Listener Feedback: Conspiracies
Skeptoid answers questions sent in by listeners pertaining to conspiracy theories.
by Brian Dunning
May 28, 2013
It's time again to open the mailbag and respond to some listener feedback, this time focusing on conspiracy theory episodes. But before addressing any specific emails today, I want to respond to the argument that's far and away the most common regarding conspiracies. That argument is that real conspiracies do exist, therefore conspiracy theories are plausible. Julius Caesar was killed by a conspiracy. The Watergate scandal was executed by a conspiracy. The Iran-Contra affair was a conspiracy. Since conspiracies do exist and have been confirmed, how can I say that no conspiracy theory has ever been proven true? And, just so there's no ambiguity, I do say that: No conspiracy theory has ever been proven true. I stand by this statement as fact, given the distinction between a real conspiracy and a conspiracy theory. So let's define that distinction clearly.
Conspiracies, as we refer to them, are crimes or schemes carried out in secret by a group of conspirators. Sometimes they are discovered, like the three I just mentioned; and others have undoubtedly successfully remained undetected. These clearly exist. But they are quite distinct from what we colloquially call a conspiracy theory, which is claimed knowledge of a conspiracy that has not yet been discovered by law enforcement or Congress or the newspapers or the general public. They are, in fact, future predictions. They are the beliefs or conclusions of the theorist that they predict will eventually come true or be discovered. Here are three examples. For decades, some conspiracy theorists have claimed prescient knowledge that the North American nations will merge into a single police state using a currency called the Amero; that has never come true. Many conspiracy theorists claim that 9/11 was conducted by the American government; that has never been discovered. They've claimed a huge number of alternate hypotheses of who killed John F. Kennedy, and none of those have ever been discovered. The list goes on, and on, and on. Unlike a Julius Caesar conspiracy discovered when or after it took place, a conspiracy theory is of a discovery that has yet to take place.
I maintain my claim that a real conspiracy is very distinct from a hypothesized conspiracy; and I maintain my claim that no hypothesized conspiracy, believed within the conspiracy theory community, has ever subsequently been discovered to be true.
So with that stated, in what I hope are no uncertain terms, let's proceed to some feedback. Keith from Johannesburg commented on the episode about free energy machines, aka perpetual motion:
Nicola Tesla's Wardenclyffe Tower may just have been such an example, but we do not know thanks to J.P. Morgan's greed.
Greedy companies suppressing miraculous technologies has long been a mainstay of the conspiracy theory community. The idea's only problems are that it's patently illogical and demonstrably untrue. There is not a single concept for any type of perpetual motion machine that you can't freely purchase or even download from the Internet. YouTube is peppered with perpetual motion guys, which is hard to reconcile with the existence of a suppression conspiracy.
Similarly, you can't find a single example of a theoretically plausible energy source not under development by some company somewhere. Naive investors even get snookered into funding implausible energy sources, such as perpetual motion, and it happens every day. Again, hardly indicative of suppression.
To address Keith's specific example, Tesla's tower at Wardenclyffe was not a free energy machine. It was a radio tower. Tesla described it himself in his own words:
As soon as it is completed, it will be possible for a business man in New York to dictate instructions, and have them instantly appear in type at his office in London or elsewhere. He will be able to call up, from his desk, and talk to any telephone subscriber on the globe, without any change whatever in the existing equipment. An inexpensive instrument, not bigger than a watch, will enable its bearer to hear anywhere, on sea or land, music or song, the speech of a political leader, the address of an eminent man of science, or the sermon of an eloquent clergyman, delivered in some other place, however distant.
J. P. Morgan had been one of the tower's financiers, and had given Tesla $150,000, an incredible sum in 1902. Morgan and the other investors backed out not because they were trying to suppress it, but because Tesla's system had already become obsolete before it was finished. Marconi had already beaten him to the market, selling successful radio equipment with no need for Tesla's absurdly elaborate, and unproven, tower. As we've discussed before on Skeptoid, nothing about Tesla's work was magical, miraculous, or remains unknown to today's engineers.
Bob from Canada offered this in response to the episode about the conspiracy theories swarming around the Rothschild banking family:
That Mayer (Rothschild)'s original sentiment about control of money still thrives against the interests of the 99% is an important truth Brian Dunning would apparently prefer we didn't think about. Take one sleeping pill a day is the message of Skeptoid. Till when?
This is really just a restatement of the old saying "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing." Thus Skeptoid is advising you to take a sleeping pill, do nothing, and allow the evil of the Rothschild banking family to have its way with you. Well, that's a fine saying, and certainly it's good advice when there is some evil on your horizon. But are the Rothschilds truly the evil you should be worrying about? The relentless pursuit of money is not unique to any one family, one bank, one company. Pretty much every company that's ever been in business has pursued profit, many of them relentlessly; from your neighbor who's an aggressive realtor, to the hundreds of gray-market shops in every downtown, to the small private company making a fortune selling Humvee armor to the US military. Indeed, every one of us who draws a paycheck from work does so in order to make money. Clearly, the pursuit of profit alone is insufficient to prove evil.
