Why the “Free Press” can’t be trusted to comment on Conspiracy Theories
Sunday November 20, 2011 4:48 pm Leave a comment
I started writing a chapter on Conspiracy Theories five years ago and found it increasingly complex and difficult. Articles like this one from Nick Harding – with their glib simplistic dismissals and implicit support for the “authorities” – are, I have to say, a major part of the problem rather than solution.
They are NEVER going to change the mindset of a conspiracy believer any more than Richard Dawkins is EVER going to change the mindset of a religious believer and, as my regular readers will know, I’m a fond supporter of Dawkins and agree with almost every argument he puts. Nevertheless I recognise the futility of his often antagonistic approach.
This particular article isn’t antagonistic. It’s patronizing and guilty of the selectivity it correctly criticises. It’s also shallow and vacuous. Harding tells us for instance:
“Studies have shown that people who are prone to believe in conspiracies display an innate bias towards information which supports that conspiracy, no matter how spurious that information is and no matter how solid the evidence against the conspiracy is.”
Now substitute phrases of your choice for the words “the Conspiracy” (or “conspiracies”), in the above sentence and you’ll see it remains just as valid. You may use the word “belief” or “policy” to suppress clumsy construction. And we can change the tense to reflect historical events
Studies have shown that people who were prone to believe in Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq, displayed an innate bias towards information which supported that belief, no matter how spurious that information was and no matter how solid the evidence against the belief was.
Studies have shown that people who are prone to believe in The War On Drugs display an innate bias towards information which supports that policy, no matter how spurious that information is and no matter how solid the evidence against the policy is
Studies have shown that people who are prone to believe in Creationism display an innate bias towards information which supports that belief, no matter how spurious that information is and no matter how solid the evidence against the belief is.
and so on. This behaviour is what psychologists call “confirmation bias” and exists in ALL forms of human intellectual activity from the most respectable (peer-reviewed science) to the least (racist slurs). It is clearly present in this article.
“The single strongest predictor of whether you believe in a conspiracy theory is whether you believe in other conspiracy theories, even when there is no connection”
and therein lies the ELEPHANT in the room!
SOME of the conspiracy theories (which were – in their time – rejected just as vigorously as, say, today’s 9-11 conspiracies, before they were finally exposed) turn out to be absolutely true (Harding even mentions a token one – Watergate. An interesting choice as we’ll see)
Let’s just summarise some of the main PROVEN Conspiracy Theories using WIKI references (click on the links and you can see their full arguments and sources which you can check for yourself) None of these examples are disputed by reputable academics.
Operation Gladio The clandestine NATO “stay-behind” operation in (initially Italy but also several other European Countries) after World War II.
While its existence is not disputed, its purpose is. Was it to form the core of resistance in the event of Soviet Invasion? (a perfectly legitimate defence stratagem) Or was it intended to subvert the political process in the event of a local shift towards support for communism? (an illicit interference with the internal affairs of a sovereign state) Actions, as they say, speak louder than words, and, as you’ll see from that wiki article, what few actions have been pinned on Gladio point clearly in the direction of subversion.
And part of the reason many people reach that conclusion was the 1971 discovery (after an illegal but obviously necessary break in to the FBI offices) of:
COINTELPRO … a series of covert, and often illegal, projects conducted by the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) aimed at surveilling, infiltrating, discrediting, and disrupting domestic political organizations. Tactics included discrediting targets through psychological warfare, planting false reports in the media, smearing through forged letters, harassment, wrongful imprisonment, extralegal violence and assassination.
and just to show that the Americans are not the only guilty government:
Operation INFEKTION was a KGB disinformation campaign to spread information that the United States invented HIV/AIDS as part of a biological weapons research project at Fort Detrick, Maryland. The Soviet Union used it to undermine the United States’ credibility, foster anti-Americanism, isolate America abroad, and create tensions between host countries and the U.S. over the presence of American military bases (which were often portrayed as the cause of AIDS outbreaks in local populations).
It must be said, though that American government conspiracies are so much more professional.
