“Please do not hang up now!” said a haunting male voice on the other end of the line. Everything was quiet for a moment. Calm but resolutely he continued: “I have something important to tell you, it will only take a few minutes.”
This dramatic introduction leads us right into the middle of the topic: It’s about entertainment, it’s about fears. And it’s about the exciting feeling of being on the trail of something big.
If you’re a fan of conspiracy theories, this is your drug. The sweet poison you should be getting away from. Let me tell you why — it’ll only take a few minutes.
First of all, no one pays me to write this, neither Mr. Soros, nor Gates, nor the Rothschilds. (You can find out more about my background here.) I am writing to you because we have something in common: We both love the truth. And we do not like it when it is maliciously and perfidiously distorted. We both know the value of doubt, of independent and logical thinking. And we, like most people, are somehow satisfied when we find a conclusive explanation.
The question is simply: what is true?
One important difference: I resign myself to the fact that sometimes you don’t find out the ultimate truth. That the world is sometimes more complex than I understand or can learn as a lay person. The whole truth about the Kennedy assassination, I don’t think we’ll ever know. No use in saying “I believe …” or sinister murmurs — I don’t know! And I’d rather bear that than accept a dubious statement, which an alleged expert is trying to convince me of in the alternative media. And yes, I trust in mechanisms that I know — even in their flawedness. For example, the academic world, journalism, good governance, NGOs, civil society or Wikipedia.
Let’s take a particularly blatant example: the conspiracy myth that the moon landing never happened. The “questions” that were asked were so stunningly unscientific and absurd that they made you question what these people were actually after — an entertaining horror story or the truth. Even interested lay people could and still can check the facts. The same applies to the spherical shape of the earth or the question whether Michelle Obama is really a woman. Hoax videos that question such things are so unacceptably dumb that we don’t have to put up with them.
A critical approach:
checking the dissemination history
Things become more tricky with secret political connections, which are difficult to prove and easy to assert. And here I ask you to follow me in a method that also works well in the criticism of religion: You look at how a theory is born and how it is spread. Using religion as an example, this would mean: If Islam were the true religion, or Christianity, why would God/Allah have had to take the detour via an all too time-bound “holy scripture”, or even prophets with an all-too-human way of life? Why don’t these gods simply implant their rules into us from birth — as evolution has done, without us even noticing it?
The same can be applied to conspiracy myths: If the Protocols of the Elders of Zion were a malicious fake (which they were). If an anti-Semitic myth, for which people of the Jewish faith are not responsible, continued to exist. If it is traceable how these thoughts have propagated against all reason and led to the racial madness of Nazi barbarism. And if it is still visible how the myth is now being spun further. How it is only superficially freed from the tabooed term “Jewish world conspiracy” … What level of truth should one then concede to an agitator who tells us about the Bilderbergers, the Illuminati, Freemasons or other embodiments of evil par excellence?
Eye-roll emoji: Holocaust
Have you read up to here without words like “cult of guilt” or “Satan” flashing through your mind? Then probably you are on the right track to look at the matter in an open and unbiased way.
The perhaps most blatant example of conspiracy myths is the denial of the Holocaust, a. k. a. the “critical questioning of whether the Holocaust actually took place in this form”. Often combined with “I’m only asking questions!” This one really gets my goat. Yes, I also find the denial of other mass murders (Herero, Armenians, Rohingya, Uighurs, under Stalin, Mao and many more) perfidious, unjust, hair-rising. There is not the slightest reasonable doubt about the exclusion, deprivation of rights, deportation, exploitation and extermination of Jews and other groups during the Nazi era. All this is well documented, not least by the Nazis themselves. Attempts to trivialize it are transparent, but still: some people succumb to this propaganda.
So my question is: Can we imagine that a genocide could take place in the world without being brazenly denied afterwards by the followers of it’s ideology? I doubt it. And interestingly enough, it is precisely those people who vehemently deny the Holocaust who would most like to repeat it — with the argument that “the Jews” would play out their victim role against “us”. How disgusting can one be. And such people find their audience, because they are posing to be so rebellious, modern, cool or likeable.
For the record: No, we Germans today are not responsible for the Holocaust. We did not witness it and we are not personally to blame. We’re only — perhaps a little more than others — responsible for ensuring that it is not denied and, above all, that it is not repeated. Just as we do not accept any other racism or xenophobia that can be observed in many places in the world.
CT – dangerous like a sect
Many paranoid conspiracy myths are based on the tale of the eternal Jew. There is talk of a rich elite that pulls all the strings, that controls the press and our thoughts — in Hollywood, on television, via 5G transmission masts. An elite that would…
• invent climate change (or use it) to make some profiteers extremely rich and to make fools out of us all. (Climatologists and wind turbine builders aren’t exactly topping the Forbes list of the super rich right now.)
• instigate civil wars in order to set refugees in motion and thus bring about a great replacement of Europe’s or North America’s population. (For what purpose is never explained — we are dealing with Evil itself here).
• breed a virus in the laboratory in order to either selectively eradicate Asians or force a worldwide lockdown, which is supposed to rob us of our freedom. (The Covid-19 virus shows no signs of artificial production and would be completely unsuitable as a biological weapon).
• harms us through vaccinations in order to earn money or make us compliant. (We don’t have to have chips or nano-robots injected. Even the powerful pharmaceutical industry is populated by humans, and most of them — besides their income — are much interested in scientific progress and the common good).
