This piece has been in the offing for a while but now happens to have been written in Madrid a few weeks after the 10th anniversary of the Madrid Bombings, perpetrated on the Cercanias train system in that city. That particular event is not referenced but others of its kind will be in the examination of a weaponised piece of language which has a profound effect on how important criminal events and behaviour are viewed. In fact, it is the bane of an entire movement, called variously 'the alternative movement' or 'the alternative media'.
Two friends, who we'll call James and Bill, are having a conversation. They have been friends for a while and tend to agree on most things in terms of their general world view. However, James has recently been finding lots of information, a large part of which is in the public record but didn't seem to appear on the news or in the newspaper, that seems to contradict the view of the world that they've both always believed was the real one.
James- 'Hey Bill, did you know that on 9/11 there was a 3rd tower, called WTC7, which wasn't hit by any planes but which collapsed at freefall speed about 7 hours after the planes hit the other towers? And did you know that the collapse of the 2 main towers, WTC 1&2, was totally inconsistent with any previous collapse of buildings? And that Osama Bin Laden was never officially wanted for that crime? And that the hole in the Pentagon was too small for the plane that was supposed to have gone through it? I never knew all this but it's pretty interesting, isn't it?'
James is an open-minded person who has never really looked for this kind of information before and stumbled across it via a colleague at work. He was a little embarrassed and kept it to himself while he did more research on this and other topics. He has never been an extremist of any kind and is a level-headed and rather cautious person who tends to check facts before believing anything fully. He recently found and read Andy Thomas's book, 'The Truth Agenda' and found it a very reasonable book that simply presented evidence that a great many things that we've always believed may in fact be at least partly false. The official story of 9/11 itself seems to have up to 50 anomalies that may not mean a great deal in isolation, but put together seem to present a lot to ponder. James has suddenly started to wonder how everyone on T.V. news seemed to know that it was Osama Bin Laden who did it almost immediately. And when was the official investigation? It started a year after the event and seemed to only happen because of pressure from a group of ladies nicknamed 'The Jersey Girls', who all lost loved ones in the attack. And James has found quotes from members of the '9/11 Commission', who appeared to say that the investigation was 'set up to fail'. And didn't President Bush and Vice-President Cheney only agree to see the commission together and off the record? Why, if their story was so obviously true? James has also found out that Bin Laden worked for the C.I.A in the 1980's and that his family were major investors in an oil company that the Bush family owned, called Arbusto. Not only that but George H W Bush, the President from 1988-92, met with Osama Bin Laden's brother on the morning of September 11, 2001, and members of Bin Laden's family were safely flown out of the U.S. while commercial planes were grounded after the attack that one of their family was supposedly responsible for?. It's true that some of the family claimed to have disowned Osama a while back, but even so this is a pretty big revelation that was revealed fairly soon after the attacks themselves. In the 3 months or so that James has been aware of this alternative information, he has experienced periods of anger and despair before deciding to accept it and devote time to seeing whether there may be more that he was previously totally unaware of.
James doesn't have to wait long for Bill's response, which appears to be automatic, as if he didn't need any time to process the information he was being given.
Bill- 'Oh, that's just conspiracy theory!' (said with rolling eyes)
James- 'No, I can send you the links if you want. There are published articles that confirm a lot of this information. Some of it has never been denied.'
Bill- 'Why would I waste my time? And why would you? Those people are crazy!'
James- 'Well, how about this? One day before September 11 2001, Donald Rumsfeld, then Secretary of Defence, announced a 'war on bureaucracy' in a Department of Defence article which stated that the Pentagon couldn't account for 2.3 Trillion Dollars!!, the same amount as the entire annual federal budget for that year! And the Budget Analyst office, which was working on trying to find this money, was one of the departments hit by the plane which apparently hit the Pentagon.'
James decides not to tell his friend that he has also discovered that this plane was supposedly flown by Hani Hanjour, of whom more needs to be said. 3 weeks earlier, Hanjour had attempted to rent a Cessna (a small single-engine plane). He was ordered to take a chaperoned test flight before rental was approved. He had failed miserably, and in the instructor's words, 'It was like he had hardly even driven a car. He could not fly at all'. This same Hanjour, who was of below-average height and build, supposedly fought his way into the cockpit of Flight 77 on 9/11 and wrestled control of the plane from a 6'4" former Marine combat fighter pilot, Charles Burlingame, and his co-pilot. He then took control of the bewildering array of gadgets and devices of a Boeing 757 instrument panel and managed to quickly interpret his heading, ground track, altitude and air speed, seemingly without any help from ground control or air-traffic controllers. He then turned the plane around and set course for Washington D.C. He successfully entered the most restricted airspace in the world without eliciting a single military intercept and executed an incredibly precise diving turn at a rate of 360 degrees per minute while descending at 3,500 feet per minute to level off at ground level, a stunt that would press the limits of even the most experienced aviation test pilot. Even more bizarrely, this manoeveure was performed in order to avoid hitting the East Wing of the Pentagon, where all the top military brass were stationed, and instead hit the West Wing, which was under renovation scheduled for completion on…… September 12th 2001!
Bill- 'You should get out more, mate. Never thought my friend would become a conspiracy theorist'' Bill's tone is slightly sneering, very unlike him, as if he has had some kind of allergic reaction to what his friend has said. He usually considers things he hears in general conversation but on this occasion seems to not need to do so.
James knows that if he actually asked Bill why he thought it was Osama Bin Laden who had planned the 9/11 attacks, other than the fact that 'I saw it on the T.V. so it must be true', his friend would have no answer and an awkward silence would ensue. Being a nice guy, James declines to do this. He could have also picked his friend up on his comment about getting out more, implying that it is geeky and uncool to do research and spend time alone engrossed in something. Presumably this comment could have been made to Albert Einstein and other scientists who have made discoveries that have revolutionised our world by spending long hours inside, labouring to an unhealthy degree in order to complete a task.
