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We all know a conspiracy theorist. Maybe it's that kid from high school who keeps putting photos of "chemtrails" on his Facebook wall, or an uncle who listens to alternative radio and thinks Obama is a reptilian creature in a human skin suit. It's easy to laugh at them and congratulate ourselves for being smarter than they are, but in doing so you'd be missing something important:

They're winning.

Yeah, it's time to take conspiracy theorists seriously, but not for the reasons they want us to.

5
The More Information People Have Access to, the Worse It Gets

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Right after John F. Kennedy was assassinated, about 52 percent of people thought there was some kind of conspiracy at play, according to polls at the time. Of course, this was the dark ages of the 1960s, before you could just tap your iPhone and instantly find thorough debunkings of the conspiracy theories and dead simple explanations of things like the "magic bullet." In the 50 years since, we've massively increased the number of college graduates in the population and, you know, magically made all human knowledge instantly accessible to nearly everyone at any time. As a result, that 52 percent of conspiracy believers ... has gone up to fucking 61 percent.

Christopher Robbins/Digital Vision/Getty Images
Sorry, the world getting dumber is the only conspiracy that isn't just in your head.

Holy shit! That means some of you reading this almost certainly believe in the JFK conspiracy. But we're not here to insult you -- that just means that at some point you learned about the conspiracy theories but didn't also learn that experts disproved them long ago. That's the point -- all of the information is out there, but for many of you the only bits that stuck to your brain were the ones that aren't supported by any evidence at all.

And you see this everywhere -- 37 percent of Americans think global warming is a hoax perpetrated by a conspiracy of at least 30,000 climate scientists cooperating behind the scenes as part of a secret agenda. And then there is a hardcore 20 percent or so who believe in pretty much any goddamned thing -- from the U.S. government having staged the 9/11 attacks, to a conspiracy to hide evidence of alien visitors. And then there's the 28 percent who believe in one, overarching conspiracy involving a class of elites secretly controlling, just, all of the world events behind the scenes. From the wars in the Middle East to the writing of this article, all of us are just puppets -- here's a video explaining how Beyonce is at the center of it all:

The ironic part is that the above video exposes a truth way more horrifying than some dark conspiracy spanning Zionist bankers and Jay-Z's record label: the fact that access to information doesn't actually make us smarter.

See, conspiracy buffs have a very specific method -- they'll pore through the available data until they find something that confirms their belief, like an odd shadow in a single moon landing photo that somehow proves the whole thing was the most expensive and pointless hoax of all time (seriously, if they were going to fake it, couldn't they have thrown in some aliens or something to make it interesting?). They ignore all of the other evidence, so the sheer volume of available data actually makes their job easier.

NASA
Or just claim that it was technologically impossible while proposing a theory that actually was technologically impossible.

During the 9/11 attacks, for instance, the BBC reported on rumors that Building 7 of the World Trade Center had collapsed, while the building was clearly visible in the background (it would collapse a half hour later). It was a simple misreading of a report, but to the conspiracy buffs, it was proof that the BBC was in on staging the attacks (along with all other news agencies, all government agencies, all scientists, and pretty much everyone you know). The even stupider theory that the Sandy Hook shooting never actually happened made it all the way to mainstream media attention due to conspiracy theorists poring over photographs and news reports -- any misplaced pixel on a photo is proof of Photoshop, any misspoken word in a news report is evidence of a cover-up.

Then, the conspiracy believers can set up a message board to share their theories and ban/delete any dissenting views -- creating a little island where it's ridiculous not to believe that the murder victims we see on the news aren't robots and/or holograms. Scroll down to the comments here and prepare to have your mind blown -- one guy posts that the Sandy Hook massacre was done by the same squad that "began their evil twisted careers with the faked death and witness protection escape for Elvis," and no one disagrees with him.

Kena Betancur/Getty Images News/Getty Images
Whoa, there's a death squad where you get to meet Elvis? Where do we sign?

So what does it matter if people believe crazy things now and then? Well, there's the fact that ...

4
People Are Dying

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So, already we can see that there is a particularly nefarious glitch in the human brain that causes us to hear minority opinions a lot louder than the majority. After all, what they're saying is more interesting by sheer virtue of it being different, kind of like how you notice a single red rose growing in the middle of a grass field or, more fittingly, a single dog turd on a white tile floor. So when 99 percent of scientists agree that, for example, the benefits of vaccines far outweigh the risks, it becomes boring background noise. But when, in 1998, medical journal The Lancet published a single solitary study that showed a possible link between the MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccine and autism, it created a worldwide panic that's still raging 16 years later.

Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty
Pfft, what would a doctor know about medicine? Let's listen to what the Playboy model has to say.

The article was almost immediately discredited as fraud, retracted with an apology, and the author banned from practicing medicine, which is about as hard as you can possibly tell a scientist to go fuck himself while jumping down a well. But the conspiracy genie was already out of the bullshit bottle, and no amount of fancy "proper science" could stuff it back in -- the retraction of the article was seen as a cover-up, leading to a full-blown conspiracy theory about "Big Pharma" trying to kill us with vaccines. This is a perfect example of the breakdown in human psychology that makes this possible -- the sheer fact that the assertion is outrageous and dismissed by experts makes people believe it more.

