Sunday, February 13, 2005

Conspiracy theories and fighting them

Conspiracy theories and populism share a strong distrust of the elite, people in high places, the rich, the powerful, the well-connected - including scientists and other well-educated, pompous pundits. Most varieties of populism see science as symbolizing or representing elitism. Science is complicated and difficult to learn and superficially it seems to be monopolized by, and to support the interest of, the powers that be. Most scientists think, the populist strain of conspiracy theories sees science as traditional rather than revolutionary, conventional rather than going against the grain.

In conspiracy theories, the conspirators control public life by controlling access to valuable information. To fight against a conspiracy, we must first believe in it. And the central idea of conspiracy theories is that we must uncover the truth. As in the X-files, Mulder said it best: "The answers are there. You just have to know where to look." In principle, by telling the truth, we can undermine the control that the powerful have over us.

There are many varieties of conspiracy theories. One major type is the paranormal conspiracy theory. What paranormal conspiracy theories share with conspiracy theories in general is the view that nothing is as it seems. There are evil, shadowy figures who hide valuable information from the public.

In the paranormal conspiracy theory; the underdog tries to reveal the truth about scientifically unexplainable phenomena and undermine, and ultimately defeat, the dominant, establishment view, thereby empowering the public. The underdog is opposed to a "rigid scientific view of the world." In place of this rigid view, the anticonspiracy theory favors intuition, what feels right, what seems right, experience, memory--in short, what contradicts or can't be explained by science.

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