Monday, December 05, 2005

It's a conspiracy

Dean Esmay has a good post up about how the assumed failure of pre-war intelligence on WMDs is unlikely to have been the result of a conspiracy, but is very likely to have been an error. In it, he talks about the proliferation of conspiracy theories in general, including ones hatched by those on the right about Clinton's murdering Vince Foster, and the like.

I'm in agreement with Dean here:

Of course, I can't convince anyone who doesn't want to be convinced. But just remember: the harder you strain to make weak evidence look supportable, the weirder the places you find yourself in. Apply Occam's Razor and all of these speculations suddenly come into sharp relief: all things considered, the simplest explanation tends to be the most correct. The amount of assumptions you need to make before believing there was some big lie and coverup on pre-war intelligence are enormous; the number you need to believe that we--yes we, including people on all sides of the political spectrum--were simply wrong are quite small.

I've noticed how very popular conspiracy theories have become in my lifetime. In the movie "Dr. Strangelove," the Jack D. Ripper character who thought flouride was a Commie plot to poison our precious body fluids was a joke. But if you stay up late some night to listen to "Coast to Coast," you'll hear an almost endless exchange of ideas that make that one sound positively mainstream.

In my lifetime, I really think it all began (well, not began exactly, but became popularized) with the Kennedy assassination. The vast majority of Americans believed--and still believe--that Oswald did not act alone. The polls have been fairly consistent over time: three-quarters of respondents think there was a conspiracy. Three-quarters is practically a unanimity in the world of opinion polling.

I'm not here to debate the merits of assassination theories--although my personal opinion, after doing a great deal of research a while back on the subject, (including reading Gerald Posner's Case Closed, which I recommend to anyone interested), is that the evidence is overwhelming that Oswald was both the lone gunman and the lone planner, improbable though that may seem.

If the demographics here are representative of the population as a whole, my guess is that the majority of readers disagree with me. My real point, though, is that the Kennedy assassination opened the door to an almost kneejerk conspiratorial explanation for many subsequent events.

Why are conspiracy theories so popular? One reason, I believe, is the decline of general (not specialized) education in science, decried by Carl Sagan in his book, The Demon-Haunted World:

We've arranged a global civilization in which most crucial elements profoundly depend on science and technology. We have also arranged things so that almost no one understands science and technology. This is a prescription for disaster. We might get away with it for a while, but sooner or later this combustible mixture of ignorance and power is going to blow up in our faces.

For "understanding of science and technology" I would actually substitute the more general "understanding and use of critical thinking."

But whatever the cause, there's little doubt in my mind that conspiracy theories have become more and more commonplace. One of my most chilling experiences was a conversation I had a couple of years ago with a good friend of mine. We were sitting having lunch and chatting when she quite casually mentioned that she believes Bush knew all about 9/11 beforehand and let it go forward for his own purposes. A lovely person (a therapist, no less--naturally!), up until that moment she'd never shown any indication of that sort of mindset. But she could not be dissuaded from her idea, and I must say I gave her a wider berth after that.

Along with Dean, I'm an Occam's Razor person myself. I tend to think people are far more likely to be incompetent than cannily and successfully conspiratorial. And I'm aghast that so many people seem to think otherwise.

What's the origin of the need to see a conspiracy behind every unpleasant event? One reason is the desire for order and control--even though, paradoxically, conspiracy theories posit a shadowy world out of the control of most of us. But, like children who want everything to have a reason and an explanation, conspiracy theorists can rest assured that at least someone (if only the conspirators) is in control and that there are few accidents, few random terrible and unpredictable events that we cannot control.

The same, I believe, is true for some of the demonization of Bush: better to believe he's evil but in control than that the situation is inherently somewhat chaotic. Nature--and people--seem to abhor the vacuum of anarchy, and conspiracy theories rush in to fill the void.


At 2:57 PM, December 05, 2005, Blogger Unknown said...

How do you spell conspiracy.....
O_I_L......I'm from B'klyn,NY


At 3:14 PM, December 05, 2005, Blogger Pancho said...

Interesting article. My main tenet concerning govenment conspiracy theories and cover up's is that governments, by and large, are so incompetent in solving most normal then could they possibly pull off the detailed and shifty antics ascribed to them.
I agree with Dean about the Kennedy assasination. I used to have many doubts about how Oswald could have possibly been the lone gunman, but the more I read the more I believe that he probably was.

Another one of my interesting sidenotes: The minister of the Lutheran Church that I attended in Dallas, years ago, performed the burial service for Lee Harvey Oswald. No one else would...

At 3:18 PM, December 05, 2005, Blogger David Foster said...

Along with Occam's Razor, this case calls for consideration of Pascal's Wager. The consequences had Saddam indeed possessed or obtained WMD would have approximated negative infinity.

At 3:23 PM, December 05, 2005, Blogger neo-neocon said...

Pancho--Dean didn't discuss the Kennedy assassination in his post. That was me talking.

