HOW TO MAKE SENSE OF CONSPIRACY THEORIES
© copyright by Rob Ager Dec 2010
HOW DO CONSPIRACY THEORIES AFFECT SOCIETY?
Conspiracy theories have played an important role in human history. During times of international war politicians and military leaders on both sides of a conflict will suspect that their opponents are engaged in several conspiracies. They will thus scrutinize their enemies’ actions and rhetoric carefully. Conspiracy theories are in fact an essential tool in warfare and are required for effective anticipation and countering of enemy strategy.
In some instances conspiracy theories have played key roles in mobilizing opposition to fascist regimes. For example, pamphlets circulated during the French Revolution contained fictional pornographic illustrations and text that brought disrepute to aristocratic rulers.
Conspiracy theories about the ruling influence of Britain were central to the American Revolution. Without that widely felt distrust and paranoia America would most likely have remained a British colony to this day.
On the other hand conspiracy theories can contribute to the creation of corrupt establishments. A classic example was the Nazi dissemination of conspiracy theories about Jewish / Zionist covert influence over world affairs. And more recently conspiracy theories about Al Queda terrorist networks were used by western governments to justify the introduction of fascist policies both domestically and in foreign affairs.
Conspiracy theories, whether true or false, are an essential part of any revolutionary struggle and those revolutionary struggles can have positive or negative affects. When a powerful organisation or ruling establishment is demonstrated to be broadly corrupt, further suspicions and accusations will be generated that, while not always being true, serve as a reinforcement of popular conviction that institutional reform is desired. The classic modern example of this is the big daddy of modern conspiracy theories, 9/11. The explosion of public belief that 9/11 was an “inside job” didn’t occur until many years after the attacks. The interim period consisted of several unpopular US government activities such as the Iraq War, guantanamo bay and the erosion of the constitution, bill of rights and civil liberties (all under the supposed justification of the “war on terror”). The resulting loss of public trust in the US political establishment made the population a great deal more receptive to many conspiracy theories, including 9/11, that they would otherwise have disregarded. Governments, by their own unpopular actions, often create the public distrust required for conspiracy theories to be widely accepted.
Conspiracy theories have historically affected the ideological and political landscape of human civilization. Communists, capitalists and fascists have all held and disseminated conspiracy theories about each other. As society changes at an ever faster rate and mass communication technology becomes less subject to centralized control, corporate and political corruption has been far more difficult to hide than ever before. This has resulted in a breakdown of public trust in power institutions generally, at the national and international levels, and created a mass appetite for conspiracy theories. Consider these public opinion surveys
In 2009 an E&T news desk poll – 25% of British respondents disagree that man has walked on the moon.
In 2004 a FOX news poll – 66% of US respondents believe that the assassination John F. Kennedy was part of a larger conspiracy.
In 2006 a Scripps Howard/Ohio University poll – 36% percent of respondents overall said it is "very likely" or "somewhat likely" that federal officials either participated in the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon or took no action to stop them "because they wanted the United States to go to war in the Middle East."
In 2008 a 17 country international poll on the topic of who was responsible for the attacks of 9/11 shows a lack of concensus. Among these results those believing 9/11 was carried out by Al Queda include just 57% of British, 16% of Egyptians, 32% of Chinese, 11% of Jordanians, 57% of Russians, 33% of Mexicans and 23% of Indonesians. Those believing 9/11 was carried out by the US government include 23% of Germans, 36% of Turkish, 30% of Mexicans, 15% of Italians, 27% of Palestinians. And those simply saying they don’t know who carried out 9/11 make up another large portion of the public opinion spectrum, including 56% of Chinese.
in 2003 a Gallup poll – only 19% of American respondents believed the assassination of John F. Kennedy was the work of a single man with the remainder being split between conspiracy theories accusing the Mafia, Lyndon Johnson, the Russians, the CIA and Cuba
In 2009 a CNN poll on climate change did not ask whether respondents thought global warming was a deliberate lie, but 54% of respondents expressed that they believed global warming either wasn’t happening or that it was happening, but only due to natural causes.
In 2009 a Gallup poll – 41% of American respondents believe global warming is “exaggerated”
In Feb 2010 a BBC survey - 10% of respondents believe “climate change is happening, but it is environmentalist propaganda that it is man-made” and 25% of respondents believe that “climate change is not happening”.
Univerity of Haifa poll – 40.5% of Israeli Arabs believe the holocaust never occurred.
A 1993 Roper report claimed "More than 1 in 5 Americans said it is possible the Holocaust never happened."
A 2007 European Jewish Press poll claims - "a third of UK youngsters are not sure if the Holocaust was a myth." http://www.ejpress.org/article/13208A 2007 yougov poll concluded - In Britain 1% of respondents believe the holocaust "never happened", 4% believe that "Jewish and pro-Israeli groups deliberately exaggerate its scale", and 17% "don't know".
A 1997 CNN poll claimed " 80 percent of Americans think the government is hiding knowledge of the existence of extraterrestrial life forms."
A 2007 survey of British Muslims revealed that - "52% believe that the British security services have 'made up' evidence to convict terrorist suspects." and "24% believe the four men identified as the July 7th bombers were not actually responsible for the attacks."
As popular conspiracy theories have spread, powerful institutions have formed and disseminated their own conspiracy theories about sectors of the general public. Theories of Al Queda sleeper cells, black supremecists, white supremecists, xenophobic nationalists, paedophile rings and human trafficking have been talked about regularly for years by politicians and the mainstream media. We’re expected to simply believe the various claims that we hear about these supposed groups, while rejecting similar claims made about governments and corporations.
Distrust and suspicion have come to the forefront of social and political debate in the west. Groups of all types and sizes, including governments, attempt to demonize each other rather than engage in mature discussion. This is the role of conspiracy theories in the modern world.
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