And there ends the conversation. Bill seems unmoved by what his friend has said, and the phrases 'conspiracy theory' and 'conspiracy theorist' have been enough to totally disregard clear evidence, of which there is plenty more. James muses that the terms 'left' and 'right' serve a similar purpose in political debates, and that the recent Presidential Debates didn't seem to address the U.S's monumental military spending or their dubious support of Israel, or really address anything at all other than familiar arguments about tax rates, the economy, gay rights and abortion. James has also read of the existence of 'The Commission on Presidential Debates', jointly controlled by the Republicans and Democrats, which lays out precisely what can and can't be brought up in said debates and in 2012 was found to have secretly colluded with the Obama and Romney campaigns by informing them of the debate topics in advance. It seems to James that important questions are never really asked or pursued particularly hard. Mainstream reporting never quite gets to the heart of the matter and is best described, by Dan Carlin in his podcast 'Common Sense', as 'like going to a rock concert given by a famous guitarist where the music sounds like a 5-year-old child banging away on the instrument and the guitarist never plays the song we were expecting to hear, but the review the next day simply talks about how masterfully the artist took the stage and how confidently they held the instrument and plucked the strings, and how they made a wonderful one-on-one connection with the audience.' James remembers reading in 'Alice's Adventures in Wonderland' about 'the rabbit-hole', and it seems to be almost bottomless.
What's interesting about James and Bill's conversation is that even if James had continued to introduce further reasonable arguments and facts, perhaps another 100, it's fairly likely that Bill, like the average person, would have used the killer phrases he used before and the conversation would again have bizarrely ground to an immediate halt.
'CONSPIRACY THEORY' - A POWERFUL PHRASE
Author Michael Parenti, speaking at Berkeley, California on the 30th anniversary of the Assassination of John F Kennedy, talks of the similar phrase 'conspiracy buff' being used to describe the numerous reputable and serious scholars and investigators who have presented evidence that refutes the official version of that momentous event in Dallas in 1963. The word 'buff' seems to imply a quirky person who makes a hobby of looking at these events and is a 'fan'. Parenti notes the absence of the phrase 'Holocaust buff', for those studying that horrific event. The difference of course is that the JFK evidence brings into question the validity and credibility of 'The State', i.e the government, and shows its apparent similarity to a gangster operation, with scores of people mysteriously found dead from vehicular crashes and 'suicides'.
What must be understood is that phrases using the word 'conspiracy' bring the majority of people into a different state of mind, a sudden switch as happened to Bill in the conversation with James. They may get a slight smile on their face, as even serious academic Noam Chomsky does when talking about such matters. On a side note Chomsky is a curious case, being a person who has enlightened masses of people to the American government's responsibility for millions of deaths since it became an empire yet seeming to be totally uninterested in any alternative thought in relation to JFK, 9/11 or indeed the establishment of the Federal Reserve, which was a massively significant event and a very secretive one well-documented in G. Edward Griffin's book, 'The Creature From Jekyll Island'. What maddens most people who suddenly 'awake' to certain realities in this world is that the 'conspiracy theorist/buff/nutjob/wacko' tag runs the whole gamut from conspiracies that are now believed by the majority of those polled (such as JFK) to those believed by almost nobody (Elvis alive, Bigfoot, Loch Ness monster, shape-shifting reptiles). You really have to marvel at a phrase like this and its power to stop us thinking and allow us to submit to what the 'experts' tell us is the truth. What is sad is that yet again we curtail each other using language given to us, while the power players sit on the sidelines with the proverbial cigar in mouth.
To really understand the uncanny power of this type of language and the phrase we're discussing in particular, we need to find its origin in terms of its modern usage. Barrie Zwicker, an award-winning Canadian journalist, documentary producer, political activist and media critic. (or alternatively just a 'conspiracy theorist', if you wish to disregard his 60 years media experience with one lazy phrase), has investigated the phrase, which he considers to have been 'weaponised', and is a practised student of language itself and its use and power. He makes the point that we tend to use language without really thinking about it or acknowledging its great power. To quote Marshall McLuan, 'we don't know who invented water, but it certainly wasn't a fish'. We swim around surrounded by and using language constantly but it's original creation is not of our making. One only needs to think of how cruelly children taunt each other with phrases which cut deep, usually highlighting small differences between them which suddenly get magnified with a few well-chosen words. Zwicker points out that words often have automatic image associations that can agitate the emotional parts of the brain. The word 'conspiracy' may well elicit a fear response, which very often triggers a defensive reaction of a smile or a little chuckle, or a mental image of a group huddling together to plot something sinister. Its use leads to well-worn images of tin-foil hats and the scandalously pejorative phrase 'The Grassy Knoll Society', referring to those who believe that that's where the shots that killed JFK came from. Pointing out that between 50 and 100 people testified that they heard shots coming from that area, including a man called James Teague who was hit by a fragment of a shot from the knoll, has now with the passage of time become a 'cliche'. It's quite possible that many people actually do in private find some of the alternative viewpoints at least in part valid, but the fear of being labelled 'crazy' is one of the deeper ones in the human psyche. Painting others as 'crazy' and 'paranoid' may validate our own sanity, a quality well-valued in Western society. Of course a government education and a life of exposure to mainstream media, t.v and films teaches people to be suspicious of, laugh at and ultimately disregard anything below the surface and not clearly apparent (religion being a curious exception to this rule!!), despite the fact that around 90% of our brain function happens beneath the conscious state. Hence, the instinct for extremely intelligent people to suddenly stop reasoning and enact an instant prejudice could be essentially based, like many actions, on deep-seated fear. Of course, another barrier is the difficulty for adults to believe that they have been either 'duped', 'conditioned', 'brainwashed' or even 'influenced'. Other phrases, such as 'secret CIA plot' and 'government lies', are also written off nowadays by many, purely through their continual use over the years. You might want to wonder why these phrases are used so much. Could it be because of the CIA's numerous secret plotting and the government's now default position of lying?!