I agree with you. At one point I thought it possible there was a conspiracy, but the more I learned, the more convinced I became that Oswald acted alone.

At 3:28 PM, December 05, 2005, Blogger sierra said...

I second your endorsement of Case Closed. It's a great read, even for those not particularly interested in Kennedy's assassination. I've often heard the lone-gun theory was unpalatable to so many because it was unthinkable the most powerful and glamorous person in the world could be so easily wiped out by a total loser. (Though claims have been made on his behalf, McKinley apparently didn't have the same kind of sex appeal. ;-)

At 3:28 PM, December 05, 2005, Blogger Dean Esmay said...

Yes, it's true, Oswald almost certain acted alone. It's not even as unlikely as it seems, for the more you look at the arguments about it the more they fall apart. One of the famous objections in the case of Oswald is that he fired too many shots too quickly for the bolt-action rifle he used. He fired three shots in 8 seconds. Guess what? Penn Gilette recently demonstrated using the same rifle that he could get off three shots with it in well under 5 seconds. They also say Kennedy's head snaps in the wrong direction, it falls back instead of forward. Wrong again--if you're shot completely through your head, when the bullet exits it will cause the head to snap back; not to be gross, but basically the brains spewing out does it. This has been demonstrated countless times by ballistics experts.

Also, a few years ago a group of researchers using open convertible limos, dummies, advanced laser technology, and perfectly timed movements, showed that it would have been physically impossible to hit Kennedy while shooting from the famed grassy knoll, the nearby overpass, or any of the other locations popular among the conspiracy theorists.

Let's face it: in 1963, a moody, disaffected Marxist named Lee Harvey Oswald shot and killed the President. He acted alone.

At 3:35 PM, December 05, 2005, Blogger Andrew Scotia said...

An essay on the anti-science movement and its' origins in the 1960's and 1970's, very chewy. Professor Dutch's nine themes only tangentially touch on the anti-scientism of the the fundamentalist right but they pretty much sum up the objections.

Mention Occam's Razor to these folk and they tell you that you are either part of the conspiracy, lack the "imagination" to see or are "stupid". More and more I see the Left making common cause with the Right to strip science courses of content or get rid of them altogether. The Right, because they are not "scripture based" and the left because the want to "deny their children to the power structure".

To them science has become the "Master Conspiracy".

As an aside, an Advanced Placement teacher in a neighboring town had a very popular course in Debate. It was popular because it taught "critical thinking" and the elements of logical fallacy such as ad homimem argumentation. To the parents that eventually had the course canceled, it produced "smart mouthed kids". It seems the kids had been devastating their parents methods of thinking.

At 3:45 PM, December 05, 2005, Blogger Dean Esmay said...

As for conspiracy theories: I think you're right that it does in part come from the need people have for explanations, and the fear of lack of control. I also think there's another level to it, which is (for some) a reason to feel smarter than others. "You fools, how could you be so blind?" This also gives the conspiracy theorist a feeling of control: "most people may be blind sheep, but my eyes are open!"

It has been observed by some sociologists that conspiracy theories are much more popular among people who live in oppressive regimes. This is perfectly logical and something I have seen in action myself. Think about it: the government controls the media, secret police are on the lookout at all times for subversive behavior, and nothing your government officials tells you can ever be believed. Your ability to survive in such a society--say, Saddam's Iraq, Kim's North Korea, Jaruzelski's Poland, etc. is in part your ability to see through lies by your government but go along to get along anyway. Under those circumstances you've also got no one to give you a "reality check" because everyone is living in the same surreal reality surreality?). Conspiracies abound in such societies also because they're easier to get away with because the government is corrupt and the press is controlled.

Such people, when they are freed, probably can't shake off that thinking very well, even if intellectually they try.

This, by the way, explains a lot about why the most bizarre anti-semitic theories have so much currency in the Middle East. It's not just Jew-hatred and it's not just Israel; it's the fact that conspiratorial thinking is very easy to sell to people who live in non-free countries.

Think about it: we've all had bizarre thoughts now and then. Humans rely on other humans to "reality check" them quite a bit more often than we probably realize. Odds are that in a typical day this happens to everyone at least once or twice, and we don't even think about it. Now imagine going through life where you can never depend on a "reality check." Why wouldn't you believe that the Jews have secretly manipulated the world you live in and caused poverty and repression in, say, Syria, Saudi Arabia, and Iran? I mean, why not? To you and me the very idea is absurd, Jews can't even agree with each other on what to have for breakfast for God's sake, and their ability to influence events in countries where they numer 1% or less of the population is negligible. But the people in those countries have no one to serve as a "reality check." So, Jews suck the blood of Christian babies and cause world poverty and pull the puppet strings to cause wars? Hey, sure, why not? It makes sense, it explains so much!

