Conspiracy theories thrive in information-poor but hugely emotional times – and such is this pandemic. But there are few reasons to be skeptical about their merits.
The first reasonis that not everyone who ends up benefiting for an event is a realistic suspect of plotting it. Adaptiveness is an evolutionary advantage – the ability to plot and execute complex schemes is a screenwriting tool to keep the audience engaged.
2. Have you ever plotted anything?
To believe that everything that happened was originally the plan and it unfolded exactly according to the plotter’s plot just shows how much of a rookie you are at planning things.
Try to plan a small and uncomplex thing first, like a wedding, and see just how many things turn out exactly according to plan. Or go and write a detailed script and then shoot a video based on it – and see how your plan relates to the outcome. The more people are involved, the more distant the outcome will be from your neat little plan.
And the wedding and the music video are two examples where all the participants are in on the plan. Conspiracy theories require the as-planned reaction of third parties and even unfriendly players.
Not to mention that such plans require the absence of a million things that can go wrong, people that react unexpectedly, software that freezes in inopportune moments, weather that foils plans, printers that jam – things that we know perfectly well happen all the time.
If your theory is based on the assumption that everything that happened went exactly according to plan and the outcome is exactly what the plotters wanted, it is probably wrong.
It is also probably a good idea for a movie.
3. You only connect the dots you know of.
This is the most spectacular aspect of other people’s conspiracy theories. That they entail an elaborate scheme regarding the things the conspiracist is aware of. If he doesn’t know about CDS markets, he can’t feature it in his chain of logic. But is he is deeply immersed in, say, the hog breeding business, even the corona pandemic is somehow designed to upend the hog business. Or higher education, or business travel, or Arctic expeditions.
If your theory is too tight and doesn’t leave room for a billion unknown variables to play a part – it is very likely too simplistic to be a plot that went down as planned. If it isn’t, it is not catchy enough and is thus very unlikely to be clicked and shared by individuals seeking information control over things they feel helpless about. Nor to have a movie made out of it.
4. No room left for genuine incompetence
Hanlon’s razor is a very apt tool not just to evaluate the probability of conspiracy theories, but also to keep your paranoia and anxiety in check. It calls never to attribute something to maliciousness when it could also be caused by sheer incompetence, stupidity, ignorance or neglect.
Just like the assumptions of perfectly competing markets of rationally self-interested players who have all the necessary information and make optimal decisions based on them is an obvious nonsense of economics – so is the idea that the same is happening in any other field. Economists throw these assumptions around to designed their ever-less simplistic models, but they will never be able to describe, model, let alone to plot the whole economy. Because these assumptions are simply not true. And the same stands for conspiracy theories.
If your theory rests upon the perfectly self-interested, perfectly-informed decisions of its alleged perpetrators – not to mention the perfect execution according to plan – it is unlikely to be correct. If your theory doesn’t leave room for ignorance, laziness, incompetence, irrationality, or just general incompetence and players who misjudge their own interests or make decisions based on missing or false information – then your theory is too simplistic to be a plot that went down as planned.
But it is probably a solid idea for a movie.
5. Just because something is not started by politicians, it can (and will) be harnessed by politicians
…to further their own power. To get elected, reelected, or to become unremovable. To increase their grip over you. To be able to harass anyone demanding proof of where you are going, whom do you visit, what your health status is. To let the enforcers loose on you and put you in your place. To increase surveillance and thus decrease their chance of losing power. To control information and decrease the chance that their popularity declines. To be able to reinstate borders with the new excuse. To make life hell without any reward for compliance. In other words, autocracy.
That is a natural reaction of every state to threats, whether they have created them themselves or not, whether those threats are real or not.
If your conspiracy theory is based on the idea that these incompetent, corrupt, self-serving-but-public-interest-preaching politicians have plotted this whole thing just to do to us whatever will be done to us from now on, you have mixed up opportunistic adaptiveness with superhuman planning ability – the latter which they have obviously lacked all this time. If they were able to pull off something like this, they would have been able to just do their jobs in the first place.
6. A goal that is featured in a public manifesto is not a secret conspiracy.
Publicly stated goals are not outrageous conspiracies. Some people need to to hear this.
You may not like them, but that’s a different story. It also doesn’t mean that they are good at achieving that goal. Or that they purposely caused anything that had happened.
7. If that massive, global conspiracy was really pulled off by someone, and if it went exactly as planned – let’s face it, they are superior to us.
Let’s assume you are right and the conspiracy was as great as you say it was and went down exactly as you say it was planned. Then we have only two options:
- The number of plotters was low – and yet they accomplished something this big as planned…
- Or their number was large – and yet the plan went down without being exposed or fucked up in the process.
Either way, those people are gods and obviously better than us at getting things done – so why not just let our authoritarian lizard brain take over (even more) and start worshiping them?