The aforementioned CIA is where the origin of the pejorative use of the phrases 'conspiracy theory' and 'conspiracy theorist' is to be found. In a nutshell, by the late 1960s there were already a reasonable number of people who were raising doubts about the Warren Commission's conclusions about John F. Kennedy's murder, enough in fact to warrant a television debate on it. The Agency's propaganda arm came up with the idea of instructing its media assets, such as book reviewers and publishers, to start using the phrases we're discussing in order to marginalise JFK sceptics. CIA document 1035/960, titled 'Concerning Criticism of the Warren Report' and dated 4/1/67 (i.e April 1st 1967), alludes to this and the particular tactics used to stop dissent and a 'trend of opinion which is a matter of concern to the U.S government, including our organisation.' A 1967 poll had found that 46% of the U.S. population doubted that Lee Harvey Oswald had acted alone in Kennedy's murder (a number which incidentally has increased substantially in the intervening years), and the document expressed concern that 'efforts to impugn the rectitude and wisdom of the Warren Commission members cast doubt on the whole leadership of American society'. This document was categorised under 'Psy-Ops' (Psychological Operations) and its deliberate intention is clear.
Continual repetition by influential people gradually brought 'conspiracy theorist' into the general lexicon and a powerful weaponised phrase was born. Barrie Zwicker points out the sad irony that the public's use of this phrase as a thought-stopper is a remarkably effective protector of the conspirators themselves. There is a link here to the phrase 'Crime Stop', as used in chapter 17 of 'Nineteen Eighty-Four' by George Orwell, and defined as (paraphrase) 'the faculty of stopping short, as though by instinct, at the threshold of any dangerous thought, including the power of not grasping analogies, failing to perceive logical errors, failing to understand the simplest of arguments if they don't adhere to the programmed norm and of being bored or repelled by any train of thought which could potentially lead in a subversive direction. Crimestop is protective stupidity'. Stupidity in this case is meant not as a criticism of a person's natural faculties but rather as a self dumbing-down of one's thoughts).
Following on from the 1967 document, Operation Mockingbird was a CIA plan to influence media reporting by placing operatives inside the more powerful news institutions. It is one of myriad examples of how the news we receive, which ultimately comes from literally a handful of large corporations, can never be unfiltered. The link at the bottom of this post comes from the generally establishment-friendly Wikipedia, so it's either true or they were having a quirky, conspiracy-buff day when it was written! It must be remembered that broadcasters are dependent on government licences and newspapers on advertising subsidies, so the idea that what we receive, or what we are fed, can be guaranteed to be exactly what has happened is naive to say the least. As an example of the advertising subsidies issue, in 2003 Michael Meacher MP, a former member of the Blair administration who resigned in protest against the illegal invasion of Iraq, wrote an article in the London Guardian called 'The war on terrorism is bogus', containing facts that would be popularly considered to be 'subversive'. It is reckoned that the newspaper lost up to a million pounds in advertising revenue due to publishing said article, and an advertising boycott was threatened, the thing that newspapers and T.V. producers most fear. So, the stakes are high! For more officially-recognised and admitted conspiratorial behaviour, it might be worth investigating 'Operation Northwoods' and 'The Gulf of Tonkin Incident' before letting the defensive instinct take over and be a 'thought-stopper'.
Another good example of the power of certain phrases when used in the media, in this case the phenomenon of nicknames, to change opinions and create certain images is the case of Jerry Brown, former Governor of California, who ran against Bill Clinton for the U.S. Presidency in the early 1990s. Brown had been revolutionary, pushing hard for labor rights for farmworkers to protect them from agri-industrial poisons, funding large wind energy projects along the length of California and introducing satellite conference calls in that state in order to save the time and money needed for state legislators to fly in every time they wanted to meet. The corporate interests he threatened needed to divorce this man of the people, this man of vision, from the people he served so well. What did they do? They called him Governor Moon Beam , in reference to the satellite phone system he pioneered. The name caught on, and along with some media character assassination it was enough to make him a figure of fun and divert attention away from his intentions to actually implement the policies that are supposedly part of 'The American Dream', now often referred to by members of the public as 'The American Myth'. For the record, Brown's conference call idea is now standard practice. Nicknames are particularly effective because of the association with school days and the clear and lasting memories they invoke. Ron Paul, who is essentially a Libertarian but who ran as a Republican in the 2012 Presidential Race in order to give himself some chance of joining the debates, was clearly subject to a media blackout and was dubbed 'Dr No', a reference to his former profession as a physician and his non-interventionist stance regarding America's foreign policy. The word 'chicken' is regularly applied to politicians opposing wars, which are usually illegal and happen due to the President's 'special powers' in such situations. Even the word 'truth' has been branded with a negative connotation following the rise of the 9/11 Truth Movement. As one documentary about the true face of the media put it, 'Orwell Rolls In His Grave'.