The very best book I ever read on the subject of conspiracy theories was Conspiracy: How the Paranoid Style Flourishes and Where It Comes From. It's by Daniel Pipes, who has come into some (possibly deserved) criticisms for excessive generalizations about muslims in recent years, but, this book isn't about that and is very, very good. Read it and you'll have a very good understanding of the mindset... and might even find yourself shedding some shreds of conspiracy thinking you didn't even realize you had within you.

At 3:59 PM, December 05, 2005, Blogger Andrew Scotia said...

Wikipedia article on Logical Fallacies.

Learn them. Live them. Have few friends; but all of those will be intelligent.

I taught them to my kids when they were in high school using many TV commercials as raw material. I used a tattered book I got when I was in high school along with an old copy of the Harbrace College Handbook. As it happened, they both got full load athletic scholarships to college where they did quite well. There is nothing like a "smart jock" to bend stereotypes past the breaking point. Between us, their mother and I gave them a tool belt that they use to this day.

Teach your kids logical thinking and how to research and write a college level paper and you will have done a pretty good days work as well as giving them insulation from the foolishness of fuzzy thinking and conspiracy theories.

At 4:29 PM, December 05, 2005, Blogger Ymarsakar said...

For one thing, Oswald was killed before there was a trial. That alone is suspicious, although not proof of foul play.

However, there was some interesting eyewitness reports about certain husband's reactions to Oswald's assassination.

Namely, that they were gathered around the TV set and appeared relieved after he got shot.

Then there was the seal evidence not to be released for 50 years, containing the car he was shot in. I heard reports that that car, and the windshield, was destroyed. If not destroyed, sealed until the 21st century.

THe first thing that caught my attention was a History channel program that claimed that Kennedy's Secret Police motorcade escorts were told to back off and slow, thereby giving a clear shot to anyone who wanted one.

All those are signs of a lack of transparency. And I do not make the assumption that powerful people do not have motivations to keep certain things from the public consumption.

So if you add up direct eyewitness reports (not testimonies), sealed evidence, possible destruction of evidence, lack of a trial, incompetency on the part of the Secret Service, and you'd have to make a lot of assumptions simply to make all of those out to be coincidences.

Random events, even ones propelled by one man, is not as chaotic as that.

Without Oswald's written testimony, without any testimony of guilt or innocence, to proclaim finality is contrary to the tradition of the American judicial legal system. The whole point of an advocacy system is to prevent powerful people from shuffling people away, by exposing both sides of the story.

Without that illumination, I am certainly not convinced that the Kennedy assassination is an open and shut case.

At 4:40 PM, December 05, 2005, Blogger Dean Esmay said...

One of the best things about logical fallacies is that fallacious arguments are often true. Teehee. Try to get your average person to understand that. The important point being, they are usually true but the truth in them is irrelevant.

At 5:04 PM, December 05, 2005, Blogger David Foster said...

In general, people who believe in conspiracy theories seem to be people who have never actually *run* anything. Thus, they don't understand the frictions and confusions that exist in real organizations doing real things. And the machinery of business and government is, to them, both mysterious and sinister.

At 5:07 PM, December 05, 2005, Blogger Holmes said...

I would believe you, Neo, if I didn't know that this blog is actually run by Karl Rove.

At 5:27 PM, December 05, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Casting the cause behind some untoward event as the act of an unknown conspirator serves to move it out of the category of blind luck, coincidence.

If someone, even an unknown someone, is responsible, then there exists the possibility of preventing similar untoward events in the future. That is "control" to some extent.

I think what people fear most is that which cannot be controlled or avoided, even if it takes others to do the controlling. It's just not acceptable that horrible things can happen to good people for no reason whatsoever.

Having worked in both government and private industry, I'm not terribly quick to say "incompetent." But I do remember that whether it's a bureaucrat or a salesperson, an elected official or a manager, they are all human, with the normal (and sometimes abnormal) array of human foibles.

We all "average" only by taking into account all the extremes.

At 5:39 PM, December 05, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The ironic thing about those figures on how many people believe there was a conspiracy in the Kennedy assassination is that an equally large majority probably believes that John Wilkes Booth acted completely alone in the Lincoln assassination.

At 5:40 PM, December 05, 2005, Blogger David Foster said...

One other thought. I think it was C P Snow who once referred to "People who are both cynical and unworldly, which is one of my least favorite combinations."

One of my least favorite combinations, too, and I suspect that people of this type are very responsive to conspiracy theories.

And I also think that today's academic environment tends to mass-produce people who are "both cynical and unworldly."

At 5:45 PM, December 05, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Last week, I saw had its own take on the Kennedy assassination. The headline was "KENNEDY SLAIN BY CIA, MAFIA, CASTRO, LBJ, TEAMSTERS, FREEMASONS" and underneath that, "President Shot 129 Times from 43 Different Angles".

I couldn't stop laughing for a half-hour after I read, "and Texas Gov. John Connally lunged at the president from within the limousine itself, slitting the president's throat with a combat knife."

I think the Kennedy assassination conspiracy remains powerful because of Kennedy's near-deification, so it goes, no one mortal man could possibly have brought him down, especially not the likes of Oswald. It is naturally difficult to come to terms with the fact that one dedicated madman, even without followers, can have such a profound and negative effect on the world.

