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Last updated: Jun 9th, 2011

Conspiracy Theories:

A conspiracy theory is a fringe viewpoint that involves the idea that a group is secretly plotting to control society or influence major events.

I generally do not believe in conspiracy theories that involve deliberate plotting. What I think is more likely are situations which could be called "unconscious conspiracies", in which a complex social and economic system creates the environment where some form of exploitation, dishonesty, or lack of integrity exists, but where each individual (including both leadership and individual workers) is able to carry out their particular role in the system, while believing that their actions have integrity.

Why I do not believe in conspiracy theories:

As the information age progresses, conspiracy theories become less and less plausible. In order to become more influential, a group must enlist the help of a greater number of people. Information is too easy to leak and transmit in our modern society, for most large-scale conspiracies to persist for very long.

Most conspiracy theories are based on fallacies of thinking, including black-and-white thinking. Conspiracy theorists tend to get stuck on the idea of a certain type of conspiracy, and then proceed to see everything through the lens of their conspiracy.

Another thing that makes conspiracy theories unlikely is that there are many powerful groups that openly try to shape society or influence major events in their own way. But perhaps the largest reason that traditional conspiracy theories are unlikely is that they are potentially unstable, whereas a much more stable form of conspiracy, the unconscious conspiracy, exists all around us.

What is more likely than conspiracy?

A true conspiracy is one in which all involved parties know and agree that they have done or are doing something wrong, and conspire to hide it. What is more likely is a situation in which most involved parties believe that they have not or are not doing any wrong. This situation can be described as unconscious conspiracy.

As an example, I think that most harmful exploitation of natural resources, that damages the environment in substantial ways, exists within a framework of unconscious conspiracy. There is no deliberate plan to hide things. Rather, the leadership, as well as most of the workers, within an organization, and involved politicians supporting the group or system, all focus on positive impacts--such as creating jobs, building a tax base, spawning economic activity, and ignore negative impacts of the system on others, such as the health costs and human suffering associated with environmental damage, or industries or economic activities (and thus jobs) destroyed by pollution.

As an example, chicken farming, chemically-intensive agriculture, and other forms of pollution (mostly nutrient pollution) in the region surrounding the Chesapeake bay has devastated the ecosystem in the bay, leading to an almost complete destruction of the fishing industries in this area. Areas that once depended on fishing for their economic base have become severely impoverished; yet the people involved in farming in the region do not think of themselves as part of a giant conspiracy, trying to cover up the horrible things they are doing. The reality is a lot simpler: they just don't think about the negative impacts of their industry on others, and instead choose to focus on the positive impacts, the goods they are producing, economic activity they are generating, etc.

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