conspiracy theories, self-fulfilling prophecies and a fat reality check

Given the slightly disturbing turn of discussion on my previous post, I’ve been thinking a lot about conspiracy theories. Like many humans, I’ve been a big fan of conspiracy theories at various points in my life. I love the idea that unseen and undetectable forces are manipulating world events for their own nefarious purposes. Things are happening, so it makes sense that someone with a plan is making them happen, right?

However, I’m also aware that humans, like most mammals, “presume the purposeful intervention of a sentient or intelligent agent in situations that may or may not involve one” (Agent detection, Wikipedia). For those of you not familiar with this, John Zande has a marvellous post linking paranoia to the development of religions. I think this could easily be extended to the majority of conspiracy theories floating around.

When it comes to conspiracy theories about the Jewish people, we probably couldn’t find ourselves in more fertile territory. Unfortunately for the Jewish people, they had one too many excellent story tellers in ancient times. Their traditional stories have captured the imagination of large parts of the world in a way that any of the original bright minds spinning a yarn to pass the time could never have dreamt of. Piggy back spin off religions abound and have flourished in all sorts of odd directions.

Given that so many now influential belief systems stem from Judaism, and given that their holy writings proclaim them the chosen people of the creator god of this world, the spin off religions have an unusual and uncomfortable relationship with them, ranging from occasionally reverential, to jealous suspicion, to outright hatred. This has led to disturbing and ongoing periods of severe mistreatment of Jews throughout history.

A key feature of Jewish holy writings is prophecy. Vague words promising better times for Jewish people, that their god will send someone to save them and they will live in the land their god promised them. These prophecies undoubtedly gave the Jewish people hope in difficult times and bound them together as their god’s chosen people with prosperous times to come.

These prophecies, like any prophecies, through the course of many centuries are general enough to provide room for any of the millions of random events in history to fulfill them. They also provide achievable goals for anyone crazy enough to pursue them. So we find that Jewish people, following a period of particularly atrocious treatment, were given land to fulfill their long-desired prophecy by an international community trying to make good. A better example of a self-fulfilling prophecy couldn’t be found.

Which brings us to conspiracy theories. If you look for someone to be running the world, you’ll find plenty of ‘evidence’ to back up your belief:

Russian mob is running the internet

China is running the world

Nazi aliens running the USA

Aliens and One World Order

European Union is forerunner of last world government

If you don’t like any of these, perhaps you’d like to think that Mad Cow Disease, AIDS, SARS, bird flu, acid rain, ozone layer depletion or global warming will spell the end for the human race. There’s disaster round every corner, evil minds twitching behind every curtain, dark suited government officials trying to control every aspect of our lives, and gods of varying qualities overseeing our day to day happenings from other dimensions.

Or maybe we’re all just wandering aimlessly through our lives with a pinch of wonder, delight, curiosity, frustration and confusion. Oh, and huge doses of ignorance, self-importance and paranoia.

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