At 5:53 PM, December 05, 2005, Blogger Dean Esmay said...

Hats off to "Anonymous" for this:

The ironic thing about those figures on how many people believe there was a conspiracy in the Kennedy assassination is that an equally large majority probably believes that John Wilkes Booth acted completely alone in the Lincoln assassination.

I repeat it just because it's worth repeating. (And in case anyone doesn't get it, most historians believe that Booth's co-conspirators were David Herold, George Atzerodt, Lewis Payne, John Surratt, and his mother Mary Surratt--Mary Surratt also holding the distinction of being the first woman in American history who was hanged by the state.)

At 6:21 PM, December 05, 2005, Blogger Pat said...

"THe first thing that caught my attention was a History channel program that claimed that Kennedy's Secret Police motorcade escorts were told to back off and slow, thereby giving a clear shot to anyone who wanted one."

And who told them to back off and [go] slow? Why, Kennedy himself, who also ordered the Secret Service men not to ride on the running boards of the presidential limousine. It interfered with the photo op possibilities.

The folks most likely to believe in the CIA/Mafia/Nixon's Plumbers/you name it assassination plot story are the loony left, for the simple reason that they'd rather not believe it was one of their own who killed Kennedy.

At 11:18 PM, December 05, 2005, Blogger Michael said...

I also think there's another level to it, which is (for some) a reason to feel smarter than others. "You fools, how could you be so blind?" This also gives the conspiracy theorist a feeling of control: "most people may be blind sheep, but my eyes are open!"

This is the maddening part of talking with anyone who has read Noam Chomsky, say. They just say that the reason you think anything you think is because you're one of the hypnotized sheeple fooled by Fox news etc. That you might have genuine opinions of your own-- that in fact yours are based on reading more than one author, unlike theirs-- they do not admit.

It's a conspiracy, I tell ya!

As for Kennedy/Oswald/Ruby, I'm with Norman Mailer (or the Mailer of about 20 years ago), who pointed out that Ruby was standing in a bank line ten minutes before he shot Oswald. That makes no sense if he was in a conspiracy-- one little old lady depositing pennies and he blows his chance, disappointing his masters in the CIA, Mafia and Pentagon-- but perfectly fits the profile of the self-dramatizing, slightly sociopathic hoodlum who suddenly gets the idea in his head of gunning down Oswald and immediately acts on it without thinking. Once you no longer accept Ruby's role as Oswald's designated silencer, then it becomes harder to accept the equally unreliable and erratic Oswald as the linchpin of a master plan, either...

At 11:31 PM, December 05, 2005, Blogger Pancho said...

Of course the poster child for fun and zany conspiracy theories is....."Roswell". After the Kennedy the most debated, but infinitely more fun.

I'm in Roswell frequently and witness the steady stream of "theorists" poking around. [Roswell, by the way, is a great town with a world class art museum--oil money]. Roswell is interesting in that most all the events and statements quoted by the "theorists" are true. The only problem is that most of the events on which the facts are based, happened at completely different time frames than the actual 'crash'. This doesn't stop the "theorists" however...

My favorite witness is the nurse who saw small burned bodies in the base hospital. Turns out that according to her personnel file nursie had been transfered to Germany long before the 'crash' actually happened. This fact only adds to the "theorists" zeal, they contend that this is part of the coverup, her records were changed after the fact. It is a proven fact that she did see burned bodies from a crashed B-29 some months before she was transfered. Could this be a coincidence?

At 11:36 PM, December 05, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There has to be a conspiracy about the murder of MLK. After all, who wants to believe a giant can be brought low solely by a pissant?

IMO, this applies to certain conspiracy theories.

At 11:56 PM, December 05, 2005, Blogger TmjUtah said...

I've been to Dealy Plaza.

I could have made the shots. At least as well as Oswald could have. Probably done better, too, since I have been practicing marksmanship longer than Oswald lived.

For many years there was a rumor that the rifle in evidence was clumsy to operate and "stiff". It turned out later that the original statement was made by a person totally unfamiliar with rifles. The Carcano is clunky but it can be quick.

I'm not anything approaching a distinguished shooter, though. Those guys are really good.

The portions of the case that bother me:

1) The Carcano boltie is a Mauser-style action fed by a detachable box magazine. It was detached and subsequently went missing. Sloppy, and a bad way to begin an important investigation.

2) Oswald was living on the edge of poverty, yet possibly managed to have a mix of ball (full metal jacket, which was the cheapest and most plentiful available) and hunting (soft point or gas checked lead slug - don't remember which - much, MUCH less common and more expensive in that caliber) ammunition.

FMJ zips right through bone and tissue. The killing shot to Kennedy's head fragmented so dramatically that pieces of the round were picked out of the governor, who was also hit by an FMJ round.

