an incident will happen, without any direct planning.

If a politician plays that kind of game, instead of dressing some of his own troops up in foreign uniforms, is that a 'conspiracy'? If I suggest that's what the US may have been doing with Syria is that irrational?

TBH Syria is interesting. No oil to speak of, Israel likes stable neighbours, but it's a Russian satellite.

Which is probably why we haven't sent the troops in yet.

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TBH Syria is interesting. No oil to speak of, Israel likes stable neighbours, but it's a Russian satellite.

I would put money on Israel disliking Iran more than it likes stable neighbours.

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It is a matter of record that the US suspension of trade with Japan (especially oil and scrap metal) in 1941 forced the Japanese into a 'attack or surrender' position. But they didn't think there would be an attack on Pearl Harbour. Of course, with hindsight it was 'obvious'..

The attack on Pearl Harbour wasn't a great attack as they let the fuel storage facilities intact and the harbour fully operational, and all the Americans lost where a few battleships which weren't going to alter the course of the war.

Lack of intelligence on the ground cost the Japanese as the carriers weren't there. The Japanese should have monitored the harbour if not with people on the ground then certainly subs should have been stationed around Pearl Harbour to monitor and follow the carriers. If Japan had managed to destroy the major part of the US carrier force the US was going to have until 42/43 before it started to get the Essex class carriers up and running. The other downside for the Americans is the aircrews would also have been newbies to carrier warfare giving the Japanese an initial advantage.

As the carriers got away Pearl Harbour really was a bit of a **** up, the British carrier fleet with it's bi-planes certainly was no match for the Japanese in day light, the only hope the British would have had is to catch the Japanese at night.

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When the Snowden revelations started to be published, I shrugged my shoulders thinking anyone who's interested in this stuff knows about it already and those that didn't know must expect that governments are behaving this way.

Apparently not, judging by the fallout, a lot of people including politicians and corporate journalists, neither knew about nor expected their governments to be snooping on and storing everything.

Yep some of the revelations where shocking like the US govt spying on it's allies, I mean who'd have thought that was happening.

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