I saw something today—a conspiracy theory I hadn’t heard before. It got me thinking about what I believe and what other people believe and also why they believe it—especially as it pertains to conspiracy theories.
And therein lies the problem with human nature. We are story tellers, or we are story listeners. We are a culture that not only enjoys being entertained, we demand it. We are hardwired to listen and convey tales of extraordinary happenings, extraordinary events and people, and our stories must have some sort of villain, some sort of obstacle to the goal, some sort of secret to discover on the quest.
We are also naturally curious, investigative and probing. Combine that with our love of stories, our willingness to suspend disbelief and a driving need to make sense of the chaos around us…well, that can cause some problems.
Humans like to think of themselves as scientific, which is ironic considering the growing number of people who disregard actual science. Full disclosure, in my heart, I’m a scientist. I’ve always loved science and I started my college career as a scientist before switching over to study human nature (politics and religion). I have a basis for my knowledge rooted in real education and commonsense, so I do know what I’m speaking about.
Science starts with a theory. This is why so many people persist in thinking a Scientific Theory is the same as me saying something like, ‘I have a theory that all the alligators people have thrown into the sewer grow up to dress like humans and act like humans until such time as people believe they are human, then they go to law school. Gator People walk among us. That’s a theory, but it’s not a Scientific Theory.
Science starts with a theory such as ‘What if the sun is the center of the universe?’ We have a question, now we start looking for evidence. This is where the difference between scientific study and conspiracy theories diverge. Scientists aren’t invested in the answers—if we prove, in the course of our study, that the sun is not the center of the universe, well, c’est la vie. We don’t have a stake in the answer because if our theory is wrong, we’ve still proven the opposite is true. Win-win for a scientist and they get credit either way. Also, more scientists then come along and challenge the research and the findings, repeat experiments and, if the theory holds true, come to the same conclusion BUT, they ALSO have no investment in the answer. They still get credit for a job well done no matter what they find to be truth.
But conspiracy theories start with a question, a hunch, an inkling…then evidence is gathered to support that hunch. Any contrary evidence is either disregarded completely or considered a deception by the Deep State, Big Pharma…or maybe aliens. It’s all a cover-up, you know, and everyone is working against The People, and all the thousands of people involved that must remain quiet naturally keep secrets better than anyone else in the history of mankind and if they can’t, well they die under mysterious circumstances.
Conspiracy theories are actually very dangerous things. Not because they’ll expose the Deep State (and I promise you, I’m a poor person living Baltimore, Maryland and am the farthest thing from a Deep State recruit anyone could imagine—or am I???). We live in a time of deteriorating education and rising religious fundamentalism. We live in an era where the term ‘Alternative Facts’ has been used publicly by people in charge of the American government.
Look, I’m all for religion (kinda, rather I think faith and spirituality is truer to human ideals). It helps people live an ethical life in many instances, it helps define morals and gives people a sense of peace. I myself have a great deal of faith—not necessarily of a kind that my mother understands, but it brings me peace and helps me live a life that is more generous than not. If your religion doesn’t hurt others, I have no problem with it (there’s a lot of modification that would need to be done by lots of religions, huh?)
In much the same way, conspiracy theories offer a way to make sense of the chaos of life. Life is messy, it hurts, shit happens for no good reason, and often bad shit happens to good people. On the flip side, bad people can be highly rewarded with gifts like money, prestige, status and fame. We see that and it seems unfair.
A conspiracy theory takes the hurts and ills of life and blames it on external influences, or influences beyond our control. A shadowy elite, the Deep State, enemies of the state, traitors to the cause, whatever… And sometimes there is a grain of truth there. That’s part of the danger in these conspiracy theories. One small truth can be stretched until it’s a major lie—and when faced with that major lie, it sounds so outrageous, it must be truth, or it’s so simple it can’t be false.
But it’s harmful to society, to governance, to evolution and progress. Therefore, I can’t support your conspiracy theory the way I can support your religion.