3) The rifle grouped something large - something like 3" at one hundred yards. Large for what one would consider critical shooting, but good enough for brush hunting deer. The inherent slop in the rifle combined with the (possibly) mixed ammo means that Oswald probably shot lucky - not well.

4) Inconsistencies between the Dallas and D.C. post mortems. Which I'm in no way qualified to judge between.

These four topics raise questions... but I think it was Oswald acting alone.

I have four (! goes Mrs. Tmj) milsurp rifles downstairs similar to the Carcano, and any one of them could do the job. It ain't rocket science, as they say.

At 12:08 AM, December 06, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think Sy Hersh wrote a book claiming that the Army is/was run by a secret society. I haven't read the book, but the cover claims that a secret gang of seven formed at West Point runs the entire program and cover-ups.

I doubt it is a conspiracy because Sy Hersh writes for the New Yorker and he is a serious reporter;)

At 12:14 AM, December 06, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I doubt that there is one, or even a simple few reasons for people believing in conspiracy theories. As with most things the bottom line is probably that such theories provide them some level of comfort. The power of the human brain to protect itself from unpleasant truths is considerable and most of us (if not all of us) fall prey to the temptation to believe what we want instead of what we can prove from time to time.

In the case of GW Bush and the conspiracy theories which swirl around him, the most common ones are precisely those that give the left the most comfort. "Bush didn't win the 2000 election in Florida, he stole it, therefore I can refuse to accept him as President." Same for Ohio in 2004. "I can't blame my ideologically aligned politicians for voting for the war so Bush must have used some sort of nefarious mind-control to get them to vote that way."

I have for years debated with those on the left about the actual provable facts of Bush's actions, and even when the evidence is overwhelmingly against them, they choose not to believe it. Some of them will even admit that they refuse to believe what is provable because they "know" the real truth. This is Mary Mapes unpleasant corner of moonbatland, but she has far more companions than people realize.

But when Clinton was President I had the same arguments with the loony right. I don't recall how many times I argued that Clinton was not a serial murderer or even a serial rapist. But that was simply not what they wanted to hear.

I still think Paul Simon said it best: "A man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest."

At 12:33 AM, December 06, 2005, Blogger chuck said...

the Jack D. Ripper character who thought flouride was a Commie plot to poison our precious body fluids was a joke.

Well, it was a joke about an actual conspiracy theory. John Birchers were among those promoting it, I believe.

As to the rise of anti-science, I think that was part of what happened in the 60's. A brief list would include living off sunlight, karma, levitation, mystic messages in Beatles' songs, the Tarot, astral projection, astrology, vegetarianism, eastern religions, psychodelics -- yada, yada, yada. Science was hard, not soft, fluffy, and magical. The boomers made nonsense a religion and the effects linger into today, not least in education.

The persistence of the Kennedy assassination theories has always baffled me. I was in highschool in 1963 and recall thinking of how easy it would be for one person with a rifle to assassinate the president. That was *before* the assassination. So when it happened I was prepared to believe that Oswald acted alone. I still think that one person could have pulled it off more easily than a bunch. Most other attempted and successful presidential assassinations have been carried out by individuals acting alone.

At 1:03 AM, December 06, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"...conspiracy theories in general, including ones hatched by those on the right about Clinton's murdering Vince Foster, and the like."

Actually, if you'll check the literature, the dominant theme has been "we don't know how Vincent Foster died, but we do see it as extremely unlikely that he walked through Fort Marcy Park and shot himself."

The "Clinton killed Foster" line was spread as a reductio ad absurdum by Clinton-group defenders.

At 1:44 AM, December 06, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The same, I believe, is true for some of the demonization of Bush: better to believe he's evil but in control than that the situation is inherently somewhat chaotic.

You could say something similar about faith in God: better to believe there's somebody in control than that the situation is inherently somewhat chaotic.

At 3:06 AM, December 06, 2005, Blogger Towering Barbarian said...

It's worth remembering that some of these are the product of wartime hysteria and tend to recur from age to age. For example, "The Bush knew about 9/11 and let it go forward" meme strikes me as the "FDR knew about Pearl Harbor in advance and let it happen/helped it along" rumor that circulated around WWII. Likewise "It's all about oil. Haliburton. Yadda, yadda, yadda!" seems very much a reincarnation of the "This war has been caused by the Banking Conpiracy" meme of WWII which itself was a reincarnation of "This war was caused by munitions manufacturers looking to stir up business" meme of WWI. I suspect that if we examined the conspiracy theories of the Left these days we would find very little that's original. ^_^;

As for Sagan...My suspicion is that his book was more about the closing of his own mind than what has actually happened. Ever since Hesiod it seems common among some people to think that the time of their youth was some Golden Age and that the world around them is some degenerate Age of Iron destined only to get worse but a look at enough of this over history merely shows that it's nothing more than the sour grapes of their own old age rather than the times in which they wrote it. Mr. Sagan merely differed in that he was in a position to get his rant published.

