Dr.Neil's picture


One of the things I hear and read about a lot these days is the notion of conspiracy theories. I am sure you have run across this as well, as many media sources often quote it as a phenomenon amongst ordinary men that suggests a fragility of the mind. All the way from the top on down, from PhD's to political commentators, to refined journalists (as of yet I believe there still are a few), to talk show hosts, it has become a conceptual mindset worthy of ridicule and belittlement to offer an alternative plausible theory to a seemingly random but catastrophic world event. I am here to say: I beg to differ. But I will not beg. I will simply explain the differences between a delusional thought system, plagued with unprovable, unverifiable implausibilities that simply stretch the imagination further into the domain of 'belief', as opposed to the development of a keen awareness of possible or at least plausible knowledge systems that lend a strong hand in allowing a person to clearly see what is truly going on, often right before their eyes. Actually, more like strategically placed in their intellectual blind spots.

On this note, I will offer up the argument that ridiculous conspiracy theory does exist, because it is not fully understood as a separate entity of critical thinking. If you came to BELIEVE that the government is hiding crucial evidence from the populace about the existence of extraterrestrial encounters, for instance, I could be with the argument that you are engaging in baseless, but understandably baseless, conspiratal thinking. The reason is that in order to first propose rationally that the government is hiding these facts, one must first accept the notion that these facts are plausible at their source. Do aliens exist? Have they reached earth? Have people been abducted by them? If so, then perhaps the government would have a set of reasons for limiting this information to the public, at least at first. But what about the logic of the first set of questions? We currently do not know whether or not there is life on other planets, and to our knowledge, no communications have been intercepted from deep space that would so far suggest that there is life that is developed enough to reach us. There are so many brilliant theories and speculations on this subject, that the research one can do on it is wonderfully mindboggling and endless. But that's the point. To assert that there is a government conspiracy to hide evidence of a crash landing at Roswell - or whatever - lacks the logical spinal chord necessary to extend that thought to a plausible theory. If you research the search for extraterrestrial life as a subject, and the neurosciences concerning exactly why and how people seem to experience what occurs for them as alien abductions, then you will begin to realize that this view, or theory, lacks the basic backbone necessary to even be considered plausible.

I am only using this as an example. But the idea is that people often get a 'high' from developing an 'opinion' on something, that really forms just from an exciting thought they had, into a system of belief that becomes their pet. A more plausible theory might go something like this: The government is thrilled that you are wasting your time on the scattered belief in alien abductions, because what is truly going on can continue without public knowledge or interference. The conspiracy theory is used as a smoke screen for the other CT - critical thinking. By continuously fostering certain conspiracy theories, while ridiculing the very existence of them simultaneously, anyone in charge can virtually keep the public in a frantic whirlwind of uncertainty and foolish guessing games. True, there are those of us who are so cynical, we rarely, if ever, accept any news at face value anymore. Two things: 1) I wonder why that happened and 2) Good. Face value is enough when it slaps you in the face. Anything else is usually worthy of at least your initial rational analysis. This is something called a 'healthy cynicism', and the ones who criticize it are often the ones who do not possess the ability to use it effectively. Or they are often so overwhelmed by what is possible outside the box of face value, they would rather jump all over you for being a critical thinker than even begin to accept what you are saying as possibly true.

Many things may truly happen as they are reported. Not everything is a conspiracy. But let's look at what a conspiracy is. When you plan a surprise birthday party for a friend, is that not to some extent a very minor form of conspiracy? The end result does not have to be negative or catastrophic, it can be a fun party! Are there not lies that are told, information that is withheld, secret meetings and phone calls, even a decoy plan that is developed and believed by the birthday boy/girl at first: " Oh, we're going to your favorite place for dinner...." And a number of people who are told to keep their mouths shut. The larger the number, the harder it is to keep the party a surprise. Even so, the birthday person may even suspect what is going on - from a look, a tone of voice, an inconsistency in logic or behavior patterns.

The point is to me that it is dangerous to assume, or let others tell you, that critical thinking that involves the deception of others is not a vital and important consideration of the outcome of world events. Just because you cannot provide paper proof of a secret design, does not mean it is implausible. In many cases, if you could actually prove anything , you would disappear. But it is a well-documentated fact that the way the media presents the war in Iraq, for example, colors our perception of what is actually going on there. Marketing strategists use design in advetisements all the time. Often it is very effective. Without the active interventions of our own cognitive minds, we would be susceptible to all kinds of manipulation. We already are, even with the notion of the CT.

The other differentiation I can make here is the notion of a DESIGN, rather than a conspiracy. The negative connotation attributed to conspiracy shades all other elements of it, including something I call a PROACTIVE DESIGN. Many things are designed a certain way, and are maintained that way for the purposes of a larger framework. For example, credit cards are issued eagerly to young students in the age of materialism. Why? Not everyone, but many of us will have a little problem with overspending at first. Then come the interest rates. Then come the consolidators and finally, the credit scores. Then the mortgage application. Then the bank's reason for charging you a higher rate. Then credit card companies send you more applications for their card. Then the bank offers you a great (or better) rate to 'refinance'. So now you can get the second car and go to Europe. Then comes school and school loans. $ 100, 000 for an undergraduate education. So as you are paying off two mortgages, credit cards, and a now a school loan, the people in power try to minimize and privatize social security, so you take out a 401k or an IRA. Phhhewww! A conspiracy against the middle class? More like a 'design'. It's not the way it is. It's the way it's been designed. If you see this, you can then make choices around it.

It's not a safe assumption that many of the world's occurences happen without elite meetings and summits to decide how they will occur. This is vastly different from believing in alien abductions, or that the holocaust never happened (another beauty - I guess my step-grandparents were dreaming up the whole thing, then) To suggest it didn't occur is delusional. To inquire as to HOW it actually came about could be considered CT. In other words, who started WW2? Hitler? Yes. But was he acting alone? When he became chancellor of Germany in 1933, was anybody else pulling that string? I don't know something you don't, but this is a powerful example of how critical thinking separates itself from the simplistic notion of conspiracy theory. If you research it and turn up with nothing, well, then your instintive hunch proved temporarily false. Admit it. And then do some more research, and you will probably be amazed at what other unexpected things you find. I know what you are all thinking about. September 11th. This one is a perfect example, and a more recent and raw one, as to what I mean. Richard Clarke, who I admire in many ways, said in response to the theory that it was planned that "Congress is not that organized. It's impossible to expect these people to keep a secret that large amongst themselves." ( I am paraphrasing Mr. Clarke) He's right, especially this congress. But - who said it was congress? Perhaps it could have been designed without any lower end congressmen being involved? And the debate can and should go on. CT, not CT. C?

If you are going to offer up a hypothesis about something, you should rightfully expect someone to say, 'Ok on what are you basing that theory?' Then present your facts, figures and hunches, and let them sort themselves out by discussion and research before becoming so certain about one thing or another. But don't allow someone to simply dismiss your thought processes as falling into a capsulized label that we in North America are so good at doing , entitled 'Ah - another conspiracy theorist." I would simply reply to them, "No, not a conspiracy theorist. Elvis is dead. I have not been abducted lately. Just a critical thinker, sir." I do not get high on conspiracies. I am not trying to spice up my life by searching for them. But I am more concerned about how low we can fall without the cognitive muscles needed to spot the man behind the curtain, in the merry old land of Oz.