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Conspiracy Theories
I find this an entertaining topic. Michael Shermer, in Why people Believe Weird Things, asked why people believe that invisible agents control the world - and he included invisible agents such as secret superconspiracies alongside gods. Now this might be going too far, for high level people in corporations and government surely do plot malicious things, BUT I think Shermer had a point: that a narrative with a giant bad guy (conveniently invisible) is so tempting, for people - especially surplus males, as economists are describing these days.

I don't believe in "conspiracy theories" many of them are about up there with the idea of alien abduction, but I think the culture which produces them - and is getting more and more mainstream - is interesting (if troubling).
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I think you hit the nail on the head by mentioning gods. Some people are just so afraid of not being able to understand the world they live in that they'll invent fantastical answers to their life's great questions and then seek out some evidence to support their conclusion, which clearly flies in the face of science and logic. Such questions can range from "Why do we exist" to "Is there any chance I might be able to meet Elvis one day?".

Self deception's an easy way out of an often difficult situation. 
 
The mistake many people make (and why they're scared by chaos and human craziness and consequently making up conspiracy theories) is assuming "world peace" is the default. It is not. Conflict is the default, and we have to re-learn to accept it and not lose sleep over it. This is something that's typically not found in religions that have invisible bad guys (who are trying to sabotage world peace) - the two ideas are mutually exclusive. 
Also 
I get the impression that people don't like the idea of things happening for no reason at all (chaos) or things happening because many people behave in a certain way without being aware of the greater consequences (emergence). It goes against humankind's obsession with controlled, safe and secure living environments.

For example, I think the financial crisis (or crisises (sp?)) we have is an emergent phenomenon. There is no great conspiracy to let markets crash. The financial market is a prototypical chaotic system (in the mathematical sense) with lots of potential for emergent behavior. As such it cannot be predicted or even understood by us and that's why we are afraid of it. That's also why it needs to be regulated by the way.

Anyway, I agree that conspiracy theories are an alternative way for humans to hold up their illusion of living in a controlled environment. And since in the western world most people do not believe in an almighty god anymore, they make up those theories. 
Worst Topic Ever. 
Although you guys talk sense about it. 
I Think Daz And Dranz Are The Same Person 
 
Drannerz 
That's the real conspiracy. 
That's What I've Been Saying 
for years! 
I Think It's A Question Of Scope 
if you look at lobbyism, corruption, politics, etc. It is pretty obvious that "small scale" conspiracy (or maybe just evil) is certainly possible, and very probable. 
 
That's one thing I find interesting: given that corporations governments and etc actually do plan to do unpleasant things behind closed doors, how does someone who thinks that the official story behind the Iraq war was total bullshit and that the real motivation was pure geopolitical power-grabbing greed, differentiate himself from someone who thinks 9/11 was an inside job.

I thought that the belief in alien abductions, satanic cults, and so forth which was so prevalent in the US in the 80s and 90s, was really interesting. It's modern folklore that reflects people's fears. The internet seems to have made all of this more mainstream than ever before. 
Tronyn 
Well. I do think that the reasons for the Iraq war were pure geopolitical power grabbing and it's established that Iraq never had WOMD nor ties to al-Quaeda and the US lied in front of the UN to get support for their war.

So that part isn't really a conspiracy theory since it's pretty much established.

The main remaining question is if 9/11 was "an inside job". This isn't established at all, and personally I think it's possible both ways. There was a historical precedent - the Nazis torching the Reichstag (German parliament) and pinning it on "the Communists". It may be seen as a similar thing - it helped the Nazis get support for their power grab.

Now... there is a difference between putting fire to it and somehow enticing a bunch of crazies from other countries into hijacking four planes at the same time (in the US!) armed with a couple cutter knives and basic knowledge of Microsoft Flight Simulator, while most of the US air force was in Canada or something.

The latter is infinitely more complex to pull off. Occam's Razor would suggest that the simplest explanation is the most likely one - it was really a bunch of extremists executing an uncommon attack strategy and succeeding because it was unthought of and not prepared against.

Doubts remain, of course. I personally assume that people like Bush, Perle, Rumsfeld etc are not smarter than your average Joe and mainly driven by lust for power, money etc. Hence I would doubt their ability to pull off something so complex, honestly. Just think of the number of people that must be involved.