For my own part I agree with Damon Knight, "The Golden Age is Six!" ^_~

At 5:22 AM, December 06, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The problem with conspiracy theories is that there are three basic levels of them: stupid, possible, and plausable. Too many people lump them all together.

Stupid are easy to see, and by far the most common. They either ignore anything that doesn't agree with them (the "missle into the pentagon" people ignoring photographs that clearly show plane parts) or rely on something that chance is so close to zero it might as well be, or chance is zero (the entirety of the French police being complicit keeping it secret that England killed princess Dianana). Too all often consiparcy theories are lumped into this group.

The next we have is "possible". For these there is no real evidence other than ones own mind but no proof it's wrong either. We have the Bush let it happen people, clinton killed Vince Foster, etc. You can't prove it's wrong so it must be right. I wouldn't write them off as "not possible" as they are not, but it is so close to that to be irrelevant unless other evidence is out later.

The last, and rarest group, is the "plausable". Oswald most likely didn't plan alone (though did shoot alone), Vince Foster most likely didn't commit suicide (though Clinton being involved is in a different category), and others. It's like if one section of your fence is destroyed everytime you put one up and everytime it is down your neigbor has the tools to do the damage lying around their yard - and only then - to do exately that job and only that job (add in they hate your fence and constantly say they want it gone), it's likely they did it. That's not enough for proof, it's not enough for court of law, but it is enough to be confident. Of course, you may be wrong too. The plausable category isn't proof. You shouldn't base your ideas one them, just not dismiss the ideas out of hand. This is true even on theories that aren't classified as "conspiracy theories"

consiparcy theories have turned out to be true, occam's razor isn't a law by any means. It's pretty safe to dismiss "stupid" and "possible" consipracy theories - they have no real evidence whatsoever. However, while I wouldn't base my idea's based on them, I wouldn't discount them as crazy either.

I also can't agree more with the logical fallacy thing. Not only what he said, but when you do use one you know it. Logical fallacies aren't necesarilly wrong, just not provable. I use them sometimes (slipperly slope is one of the ones I use often), but since I know where it is not provable I can reinforce what I say with other evidence.

At 6:53 AM, December 06, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cosmic, I think you may have misspoken.
You say you have debated with folks who could be said to suffer from BDS. They don't believe even that which they know to be true. I've had the same experience.

Then you say you tried to argue with conservatives in Clinton's era that he wasn't a rapist or serial murderer.

I submit those are different. Both are matters of fact. However, the latter is a conclusion, as well, based on other matters of fact. You didn't say whether you do the same with questions about Bush.

Here's how I see the difference: Saying, for example, that there is absolutely no evidence for intimidation of black voters in Florida in 2000 would be a fact. You can state that. Saying Bush was elected legitimately is a conclusion based on a number of similar facts. Those are different levels of issues.

Saying Clinton is not, say, a rapist, begs the question of various claims of fact. You would be arguing, for example, that Juanita Broaderick (sp?) was someplace else on the day she claimed to have been raped by Clinton, to address a matter of fact.

To say Clinton isn't a rapist is a conclusion drawn from matters of fact.

Are you pretty sure you were dealing with the same level of fact in both cases--defending Bush and defending Clinton?

At 7:23 AM, December 06, 2005, Blogger Ben said...

I read this post to my wife this morning. She suggested that the same desire for someone to be in control (even someone wicked) might explain other phenomena as well. Her example: the proliferation of lawsuits. If something bad happens, it must be someone's fault. It would be intolerable if bad stuff could just happen on its own, with no one to blame.

At 11:07 AM, December 06, 2005, Blogger Pancho said...

Sy Hersh wrote a book claiming that the Army is/was run by a secret society

It is! A society composed of selfless faithful Americans. Something he probably doesn't know anything about and therefore it feels like a secret to him.

At 11:31 AM, December 06, 2005, Blogger Andrew Ian Dodge said...

A "friend" who spouted at me that Bush knew about 9/11 would no longer be my friend. We all know what tends to follow that theory...something about no Jews being in the towers...etc.

I also try to avoid the company of morons.

At 12:14 PM, December 06, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Richard (Aubrey):

If you read my post you'll see that I argued that there was no evidence that Clinton wasn't a serial rapist. I was careful to put it that way becuase of Juanita Broderick.

In that sense, yes, I am arguing the same level of fact, there is no evidence to prove that Bush stole the Florida election and there is no evidence I've seen that supports the idea that Clinton is a serial murderer or a serial rapist.

A singular rapist is another thing, but even then all we have is her word against his.

Still my basic contention is that both the right and the left suffer from conspiracy acceptance beyond anything that rationality will support.

At 12:32 PM, December 06, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My theory of life is to avoid the company of morons and Sy Hersh. They're both a waste of precious time on Earth.

At 12:46 PM, December 06, 2005, Blogger David Thomson said...