The normative (literal) meaning of the phrase 'conspiracy theory' varies from dictionary to dictionary but generally relates to covert actions by a group of people, often but not always in positions of power. Careful examination of our own general beliefs will lead to the conclusion that we are all in fact conspiracy theorists, particularly if the apparent theory has been rubber-stamped by the mainstream media, who we all say we don't believe but which remains most people's source for a general version of events. If you had suggested to the majority of people before June 2013 that the government was monitoring the communications of normal citizens as well as being involved in all manner of other clandestine Orwellian surveillance programmes, you would have probably been immediately tagged with the 'conspiracy theorist' label. Edward Snowden's revelations, started in that month, were a good example, and not the first by any means, of a category known as 'conspiracy theories that turned out to be true', of which there will be more later. Considering that Osama Bin Laden was not officially wanted for the crime of 9/11 -before his apparent murder by Navy Seals, an absurd ever-changing narrative that should have raised alarm bells to anyone inclined to think about it- then the general belief that he and his 19 martyrs carried it out is in itself a conspiracy theory, but one now officially true and destined to grace Wikipedia and the question cards of Trivial Pursuit for ever. What about detectives who often posit theories about conspiracies in the course of their investigations? And what about the general belief held by most that advertisers get together to devise techniques of persuasion to coerce consumers into buying things they usually don't need, using money they don't even have in the form of credit? Is it a stretch of the imagination to think that a group of married men might mutually decide to take off their wedding rings before a night out in order to make women think that they are not married? Anyone buying or selling a house would surely believe that the pictures of the house are deliberately taken to give an illusion of extra size and brightness, as are those of food on the outside window of a shop. The salesman who cold calls on the phone or at the door is viewed as a pest because in our mind we think that we're going to be subject to sales tactics, standard in the industry and devised by one than one person, relating to products we wouldn't voluntarily be interested in. What about the additives proved to be added to cigarettes to make them more addictive, as shown in the film 'The Insider'? Most of us don't know what exactly happens with political lobbies but we could reasonably theorise that some kind of covert talk ensues in order to achieve political aims that don't always extoll the virtues of truth and justice. Each of the above is a conspiracy theory until one actually sees it with one's own eyes.
Being from the West, I have observed clearly that Western governments, for example those of the U.S and the U.K., have no problem believing that rival governments such as those of Russia and the former Soviet Union, are capable of 'false-flag terrorism' and 'Communist plots', the fear of which were major components in keeping the Cold War going, but that the idea of Western powers doing the same is just 'conspiracy theory'. This is an example of what critics of the U.S. establishment call 'American exceptionalism', and no doubt the same bias applies on the other side of the world. The manipulation of language in the terms 'terrorist' and 'freedom fighter' to describe essentially the same act is another clear indication of this bias and the subjective nature of language. Conspiracies exist in our society every day socially, commercially and politically. Considering the twin facts that humans are social and tribal beings, and that the system is based on the necessity for competition, it would be almost impossible for this not to be the case. Courtrooms around the world are filled every day by individuals, corporations and governments accusing one another of various conspiracies such as conspiracy to commit fraud, to embezzle, to deceive or to murder. Can you imagine if lawyers could stop an argument or get a case dismissed instantly by simply calling their opponent a 'conspiracy theorist'? Some conspiracy theories are true and some are false, and each should be judged on its own merits. It is often times essential, such as in wars or in big business, to theorise about what the enemy may or may not be doing in order to anticipate and counter their moves, and in some cases this can be used to bring down clearly damaging regimes such as the Nazis. Pamphlets informing citizens of the corrupt or harmful nature of their rulers and warning of possible dangers, which were in essence conspiracy theories, were used in the French and American Revolutions to positive effect. 'Paranoia', even when appearing to be justified, is another word with powerful connotations when used pejoratively. When ruling institutions are found to be engaging in behaviour unhealthy for those that they are apparently existing to serve, conspiracy theories will abound. Even if some are exaggerated or false, they still serve a general purpose of informing the ordinary person (the 99%, if you will) of the general nature of their rulers and the need for some kind of awareness and general reform. Playing the numbers game, when you find on the 9/11 truth website the article 'The 40 main reasons to doubt the official version of 9/11', and see the research that has been done and the books written, the probability that all of the anomalies presented can be easily explained away seems highly unlikely, and the list of arguable points is useful as a reference point for stumbling upon the elusive truth. The reality of course is that the majority are not even deemed worthy of consideration, which is where the magic phrase comes in very handy as a 'thought-stopper'.
So, it's not the literal phrase itself but its modern connotation and of course a host of subconscious and unconscious factors that trigger a very specific response of dismissal. We have seen how our character Bill reacted to James's apparent 'conspiracy theory', which of course was in part established conspiracy fact, but more dangerous are those who will do serious research, but all in the name of debunking anything that hints at a kind of 'conspiracy'. One of these people is a gentleman called Brian Dunning, who runs the weekly podcast Skeptoid. No doubt Dunning is right about a lot of his skepticism regarding 'pseudo-science', but his narrowly-defined aversion to 'conspiracy theories' was well exposed on the Joe Rogan Podcast. Rogan later made a very salient point that a lot of instant and smug dismissals happen on mainstream television, where short segments constantly interrupted by commercials are the norm, so a lot of deep and impressive real-life conspiracy research can be ridiculed without being properly examined. Rogan's podcasts in contrast usually clock in around the 3-hour mark so there is plenty of time for proper scrutiny. Rogan, I personally felt, could have pushed Dunning more and really flattened his short-sightedness, but like our character James, Joe Rogan is a pretty nice guy. Joe made the point that if you believe that 9/11 happened, you believe in conspiracies. He confronted Dunning with apparent 'conspiracy theories' that turned out to be true, at which point Dunning claimed that these weren't conspiracy theories, but fact. Rogan also made the point that the government has been proven to lie pretty much constantly, so believing in the standard versions of events means believing in a proven liar. Dunning's response was a vague differentiation between a 'standard' and 'official' narrative, distancing himself from appearing to follow the government line while acknowledging that the version we are given by the mainstream media very often comes from government sources. What he decides is a 'conspiracy theory' is basically anything which is hard to prove and implicates Western powers. Rogan's gentle and polite probing eventually uncovered the fact that Dunning had once been a believer in non-mainstream theories but had found one or more to be false and so had completely gone the opposite way to instant dismissal of all of them. 'Skepticism' is very often healthy, but is not the same as dismissal. Aren't the military-industrial complex worthy of Dunning's skepticism? Times Journalist David Aaronowitch is another of these 'debunkers' who immediately goes on the attack in debates and starts using the magic phrase instantly. His anger and righteous indignation are quite convincing up to a point, but under examination, when confronted for example with the testimony of William Rodriguez, the janitor at the World Trade Center who was originally given multiple medals for heroism for helping to evacuate survivors but was later ostracised for his claims that he heard explosions going off in the North Tower before Flight 11 hit, he had nothing to offer but that 'Rodriquez is wrong'. Aaronowitch's book, 'Voodoo Mysteries', along with 'Among The Truthers', written by Canadian journalist Jonathan Kay, both start with the premise of a group of eccentric misfits who all seem to be allied together in their wacky ideas which, in Kay's charitable estimation, 'sometimes have a grain of truth'.
