We all have that crazy uncle, that friend of a friend on Facebook or that one kid from high school that sends out the chain-email-style messages detailing the dooming of America. It could be about aliens landing, the impending apocalypse or of efforts to make a one-world government. My favorite of late is the government is preparing to take away gun rights so it can impose its’ military will. These dedicated few are the conspiracy crowd.
In the day to day bustle of the world there is a necessary filter that one needs when taking in information. This filter is called skepticism. Skepticism pairs with common sense. If I tell you there is a man giving away a million dollars on the campus mall, you should be able to figure out I’m making it up. This dual processing is critical when dealing with government.
I fully believe that every new government action or idea needs a careful examination of the facts to make sure things aren’t being completely screwed up. But there is a sinister difference between healthy questioning of democratic process and jumping to outlandish explanations featured on less than credible news sources which profit from fear mongering to a niche audience.
A conspiracy for this purpose will be defined as the refuting of publically accepted knowledge of an event. It could be that a government agency has been cooking jobs numbers. There was uproar from conservative commentators over the job report before the 2012 election. Since the numbers were positive, they were obviously cooked to give Obama an advantage.
It could be that new gun legislation is going to use military force to seize guns, or dictate which light bulb you can use. But what is presented in these stories is a blind presentation of believing whatever evidence is put together and published on the Internet, television or in a book. Since we have the freedom of speech, any information true or false can be published, and in the revolutionized age of media this is often forgotten.
I feel silly having to say this, but 9/11 is also not a conspiracy. It’s a laughable notion that the Bush administration could help orchestrate the attacks, an administration that could barely hold a functioning government together.
Deniers of climate change, global warming or the general dangers of environmental damage fight against the evidence produced through thousands of expert studies as if it was a collaborated effort by the world’s scientific community. Our debate should no longer be focusing on whether or not humans are damaging the planet, but how we can minimize our environmental damage without tanking our economy. That logic needs apply to everything else as well.
Sometimes less than reputable claims find their way into the mainstream. Senators like John McCain are still claiming that there was a cover-up of the consulate attack in Benghazi, despite the several months of investigation into that matter that have led to little more than a call to beef up security.
The most infamous conspiracy theory in American politics is that regarding Obama’s birth certificate, because he might have been born in Kenya, or worse: he is a Muslim. This too made it into mainstream Republican thought through people like Donald Trump, Newt Gingrich, and Michelle Bachmann, to the point that Obama felt compelled to release his long form birth certificate.
Gerrymandering, rigging legislation to a campaign contributor’s benefit, or an expansion of limited powers are not conspiracies. They are just bad partisan acts in government that are inevitable in democracy.
What baseless accusations and ideas do is hamper society’s ability to cope with actual problems. By using our free speech to questioning things like Obama’s birth certificate, we have less input where it matters.
Our friends and relatives that live by the stories reported on the fringe are not stupid. But their thought is driven by a pure emotional rejection of beltway logic to feed their deepest fears. They can’t trust numbers or studies published by the professionals in the field because the facts that produce their preferred policy is unobtainable.
Of course there are things in our government we do not know about, both bad and good. But without tangible evidence, wildly speculating is not a logical approach that produces rightful action. If I wake up one morning and the government is going door to door seizing bibles and guns, then I will be happy to cry foul.
But I will not live in a world driven by emotional fear and far-fetched evidence, and I will not stoop to discrediting legitimate opposition with ginned-up facts by quasi-professional commentators and writers.
To be a more functioning society we need to be at a point where we can critically analyze evidence and determine fact when it is proven time and time again, and then argue over what to do about the very real problems that we have. The white noise created by questioning the very legitimacy of all authority brings us occasionally to a medieval review of whether the earth revolves around the sun.
My hope is that as our tech savvy generation gradually fills positions of leadership in government and business, the degree to which I have to hear about crackpot hypotheses trickles out of the public view. But I’m not delusional. I will always get the chain emails and be forced to view a lack of critical thought on social media. But as Hillary Clinton said during her testimony on Benghazi, there are some people who just aren’t living in a fact-based world.