A ‘conspiracy’ is a bad thing. It can be, depending on who is actually involved, seditious, evil, treasonous, fraudulent and, perhaps least of all, illegal. It implies a well-coordinated plot to manipulate circumstances for the betterment of an elite few while victimizing the innocent. Some conspiracies are small scale. Like the owner of a cockroach infested restaurant bribing a health inspector to look the other way. Some actual conspiracies are much grander.
In the 1970′s, President Richard Nixon conspired to keep the truth about Watergate a secret. Back in 1932 in Tuskegee, Alabama, the federal government and medical personnel conspired to keep black men with syphilis away from cures, so that they could be studied as they slowly died. The ‘study’ continued for about 40 years. For generations, tobacco companies conspired to keep the serious health risks of cigarettes away from the public.
The history of the United States is full of corporations conspiring to fix prices, eliminate competition and control government and politicians for their own benefit. Real-estate agents have conspired to keep blacks out of ‘white’ neighborhoods. Polluters have conspired to hide from their acts, allowing communities to suffer the ill effects of their negligence. Automobile manufacturers have conspired to keep dangerous equipment on our roads.
These were real and horrible conspiracies. Surely, some Conspiracy Theories are eventually proven to be actual conspiracies. No one leading a conspiracy wants to be found out. Likewise, no one (me!) wants to claim a conspiracy is false and eventually be proven foolishly incorrect. So I’ll avoid confronting specific Conspiracy Theories and focus more on the overall.
Some unproven conspiracies are much easier to believe than others. Was President John F Kennedy killed by a sniper armed with a magic rifle loaded with free-thinking bullets? And some are so bizarre that they are beyond belief. Could the government actually be secretly working with alien lizard beasts?
While some Conspiracy Theories would make excellent science fiction plots (or, actually, really bad science fiction plots), many are far from benign. Conspiracy Theories were used by Hitler and the Nazis to enslave and exterminate the Jews. In the 1950′s, Senator Joseph McCarthy invented a Conspiracy Theory that disloyal communists had infiltrated the highest levels of government and society and used the ensuing panic to trash many a person’s career.
Conspiracy Theories are often used to gain political or financial power. People take advantage of existing prejudices and suspicions to compose intricate plots that appeal to some other people who lack the knowledge and reason to confront them effectively. The result of this is that many people are misled into shifting the blame for real problems from the actual source to imaginary enemies. This leads to a lot of time, energy and intellect being wasted that would be better spent on actually improving our communities and places of work.
These days, bred by the events of 9-11, there is a rash of Conspiracy Theories. In the beginning, the Conspiracy Theories about 9-11 being a plot by the Bush administration to make war against their enemies and make money for the friends were promoted by, mainly, people on the left. And the behavior of the radical Bush/Cheney administration lent a lot of evidence to prop the thinking up to the point that it has become an industry. Many people who began their belief in Conspiracy Theories with 9-11, now adhere to many more Conspiracy Theories. The original idea that 9-11 was planned by Bush/Cheney has often been morphed into a theory that a world-wide cabal of evil-doers (led by communists, or Jews, or pod people, whoever) is plotting global dictatorship. Everything from financial crisis to new roads to comments made by otherwise obscure sources are fit into the theory until believers become so cultishly caught up in the whole thing that they can no longer relate to non-believers. What generally began as a left-wing suspicion, has been turned into right-wing propaganda.