"The very best book I ever read on the subject of conspiracy theories was Conspiracy: How the Paranoid Style Flourishes and Where It Comes From. It's by Daniel Pipes, who has come into some (possibly deserved) criticisms for excessive generalizations about muslims in recent years"

I also highly recommend this book. Daniel Pipes is not guilty of making “excessive generalizations about muslims.” I’ve never found even one instance of this being the case. He is a very careful scholar. On the contrary, Pipes repeatedly distinguishes between moderate Muslims and their nihilistic opposites. The man unfortunately is a victim of a very effective campaign to slime his good name.

At 1:27 PM, December 06, 2005, Blogger neo-neocon said...

Lagwolf--Actually, that friend and I don't have much to do with each other any more. That's what I meant when I said I gave her "a wider berth" after that. Basically, I'm polite to her when I see her, but that's about it. Although it wasn't done consciously; I didn't set out to break off the friendship. But her extreme positions did have a naturally chilling effect on our friendship.

However, she was a relatively new friend. I have another friend and relative who has some very extreme conspiratorial views, and I have decided not to let that impact on our relationship. She knows my position and I know hers, and we just don't talk about that stuff any more.

For those who think Oswald didn't act alone, even in the planning, I absolutely recommend the Case Closed book by Posner. It may change your mind.

At 4:06 PM, December 06, 2005, Blogger sierra said...

Funny thing about paranoia over water fluoridation: while it used to be a hallmark of John Birchers, it's now largely championed by the Left.

At 5:08 PM, December 06, 2005, Blogger Dean Esmay said...

Anonymous: Some do assert the Clintons killed Vince Foster. Still others claim that okay, maybe he killed himself, but then the Clintons conspired to move his body to a park, and hide the fact that he killed himself in his White House office so they could hide secret evidence he had there." Which requires either massive collusion by the Secret Service and no other eyewitnesses or, worse, somehow someone getting out of the White House with a body and not being spotted by anyone in security.

Sorry, nuh-uh, not buying it. It's a loony theory no matter how you slice it. There are inconsistencies in every police murder report; the park police did their job, and reached the most logical and likely conclusion.

At 5:17 PM, December 06, 2005, Blogger Team India said...

100% conspiracy.

American Govt sponsers terrorism, then blames the arabs, so they can steal their oil, and get a foothold in the middle east for their plan of world domination

At 6:56 PM, December 06, 2005, Blogger Nicholas said...

> including reading Gerald Posner's Case Closed, which I recommend to anyone interested

I did read it shortly after the movie JFK came out.

The thing which drove me nuts about it was the number of instances where Posner just handwaves past things of some obvious importance.

I don't recall that many specifics (I'd have to go back to my well-marked up copy's margin notes) but one that has always stuck in my head was a report from Russia while Oswald was there in which it was made clear that, apparently, a hunting trip was a fiasco because he could not hit the broad side of a barn door -- with a shotgun. I'm not going to say much beyond the fact that it's pretty damned hard to MISS with a shotgun.

It's not that Posner disputes this or somehow suggests it as inaccurate -- he just NEVER puts two and two together, totally ignoring the anomaly of "Oswald the fairly good shot" contraposed with "Can't hit a barn door with a shotgun at 10 feet".

Posner's book is riddled with things like this. I wanted repeatedly to grab him by the lapels and shake him and scream, "ASK THE OBVIOUS QUESTION YOU IDIOT!!! JEEZ!"

P.S. I do recommend the "Director's Cut" of "JFK". There are some interesting tidbits in it which were edited out as a result of sequencing issues (including a particularly interesting revelation of fact about Clay Shaw which would have appeared in a scene in which, in the movie's events, they did not yet KNOW of Clay Shaw).

Don't get me wrong, I don't flat out subscribe to the conspiracy, per se -- I just think the data is inexplicably confusing and contradictory... which, if there was a conspiracy, is rather conveniently *precisely* how they'd want it.

As the saying goes, the ideal conditions for a true conspiracy are when people see conspiracies everywhere.

Posner's book does raise a bunch of very valid questions... but fails to ask some key ones which scream at you when reading it.

On the one hand, a conspiracy does require silence on the part of a lot of people, something large groups are not all that good at -- but, OTOH, for events to fall as they did, with as much ambiguity as they did, does require a truly amazing number of improbable events to fall "just so" and flat out incompetence on the part of hundreds, if not thousands, of people...

So Occam's Razor isn't sufficiently fine to solve this problem.

I suspect that it's going to have to wait for some pinhead to die and some obnoxious classified document to surface under the FOIA 100 years after it matters.

At 9:01 PM, December 06, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice website Team India. You are a jackass.

At 11:18 PM, December 06, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Ref Oswald's marksmanship.

To have gotten out of Marine boot camp, he'd have had to be a substantially better shot than you presume.

We have dueling reports. One, most unlikely, from Russia. Keep in mind, as you say, that it's extremely difficult to miss a barn door with a shotgun. Possibly a false report?
He graduated from Marine boot camp which requires a reasonable standard of marksmanship. Which of these contradictory facts rules?

