I apologize in advance that this has nothing to do with a Japan update. It's something that's been on my mind a lot lately, and I wanted to get my thoughts out where my friends could read them. Regular updates will continue later.
Last summer, I went up to Dallas with a friend to see Coldplay live. It was my first time going up to the D/FW area without having the airport as my goal, so naturally, my friend Amber and I took some time and wandered about. We went to the West End of Dallas, and realized we were blocks from JFK's assassination site. Being naturally curious and interested in history, Amber and I walked over to Elm Street and discovered a number of people milling about and taking pictures. Realizing that this had to be the spot, Amber and I walked over to a low wall and looked around.
It was then that a homeless man (I think his name was Steve) came over and stood next to us. Steve pointed out to us the "x" in the middle of the road that signifies the exact spot where JFK got shot, and to the grassy knoll where there was supposedly a second gunman. He knew his history, and his also knew his own spin on it - he proceeded to tell us about how the parade had gotten rerouted the day before, putting the Kennedys in prime position for assassination, and how certain things about the day didn't add up. While he told me a lot of ostensibly true things, these kernels of truth were couched in an immensely complex story about how it was the Russian mob who wanted JFK dead, and that's why Lee Harvey was shot too on his route from the jail to the courthouse. This conspiracy theory stretched far and wide, to the highest levels of government. While Steve didn't provide a plausible reason for the Russian mob wanting JFK dead - something that seems to be lacking in a lot of JFK-centric theories - he was adamant that his version of the truth was the right one.
Since that moment, I've been hearing a lot of conspiracy theories about all sorts of different subjects. When one becomes involved in the social justice movement, one unfortunately encounters a lot of...well, odd...people who have their own pet theories to support, and reasons behind causes. I like to think that I will support a cause that leads to justice happening even if it comes from the mouth of someone spouting conspiracy as the cause for injustice, but lately, my patience has been stretching thin.
Conspiracy theories tend to fail a simple test of reason, and seem to function on a plane all their own - the less facts there are to support it, the more some will willingly believe it. Sure, I'm pretty fine with it if you want to believe that we didn't walk on the moon. I can't prove it to you (though, the Mythbusters made a darn good attempt recently) and it doesn't really strike me as something super important to living one's life. My problem comes in when you begin to base your actions, your way of looking at the world, through a filter of conspiracy.
Conspiracy theories are everywhere, from Illuminati symbolism in Lady Gaga's work, to the Catholic Church wanting to hide a sado-masochistic feminist sexual cult, to fluoride in the public water, to aliens. Each of these theories has their own supporters and some of them are harmless - like walking on the moon - but some have serious consequences if believed without independent research or, well, thought.
For example, there's a popular theory out there dealing with medicine and vaccines. The idea is that vaccines are actually pretty well useless, and some are even harmful, but the government and medical companies make money off of them, so they've hushed up the Truth. Based on one article published in the 1990s and then retracted by not only the scientific journal that published it but by nine of the ten authors who wrote it (the last we will get to later) and discredited by the scientific community at large [and most often by independent researchers who have nothing to gain], many contend that the vaccines - specifically an additive necessary to many vaccines called thimerosal - is linked to the recent uptick in the diagnoses of Autism in young children. As a result, those who support this theory do not vaccinate their children, resulting in 1. the child not being able to attend school because of the lack of vaccination, 2. the child being exposed to and vulnerable to several diseases that would otherwise have been harmless - indeed, without vaccines, a child is much more likely to die young.
Counter-arguments are multifarious and multifaceted. My basic question to answer conspiracy theory is "what's the end goal?" Who has something to gain by imparting an incurable condition on hundreds of children? The answer is usually: pharmaceutical companies who stand to make money off of vaccination, the government, which is in the pocket of Big Pharma, and doctors, who are often persuaded to test new drugs via incentive from the pharmaceutical companies.
I don't deny that there is a connection between pharmaceutical companies and the government. There are numerous Senators who are likely in the pocket of Big Medicine, just as an equal amount are in the pocket of Big Agriculture or Big Business. That is simply how things work in our system, and I agree immensely that this is a broken system - lobbyists and their ilk cause as many problems and road blocks to the way our government runs as the government does to itself through infighting, elections, etc. But, could Big Pharma and Big Government, so nestled in each other's pockets, have such far-reaching forethought as to knowingly put out a theory of vaccination, continue it for years and years, teach it to every biology teacher out there, fabricate studies saying vaccines work, and then quash a lone theory that claims there might be a causal relationship between vaccines and autism?
I honestly don't think our government's that smart. I mean, c'mon, Congressmen aren't even that good at hiding their extra-marital affairs. You think a conspiracy that would have to stretch over literally thousands, if not millions, of people, could be orchestrated by men who frequently can't remember to delete incriminating texts from their phones? And what would be the purpose of the hundreds of millions of vaccines donated to third world causes, Doctors Without Borders, disaster relief and free clinics?