Another interesting example of a 'conspiracy debunker' and their narrow focus is Karen Douglas of the University of Kent, who produced a paper called 'The Hidden Impact of Conspiracy Theories' and took part in the 2011 CFI UK Conspiracy Theories Conference' which analysed in minutiae the psychology regarding the phenomenon of 'conspiracy theorists' and their 'wacky ideas'. It is worth watching her presentation at this conference, along with that of Ian Crane in rebuttal, to see who seemed more interested in presenting evidence rather than disseminating explanations designed to discourage and play down the validity of actual investigation. Douglas poses the question, 'why do conspiracy theories endure when there is no factual support for them and they fly in the face of established facts?' She then talks of 'the hidden impact of conspiracy theories'. and how 'they powerfully influence people's attitudes without them knowing it'. She goes on to say that 'outwardly, people may deny the extent to which they've been influenced, but they tend to endorse the new information and pass it on to others'. It's worth noting that Karen Douglas prefaced her talk by saying that 'I'm not going to focus at all on whether or not these theories are true, but rather why people tend to believe things that are not the accepted or mainstream view.' 2 minutes later, she tellingly reiterates, 'I'm not really concerned about the truth or otherwise'. This begs the question - why not look at some evidence because if you find good evidence, that might answer your question without you having to go any further? She comes up with various plausible reasons why people's lack of control and power is responsible for them needing to fill a hole in their lives with 'conspiracy theories', hardly a new idea. What she's actually looking at is why some people don't follow the mainstream view. Could it be that they've found that the government and mainstream media, either separately or in collusion, are proven liars and have looked into this and, like our character James, found a seemingly endless rabbit hole of things that the mainstream ignores completely or at least fails to highlight? She then shows a slide of 2 pictures of Paul McCartney, clearly the same person, as an example of a conspiracy theory that seems obviously false, namely the rumour spread by some disc jockeys in America in 1969 that McCartney had died in 1966 and been replaced by a double. But what, pray tell, has that theory, believed by nobody I personally know, got to do with JFK, 9/11 or the death of weapons inspector David Kelly, which are backed by strong evidence and/or anomalies well worthy of independent investigation? Why are they all being lumped together in the same category? Filmmaker Rob Ager suggests that Karen Douglas's work actually shows the hidden power of personal opinion in creating a conclusion not based on actual objective research of the 'conspiracy theory' in question. Upon reading Douglas's words, I would say that there is an uncanny accuracy to them if you substitute 'conspiracy theory' for the 'hidden power of an average upbringing based on compulsory education including a fully mainstream view of history and indoctrination by media and general societal norms.' Not as catchy perhaps but a decent explanation for the curious lack of questioning by the populace, and their general assumption that the powers-that-be are looking out for them and that the corporate media is basically telling them the truth. Does Karen Douglas know that her work, although perhaps objective within its scope, is missing a huge point, and is the 'hidden power' of hers and society's fears that certain things might turn out to be true driving the default position of her and most others?
At the Conspiracy Theories Conference, Ian R Crane took the stage with a presentation entitled 'Conspiracy Theory vs Deep Geopolitics.', which saliently commented on the preceding speakers, who had engaged in general academic research obsessed with psychologising the phenomenon without once looking at the research angle. After running through a few pieces of evidence that most may not have seen and discussing the work of some credible researchers, he then brought on Tony Farrell, 17-year principal intelligence analyst for Yorkshire Police, who was dismissed after questioning 9/11 and 7/7. After being advised to proceed directly to occupational health to have his sanity tested, Farrell was dismissed from his job and quickly ostracised from the establishment he'd served for nearly 2 decades. Ian Crane represented Farrell, and at the tribunal stated that 'Nobody, not an analyst, a manager, nor a member of the disciplinary panel, spent any time investigating the evidence that underpins Mr Farrell's changed position on the strategic threat associated with the terror domain. There is absolutely no sign that anyone considered any evidence before concluding that Mr Farrell's views were 'outlandish''. Once again, we see the trademark intellectual laziness, the allergic reaction to challenging of the official view and the allusion to lack of mental health. As Mr Farrell was being fired, the chief financial officer, who was the dismissing officer, said to him, 'you might be right, but your views are incompatible with the views of the South Yorkshire Police.' Karen Douglas talked of the 'attraction of conspiracy theories', and how they fill a hole in people's lives. Crane's counter is to ask the question of what attracted Farrell to do what he did. Was it loss of 17-year career, loss of salary, loss of index-linked pension, desire to be labelled insane, desire to be ostracised by colleagues, or to become unemployable, perhaps?