So, as a result of parents not vaccinating children against diseases, we're seeing increased numbers of diseases such as whooping cough and measles. In 2012, the U.S. suffered its worst outbreak of whooping cough in 70 years; in Washington state, there were over 2,520 cases of the disease, a 1,300 percent increase over the previous year, all because the state has the highest rates of parents refusing vaccination. And that's not even getting into the awful message it sends to kids with autism ("We literally thought it would be better if you died of measles, fucker!"). This site is keeping a running body count, if you're interested.

JennyMcCarthyBodyCount.com

And here's where the "conspiracy theory" aspect makes it so much more lethal. Due to the fear that scientists and pharmaceutical companies are all in on the scam, people tend to only trust the words of outsiders who have no idea what the hell they're talking about -- i.e., celebrities like Jenny McCarthy. Sure enough, whenever famous people discuss the "dangers" of vaccination, they cause a drop in vaccination rates from which it takes three years to recover.

And it isn't just vaccines -- the same year as the MMR study, The Lancet also published an equally sketchy study linking genetically modified potatoes to intestinal damage. In this case, the journal knew it was probably bullshit, but published anyway in order to "avoid suspicions of a conspiracy" against the authors.

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Oh, honey.

Why? Because there is a backlash against GMO food based on panicky minority opinion that is proving just as damaging as the anti-vaccine movement. In the early 2000s, Zambia was hit by a devastating famine, so the U.S. sent humanitarian aid in the form of genetically modified grain. The country's president refused to accept the aid, calling it "poison," and had all 500 tons of it locked away, solely on the advice of organizations like Greenpeace who'd briefed the government on the "dangers" posed by eating the grain. Never mind that there's never been a single documented case of harm from genetically modified food, which puts it up there with the level of risk posed by werewolves, or that the medical risks of eating nothing are fairly well known.

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3
It's a For-Profit Industry

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Of course, much of the hysteria above is driven by a distrust of corporations, which by itself is a healthy thing. Corporations absolutely don't give a shit about you -- General Motors apparently allowed a fatal safety defect to go on for a decade before bothering with a recall. But what conspiracy lovers don't understand is that they also are the victims of a massive, for-profit industry. Just switch on the History Channel -- after shifting from history-based programming to "reality" shows (those are sarcasm quotes!), their ratings exploded thanks to a hit line-up that included shows such as Conspiracy, Ancient Aliens, and UFO Hunters. Back when it was dedicated to factual documentaries, History was the 20th most popular cable network, but since switching Hitler out for little green men, it's shot up to the Top 5. Bullshit sells.

However, none can hold a candle to the money generated by professional talk radio hucksters like Alex Jones and Glenn Beck. Through their individual media empires (which cover the media of print, radio, TV, the Internet, and penis-powering vitality serum), Jones and Beck alone rake in up to $10 million and $45 million a year, respectively. Hell, they should be thanking the Illuminati for that kind of revenue stream.

How do you get rich doing this sort of thing? Well, if you listen to Beck's show, you'll first hear about how unseen forces are ready to cause the utter collapse of society, and then at the commercial break you'll be informed that he's selling emergency food kits for when the nukes inevitably start landing on American soil (just $9,500 and you can keep your family alive on freeze-dried rations all through the coming war! You love your family, right?). The other big advertiser is gold sellers, because that's what you're going to be using for currency once the government collapses (just don't ask why the sellers want to unload their gold in exchange for your soon-to-be useless American dollars).

On the even more batshit end of the spectrum, Jones is hocking his own brand of health supplements to reverse the damage that's being done to your body by the fluoride that the government is pumping into your water supply to murder you, and by the chemicals being sprayed on you by aircraft, which the government has the audacity to call vapor trails.

Healthcare.gov
Yep, the same government that couldn't even set up a website right on the first try is pulling this off without a hitch.

Of course, these two are just a couple of the most successful examples -- it's a booming market with plenty of competition. Just take David Icke, the local British curiosity famous for claiming that the moon isn't real and that the world is run by shape-shifting alien reptiles. Laugh all you want -- that dude has a net worth of 10 million pounds, accumulated through book sales and expensive, sold-out live talks. Whether people are generally interested in the reptilian moon people or they're just paying absurd cash to watch a crazy guy humiliate himself for a few hours, that money adds up.

The point being, there is an entire industry that lives off of conspiracies, and thus needs to manufacture conspiracies in order to survive. So when the Navy Yard shootings happened in September 2013, Jones immediately declared it a "false flag" attack designed to build support for gun control legislation. That missing Malaysia Airlines flight, which clearly just crashed into the ocean? Just moments after the news broke, Jones had the scoop that the plane may have been converted into a flying "nuclear weapon." Here he is warning that Obamacare is just a prelude to genocide:

And, of course, McCarthy rode her anti-vaccination fad all the way to the bestseller list and a sweet TV hosting gig. What we're trying to say is that a lot of this is driven by the fact that these people don't want to have to get real jobs.