Not so long ago, I wrote a post that mentioned the hoarding of resources by rich people. By that token, it seems I must be a communist who wants to redistribute wealth. In truth, I’m nowhere close to believing the Communist systems have anything to offer human society (we’ve tried, it’s failed, move on) and I don’t believe that our former president meant ‘redistribute’ in terms of taking from some people to give to the poor. Yet, this could all count as conspiracy theory, but what I meant, had I articulated it better, was that those with money would do well to invest in small businesses, not just hand out charitable donations, but actually loan money to those with solid business plans who would then pay the loan back. Invest in educational opportunities, youth programs, social service initiatives. I meant for people with a good amount of money to visit boutiques, rather than Walmart all the time. Support local ice cream parlors, local coffee shops, something like that.
I don’t believe that rich people cause poor people, but I do believe that rich people manipulate a system that naturally favors rich people. Is that a conspiracy theory?
We need to be careful with the information flowing around us. Some of it is dangerously wrong, but if we come to believe the wrong info above the true, it’s often hard to rethink our beliefs. Look at vaccines—don’t you dare write to me about your anti-vax bullshit. Kids die from these diseases, and if you’re living in a more developed nation, than you’re blessed to have a better health care system to help ease the issue. I used to live in a third world country, and until you watch a baby burn to death with fever, convulsing as seizures shake her small body until she finally falls still and quiet, a victim of a perfectly preventable disease, don’t speak to me about how the cure is worse than the illness.
Which brings me to the theory that set me off. Big Pharma doesn’t have a cure for cancer that they are simply not sharing with others. They may have treatments, they have targeted therapies that can help on individual bases, but there is not, and never will be, a cure for cancer. It’s a cellular anomaly. Maybe everyone in your family had it, but it passes you by. Or it might have never been in your family before, but you’ve been diagnosed. It’s completely individual, and we’re just learning what the markers are to identify a higher probability of developing it. Developing—not catching, BTW. It’s not the common cold, it’s not a virus, it’s a mass of cells that divide and multiply in an out-of-control fashion because something in the genetic code malfunctions.
But that’s scary. It’s chaos and it’s messy and it hurts. It really fucking sucks, to be honest. Thinking that there’s a cure gives some people a measure of making sense out of a senseless thing. It didn’t have to be…but it’s beyond your control to prevent (which sometimes it is, anyway). Someone else is in charge and they’re too selfish to care or help. But that’s simply not true.
For just a minute, wonder, how much would a cure cost if a cure existed? Big Pharma could charge anything for it, and you’d pay. They’d make a lot more money off a ‘cure’ than they would off anything else.
BTW, though we’ve seen pharmaceutical price gauging lately, and while I believe many medicines are overpriced, I know that much of the money spent on medicine goes into research and development so more cures can be found for more diseases. There are pros and cons to the scenario, it’s not just a bunch of men cackling evilly while robbing sick people of their savings.
Conspiracy theories that go too far keep us from seeing the real truth and prevent us from working toward real goals and progress. If it’s all out of our hands, what can we do about it? And why bother? How can we stop developing cancer? For some, there really is a prevention—stop smoking, stop drinking, don’t work with hazardous materials. Without someone else to blame, though, we have to take responsibility for ourselves, our own actions, our own futures and our own communities—something the average person would rather not do. I eat a certain way for health reasons, no matter what I’d rather eat, I can’t. I’ve cut out soda (pop?), cut back on bread and stopped smoking. I don’t drink alcohol very often, I don’t eat red meat and I try to get enough sleep every night. Sometimes, those are very hard choices, but I’m taking responsibility for myself after years of deteriorating health, and I feel so much better.
I was lost in chaos, things seemed out of my control, but I made some changes, took responsibility and realized a better outcome than what I’d ever imagined. But that’s hard. Conspiracy theories put the blame elsewhere and offer an explanation of some piece of chaos and, even if it’s not true, it makes you feel better, as if it makes sense now, or it’s just out of your control.
Does fiction becomes truth, when enough people believe it?
No. Truth is still truth and alternative facts are still lies. At the end of the day, even the most exciting lie will prove to be more harmful than a hurtful truth could ever be. Do yourself and everyone around you a favor. The next time you start thinking about something others feel only idiots would believe, the next time you consider someone else a ‘sheep’, start researching the truth, without any investment in the outcome. Prove it true or prove it false without getting wrapped up in your own opinion. Follow the evidence no matter if you like what it says or not, and find the actual truth, rather than the campfire story.
That’s my bone to pick…