Project MKULTRA, or MK-ULTRA, was the code name for a covert, illegal CIA human experimentation program, run by the CIA’s Office of Scientific Intelligence. This official U.S. government program began in the early 1950s, continuing at least through the late 1960s, and it used U.S. and Canadian citizens as its test subjects. The published evidence indicates that Project MKULTRA involved the use of many methodologies to manipulate individual mental states and alter brain functions, including the surreptitious administration of drugs and other chemicals, hypnosis, sensory deprivation, isolation, verbal and sexual abuse, as well as various forms of torture.
and, as you may be aware, the CIA was also responsible for numerous Drug Trafficking scandals. At one time, it was almost certainly the most prolific importer of illegal cocaine into the United States, most notoriously as a result of the Iran Contra affair.
However, my personal opinion is that – bad as those practices were – the secondary conspiracy is, in the long run, more sinister and more important. I refer to the “Conspiracy of Silence” by the mainstream media who, in this instance and many many others, have pointedly suppressed their coverage. We’ll come back to that below.
then we start getting serious:
Operation Northwoods was a series of false-flag proposals that originated within the United States government in 1962. The proposals called for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), or other operatives, to commit acts of terrorism in U.S. cities and elsewhere. These acts of terrorism were to be blamed on Cuba in order to create public support for a war against that nation
This latter, firmly on the public record, is the chief reason why 9-11 conspiracies still thrive and cannot be dismissed as “irrational”. We KNOW that governments (not, by any stretch just the American governments by the way) are perfectly happy to (at least) consider attacking their own citizens when what they perceive as “the greater good” requires it. It is also the chief reason we should never trust government and should require them to operate (if at all) under the rules of Trusted Surveillance.
I haven’t got time to deal with the extensive list of proven and “alleged but probable” “False Flag” attacks we know about from the historical record, but they don’t help “government’s” case one iota.
Nor have I the time to deal with fundamental questions which should be dealt with before we even begin to discuss examples like these: for instance “what is a conspiracy?” or even to define the different classes of Conspiracy Theory or different classes of believer/skeptic. These will have to wait for the Chapter to be published.
My chief concern right now arises from Harding’s observation:
“A mistrust of government is a key factor behind many theories.”
For me, this is actually the healthiest aspect of Conspiracy theories. It reveals that We The People are not as stupid as Government takes for granted.
Government has worked for a couple of thousand years to earn the right to be distrusted and no intelligent student of history would argue that, in general, government SHOULD be trusted. Remarkably few examples exist of governments which deserved to be trusted for more than a few months. I challenge anyone to demonstrate otherwise.
My main concern about the existence of the plethora of Implausible Conspiracy Theories (many of which he lists) is that they provide camouflage for the Plausible Conspiracy Theories, in EXACTLY the way demonstrated by Harding’s article. i.e. he can and does imply that because – undeniably – 90% of conspiracy theories are complete bollocks, that we can safely ignore the rest and continue to trust those authorities he so obviously supports.
Most disappointingly, Harding’s article illustrates how the “Free Press” who should be part of the solution have become a major part of the problem. Their role should include the exposure of the real conspiracies (like those above) and relentless pursuit of the perpetrators until they have been hounded from office and subjected to the appropriate legal penalties. He chose to mention one rare example of how the press can and did do that – Watergate. Given the ongoing nature and sheer quantity of such real conspiracies, one has to ask the question: why did he have to go back to the 1970s for an example of the Free Press doing its job properly?
And the most likely answer is supplied by another conspiracy theory which, to date, remains in the “unproven but probable” pile: viz Operation Mockingbird, where “Congressional hearings in 1976 proved CIA had been paying of editors and reporters in most mainstream media outlets”
I don’t know whether the CIA is still doing that, or whether other channels of influence are now in use but I am thoroughly convinced that something we don’t know about (yet) persuades the mainstream media to continue suppressing its coverage of MAJOR scandals, corruption, court decisions and other hugely significant evidence of exactly why we should NEVER trust government.
In conclusion, Harding blames “modern technology” for the rampant spread of conspiracy theories. In contrast, given the abject surrender of the “Free Press” it seems to me that the only way we’ll ever get to the truth which exposes both the false and real conspiracies is the very technology he’s criticising. Out here, in cyberspace, we don’t have to obey the gatekeepers. We’re free to conduct our own research and reach our own conclusions.
Neither the “Free Press” nor the Authoritarians are comfortable with that state of affairs.