• torture babies to extract “rejuvenating” adrenochrome from them (which does not have this ascribed effect at all and which can be bought cheaply on the Internet).
All these stories are very entertaining and give simple answers to questions that you and many others are concerned about. They are not logical or plausible, they do not stand up to any objective scrutiny — but they are exciting! And they make you feel like you are part of a group of initiates. Because, although the conspiracy theorists offer their plots on YouTube like a lemon, they always surround themselves with the nimbus of threatened top secret information.
Immune to criticism
Once you accept this lunacy, it’s hard to let it go. Because, if you now simply believed what the news is saying (i.e. the “mainstream media”), then you would appear to be be naive! You would be a silly sheep and fall for the powerful, you would decide against the good and capitulate to the evil! How can one return to a halfway satisfied but banal life with such an attitude?
And that’s how ideological thinking, sectarian thinking works.
• “You see, I told you they would leave no stone unturned to deceive you.”
• “These vaccination opponents with the most ridiculous arguments are only provocateurs, paid by the pharmaceutical industry, who are supposed to discredit our justified criticism.”
• Or under the Soviet regime: “There is no famine, only counterrevolutionaries say so.”
And so on. The hermetic thinking of conspiracists is legendary. If every counter-argument proves that this must be a manipulation, then it becomes difficult to impossible to argue reasonably.
The Matrix is a thrilling, dystopian science fiction. In a key scene the main character Neo has to make a decision: Does he want to know the truth of his subjugation (the red pill) or does he choose to remain in the beautiful illusion (the blue pill). The thing is: there is no red or blue pill to choose between, only the red one is on offer in reality. Right-wing populists and nutcases want you to take it, to follow them, to confirm and like them, to give their lives meaning.
Deal with it: There is no central, secret plan to take away our freedom. Even if our brain likes to think in familiar patterns — the world is complex and constantly changing. There are many diverging interests in it. There is often a lack of information, poor research, sometimes conscious misdirection and disinformation. And of course there are conspiracies — but big plans are almost never kept secret for long. And it is not the presumptuous b- and c-list celebrities of this world who suddenly see through everything and happily trumpet it into the world.
Now I ask you once again to take a look into the mirror, at yourself. What are you looking for? Most people encounter conspiracy myths in times of crisis, external or personal. They seek friends, allies, confirmation, closeness, they want to be right and understand this complicated world. These needs are understandable, but they don’t justify exposing oneself to (usually unbelievably cheap) manipulations and giving up one’s own logical thinking.
Why are you fascinated by conspiracy myths and what else could you do?
• illuminate questions from the other side, i.e. from the fearless, rational, logical and more likely side.
• instead of suspecting the great replacement, support integration to make it successful and help us feel safe together.
• talk to people who are involved. If you really want to know what Covid-19 is like, you could talk to a nurse who has experienced it first hand.
• examine dubious reports for yourself, follow up on matters instead of getting mad about them. Often they are fakes, from totally different contexts etc. — and often this is revealed only a few days later.
• just freely express your opinion without threatening or insulting other people. Because that is always possible (in liberal countries) and will not be suppressed.
Conspiracy myths are junk food for your brain. It deserves better!
That was my short contribution to this painful topic. (Actually, I write on other topics, but it always caught up with me). Maybe you’ll find your favorite conspiracy theory in this list and re-think it critically. I hope I was able to give you some encouragement that the world is not controlled only by dark powers. That existing and harmful conspiracies can usually be addressed and halfway solved without fear — at least in constitutional states.
However, grey areas remain: We don’t know exactly what the ‘Ndrangheta is doing, what the Kremlin’s communication strategies are, what interests are hidden behind the current counter-pandemic strategies of the government. We can only suspect this and be vigilant. But maybe we can keep calm and not spread nonsense as long as we don’t know for sure.
Because, let’s face it:
conspiracy myths are very dangerous.
They are a welcome tool in the hands of populists. They can develop into a conversation, a rally or a pogrom. Most of them fizzle out, others lead to measles epidemics, lynchings or even help to prepare a war. At present with QAnon there is the danger of a powerful conspiracy-theoretical sect, which is decentralized, but coordinated and can be steered by unknown persons. Now, these people consider themselves “critical spirits”!
I do not want to be a scaremonger and I believe in the stability of liberal democracy — precisely because it is pluralistic and allows for many, even mistaken, opinions. But before the erroneous opinion drifts off into delusion, I recommend to really think for yourself!
Enjoy — and welcome to the club of rationalists, humanists and sceptics!
A word about sources
You may have noticed: In this posting I have placed all source links on Wikipedia articles. No one is claiming that Wikipedia owns the final truth. But it has the great advantage of being verifiable. The large community of authors sets great store by verifiable sources, rejects theorizing on their pages, and makes all discussions, version histories and sources available and traceable with one click. This makes it a rich and multi-layered resource for own research.
Fact check and exciting reads
I also recommend the relevant fact-checking websites and to read some articles and books dealing with conspiracy myths. Even if, in your opinion, these may be “system media” — they often refer to fakes and give explanations. If you want to compare fearlessly and openminded, you should get involved.
With “alternative” (= mostly national-chauvinist, right-wing extremist or conspiracy-theoretical) media, I personally had so many experiences of twisted facts in almost every single article — I just don’t trust them one bit. Which does not mean that public broadcasting, for example, always reports correctly or neutrally.
Organisations that are really care for transparency and civil rights include Transparency International, Reporters Without Borders, EFF, Amnesty International and many more.