Tonight, Rachel Maddow had a great opening sequence on conspiracy theorists and the thought that they are becoming more mainstream. I don’t know about that. But I have known a lot of conspiracy theorists and I think I know how they think. One thing you have to remember about these people is that they are generally pretty smart. Truly dull people would not be able to follow all of the clever thinking that most conspiracy theories are based on. They are also people with an admirable ability to question authority. Unfortunately, they don’t take it far enough.
I’m very open to conspiracy theories. There are actually a lot of conspiracies. But they don’t often have to do with the government. Well, perhaps it is better to say that the government conspiracies are out in the open. Insider trading for congressional staff? Check! Legal bribery? Check! You get the idea. But faking the moon landing? Well…
You know, during the moon landing, a physicist who watching TV at home, timed how long an astronaut’s belt took to swing back and forth. Based upon that, he calculated the force of gravity on the surface of the moon. That is, to say the least, one of the coolest things ever. But more to the point, I don’t think conspiracists are that good. They would have to have created a special device that looked like a belt swinging. And then they would have had to predict that some nerdy physicist (Redundant, right?) would do the calculation. Or the physicist would have to be part of the conspiracy. And every person you add to a conspiracy adds to the likelihood that someone is going to publish a tell-all book.
When I look into conspiracies, I always find that I’m buried in data that goes against them. The problem, I think, with people who accept conspiracy theories is that they latch on to small inconsistencies. But that’s entropy. If you collect enough data, some of it will be contradictory. And the more you collect, the more contradictory information you will find. And if you are digging for data thinking you’ll find things that go against the official narrative, you will find them. But science (and investigation in general) is about the preponderance of information, not every detail fitting. But it isn’t hard to understand how people become true believers when there are in fact pieces of the puzzle that don’t fit.
There’s a problem with that, of course. It’s like a tinder box. You know how to build a pipe bomb, right? You put a bunch of explosive material in a pipe—match heads will do. Then you close it off with the exception of one small hole. Put a fuse in the hole and there you go. But as long as you don’t light the fuse (and use match heads that are pretty stable), the bomb isn’t likely to explode unless you light the fuse. And that’s kind of what the conspiracy theory community is like: an unlit pipe bomb.
Timothy McVeigh didn’t blow up the Oklahoma City federal building in a vacuum. He was part of a larger community that was obsessed with the supposed tyrannical government that murdered poor Randy Weaver at Ruby Ridge. That’s how extremist bombs go off. It is not an overstatement to say that loose talk ends in carnage. There very much is a continuum between Rush Limbaugh and the Oklahoma City bombing. That isn’t to blame Limbaugh, but he is part of the environment. And if the conspiracy theorists are being brought into the mainstream by Republican celebrities, it is a very bad (and dangerous) thing.