Tuesday, October 17, 2017

The Hidden Forces that Promote Conspiracy Thinking about Mass Killing

The explosion of conspiracy theories accompanying the mass killing in Las Vegas can be seen all over the Internet. The theories and their rationals range from the absurd, such as "a 64-year-old man could not have moved 10 bags up to his room alone" to somewhat sophisticated analysis of cell phone recordings that claim to find evidence of two shooters.

I have not seen any convincing evidence that requires a conspiracy to explain the mass murder.  I use Occam's razor to winnow out the theories. That is, when given two explanations, the preference should be given to the simpler, less complicated version.  For any incident, an imaginative mind can create an infinite variety of logically consistent explanations. But only one is true. It usually is the least complicated.

For example, I might walk out the door without my cell phone. The simple explanation is that the human mind is complicated and imperfect, and I forgot to put my cell phone in a pocket.

A complicated explanation would be that unknown government agents distracted me with fake bird sounds and a loud car outside of my door, just as I was about to pick up my phone. They knew the timing required by monitoring my movements though the camera in my computer. They needed me to leave the phone to access it so as to substitute a phone with sophisticated tracking devices embedded in it.

There have always been conspiracy theories. The human mind is designed to notice patterns and assign causal relationships. It works for us most of the time. But sometimes the mind creates causality where it does not exist, especially for unusual, complicated, important events that threaten our sense of safety.

The standard explanation is that conspiracy theories serve a psychological need to deny reality. From reviewjournal.com:
University of Massachusetts professor Kirby Farrell is a regular contributor to Psychology Today and the author of a 2015 book about America’s fascination with rampage killings.

He prefers the term “conspiracy fantasies,” not theories.

Farrell said the need to invent — or to believe — elaborate and often unprovable explanations for attacks like the one in Las Vegas is rooted in fear and avoidance. It is an attempt to “sanitize or wish away the inexplicable violence that overtakes certain individuals,” he said.

“Conspiracy fantasies are a kind of sophisticated game people play to prop up or reinforce denial,” Farrell said.
There is more to it than that.

In the last 20 years, a number of technological advances and the resulting social changes have accelerated the tendency and motivation to create conspiracy theories.

First, we have found that real conspiracies have existed, and have been effective.

Hitler did create fake attacks against Germans to justify the invasion of Poland. The U.S. government used Mafia proxies to attempt the assassination of Fidel Castro. The Russian government used sophisticated devices to assassinate political opponents in the west. The common knowledge of real conspiracies is magnified by the prominence given to the concept in movies and TV shows. Consider "Enemy of the State" or "Conspiracy Theory" or "JFK" or, to go a little further back, "Mission Impossible".

Second, the public has often been lied to by the government, and some of those lies have been exposed. Lyndon Johnson become famous for lying about the Gulf of Tonkin episode.  Barak Obama lied about "you can keep your plan".  James Comey lied about any real intention to investigate Hillary. The Federal Government did sanction sales of AK clones to Mexican drug cartels.

Third, "Black" operations are known to exist. By nature, they are not widely publicized. I personally know two people that were involved in "Black Ops". "Black ops" existence has been widely touted.

Fourth, over the last 20 years, the establishment media has been repeatedly caught in lying, creating false narratives, and cover-ups that are blatantly partisan. The Paula Jones story was spiked by major media before it was outed by Matt Drudge. The misdeeds of Harvey Weinstein were covered up by his media pals for decades. Dan Rather was caught using fake documents in an attempt to throw the 2004 presidential election to the Democrats.  

All of the above have eroded trust in government pronouncements and media sources.

Fifth, there are real rewards for someone who can prove a real conspiracy. The people who proved the falsity of the Rathergate documents are still touted on the Internet for the heroes that they are. Codrea and Vanderboegh have been lauded for their work in exposing Fast and Furious.

Sixth, there are real rewards for putting out semi-plausible sounding conspiracy theories.  A site will gather millions of hits and much advertising revenue if it creates a plausible sounding theory that is difficult to disprove.

This all happens at the speed of wi-fi waves and electrons transmitted by wire. The access to massive data from thousands of cell phones and sensors gives citizen investigators enormous resources to pick and chose to create plausible scenarios. The lack of data is more grist for the mill, as conspiracy theorists claim the lack of data is significant. "Why haven't we seen this video?!" is trumpeted as evidence of a conspiracy when the video may not exist, or there are perfectly valid reasons why it has not been made public.

We will not see an end to conspiracy theories. We must live with them.

Objective truth should win in the end. Internet investigations have shown their worth.  I urge everyone to be careful about spreading unproven theories, and to investigate facts for themselves. Be skeptical, be careful, remember Occam's razor and other rules of logic. Don't accept a theory, just because you like it, or because it validates your politics. The truth will out, but it will take time.

©2017 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice and link are included.

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Anonymous said...

I urge everyone to be careful about spreading unproven theories, and to investigate facts for themselves. Be skeptical, be careful, remember Occam's razor and other rules of logic. Don't accept a theory, just because you like it, or because it validates your politics

uh...that is what so-called "conspiracy theorists" are doing!
the official story seems to have more holes in it than a Swiss cheese!
one of its biggest problems is that the people allegedly shot with hi-powered rifle rounds are up and about after only a few days in hospital and giving 'thumbs up' from their beds...this is patently ridiculous....even being shot in the arm or the leg with such a round will incapacitate you for several weeks if not months and may well require extensive follow-up surgery and physio-therapy....

Dean Weingarten said...

Just because someone went to the hospital following a mass shooting does not mean they were shot.