Friday, October 25, 2013

To question, or not to question, that is the question

There’s a lengthy and interesting comment thread related to “conspiracy theories” and those who believe them under a Reddit article today. Some of the comments revolve around the question of where to draw the line between what could be characterized as legitimate concerns about something and the undeniably wacky beliefs of some theorists.

I’m not sure where that line should be. There are people who believe that the Bush family and other elites are actually shape-shifting Reptilians from another planet. Crazy, right? Yet how many people in 1964 questioned the government’s story about what happened in the Gulf of Tonkin, the incident (that never happened) used to justify a dramatic build up of American forces in Vietnam? There may have been some, but they were probably not taken seriously and marginalized. Same thing for the rush to war in Iraq. In the 1950s, if you claimed that the CIA was conducting experiments on unsuspecting American citizens testing mind-altering drugs and bacteria strains, do you think you would have been taken seriously?

Just go back a few years. Would you have believed your neighbor if he said that the government was listening in on everyone’s phone calls and reading everyone’s emails? My point is that there are conspiracies in the real world. People who were considered nuts or anti-American for claiming that the CIA was assassinating people and overthrowing governments around the world during the 1950s were right. We can’t legitimately lump all conspiracy theorists or theories together, yet that happens all the time.

The mainstream news media is particularly guilty of ridiculing or marginalizing those who question the status quo. Subjects such as UFOs, 9/11, the Kennedy assassination and others are either ignored or laughed off as absurd. When it comes to government conspiracies, it is in Washington’s best interest to characterize questioners as being kooks who are out of touch with reality, and they get plenty of support from the press.

Conspiracy theories are just that, theories. Some theories have more evidence to support them than others. The theory of evolution has mountains of research and data behind it. The theory of alien bases on the moon does not. Yet, I think it is lazy, and sometimes dangerous, to live an unquestioning life, and I sometimes wonder who is more out of touch with reality, the people who question the official story or the people who accept as true everything they are told?

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