Crane further points out research regarding the left and right brain. It's hard to argue that mainstream government education is predominantly left-brained, which has a very limiting effect on thought. Betty Edwards, in her book called 'Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain', writes that (slight paraphrasing) 'the dominant left verbal hemisphere only wants enough information to categorise and recognise things. It learns to take a quick look and say 'this is a cat, dog, umbrella…' (or a conspiracy theory?!), without needing to analyse the information closely. Because the brain is overloaded with incoming information, one of its functions it seems is to screen out a large proportion of incoming perceptions'. David Pederson's book, 'Cameral Analysis' states that 'it would appear that the left logical hemisphere can be persuaded or manipulated into believing a certain belief or behaviour was logically correct'. Pederson was looking at this in respect to jobs such as working in a concentration camp, where 'it appears possible to carry out any form of atrocity under the cloak of it being justifiable once this manipulation of logic has happened'. One of the most affecting truisms that I've ever heard is that 'people will do anything if they can justify it to themselves'. In our current financial system of effective work slavery, feeding and clothing one's family is often enough justification, fuelled by misplaced ideals which are themselves fostered by subtle long-term brainwashing and indoctrination from the day of birth. This would explain the 'institutional denial' of South Yorkshire Police to even look at Farrell's position with any kind of critical eye. Ask yourself if an academic for example, relying on funding from the government or other institutions, is really likely to publish anything going against the established way o thinking. The book 'Left In The Dark', by Graham Gynn and Tony Wright, states that (slightly paraphrased) 'the dominance of the least functional and most damaged side of our brain (the left side) has created a bizarre problem, namely that we don't realise that we are stuck in a distorted and limited version of reality, and that the dominant left side of our brain does all it can to maintain the illusion.' These comments on the left brain seem to explain why 'conspiracy theories' are considered in isolation, as random events to be explained away or simply disregarded rather than as pieces of a much larger puzzle or dots to be connected. Clinical psychologists point to trauma leading to extreme denial. I've stated many times, there are extremists on both sides and we should perhaps analyse is why anyone believes anything without looking into it for themselves. Intellectual laziness is the crime, and the bowing to peer pressure that apparently leads some to blindly believe 'conspiracy theories' equally works the other way.
So, we are left with mainstream and alternative camps, each with their own conspiracy theories that they are holding onto for dear life. Conspiracy researchers such as Alex Jones and David Icke make money from the interest of alternative views but so do conspiracy debunkers. Ian Crane sees himself, as do I, in an often-overlooked third camp of curious but active observer, one whose opinion evolves over time and with new information coming to light all the time. The conclusion to be drawn is that the serial conspiracy debunker, just like the hardcore conspiracy believer at the other extreme, is not really thinking for themselves but acting, as we all do, on a pre-determined instinct based on a myriad of personal factors. Maybe 'conspiracy theorist' is actually a backhanded complement, implying a person who questions things and thinks!, just as 'Communist' at the height of the Cold War seemed to become an extremely broad phrase applicable to anyone around the American establishment with progressive thoughts and ideas.
How is the subject of 'conspiracy theories' handled by the government, academia and the media? Aside from the general mainstream dismissal of 'cranks' in all these areas, I'm going to include 2 examples, the first by establishment-friendly American academics and the second by the British Broadcasting Corporation. In 2008, Cass Sunstein, soon to become an Administrator in President Obama's 'Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, and fellow legal scholar Adrian Vermule co-wrote a paper called 'Conspiracy Theories', which focused on the damaging effects of 'conspiracy theories' to the U.S. government. They recognised these theories as 'no trivial matter, posing real risks to the government's anti-terrorism policies, whatever they may be.' Among the responses suggested to combat this damaging scourge on society were infiltration of chat rooms and social networking sites, a conspiracy theory ban, a tax on conspiracy theorising and attempts to counteract the theories either by the government themselves or by 'credible parties'. As has been stated in this article, the phrase 'conspiracy theory' has seemingly been enough to make actual debunking or confrontation of the evidence itself curiously unnecessary, by both the government and the public at large.
The BBC's 'Conspiracy Files' series, which started airing programmes in 2006 and continued up to 2011, supposedly tackled some of the more famous cases which have been subject to questions around the official versions of events. To their credit, these programmes did interview some prominent credible opponents of official narratives, but the series as a whole was clearly working from the position that conspiracy theories are largely or totally false and so need to be debunked, rather than allowing evidence to lead them to a conclusion. As the public tend to share this view through years of conditioning, these programmes were an effective reinforcement of a prevailing view. Closer inspection however reveals a familiar short-sightedness and handpicking of convenient pieces of evidence along with familiar techniques of viewer (mis)direction, discrediting, the assumption that alternative explanations are an insult to survivors and the families of victims, and the habit of showing 'conspiracy theorists' in darkened rooms while those with establishment views were shot in wide-open spaces. The painful ignorance of most viewers of these kind of techniques ensured that the programme's agenda went unquestioned while maddening those who have 'awoken' to how the wool of truth is pulled over all of our eyes on a daily basis. The accompanying 'conspiracy road trip' programmes, and mainstream reporting and reviews of them, confirmed in this author's eyes the utter dishonesty on show here. As mentioned earlier, this treatment of 'conspiracy theories' is aimed at those with a worldview that follows that governments are generally well-meaning and well-motivated, even with all the clear reported daily evidence that this is not the case. The convincing presentation of this view leads to a kind of mass cognitive dissonance in those absorbing the information, and it seems easier to believe the majority view than deal with the stress of possible ridicule and exclusion by peers and the aforementioned labelling as 'crazy'. The 'Occam's Razor' principle says that of 2 equal explanations, the simpler one is the one to follow. This is still the majority worldview, and logic says that an explanation handed to the public is simpler than a complex case with lots of grey areas that requires independent investigation, but in enough time I believe it won't be, and as ever there is a reliance by the establishment on enough time passing for nobody to care. Do you ever ask yourself why files are closed for anything from 30 years to 70, in the case of Dr. David Kelly? When talking to a friend about the U.S government's acknowledged shameful behaviour in Vietnam and the aforementioned fake Gulf of Tonkin Incident which go them there, an intelligent friend of mine simply uttered, 'Vietnam was a long time ago', proof that the closing of files is an extremely effective way of consigning challengeable data to forgotten history, as is the 'news cycle', where stories come and go and are quickly replaced by something newer and fresher. Both Sunstein and the BBC are also working with the assumption that America and Britain have open societies and a free press, which is only true in relative terms. The fact that they are more open than, say, North Korea and China may be true, but if you had earned $1000 for a month's work but were only paid $100, would you be happy with the justification that this was still more than the majority of the world earns? What I mean is, are you happy to be short-changed and for your privacy to be invaded and your intelligence insulted just because others in the world are even bigger victims than you? We have already seen that information is subject to 'media filters', as explained by Noam Chomsky in his book, 'Manufacturing Consent'), and the vast majority of it is now concentrated into a handful of corporations that could literally be counted on the fingers of one hand. Career newspaper editors, career academics and career politicians are not going to risk their reputations and careers, and the people who turn out to be whistleblowers are often ex-government officials who are now out of their obligations and free to pursue and disseminate previously hidden truths.
