I write this because I am deeply concerned about my brother. For years he has been deeply emersed in the turbulent seas of conspiracy theories. He subscribes to the whole package. Satanists control the banking system. They plan to set up a tyrannical world government. They organized the 9/11 attacks and the 7/7 bombings in London, if not just all major terrorist attacks around the globe. They murdered JFK and Martin Luther King Jr, and most of the musicians that have died in recent years. They even planned all of the latest mass shootings in an effort to disarm the US public before finally making their last grab for global tyranny.
My brother is not evil, nor is he stupid. In fact he excelled in mathematics and playing chess at a young age. But his mental illness is clear. However, what I find disturbing is that the way the media, schools and Hollywood tackle the issue seems to only encourage his beliefs.
In many cases, instead of just logically explaining why these theories don´t hold water, the whole mantra of how crazy and irrational these people are is simply parroted. Sometimes conspiracy theorists are even labelled as dangerous.
If we truly claim to support free speech, it is not fair to frame the debate in such a way that defines what is acceptable to think and what is not. Please consider how the few examples I have found serve to only encourage his theories, and to further ostracize him from normal society.
First of all. It is not fair to work from the assumption that any conspiracy theory is instantly false. Even though it might seem obvious to us that the scale of the deception required for many of those conspiracies to work is completely unrealistic, that is not an argument to those who believe that the media and government are in on it.
Second, those who keep talking about the "psyche" of conspiracy theorists and how they have an urge to look for extra-ordinary and exciting answers to simple questions might appeal to us, this does nothing to help my brother and in his mind only diverts attention from particular topics that arouse his suspicion.
I want to start with a clip from 1997 from the Mel Gibson Hollywood film, Conspiracy Theory:
Notice how Mel´s character claims he can not prove any of this. Anyone who has ever encountered a conspiracy theorist know that they ALWAYS claim to have proof, and if you´d simply give it proper attention they could convince you.
When asked who "THEY" are he also comes up short with answers. Almost all of them point to the top of the banking pyramid and corporate elite.
Fine, perhaps this is only one character who is paranoid and believes in these theories. It is not however, an accurate portrayal of these individiuals, a fact which is obvious to my brother and only further fuels his confirmation bias, that this is by design. But there is more.
Then there is a very common thread we see everywhere in the mainstream, which is to exaggerate the conspiracy theories to absurdity with a sarcastic voice. There are so many examples of this that I can barely pick out the best. Penn & Teller devoted a show on "conspiracy theories", the introduction is a good example of this:
What purpose does this serve? How is this supposed to convince my brother? He knows that this is not what he is claiming. So how is this an argument? It does nothing but to ridicule him and when he sees this he experiences only that, ridicule. His views are not being challenged or confronted, simply misrepresented in order to make fun of him. Why misrepresent and exaggerate these theories? This only serves to further validate his opinion that a part of the conspiracy is to demonize and ridicule those who subscribe to them.
Are they not absurd enough as it is?
So why exaggerate? I don´t get it.
Then there is also the notion that some of his theories are somehow hurtful to the victims of certain tragedies, such as 9/11 or Sandy Hook. It should be obvious that in his mind he thinks that uncovering the truth behind these tragedies is honoring the victims, not to cause them harm. So this notion does nothing to help him deal with or correct his misconceptions, but again, only serves to further convince him that he is being unfairly attacked by an uncompromising media empire.
Why is it offending to the victims of 9/11 to suggest a conspiracy might have taken place? Is it offensive to be wrong? If an investigator comes up with an alternative theory to a murder case, is that offensive to the murder victim? If I was murdered I would want all possibilities explored without prejudice. Still, this is something both Obama and Bush have stated explicitly:
"These are not opinions to be debated, these are facts to be dealt with." Obama says, and Bush stated:
"Let us never tolerate outrageous conspiracy theories about September 11. Malicious lies that attempt to shift the blame away from the guilty"
Why should we "never tolerate" alternative theories. Why not simply confront them and try to make sense of them instead of suggesting that those who have these theories are "malicious" and somehow condone the attacks or the terrorists? This is surely not the goal of any conspiracy theorist I know, so why insinuate that?
What is so harmful about openly discussing a subject, even if some people have controversial views about them?
By constantly attacking, ridiculing and accusing people like my brother of having evil intentions, we are simply maintaining the "Us vs. them" mentality. Especially to those who believe in these things. Why not address the root of the problem? Why not actively engage in a rational and open debate about the controversial evidence that they are suggesting points to a conspiracy?
Here is another example, where Bill Maher calls those who believe in the 9/11 conspiracy theories crazy lunatics and if Paxel is right for them:
What if he would instead actually raise this topic where two people with opposing views would debate for example the collapse of building 7?
The conspiracy theorists claim that this building was brought down in a controlled demolition. That would mean it would have had to be rigged with explosives before the events on 9/11 unfolded. There are many experts available who can explain how the debris from the twin towers damaged this building and caused fires that led to the collapse. Why not have them on and rationally debate these guys?
I know a lot of you say that "conspiracy theorists can not be reasoned with" but have we ever really tried? Has there been an open televised debate about this subject were those who doubt the official version have been given ample time to put forward their case, and then a panel of expert can correct the misconceptions? Is it possible that this would do more to put these theories to rest than the tactics currently being employed?
Could this be why instead of us seeing the number of conspiracy theorists decline, they are constantly one the rise? Polls
A staggering 22% of American believed in 2008 that the US government or Israel was behind the 9/11 attacks. That is almost 70 million people! Now are we going to keep ostracizing, ridiculing and condemning all these people as crazy? Does that seem to be working?
If we are in fact afraid that these people might harm us, why do we speak to them in such a demeaning manner? Why do we seek to further alienate and enfuriate them?
Another thing that is constantly being suggested is that conspiracy theorists are paranoid. My brother may be mentally unstable, but he is not paranoid. If he was he surely would not be writing blogs about these issues, making videos and talking to anyone he can about them. If he was really paranoid he would be scared that "they" would come after him for doing so.
The most recent example of these kind counter productive tactics is the way the media is handling controversies surrounding the Sandy Hook shootings. An article on Salon.com "Meet the Sandy Hook Truthers" attempts to fight off conspiracy theories surrounding the events with all of the tactics mentioned above. To start with, the title of the article labels anyone with alternative theories about the attacks with a negative term, associated with 9/11 conspiracies and "birthers". It then goes on to call the people who have these theories crazy and simply mentions some of the theories, stating they are outrageous without addressing why they are false. It also falsely claims that the first result is someone mocking Emilie Parker´s dad for crying. If you read the article he refers to no such mockery takes place.
Anderson Cooper than devotes two segments on ridiculing these theories. Again, there is no lack of condemning words for those that have these theories, but the details of why so many people have them are either ignored or simply dismissed as being ridiculous. Who was the guy being chased by the police in the woods and why is this not a question worth addressing? Even i would like to know. These people are "sickening", "ignorant" and "horrifically outrageous" Starting to feel trolled anyone?
These type of methods ensure that my brother will always feel that the media is against him and that it isn´t actively trying to investigate matters. Let´s change course. Let's rationalize the discourse. Have an open, public dialogue without demonizing or attacking each other. This will only result in them calling us "brainwashed sheep" in return and no progress can be made. Maybe I can start having normal conversation with my brother again during family dinners. I don't want him to think that I, and most of mainstream society, are against him, simply because of his beliefs, who we are all free to have.