2
They Bring Out the Worst in People

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Here's where it starts to get weird.

We've gone to great lengths to point out that people tend to gravitate toward these theories despite a lack of evidence ... so you might say they want to believe, like the UFO poster says in Fox Mulder's office.

Fox Broadcasting Company
Scully's office poster is John Belushi in the COLLEGE sweater.

But at the same time, conspiracy theories make us miserable. Studies have found that people who believe in conspiracy theories tend to be much more cynical about life, feel more powerless, and have almost no self-esteem. This all amounts to a much more pissed-off population, and conspiracy theorists aren't shy about unleashing their anger on those who don't share their views. Those Sandy Hook conspiracy nut-jobs don't just keep to their message boards -- they've been defacing victim memorials and harassing the parents of the dead children (you know, for not coming clean about how they're actually just actors hired by the Illuminati).

Or ask Charlie Veitch, a former prominent 9/11 conspiracy theorist who later changed his mind. After going on YouTube to admit that he no longer thought 9/11 was an inside job, he had to go into hiding as thousands of conspiracy theorists from around the world set upon him with death threats. Someone contacted his mother to tell her that Veitch was a pedophile, and Alex Jones went on record to call him a sociopath.

Free Speech Systems, LLC
Well if that isn't the pot calling the kettle dangerously delusional.

Call us crazy, but it's almost like conspiracy theories turn you into an asshole.

Science seems to agree, by the way. A 2011 experiment sat down British college students, and after giving them primers on popular conspiracy theories like 9/11 and the JFK assassination, asked them if they would help pull those off if they had the chance. The ones that believed the conspiracy theories were also the ones more likely to say yes. And that group was also the most likely to dick people over for their own ends. After all, why play by society's rules if the whole thing is a sham?

David De Lossy/Photodisc/Getty Images
"Me stealing your wallet was an inside job!"

And now we start to see what might be the real, cancerous effect of all of this ...

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1
They Make It Impossible to Fix the Real Problems

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A while back they did another study in which a group of participants were shown the movie JFK, Oliver Stone's completely fictional film that pushed the idea that Kennedy was murdered by a conspiracy within the U.S. government. The film is not a documentary and doesn't claim to include real footage or real witnesses -- it is evidence of a JFK assassination conspiracy in exactly the same way that the third Transformers movie was evidence that the Apollo moon landing discovered Decepticons on the dark side of the moon.

Paramount Pictures
And also Pink Floyd.

Yet, surveys of the participant's emotions after they'd finished watching the movie showed that most left with feelings of anger and hopelessness, as well as a general unwillingness to accept the official story. They reported afterward that they felt more disillusioned with politics and less enthusiastic about voting (after all, what does it matter when you're voting for the Zionist NWO Illuminati Freemasons either way?) In another study, people who heard conspiracy theories about global warming were less interested in lowering their carbon footprint. In both cases, the theory gave them the excuse to do what they wanted to do anyway: give up.

So conspiracy theories end up being a bait-and-switch move where the fictional version of the problem soaks up whatever energy could be spent actually improving things.

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"The drug companies make too much money from pills, that's why there's no cure for AIDS."
"Wouldn't they actually make way more money because you can give a vaccine to people who don't have AIDS?"
"BAHHHHHHH, SHEEPLE!"

Meanwhile, everyone else spins their wheels trying to debunk the theories, as if more information actually makes a difference. To try to stem the rising tide of kids coming down with measles because their parents are scared of the autism boogeyman, science has been forced to pump money into researching this issue again and again and again, coming out with study after study that shows no link. That's money that could have been used to research cancer cures of for developing better vaccines or even a serum to inject directly into Jenny McCarthy's brain to kill the stupid directly. But instead it's funding studies to debunk that same old autism/vaccine trope that's already been debunked. And it's all pointless, because to conspiracy theorists all of that new "evidence" is just further proof that The Man is working against them. "If there's nothing to it, why are scientists studying it so much?"

Meanwhile, as reports on climate change and the increasingly terrifying effects keep piling up, we're still trying (and failing) to convince people that it's a real thing that humans caused. Hell, even the president had to actually take time out of running the country to show his birth certificate. All because of this weird flaw in the human mind that makes us gravitate toward the most improbable version of events, and then congratulate ourselves for having the "courage" to stand up against those damned "experts" telling us we're wrong.

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Up in their ivory towers with their accredited degrees and evidence-based, verifiable conclusions.

If you can figure out how to fix that, well, congratulations on having saved the world.

For more from Adam, you can follow him on Twitter or check out his website. Sam Jackson will live fearless and die erect. Follow him on Facebook or Twitter.

Related Reading: Curious about where all these horrific conspiracies got their start? Read this article and you'll learn where the Obama's birth certificate B.S. first kicked off. Some conspiracies are terrifyingly real, like the fascist business owner coup that tried to oust FDR. But most conspiracy theories, even the venerable JFK assassination, are shockingly easy to debunk.

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