Considering the control of the media, it's certainly hard to imagine a prime-time show, objectively promoted and reported on by the media, which looked closely at the remarkable list of curious anomalies which surround the official versions of 'JFK' and '9/11', not to mention the category of 'conspiracy theories which turned out to be true', such as Operation Northwoods, The Gulf of Tonkin Incident, the C.I.A's illegal overthrowing of democratically-elected governments in countries such as Iran and Guatemala and support of murderous regimes and death squads in Latin Amercia, and the obvious unprovoked assaults on Cambodia and Laos during the Vietnam War. In this author's fantasy world, where truth would supersede the vested interests that hamstring media organisations, the news that the Gulf of Tonkin incident alone was admitted to be fake (in brief, this incident was used as justification for America's full-scale intervention/invasion/occupation, you pick the word.. of Vietnam), discovered through declassified documents years after the event, would be all over the news and would shake the foundations of how society is viewed. Intelligent commentators would inform the public that in fact the whole war, as with most wars, was nothing to do with saving people but about power and resource grabbing and huge amounts of money made from armaments sales and loans to each side to fund the conflict. People would then perhaps start to question war in general, including the current endless conflict, and the whole house of cards might come down. Of course it would never happen like that because of the format of mainstream television that Joe Rogan astutely observed, which is to show crumbs of truth, with strict time restraints, among endless fluff and trivia.
Mature discussion and free presentation of evidence are off the table in the world of (corporate) mainstream information. Abby Martin, who has won high praise in alternative media circles for her show 'Breaking The Set' on the RT network has remarked on the remarkable irony of her having to work for a Russian-owned T.V. station in order to communicate true news about her country of birth, the U.S.A. At this point, it's worth reiterating that governments have no problem believing in conspiracy theories from each other, with both seeming to feel righteous and morally superior. Certain documentaries regarding the host country's corruption are unavailable in the host country but freely available abroad (e.g Loose Change, an extremely popular Internet film regarding anomalies in the official story of 9/11, which has been shown on mainstream television in various countries). For the record, RT's reporting on the recent troubles in Ukraine has garnered criticism, and it does appear that the reporting of this event has come down to a Cold War-style propaganda war. However, the information is what counts, and though it is never good to blindly believe anything, when research appears to prove something to be true, does it always matter the original source of this information?? RT has certainly provided an interesting situation where Western reporters have the freedom to talk unhindered and not subject to ad hominem attacks and thus communicate interesting and provable alternative information that they really should be able to in their own countries in a so-called free society. They tend to be rational people who don't follow anything like the tin foil hat stereotype of the 'conspiracy theorist'.
Returning back to the 'conspiracy theory' and 'conspiracy theorist' labels, what other terms can be used to describe the same information without the baggage attached to them? 'Alternative information' and 'alternative explanation' are good ones, as is Rob Ager's offering of 'corruption suspicion' (think about how logical it becomes to be suspicious of corruption based on easily-available evidence). What about something that encompasses the fact that black operations by intelligence agencies, which routinely result in untold numbers of innocent deaths, are largely ignored or played down by the corporate media and are more known to people as the titles of video games played by children and adults alike rather than as realities? There is in fact a term, and a whole field of academic research, related to such investigations. Peter Dale Scott, a Canadian former Berkeley professor, has spoken of the 'deep state', 'deep geopolitics' and 'para politics', all of which refer to the multitude of complicated covert activities and secrecy which ultimately drive what happens on the surface.
An easily understandable analogy is to think of what we hear on mainstream news as the presentation of a play or movie version of life, or indeed a reality show if you prefer. It appears real, but of course we never see any of the backstage shenanigans which contribute to the execution of what the audience sees. The long-running play 'Noises Off' was/is a perfect metaphorical representation of this.
SUMMARY OF MAIN POINTS:
-The phrases 'conspiracy theory' and 'conspiracy theorist' provoke a kind of allergic reaction in most people that hear them and tend to make further exploration of a point difficult and unnecessary.
-These phrases have been deliberately introduced into the general lexicon as pejorative terms.
-Real conspiracies exist every day and the phrases, when used normatively, apply to everyone with critical thinking skills.
-Serial 'conspiracy debunkers' do precisely the same thing as those 'crazies' they criticise, such as cherry-picking evidence and rigidly sticking to their dogma.
-Alternative narratives, particularly those full of grey areas, don't sit well with the prevalent left-brain thinking of society, which is itself a product of largely left-brain schooling
-Extremists exist on both ends of the conspiracy/no conspiracy spectrum and none of them are to be blindly taken at their word.
