05 October 2008

The Comfort of Conspiracy

The tin foil hat wearing conspiracy theorists, convinced that dark forces have made secret plans to control events, may not be the paranoid anti-social mal-contents most people assume. In fact, it is quite possible that the belief in (unproven) conspiracies is a perfectly rational response when the world around us feels out of control. It is far preferable to think that the bad, or seemingly unexplainable, events that occur are the result of devious plots by nefarious persons meeting in dark rooms than to accept that terrible things happen all on their own.

It shouldn’t be any surprise, then, that conspiracies tend to be particularly popular amongst the people most alienated or marginalized in society (be it ethnic groups, or just the average social outcast). These people are desperately seeking ways to explain just why it is that life has handed them a raw deal, and a conspiracy is a handy way to explain it.

Most of these conspiracy theories contain the seeds of their own disproof right in their very premise, yet the adherents will swear by them nevertheless. In recent years, for example, there has been a great deal of speculation amongst many gold investors that government intervention was artificially deflating the value of precious metals. But if this were true, why then did gold prices rise so dramatically in the years up to 2008? As soon as gold prices began to decline in 2008 there was a lot of talk (once again) about how this might be due to the collusion of global central bankers. However, if gold prices have been pushed down by a cabal of central banks in 2008, then why did they allow them to rise so breathtakingly fast since 2005?

The same flaw can found in the theories proclaiming that the credit crisis of 2007/2008 was engineered by big Wall Street bankers. Most of those banks actually wound up going bust, and having their shares made into worthless scrip. If there was a conspiracy it would seem to have been a singular failure. It’s particularly telling that most conspiracy theories are designed to explain “bad” things: no one ever considers that the good things that occur were the results of plots.

Of course, conspiracies do sometimes occur. In many cases they aren’t even all that secret, with governments or policy makers openly declaring their intent to manipulate currencies or economies. However, these actions are rarely successful, and most often fail quite spectacularly.

The one thing that remains constant with all good conspiracy theories is the firm belief that it IS possible to control events. By grasping at the belief that somehow things are controllable, we can then feel that at least life could get better if only the “right” people were pulling the strings.

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