Where's the fine line between theorizing and being a conspiracy theorist? Well, I don't believe all the stuff about fake moon landings, HAARP, UFOs, chemtrails, 2012 etc. 9/11 is really the only case where I could see the remote possibility of something resembling an "inside job", but I'm not convinced, so I'm probably not a conspiracy theorist. 
Why Are Conspiracy Theories Always Exotic? 
Answer: Because conspiracy "junkies" are not looking for conspiracies, they are looking for entertainment and fantasy. And are, frankly, bored.

If conspiracy junkies were actually looking for real life conspiracies, there are plenty of them to find. They just are not "action movie fodder" caliber.

People like Julian Assange (the Wikileaks guy) were looking for actual conspiracies and found them because tons of them exist in real life.

But your average "conspiracy junkie" will ignore things like the mayor embezzling right in his home town and make a run for the internet forums to indulge in fantasies about aliens, 9/11, birth certificates because frankly such talk gets attention and these conspiracy junkies want some escapism and to be entertained.

[Nothing wrong with escapism or wanting to be entertained. Everyone wants that. I'm just saying the conspiracy theorists are not actually looking for the boring and real-life conspiracies that actually surround us all --- because those are not exciting.] 
 
Yeah, most RL conspiracies are about sex parties for managers etc. 
Profiteering, Usually ... 
[Disclaimer: Human civilization is a continuous struggle dealing with ups and downs. Correctly observing these cycles does not mean the world is a bad place, just that cycles of development occur ...]

But at least in the US, eventually they discovered that investigative reporting is boring and realized ratings in news is about American Idol and talking heads.

Successfully dumb down the populace and then you get away with virtually anything with a complicated trail.

Such is the tragedy of "democracy". Reality is that the intelligent and devious will eventually complicate their schemes as to be too difficult for the general populace to ever fully understand, and then exploit this to the detriment of the populace.

The United States doesn't have a $15 trillion debt (with another $50 trillion in unfunded obligations in the next 20 years) because the political system is healthy, but rather because corporations realized they could buy the political system. Politicians win. Corporations win. Politicians on both sides of the United States stupid 2 party system engage in silly debates over trivial things to distract Joe Sixpack and ensure he is dumbed down.

John Q. Public doesn't care because he is busy watching TV or playing XBOX. He briefly notices when his job ends up vanishing or he can't pay his mortgage (real estate collapse). Then John Q. Public gets told by <insert party name> that <insert Obama or Republicans> are to blame and he gets mad at <insert whichever one>.

John Q. Public then decides that voting <insert whichever one> out of office will solve problem.

Problem was John Q. Public does not pay attention, got caught in shell game. Cannot win shell game by playing it.

Overall, these problems are not historically so bad compared to violence, famine, plague, war and such. The upside is that politicians and corporations recognize that any occurrence of those intolerables and they will lose their power and they do not want those as a result.

World always have problems. Some problems not so bad as others ..... ;) 
 
I think a lot of conspiracy theories attempt to take what may potentially be a real problem and ascribe a specific group as a cause, whereas in fact the issues with society are systemic and come about through its normal operation (eg capitalism boom and bust). Similar to a lot of tea party supporters. Their problems may be real ones (and grave ones), they're just being sold an insane solution because they've either not been given an alternative or the propaganda has drowned it out.

I also think calling something a conspiracy is a great way of rubbishing it. Call 'Corporations are evil' a conspiracy theory and you're putting it in the bucket with fake moon landings and 9/11 truthers. ie something to giggle at.

Corporations have too much power and are too embedded in politics. But this isn't rooted in one shadowy organisation with a single evil plan, it's something to expect as a general force of the upper class protecting their interests. The coercive law of competition directly leads to the huge drive for constant growth and increasing profits, and they will pursue all avenues to this. The idea to infiltrate politics and make it support you is a pretty obvious one, and a corporation certainly doesn't want no government at all, and doesn't need to join forces with other corporations to go do it themselves.

This also means that different factions of a ruling elite will combat each other, eg landed aristocracy vs industrial capital. Industrial capital vs Finance capital etc. 
Too Bad That ... 
[^^ pretty spot on .. zqf]

Earth-based telescopes and even the Hubble telescope aren't capable of the resolution required to spot a flag on the moon.

The fake moon landing conspiracy theory was ingenious.

One reason a lot of conspiracy theories are put forth is that they can sell books and make $$$.

People like real-life sci-fi stories and real life James Bond type of stories.

Humans are creatures that eat and sleep and through work, movies, books, games and other thought explorations we find a greater existence within our own mundane existence. 
 