-Governments and media, like the majority of the public, work from the premise that 'conspiracy theories' are a dangerous irritant, or perhaps a hobby or fetish, which need to be debunked.
-Fair presentation of alternative information, with all evidence presented and more neutral terms used to describe it, might well awaken the public and shake them from their collective apathy.
We all inherit a worldview which influences our behaviour and beliefs, as well as certain core ties to nationalism, patriotism and religion. As Marshall McLuhan said, 'receiving language is a making practice, not a matching one'. Language is processed by our beliefs and we make it what we want it to be, process it unconsciously in milliseconds and so hear what we want to hear. In the case of the phrase that we've been examining, it's popular pejorative use happens to fit well as a dismissive device for the majority of beliefs. The aforementioned lack of training in critical thinking doesn't help shake these beliefs. When a phrase has a connotation such as 'conspiracy theorist' that manages to get to the core of these beliefs, it is very effective at garnering a very specific reaction. Perhaps, in this stressful and difficult world, it's just easier and less painful to fall to dismissal. On the other hand, we are all potentially philosophers who can search for or find the truth, no matter what the uncomfortable or painful effect can be. Next time you watch television and see the established view being challenged, by Ron Paul among others, just see how quickly the phrase 'conspiracy theorist' is used, as well as the limiting labels of 'left' and 'right' if all else fails.
For those who do grasp what they've read here, the inevitable question comes. 'What can I do?' Well, even if you don't have the time or inclination for particular action, you have the power to try and make critical thought a greater part of society by doing it yourself and spreading it to others. Instead of making your discourse full of triviality, spend your time thinking and becoming a philosopher. Help arrest the dumbing-down of society. We also need to be big and admit we've been duped and are capable of being influenced. Also, be brave. Dare to confront people in a friendly way. Doing something that scares you (but doesn't kill you) is always a good thing. Be true to yourself and say what you believe. Barrie Zwicker's advice, if someone accuses you of being a 'conspiracy theorist', is to stop them quickly and 'own the term'. Tell them straight off, before their use of the phrase has been allowed to enter the conversation, what the term actually means. As much as we shouldn't need tactics to express what we think is truth, we shouldn't be above them. A good tactic is to say that 'you don't believe in conspiracy theories' but I've heard this and this and this, said with a hint of surprise. Definitely don't preach, it never works!
As a kind of disclaimer, I'd like to say that what I've presented here is by the literal definition, a conspiracy theory, just as Oliver Stone's 1991 film 'JFK' was, in the director's own words, 'a counter conspiracy theory to the government's'. I wasn't at the JFK assassination or at The Gulf of Tonkin in 1964 or in New York on September 11. Who am I? Just an average person who has read and heard a certain amount of information which, like our character James, doesn't appear to fit with what I was always told when growing up. Maybe conspiracy theories ARE dangerous and to be avoided, or maybe they foster a healthy scepticism? What I am absolutely sure of is that language is used by those in power as a tool of manipulation to mask extremely questionable activities, and anything that helps to alert the average person of this fact, along with the fact that we are being dumbed-down and largely distracted by things which are in fact meaningless but appeal to certain emotions, is a good thing.
Last year, the House of Commons in Britain, my homeland, voted categorically against military action following a chemical weapons attack in Syria, and across the Atlantic it was clear that the American public were against such action. Did the non-intervention in Syria have anything to do with growing awareness of the true reality of the world we live in, helped by the alternative media of independent radio, newspapers and podcasts and as a result of information usually disregarded as 'conspiracy theory'? This is where the dilemma of 'what can we do?' could be answered. Street protests have a place, no doubt, but perhaps it is a changing of the general discourse and increased non-participation whenever possible that can actually change things that seem far out of our reach. Whether you feel that you are interested or not in 'politics', we all want a better world and it may be slightly simpler, if not easier, than we think.
Footnote- I was quite very interested to listen to the Farage-Clegg Euro debate which has happened since I wrote the original post, and to hear the following comments by Clegg about UKIP. 'They see conspiracies everywhere. I wouldn't be surprised if Nigel Farage thinks that the Moon Landing was a fake, that Barack Obama isn't American and that Elvis isn't dead'. I see this kind of vacuous attack as a vindication of the central point of my argument.
SOURCES, REFERENCES AND SUGGESTED READING, LISTENING AND WATCHING
podcast- 'The C-Word'
videos- Divide And Conquer: Politics And The Left-Right Fraud / The 9/11 Conspiracy in under 5 minutes
video- 'How To Make Sense of Conspiracy Theories
http://www.jfklancer.com/CIA.html (CIA 'conspiracy theorist' memo)
'The Impossibility of Flying Heavy Aircraft Without Training', essay by Nila Sagedevan'
http://www.freedomainradio.com (a Philosophy show to make you think!)
Op-Ed news- 'The Media Hounds Unleashed on Ron Paul', Dec 2007
(Michael Meacher 'War on Terrorism is Bogus' article)
Karen Douglas on Conspiracy Theories (you tube video)
Ian R Crane- 'Conspiracy Theory vs Deep Geopolitics' (you tube video)
Joe Rogan Podcast
Common Sense with Dan Carlin
The Mind Renewed
Noam Chomsky- Manufacturing Consent (book and documentary)
Abby Martin- Breaking The Set (show on RT network and you tube videos)
George Orwell- 'Nineteen Eighty-Four' and 'Politics and The English Language'
David Aaronowitch- 'Voodoo Mysteries' (book)
Jonathan Kay- 'Among The Truthers' (book)
Brian Dunning- Skeptoid (podcast
Cass Sunstein and Adrian Vermule- 'Conspiracy Theories' (academic paper)