One of the things that has always puzzled me about conspiracy theories is that they so frequently explain something that doesn’t need any explanation. Not only that, the explanation the conspiracy theory offers is so often far more tortuous and implausible than the obvious one.
For instance, John F. Kennedy was a staunch Cold Warrior, a foe to both Cuba and the Soviet Union. Lee Harvey Oswald was a nutbag Communist sympathizer who’d even defected to the USSR briefly. Guy had a gun, shot the president. What is it exactly that’s been left unexplained or that needs to be explained by an elaborate plot which, if real, would have required everyone in America to keep his role secret from everyone else?
Same thing with the moon landing and the theories that it was faked. Listen, it was an amazing achievement when you compare it to, say, throwing a rock at a wooly mammoth. But compared to the infinite possibilities, it was pretty primitive stuff. We figured out a way to put enough fuel under an astronaut’s backside to shoot him into space and then, give or take a few course corrections, he drifted to the moon. It would be more expensive and complicated to fake that than to actually do it.
Possibly the silliest ones are the ones about 9/11. We have millions of Literalist Muslims announcing their intention to strike a blow against America. They strike the blow. They claim credit for it. They celebrate it, dancing in the streets… and secretly Bush did it? Why? By which I mean: why do we need any other explanation when the obvious one seems the simplest and best?
All of this came to mind after a week or so of catching up with Julian Assange and his Wikileaks. Assange believes the entire US government is one big conspiracy. And so he’s released this huge cache of classified documents but… dude, where’s the conspiracy?
Jillions of documents printed and what did we learn? America is fighting Islamist terrorism and trying to get a bunch of lying Arab leaders to pitch in behind the scenes. China sucks. The UN sucks. Italy’s Prime Minister is a lady’s man (duh – in Italy, that’s how you get to be Prime Minister!). Israel is the good guy of the Middle East. Iran is the worst of the bad guys. Next, you’ll be telling me that Kim Jong-Il is some kind of weird-haired lunatic. I mean, beyond the gossip, it’s all stuff we knew already!
Once again, conspiracy theories have proved to be more complex and ridiculous than the simple truth. Which is apparently right in front of our eyes even when it’s being kept secret.
So why all the conspiracy theories?
The answer must be that such theories keep people from having to face their own errors and change their minds. If Lyndon Johnson really killed Kennedy or Bush secretly plotted 9/11 or the American military is killing people in order to steal their oil, then you can continue to claim ours is the worstest country on earth or that all cultures are morally equal or that you’re the champion of the little guy or whatever other idiocy makes you feel virtuous in your bed at night. If none of that stuff is true, if things are pretty much as they seem, if America is trying to do good imperfectly in an imperfect world, then you’re just another crank mouthing off at the dinner table and you’ve got to face up to that and make a change and do something with your life.
Nah. Better to invent a conspiracy.