Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Conspiracy Theories, Part Three

Conspiracy theories are a dead-end.

I have noted before that one trap for the average citizen is to engage in conspiracy theories.  These are a dead-end emotionally, financially, and politically.  People who engage in conspiracy theory promotion and make a hobby of it are not empowered by it, but rather drained by it.  There is no such thing as the "successful conspiracy theory buff" - but instead just lonely losers who creep everyone out.

Just stop that stuff.  You'd be surprised how quickly you get a job and get laid.  Chicks don't find conspiracy theories sexy.  Employers don't think you are "smart" because of your amateur trajectory analysis of the Kennedy Assassination - only creepy and weird.

In fact, if there is a conspiracy, it has to do with conspiracy theories.  What better way to distract people from the real story (which is published and available for everyone to read) and to keep them downtrodden and powerless, than to have them believe in conspiracy theories?  You could not manufacture a better system for keeping people ignorant and politically repressed.  Just feed them some whack-job conspiracy theory, and they will ignore the plain and basic truth, which is so much more interesting.

People like a good story, and conspiracy theories are so much more interesting than analyzing a 500-page report on corn subsidies.  But the latter is a far more interesting document and affects your life more directly.

The conspiracy theorist likes to be the keeper of secrets.  It is human nature, to be the one to tell people the 'inside story' about something, even if it is just made-up bullshit.   And whether it is false etymologies (e.g., "Did you know that the word 'handicapped' originated because beggars held out their caps-in-hand for alms?") or secret "tricks" to getting ahead financially, people lap this shit up.   Everyone wants to be the one who knows the secret "trick" and regales their friends about it.   No one wants to hear the obvious - work hard, save money, spend less than you make.  No "secret" there, is there?

The following conspiracy theories have long and convoluted "stories" concocted by self-appointed experts, who usually don't even have a liberal arts degree.  What is really sad is that, in most cases, there is a real story that is not suppressed or hidden, that is far more interesting.  But the conspiracy theorists shun simple plots in favor of more convoluted and improbable ones.

The Kennedy Assassination:  Conspiracy theorists will spend hours talking about a second or even third shooter, the grassy knoll, and the Warren Commission report.  They have complicated theories involving hundreds, if not thousands of conspirators.  And are all are far-fetched.  And all ignore the more interesting story that is right there in the open.

Jack Ruby shot Lee Harvey Oswald shortly after the assassination.  Ruby never talked about his motives or his connection with the case.  And given his background, it seems odd that he would be motivated to shoot Oswald.  But he was a nightclub owner, and had connections with the Mafia, who was being investigated by the Attorney General, Bobby Kennedy.  But that is not a very interesting story - after all, it is public knowledge, not a "secret".  Grassy knolls and grainy photographs than can be "analyzed" and speculated over, endlessly, are much more "interesting" to the conspiracy theorist.

The Moon Landing:  Conspiracy theorists will tell you it was all faked, and that hundreds, if not thousands of NASA employees as well as employees of all those subcontractors, were involved, and no one talked - ever, ever, ever.

What's more, the Russians never blew the lid on it, even though they had every motivation to discredit the US in this field and every technology to prove it was a "hoax" if it was.  And yet, even the Russians weren't that crazy to make such allegations.

The better story?  Well, the moon shot was incredibly dangerous, and that might be one reason Nixon cancelled the later missions.  Apollo 1 caught fire on the pad and killed three astronauts - its all-oxygen atmosphere was a disaster waiting to happen.  Apollo 11 landed successfully on the moon, after nearly aborting the landing, and coming down, under manual control, with only seconds of fuel left.  "You got a lot of guys turning blue down here" was the first thing mission control broadcast to Tranquility base.   It could have ended very differently.   And then there was Apollo 13, which came very close to killing its entire crew - and again highlighted the dangers of space exploration, where one tiny defect in one tiny part can mean instant oblivion for astronauts.

In that light, the Apollo missions were nothing short of heroic.  But at the time, the dangers were downplayed, as it was a better "story" to make it appear that colonizing the moon was soon to be a routine matter.  But as it turns out, we got lucky with Apollo, and if the later missions had gone forward as planned, it is entirely possible another tragedy would have occurred.

9/11 Conspiracies:  These are really offensive, if you think about it, as they are so obviously stupid.   These kids would have you believe that hundreds of thousands of people in New York AND Washington DC had a mass hallucination and saw airplanes hitting the towers and the Pentagon, when in fact it was missiles (which are the same size as, and look like, airplanes).

Or they say things like, "Fire can't melt steel!" failing to realize that steel will soften (lose its temper) when heated, and then bend and break.  Anyone with experience in metallurgy knows this.  But few folks study metallurgy anymore.   I did.  But that's why I have a job, and the "OWS" people don't.

It is idiotic and moronic, and the people "analyzing" the event have no clue about even basic science or Engineering.

And again, they are missing the more interesting story.  The 9/11 Hijackers were known to our government.  Their presence in the US was known as well.  Panicked flight school instructors were sending messages to the FBI again and again about them.  And yet, we did nothing.  And this story is not hidden or secret, but available for anyone to look at.  And frankly, it is far more interesting than the conspiracy theories - and sounds even more improbable.

And it raises more disturbing questions.  Did we "let" this happen, as many allege happened with Pearl Harbor?  Or was it gross incompetence?  (based on my experiences in the government, I lean toward the latter).  And that illustrates the fallacy of the wild 9/11 conspiracy theories - why bother intentionally blowing up the trade center and doing this wild conspiracy, when you could just let your guard down and let the people who have been trying to do this, well, do it?  That, at least, is a more plausible story.

But conspiracy theorists will have none of that!  Simple explanations are never trusted!