Bob says this pursuit of profit thrives against the interests of the 99%, a reference to the whole "Occupy" movement from a couple years ago in which many worldwide protested against what they called the 1%, who were loosely defined as the richest people. First of all, I don't agree at all that the richest 1% are the same as the most evil 1%. Nor do I agree that evil is not found among the poorest 99%. Fearing the wealthy because they're evil is like fearing Lexus owners because they eat Ritz crackers. If you're looking for evil people, look for evil people.
Lumbergh from Chicago wrote in about the Bilderberg Group, an annual conference of leaders from business and politics in Western Europe and the United States. Many believe the Bilderbergers are actually controlling the world:
The elite leaders do not sit around PLANNING world domination. They do not need to scheme to take control of this world. They ALREADY HAVE IT...
The notion that the world has any "one" controlling power is another mainstay of the conspiracy community. It's easy to conceive of a world that's very simple; it has secret elite leaders, many unaware "sheeple", and a few enlightened "patriots" with a unique insight into the deception. Unfortunately (or rather, fortunately) our world is a little more complicated than that. The world of politics is not a single monolithic entity, it is a many-headed Hydra. Many scramble for power. Nations are far more likely to split up than to merge, as everyone seeks sovereignty; from 1900 to 2000, the number of countries in the world tripled from 74 to 209. A study of history shows that peoples want to shape their own destinies. There are scant examples of any nations willingly giving up their own sovereignty.
Yet this is what many conspiracy theorists allege, that virtually all nations have (for some reason) willfully handed control over to some shadowy authority, and now put on only a show of sovereignty to keep the "sheeple" feeling secure. Those who self-identify as "patriots" claiming special insight into this have failed to make a convincing argument that nations like the United States, China, North Korea, Iran, and Israel don't actually want sovereignty.
What's often fun is when some little hint of a conspiracy theory actually appears in real governmental proceedings. A great example was when U.S. Representative Dennis Kucinich introduced the "Space Preservation Act of 2001" in which he tried to govern a whole list of possible future weapons, mentioning chemtrails, plasma guns, psychotronic weapons, weather manipulation, and other imaginary sci-fi devices. George from California, evidently a chemtrail enthusiast, offered the perfect conspiracy theorist perception on the Kucinich bill:
...The simple fact of (chemtrails') inclusion in Kucinich's list of weapons systems was deemed a major breakthrough by tens of thousands of citizens and researchers across the country who have been monitoring and investigating the spraying going on in the skies of America for the past three years.
If chemtrail believers are taking this as an official acknowledgement that chemtrails, plasma guns, and climate weapons exist, they do so at their peril. The problem is that lawmakers worldwide are, in general, no smarter than you or I. Many of the United States recognize "emotional defects" in real estate properties, including hauntings. Just as Papua New Guinea is considering repealing their Sorcery Act, Indonesia's 2013 criminal code now outlaws the practice of black magic. At least two counties in Washington state have laws protecting Bigfoot as an endangered species, and it's been proposed as a federal law in Canada. New York's penal code outlaws fortune telling. And to cap it off, the United Nations has an official ambassador to extraterrestrial aliens. These are actually on the books; unlike the Space Preservation Act, which died in committee, as did its two later re-introductions.
What really gets me is that the people who tout Kucinich's dead bill as proof that chemtrails exist are concerned only about the chemtrails. Because, in that same section of the bill, it also talks about "weapons designed to damage space or natural ecosystems (such as the ionosphere and upper atmosphere) or climate, weather, and tectonic systems with the purpose of inducing damage or destruction upon a target population or region on earth or in space." The government is manipulating climate and the Earth's tectonic plates, and the conspiracy theorists are worried about the chemtrails??
Or, is it instead possible that the chemtrails are, as Kucinich's language stated, "unacknowledged or as yet undeveloped means"? He was trying to cover as many possible future weapons — existent or not — as he could think of, to prevent their use.
Whether you lean toward conspiracy theories or whether you give the world credit for being just a little more complicated than any one person fully comprehends, keep that feedback rolling in. There is no discussion without dissenting viewpoints, and I'm ready to answer.
By Brian Dunning
Cite this article:
Dunning, B. "Listener Feedback: Conspiracies." Skeptoid Podcast. Skeptoid Media,
28 May 2013. Web.
25 May 2018. <http://skeptoid.com/episodes/4364>
References & Further Reading
Burnett, T. Conspiracy Encyclopedia. New York: Franz Steiner Verlag, 2006. 108-109.
Griffin, G. The Creature from Jekyll Island: A Second Look at the Federal Reserve. Westlake Village: American Media, 1994.
O'Neill, J. Prodigal Genius: The Life of Nikola Tesla. New York: I. Washburn, Inc., 1944.
Pastor, R. Toward a North American Community: Lessons from the Old World for the New. Washington, DC: Institute for International Economics, 2001.
Soniak, M. "4 BR, 2 BA, 1 Ghost: What the Law Says About Selling Haunted Houses." Mental Floss. Mental Floss Magazine, 31 Oct. 2011. Web. 21 May. 2013. <http://mentalfloss.com/article/29123/4-br-2-ba-1-ghost-what-law-says-about-selling-haunted-houses>
Venezia, T. "UN Names Official Space Host." New York Post. NYP Holdings, Inc., 26 Nov. 2010. Web. 20 May. 2013. <http://www.nypost.com/p/news/international/un_names_official_space_host_ltMCKbI4WmIPKteaugcanM>
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