The TDS guys did a show with someone calling himself Ryan Dawson, who is something of a conspiracy theorist. That’s not entirely fair as he does not seem to be pushing a theory, as such, but more of a systematic skepticism of the prevailing narrative on issues like the Iraq War and 9/11. Questioning the official narrative is often lumped in with the conspiracy stuff, because all conspiracy theories start with the argument that the official truth is, in fact, a well orchestrated lie to cover up the real truth behind whatever.
Conspiracy theories, of course, are wildly popular, despite the fact most people swear they don’t believe in them. There’s a reason the people who make movies often use the conspiracy as a plot devise. Even the most skeptical people enjoy following the plot as the real power behind the scenes is revealed. Still, most people have been programmed to say they don’t believe in this stuff. You’re cast as a weirdo or a nutjob if you think the CIA killed JFK, for example. Yet, most people believe JFK was the victim of a conspiracy.
The funny thing about the conspiracy theory stuff is that the official narrative that spawns the conspiracy theory always relies on the same probabilistic flaws as the conspiracy that seeks to discredit it. For example, the official JFK story strikes most people as laughably implausible. Basically Oswald pulled off a one in a billion effort and then was killed by Jack Ruby, who also pulled of a one in a billion long shot. The theory the JFK was killed by Joe DiMaggio, who was a CIA sleeper agent, is really not that crazy in comparison.
Similarly, both halves of a conspiracy theory follow the same set of rhetorical rules, in that they don’t make the affirmative case. Instead, they rely on all other explanations being seen as less plausible. The people who think Mr. Coffee killed JFK and RFK don’t have a lot of evidence, but they can explain in detail why the official story is bogus. Of course, the people who think Oswald was the lone gunman don’t have a great argument either, so they rely on the fact that no one saw Joe DiMaggio in Dallas with Ted Cruz’s father.
The thing that makes conspiracy theories popular is not their amusing leaps of faith and logic, but that they satisfy our need to know. JFK was most likely not killed by Lee Harvey Oswald, at least Oswald did not act alone. Whoever helped him either got very lucky, which is always a possibility, or they were very good at covering their connections with Oswald. Either way, we’ll never know, because the people who investigated it were never able to solve the riddle. Some crimes go unsolved and as humans, we truly hate that.
Something similar will probably happen in time with 9/11. The neocons expertly used the event as a propaganda tool to get their war plans passed. We know guys like Richard Perle were scheming about remaking Mesopotamia for a long time. That does not mean, however, that the neocons pulled the 9/11 job. It means that the official story is mostly bullshit to cover-up gross incompetence and to promote the forever war. In time, people will stop believing the official story and most people will think 9/11 was a conspiracy.
Of course, just because the official version of events is nonsense, it does not mean there is a conspiracy. In the case of 9/11, gross incompetence is the most likely issue being covered up by the government. We see how this works with the current FBI scandal, where the DOJ and FBI are feverishly trying to hide the fact that senior people in both agencies were ham-handedly running a domestic spying ring. The same clowns running the Trump spying operation were the ones who bungled 9/11 and the aftermath.
There are actual conspiracies, of course. Just type the word “Itanimulli” into your favorite search engine. Then read the word backward. On a more serious side, the FBI was running a spying operation on the Trump campaign. The IRS did conspire to keep conservative groups from participating in the 2012 election.The Gulf of Tonkin incident was faked. Gamblers did fix the 1919 World Series. Whoever plotted the 9/11 terrorist attacks obviously pulled off one of the great conspiracies in modern history.
Logic suggests that there is a correlation between the public’s willingness to indulge in conspiracy theories and the degree of trust in the society. People in a high trust society that thinks their government is generally honest should be less inclined toward conspiracy theories than people in a low trust, high corruption society. On the other hand, there is some evidence that the more confident you are in your understanding of politics, the more likely you are to believe in conspiracy theories. Dunning-Kruger strikes again.
The funny thing about America, versus other countries, is our conspiracy theories always sound like a Hollywood script, thus they tend to the ridiculous. Americans are strangely naive about the reality of government power, for example, but willing to indulge is crackpot beliefs about corporations plotting to spike the water supply. Yet, the story of civilization is the story of people conspiring together to seize power, overthrow the king and advance their political agenda through stealth. Government is nothing but a conspiracy.
Finally, even the smartest people can be let down by their own bias. Greg Cochran is pretty sure the Soviets weaponized small pox against the German Army in the war, but this has been covered up for decades. His evidence is not conclusive, but he makes a pretty good case. The events during the war suggest something very strange happened and his answer would explain the data. It also means there has been a multi-generational conspiracy, involving multiple countries, to conceal this truth from the public.
On the other hand, he thinks the official Holocaust narrative is a precise telling of history and that the skeptics are succumbing to insane conspiracy theories. This despite the fact there are a lot of problems with the official narrative. It’s pretty reasonable to think that maybe there has been some exaggerations. If it is is possible to conceal the use of germ warfare, exaggerating the details of German war crimes as a propaganda weapon should be easy to accept. Social pressure and belief are powerful motivators.
That’s the thing with conspiracy theories. There really is no definition of what separates the conspiracy from the skeptical analysis or even genuine speculation. Wondering why the 9/11 hijackers went undetected, despite multiple warnings to the FBI containing very specific information is often called a conspiracy theory. On the other hand, Progressives are still certain that Bush lied about chemical weapons so that Dick Cheney’s friends at Haliburton could make tens of billions rebuilding Iraq after the war.
People will believe anything and doubt everything.