Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Conspiracy Theories

Recently, a Charlotte city councilwoman tweeted that she did not believe the World Trade Center was destroyed by hijacked planes and suggested that 9/11 was an "inside job." When pressed on the issue, she apologized if anyone was offended by her tweet -- many Charlotteans had personal and business connections to people killed or injured in the attack -- but stopped short of retracting her comments.

Conspiracy theories are nothing new, but the ability to produce and promote disinformation is far greater today than it was even twenty years ago. I recall receiving a letter in the mail a year or so after moving to North Carolina in 1995. It was written in pencil on a sheet of yellow legal paper and offered the author's rambling account of how the weights he was using in his physical therapy were causing his cancer. I felt bad for the obviously disturbed individual and considered the amount of time, effort and money it cost him to send out those letters to random individuals. Today, I suspect those same delusional ramblings would elicit thousands of followers on Twitter and result in a YouTube "documentary," Your Weights Are Killing You.

The ability to inexpensively produce professional-quality content and disseminate it on the Internet at a minimal cost has emboldened every crackpot with an ax to grind and opportunist with a dollar to scam. But, not all conspiracy theories are created equal.

Extrapolation Conspiracy Theories

Many conspiracy theories are based on extrapolation of legitimate scientific thought. For instance, noted scientists like Carl Sagan and Stephen Hawking have argued it is almost a certainty there is other intelligent life in the universe. This is extrapolated to suggest that these aliens either founded life on earth and/or visit earth regularly, which is far, far less likely to be true.

Counterpoint Conspiracy Theories

These theories seem to evolve for no reason other to offer a counterpoint to widely-held, seemingly obvious and well-proven facts. The purveyors of this sort of theory seem to get a thrill from being "in on" some secret that eludes the other 99.9% of humanity. Flat-Earthers are the best example of this. The spherical shape of the earth is proven fact, beyond question. Yet, a small, but shockingly vocal group, including some high-profile athletes and entertainers, insist that it is not. They refute scientific fact with ludicrous work-arounds (Antarctica is actually a ring of ice that surrounds a disk-shaped Earth and holds the oceans in) and claim that any evidence t the contrary is fabricated by the establishment, which exists to deceive the world about its actual shape. What, precisely, their motive would be for perpetrating this spectacular rouse is a bit less clear.

Wishful-Thinking Conspiracy Theories

Elvis is alive! Kennedy survived the assassination attempt and is living on an island in the South Pacific with his soulmate Marilyn Monroe! Ripped from the pages of the National Enquirer, these conspiracy theories offer happy endings to less-happy circumstances. Now that we are a full 40 years beyond Elvis's death, many have forgotten just how pervasive and convincing these rumors were. Even the mainstream media wold occasionally be suckered into a story about a man running across Elvis at a convenience store in Alpena.

Ugly Racist Conspiracy Theories

The ugliest conspiracy theories are the ones which nut-job racists conjure up to feed their hatred. The most enduring and pervasive of these is the "Zionist" theory, which postulates that a group of Jewish elites have been planning to take over the world for centuries. How, exactly, a people who have been repeatedly conquered, enslaved and killed throughout history are making that happen is a little hard to grasp.

Crypto-Zoology Conspiracy Theories

Ending on a happier note, stories of Bigfoot, The Loch Ness Monster and the Abominable Snowman are a relatively harmless type of conspiracy theory. Anyone who's spent time alone in the woods knows that your mind can start to play tricks on you, so many of the reports of these creatures are probably legitimate cases of mistaken identity. The photographic evidence has, on the other hand, pretty much been debunked as elaborate hoaxes.

Just for fun, I have compiled a Top 3 list of conspiracy theories ranked according to the possibility they are true. What do you think? Let me know on my Facebook page.

1. New Coke was an "inside job." Probability 30%  This theory says that Coke purposely released New Coke with the intent of driving demand for Classic Coke. It's a convoluted path, but considering the way it worked out, it's not beyond the realm of possibility.

2. Ghost Cosmonauts. Probability 25%  This theory says that several failed Russian space flights resulting in the deaths of their flight crews were covered up. Prior to the fall of the USSR, I would have said the odds of this were better than 50%, and indeed some unsavory facts about Soviet-era space deceptions have come out. Laika, the first dog in space, did not die a peaceful death, as originally reported, and Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space, ejected from his capsule at high altitude and parachuted to the ground rather than returning with the craft to Earth. The most likely candidate for a suppressed failure would be the July 1969 "test" of the N-1 rocket, which some believe was actually a last-ditch effort to beat the Americans to the moon. The rocket exploded just a few seconds into its flight, destroying the launch facility. 

3. Fixed Championship Boxing. Probability 20%  Boxing has always had a dark underbelly and the idea that certain significant fights were fixed is pervasive. In particular, the second Ali-Liston and first Ali-Spinks fights are pointed to as likely candidates. Given the relationship between the sport and organized crime, especially in the 60's and 70's, it is absolutely possible. The one thing that points against it is that I can't see any amount of money that would have persuaded ed Ali to take a
fall. He was too proud for that.

No comments:

Post a Comment

John's Weekly FIELD NOTES Column is Now Published in Speckled Paw

John's weekly rural lifestyle column FIELD NOTES is now available as part of the Speckled Paw Newsletter. You can sign up to receive thi...