At 11:37 PM, December 06, 2005, Blogger neo-neocon said...

Nicholas: I don't have Case Closed with me at the moment, so I'm doing this from memory. But my recollection is that there was a great deal of pretty convincing evidence in it that Oswald was a very good marksman. Some of it was indeed, as richard aubrey said, from his Marine days. So the Russian report about poor marksmanship seems to have been an anomaly.

At 2:44 AM, December 07, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Shotgun and rifle are two different skills. We have a person who competes at a national level in rifle in our club - don't give hime a pistol or shotgun though. Especially the shotgun, most of the kids in the beginning class shoot better than him. So, that very well could be true. I know quite a few shotgun shooters (what I used to shoot competitvly) that can't shoot a rifle worth a flip also.

It's like saying "well, he was a terrible quaterback so why would anyone think he could be a baseball pitcher?". Completely different skills, even though both are throwing something accuratly.

As others have said, for Oswald to make it out of the Marines requires a certain level of proficiency with a rifle.

And to note, I didn't say I believed that Oswald didn't act alone, the point of post is that him not is very much in the "plausable" section - there is nothing that negates it and it is one of several possibilities that the evidence shows. The only reason not to believe it is Occam's Razor, which again is not a law. Because of that, VERY persuasive books can be written that take either viewpoint.

At 7:09 AM, December 07, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

... and yet ... WMD has been found in Iraq. See here: WMD FOUND IN IRAQ for a simple 'round-up'.

The conspiracy isn't one of lying about WMD, but of trying to hide the fact that they are there. MSM is trying anything it can to support its own war against Bush.

At 1:28 PM, December 07, 2005, Blogger David Thomson said...

"Nicholas: I don't have Case Closed with me at the moment, so I'm doing this from memory."

I strongly agree with Gerald Posner. Oswald acted alone. Also, he had more than enough ability to shoot President Kennedy. Any decent marksman could have easily accomplished this feat.

"Because of that, VERY persuasive books can be written that take either viewpoint."

Nonsense. The books supporting the silly conspiracy theories are laughable. Posner's work is the real deal. It is overwhelmingly convincing.

At 5:53 PM, December 07, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My father worked for our state as a public investigator. He said that conspiracies by government employees were almost impossible because they were too stupid or too arrogant. They'd tell someone outside the group or leave a memo lying around.

Personally, I always thought the JFK conspiracy was a load of malarky. Unfortunately, very few people read the details of Garfield's assassination (1881, shot by a self-proclaimed anarchist, died of infection) or the failed attempt on Ford (the gun jammed). Take a look at those, and you see how relatively easy it is for a handful of disgruntled "regular folks" to kill.

At 2:36 PM, December 08, 2005, Blogger rafinlay said...

Why can't everybody see that the REAL conspiracy lies in the secret cabal of infernal psychologists who generate conspiracy theories (and contra-conspiracy theories) to manipulate the general populace....

Uh oh. I think I see one now -- gotta go.

At 4:14 PM, December 08, 2005, Blogger submandave said...

re JFK: I believe the investigation was intentionally rushed in an attempt to achieve "closure" as soon as possible and not leave the US in a politically vulnerable position that could have been taken advantage of by the Soviets. Especially with LHO dead and gone. An unintended result was the number of "holes" still being cited today as "proof" of a conspiracy.

re on-topic: benning is the only one to point out the often unreported truth that while we have not found the large stockpiles of WMD expected in Iraq, neither have we found proof that our pre-invasion intelligence was wrong. There is still lots of individual pieces of evidence indicating the weapons were once there. Given the advanced warning afforded Saddam it can't be discounted that he could have moved, hid or destroyed the weapons he had in the six-month lead up to invasion. We simply can't prove either position.

At 8:20 AM, December 09, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Where did the chemical weapons that Jordan intercepted about a year ago, prior to their being let off in Amman come from?

There were a number of tons, as I recall.
Naturally, they didn't make much splash with the LSM, on account of they may have come from Iraq and ruined the narrative.

At 8:38 PM, December 12, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Andrew Scotia:

I'm glad to see someone has read Steve Dutch's writings. I've exchanged e-mail with him; he seems an interesting and thoughtful man, much in the vein of Michael Chrichton on matters of Science and Public Policy...

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At 7:39 AM, January 29, 2007, Blogger the Curmudgeon said...

In my opinion, the main reasons for conspiracy theories are two:

1 - Distrust of the government. Our governments have been caught red-handed in outright lies and coverups so many times, that it's safer to assume that there's more to a story than what's at face value.

2 - The lack of true investigative reporting these days. The mainstream media just doesn't do this in a big way anymore, and conspiratorialists and conspiracy theories fill the resulting vacuum left by a lack of the media doing its job. Most "reporting" nowdays is putting out press releases handed to them, or running "fluff" pieces on celebrities, etc.

My blog lists conspiracy theories that turned out to be proven fact -

plus links to discussions on things that have been considered conspiracies but have been "outted"

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