Besides that, there are the mounds of proof against such a relationship between thimerosal and autism: remember that article I mentioned earlier? The one man who still says those results are valid lost his medical license in the United Kingdom after he used his son's birthday party as a medical study, giving the small children a test drug without asking for consent or even informing the parents what he was doing. He has now moved to the USA, and is making money off of selling his anti-vaccine conspiracy. There's also the argument that there really hasn't been an uptick in autism - we're just able to catch cases and symptoms earlier, and more kids are being diagnosed as a result. Because autism appears on a spectrum, we're ending up with diagnoses from mild to severe. Because of advancements in diagnostics, it seems like there are more than predicted in the 1990s, but that's only because the prediction was wrong, not that we have seen any actual increase.
The problem with conspiracy theories is that humans like stories. We liked complicated explanations because the simplest solution is often the most boring. It's much more fun to say that Lady Gaga is a mind-controlled robot who references this subtly in her work for those "in the know" than, maybe, just maybe, admitting that she's making some sort of artistic statement that only makes sense to her. Or an even simpler explanation: she just wants to make money by being as outrageous as humanly possible - shock value = monetary value in artistry as of late. But that, of course, doesn't make for a good story. It's much more fun to create the idea that there's this whole sector of elite that want to brainwash the public in order to...to...what now?
And here's where I run up against a brick wall with most conspiracy theories. What purpose do they serve? To what end would this conspiracy aim? Take the Russian mob-JFK assassination: What purpose did the Russian mob have in taking out JFK? Can you point me to tangible changes in policy with LBJ as president that would have served to aid the Russian mob? Is there some reason that taking out a well-liked, good liberal president and replacing him with another well-liked liberal president achieved any conspiratorial end? Or the vaccines - it would seem that knowingly causing autism would raise more costs for the government because, now that the kid is in the school system, they end up spending more of that vaccine cash on getting the kid in special education. It costs thousands more - to the taxpayer, to the government and to the pharmaceutical company - to educate a special needs student than it does an average, not handicapped child. The cost-benefit doesn't seem to work out.
Most conspiracy theories, to me, seem purposeless. While it's fun to tell the story, I have to question why in the world the government would benefit from having a dumber public (fluoride in the water) or why a giant oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is somehow benefiting...well, anyone?
What it comes down to me is paranoia versus hope. With conspiracy theories, what you most often find is a general distrust of authority, to the extent that anyone speaking from an authoritative standpoint on an issue is not to be trusted. What action does this lead to? You don't vaccinate your kid. You don't attend church. You are an independent thinker! Huzzah? So what? You question absolutely everything, to the point where you don't know if you can even trust your own mind because it could be influenced by the entertainment you consume. You go so far down the rabbit hole that you don't know whether or not to trust anyone. You can't enjoy the music you're listening to because of the potential symbolism in it. You can't work at that place because they support mind control. To me, itt seems like a pretty paranoid existence if you take it too far.
To me, the problem is taking oneself out of the system. If the entire world is webbed in conspiracy and mind control and Illuminati and what not, then how in the world do I get out of this? Everything I touch - the couch I sit on, the computer I type on, the grape juice I drink - is tied into conspiracy. I can't even turn on my water faucet for fear of mind control. Who do I trust? No one. Who do I love? No one.
In the end, I can't take that sort of existence. That's where I see conspiracy theory headed - it doesn't teach critical thinking, but rather, paranoid excess of thought and mistrust. Conspiracy theories tend to be more destructive than edifying and less critical thinking than hypocritical "lack of proof proves my point."
Instead, I hope. I choose, instead, to see the better of people. Rather than always looking at the seedy underbelly, mistrusting my superiors or deflecting the blame for a bad occurrence off onto this unnamed conspiratorial force, I instead choose to think that most people are going through this world as I am - bumbling along, hoping to make the right choice, unable to see the future but hoping the decision I make is the right one.
It is much easier to argue for justice and love from a standpoint of hope than paranoia.
It is much easier to create a movement toward justice and hope if you are able to trust that education is the way to open minds to Truth and not a form of indoctrination of evil.
It is much easier to love others if I have the hope of Jesus Christ and the backing of the community of the Church, than if I see the Church as a mass of conspirators.
Basically, I tend to agree with Occam's Razor: the simplest solution is usually the right one.
Why do we have vaccines? Because it is the scientific community's consensus that this is the best way to prevent deadly diseases.
Why was JFK shot? Because Lee Harvey Oswald had some sort of grudge against him.
Why was Lee Harvey shot? Because he shot the President and pissed off a good number of people.
Why does the Catholic church have pagan imagery? Because, at the time it was founded, taking on symbols of the culture it was attempting to evangelize was a good way to get through to people - think St. Patrick and the bringing of the Gospel to Ireland.
Why does Lady Gaga have references to the all-seeing eye? Because these are potent artistic and literary symbols that afford an artistic expression, NOT literal expressions of mind-control (just think, if she was a mind-controlled robot, would she be able to give us little hints toward it?...I doubt it)...
So while it may be fun to go down the rabbit hole occasionally, and while it is usually good to take information with a grain of salt and do one's own fact-checking, we also need to be careful not to misread the text and remember the nature of the characters we're dealing with. Conspiracy may make for a good convoluted story, but in the end, it's usually the Butler who did it, with a simple smoking gun.
For more information on why, specifically, The Da Vinci Code is complete bull (from someone who has both read the book [twice] and studied the issue), leave a comment, or shoot me a message elsewhere. I'd be happy to give you some info.