Incidentally, this is why the ruling elite is against free university access for everyone and advocates elite education for a few.

A smart well-educated populace is the key foundation of democracy. Hence universities shouldn't create the next generation of managers and politicians and bilderbergers, they should ideally create the next generation of democrats (not the party).

Universities owned by industry = bad. Elite education = bad. Broad education of people = good.

Dumb masses / opium = anarchy / apathy on the lower tier, oligarchy on the higher. Make no mistake, anarchy always helps the warlords. 
Arnold J. Toynbee 
I have been researching his ideas lately. He was British historian and economist who died in 1975 and had some interesting insights on the rise and decline of civilizations.

Biography: http://tinyurl.com/y8b6rtr

His key thesis is that civilizations decline when they cease to combat their problems. 
Education 
education is a huge issue, in my personal experience, the less educated someone is, the more they believe in conspiracy theories like chemtrails (god this one is hilarious), 2012, aliens (lol the whole reptoids thing makes me nostalgic for the days when the alien conspiracies were less ridiculous and could make a cool show like x-files - imagine if they made reptoid files what a shitty show that would be), etc.

I basically think that education and propaganda/advertising are two fundamentally opposed cultural forces, one based at least in its ideals on seeking truth, the other based in principal on lying in pursuit of some interest.

one frustrating thing is that comedians I really admire like Bill Hicks (check out "Marketing") and George Carlin ("Education") actually believed in conspiracy theories, respectively JFK and 9/11 truth.

Occam's razor and science are the best tools for critical thinking, I think. People like Hicks and Carlin were so rightfully pissed off at propaganda and high-level corruption that they let emotion cloud their critical faculties imo.

It's true that these problems aren't as bad in terms of short term standard of living for rich or rising countries, as the world has been in the past. Still, some real bad shit could be coming (climate change, environmental disaster, nuclear war, population explosion/starvation/resource shortage etc). Given what it is possible to convince some people of, I'm hoping that one day the minority of scientists/smart people will arrive at genetic engineering, an entire generation's IQ and empathy will spike, and the efficiency of propaganda will plummet, and then things will be less shitty, people will be smarter and there will be no need to believe in conspiracy theories (or religions - creationism is a huge conspiracy theory for example). 
To Each, His Own 
Carlin was a funny guy. "The world plus plastic", his talk about "stuff" and subsets of stuff with the minimal set being your wallet.

Genetic engineering: Will make us obsolete. But eventually that will happen.

Creationism

A legitimate scientific possibility. For example, is the following list of numbers random: 9, 9, 9, 9, 9, 9?

Stars have a strong bias towards producing carbon. Most estimates of when life started on Earth place it a mere billion years after formation and we discover amino acids on comets.

Really the problem is that humans excel at finding conflict when there is none. What many actually object to with creationists isn't the idea that perhaps the universe was made on purpose, but rather that organized religion has a tendency reject common sense scientific findings like <insert dinosaur bones, Earth is not center of solar system, fossil records, bacteria strain mutations, etc> in favor of unhealthy lowest common denominator thinking.

Likewise, what is objectionable about some conspiracy theorists is that they so strongly want to believe in a specific conclusion that they will ignore facts to get there.

I mean, I guess I CIA really did try to kill Fidel Castro with poisoned cigars and such. Not all conspiracy theories are wrong, and part of the ideas of conspiracy theorists are healthy: do not accept what you are told by the powers that be at face value.

Reality is what we perceive it as, and there is a danger of becoming too comfortable with "what you think you know". We could wake up tomorrow to discover to find out something wild and crazy by conventional standards.

One time last year I was arguing with a "Obama wasn't born in Hawaii" person and I said "Ok, let's say everything you say is true. Now what? What's the next step?" This individual was so caught up in the idea, he didn't know what to say back to that.

[Tron Legacy had a great quote: "The thing about perfection is that it's unknowable. It's impossible, but it's also right in front of us all the time."

^^ If the world were perfect, we wouldn't have anything to do. Therefore, since the world isn't perfect, the world is perfect.] 
Re: Science 
The scientific method is sound, but the ethics of science are sometimes not. Science is just a tool and can be abused - I don't like science that creates remote controlled animals for surveillance purposes, for example. I don't like science that creates H-bombs. There needs to be an ethical factor to science wherever it's applied. And bam! as soon as you have ethics, you have something that's not entirely within the realm of science.

I'll say that I'm religious. However my religion has no simple good/evil scheme and no absolute truths. It is a collection of traditions more than anything.

