Conspiracies: Welcome to cockamamie

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Conspiracies: Welcome to cockamamie

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Wake up, America. Stop buying into the lies and propaganda fed to you by the politicians, and start demanding the truth. The answers are all around you; you just need to open your eyes and look. Jet fuel can’t melt steel beams. (Duh?)

This sort of talk should be familiar to anyone who’s spent any amount of time on the Internet. Whether buried deep in the comments section of a YouTube video or plastered all over your Facebook news feed, 9/11 conspiracy theorists (known as “truthers”) are so prevalent online that they’ve inspired their own memes.

To most of us, the idea of 9/11 as an inside job may seem ludicrous. Does anyone really believe that our federal government — which, in recent years, has shown itself to be too ineffective and politically divided to pass a simple budget — is capable of masterminding and flawlessly executing the most sinister act of terrorism the world has ever seen?

My goal here is not to argue about the particulars of jet fuel and steel beams. What I’m more concerned about is the prevalence of these types of conspiracy theories and their impact on our society. Whether it’s the Illuminati, that fluoride in our drinking water, or Obama’s birthplace, people are always rejecting the “official” story, in favor of ulterior motives/theories/explanations.

What’s the danger of this sort of mentality? Why should it affect anyone else if a few of us would feel more comfortable sporting tinfoil hats?

For one, it’s not just “a few of us.” While it’s easy to dismiss conspiracy theorists as paranoid loners – living alone in their parents’ basement, a 2014 study by researchers at the University of Chicago found that nearly 50 percent of Americans, from a variety of backgrounds, believe in at least one conspiracy theory.

One can see this mentality leaching into mainstream politics, as well. Politicians often appeal to the fears and suspicions of their constituents, no matter how baseless they may be. When a military training exercise known as Jade Helm took place in rural Texas, some citizens feared what they deemed to be the start of a massive federal takeover. Rather than quell or ignore these rumors, Texas governor Gregg Abbott paid lip service to the theorists, even going so far as to request that the Texas State Guard “monitor” the exercise.

One of the greatest blessings of living in America is the freedom to believe whatever you want. However, when conspiratorial fiction is substituted for political or scientific realities, problems occur. When Republican presidential candidates, including two doctors, debate the supposed link between vaccinations and autism, despite overwhelming medical evidence to the contrary, it’s easy to laugh it off. But as the recent measles outbreak in California shows, 15 years after the disease was thought to be eradicated, the consequences of these types of misconceptions are not immaterial.

Now, I understand that “conspiracy theory” is a loaded term, often used to discredit ideas as farfetched or paranoid. And I am not suggesting that citizens must blindly accept whatever narrative their leaders proffer. And some conspiracies have turned out to be true; think Watergate, or the Iran-Contra affair. Skepticism and wariness toward those in power is fundamental to democracy.

However, the type of thinking I’m referring to is not mere skepticism. It is a tendency to view everything as interconnected. All new evidence is either incorporated into their particular theory or dismissed as propaganda, spread by those complicit in the “cover-up.” In many ways, it is the exact opposite of skepticism.

It’s true that many conspiracy theories contain a grain of truth, making them difficult to disregard entirely. But conspiracy theories don’t draw light to these realities; they strive to overshadow them. They wash away specifics and distract us from the real issues.

Our responsibility, then, as enlightened citizens, is to look past these elaborate narratives and focus on the core concerns behind them. Worried about living in an Orwellian police state? Why not do some research on the NSA surveillance programs uncovered by Edward Snowden, or pay attention to police brutality in your community?

Instead of discussing Jay-Z’s role in the Illuminati, look into the 2010 Supreme Court’s disastrous 2010 ruling, Citizens United, which allows corporations to funnel unprecedented amounts of money into influencing political elections.

And for God’s sake, stop blaming George Bush for 9/11, and start holding him and others within his administration accountable for the numerous misguided and downright nefarious policies — from the Patriot Act to the Iraq War and Guantanamo Bay — enacted under the proclaimed guise of protecting American lives.

The sad truth is that you don’t need to fabricate secret organizations or cockamamie theories to find sinister problems within American society — they are happening every day, out in the open. But when you dismiss everything as a conspiracy, all you are really doing is disengaging from the political process and allowing these very serious issues to remain unaddressed.

Which — if there really is an all-powerful covert group running the world — is exactly what they’d want.