Spirituality is something human, as long as it doesn't turn into a system of absolute truths. I just want to encourage people to differentiate. Religion isn't just TV preachers and suicide bombers. Would you tell a bunch of Amazonian Indians that their spirits and shamans are "crap" and science will save them?

Just be careful with this religion vs. science thing. Roll some ethics into it. Where you find those ethics is your problem; there might be good and true stuff in some religious texts or traditions just as well as in modern philosophy.

The problem with some religions (not all) is their inability to learn and evolve (usually because some holy book is regarded as the inalterable truth). 
 
Re: Baker. That is an AWESOME response to the birther conspiracy. So Obama should be booted, and McCain/Sarah Palin put in? The democrats should have run someone else? It's a good point that the conspiracy here, is just an excuse for really disliking someone and their politics.

Re: gb. I agree that science has been and continues to be applied in unethical ways. My statement was a giant generalization and thus I shouldn't have made it. creationism is a conspiracy theory, in that involves believing that almost all scientists are deliberately deceiving the public. but, sure, lots of religions have good traditions that can stimulate ethics. I just think of them as literature, though, which can do the same thing. When they start making metaphysical claims, that's when I think they're straying into science's territory. but yeah, good point.

and re: both. creationism could have been true, it could still be true, but the evidence has always, in my view, pointed away from the monotheistic worldview (copernicus/galileo, newton, darwin, einstein, etc - whatever they believed personally, the scientific discoveries they are each famous for contradicted the theistic worldviews of their time and forced theists to give ground - or, in darwin's case, not. actually I've heard there are some geocentric fundamentalists out there lol). 
 
Ah, I'm not a creationist. I still enjoy looking at creation myths as something people tried to explain the world with, back when there was no science, only long cold winters and no food.

I love the story of Ask and Embla for what it is, because I empathize with the people who came up with it and told it to their children to scare away the dark. Utterly human. I can reconcile that with the Big Bang theory perfectly because I don't take it as ultimate truth...

As long as one does not take their respective old literature to be the only absolute truth, especially if said literature says to "slay the infidels" or "stone to death the witches", then it can be a nice part of your tradition.

Sadly the "book religions" are all rather zealous about it. It's more sane to view it as literature, tradition, or historical sources. This is a step that is way overdue for Christianity, for instance. They should just say "ok, not everything in the Bible has to be taken literally" but apparently they can't. It's even worse with Islam. Book religions.

Btw I didn't mean to sound harsh, I was just asking rhetorical questions if you know what I mean. 
Heh 
I didn't mean to imply that you were a creationist. I find creation myths beautiful, and myths in general. one of my major criticisms of scientists arguing against religion in its more harmful forms right now, is that several of them seem to have no understanding of the appeal of mythology whatsoever.

yeah you're right, it's even worse with Islam. I saw an interview on TV in the middle east, with one guy arguing the earth was round because they had pictures of it from space, and the other guy saying it was flat, because the Koran said that. lol.

PS I personally think the Old Testament is awesome, it's so fucked up. I'd never take morality from it, but parts like the Passover are really powerfully creepy. God's abilities and motivations are weird, it's like he hasn't evolved (heh) yet into this abstract moral deity and is instead like a sexually repressed schizophrenic version of Zeus. 
 
Hah. I should read it sometime, unfortunately I have only a very rough understanding of all things related to book religion.

But we're really OT now. 
A Cry For Help 
I always interpreted the 9/11 attacks as a desperate plea for help from a part of the world suffering in neglect and abuse that the rest of the civilized world was more than content to ignore their woes.

Many of the "problems" with Islam as perceived by the West are -- at their root --- an act of assertion to the rest of the world that "we matter".

Not in a hostile way, but in a way that they want to be accepted as part of this world. That they wish to participate in it, that they want us to care about their problems.

Sure weird assertions like a key spiritual leader in Saudi Arabia saying the world is flat seem funny, but careful observation points to the fact that their part of the world does not want to be isolated, that they want attention, that they want their culture to be acknowledged. These are not acts of isolationism, certainly no globally broadcasted TV can ever be an act of isolationism.

China was remarkably primitive in the late 1980s, astonishingly so.

Ten years later, they had changed dramatically.

Twenty years later, they have exceeded the West in capitalistic means not unlike Japan by 1970. Islamic countries have dramatically changed in the last 10 years.

Give it 10 or 20 more years ... 
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