But of course, I lean toward the "incompetence" theory, as I know so many people in government agencies, and, while they try hard, they are just schmucks like you and me.   There is no Ethan Hunt, no Harrison Ford.  It is just a bunch of ordinary citizens, trying to play cop or play spy, and doing a pretty mediocre job of it.  This is to be expected, by the way, in any human endeavor.

Aliens in Area 51:  According to the conspiracy theorists, a spaceship crashed there and alien bodies are being kept in giant freezers.  They go on to wilder and wilder theories, of course, including that Hitler had UFOs under development and was secretly in league with aliens.  No story is too bizarre for these folks!

The boring reality is, of course, more interesting.  Area 51 is where the government tests a lot of very top secret aircraft, and some of the most interesting advances in aerospace engineering have been tested or developed in this area.  And yea, some folks saw these planes and thought they were UFOs or whatever, and the secrecy surrounding the testing only adds to the paranoia of the conspiracy theorists.  But to me, Burt Rutan is a far more interesting story than Space Aliens.  Perhaps he is one!

The 100 mpg Carburetor, the Electric Car:   You've heard the stories before, or read them on Snopes.  The oil companies and GM are suppressing the "100 mpg carburetor" so that Exxon can sell more gas.  Or maybe you've heard the boring stories about how the oil companies are "suppressing the electric car" which could be on the market tomorrow, but for the grand conspiracy!

Of course, the reality is more interesting.  You can buy an electric car today, down at your Nissan dealer.  Or you can buy a plug-in hybrid at your Chevy or Toyota dealer, or a hybrid that has been in production for a decade now, at your Toyota dealer.  And almost every car maker has a battery hybrid on the market.

Is there a 100 mpg carburetor?  Please.  Carburetors are a horribly inefficient means of delivering a proper fuel/air mixture to a car at its Stoichiometric ratio.  To avoid detonation, they all are tuned to run rich, which is why you don't see them anymore - they polluted like mad.  Fuel injection, on the other hand is simple, direct, and remarkably trouble-free and easy to service (if you RTFM, but conspiracy theorists, like most Americans, prefer to wallow in ignorance).  And yes, 100 mpg is possible - in a very lightweight, underpowered car that would not likely meet crash test standards.  But not with a carburetor.   And not in 1970.

The electric car is interesting to me, as I studied Automotive Engineering at GMI and have a degree in Electrical Engineering (again, that pesky actually knowing something that always bugs conspiracy theorists!).  But there is no conspiracy to "suppress" these vehicles.  GM crushed the EV-1 as they do with most of their experimental cars (Chrysler crushed most of the turbine cars, as well) as they were a huge potential liability, and they would have to provide parts and service for them for years.  Once California's mandate for electric vehicles was overturned, there was no compelling reason to sell these money-losing cars. 

But GM is back in the game, this time actually selling the Volt, so if you want one, go buy it.  Funny thing, though, not many people are buying them.  Yes, electric vehicles can be practical, but they are also expensive.  And even for someone like myself (I live on an island where many of the residents drive NEVs or electric golf carts on the roads, legally) who drives less than 20 miles a day (often far less) an electric vehicle is simply not "practical" as the idea of spending $30,000 or more on a car, when I have a perfectly good working vehicle in the garage, makes no sense.

And yea, if you "do the math" on this, I still would be better off buying a used Corolla than a new Nissan Leaf - the cost of ownership would be far less.  But maybe a used Leaf - five years from now?  You never know.  But limited range and high cost are limiting the markets for these cars - for now.  There is no "grand conspiracy" unless you consider the laws of Physics a conspiracy.

And GM will likely kill off the Volt, which was a requirement to get government bailout money.  But this time around, the won't be crushed, if they were sold to consumers.  Cheap gas killed the electric car, nothing else.  And that's the irony of automotive efficiency - if you raise gas mileage (or go to electric cars) the demand for gas goes down, and the price plummets as well.  So by being efficient, we make gas-hog cars more attractive.  That is a far more interesting story, frankly!

* * *
So what is the harm in conspiracy theories?  Well, they devastate you, personally.  They are huge time-bandits and are also bad for your mental health.  "Well-adjusted conspiracy theorist" is an oxymoron.  And while you have to be a little crazy to believe these theories, once you get sucked into them, they will make you crazier.  It is mental illness bootstrapping itself.

And the conspiracy theorists really miss the point, too.   These are guys (mostly guys) who will tell you that the moon landing was faked, but that Professional Wrestling is real (and it is not, and the wrestling associations are very up-front about this, for legal reasons).

These are the guys who will go on for hours about conspiracies from the "Big Bankers" and the "Wall Street 1%" and yet also tell you what a great deal they are getting on their cash-back rewards credit card.  They just are not getting it.

Your personal financial problems have more to do with your personal financial decisions, not the decisions made on Wall Street.  And if you think you are going to "beat the system" by falling into a marketing trap for coupons, rebates, cash-back, rewards miles, 5 cents off on gas, or whatever, then you really are missing the forest for the trees.

Gimmicks and come-ons are not the way to "get ahead" in life.  In fact, if there is a "Conspiracy" out there, these sorts of things are it.  And falling for them is just playing patsy to the powers-that-be.

Externalizing Your Problems:  What conspiracy theories come down to is simply this:  People who engage in them are externalizing their problems.  It is like the Obama-haters, who refuse to look at their own complicity in their own financial situation, but prefer instead to blame the government.  They are taking their world-view and twisting it around to make it seem as though they are a pawn in a big game and that nothing they can do will make a difference.  Why bother trying, when Aliens are held captive in Area 51 - or the real results of the Warren Report remain locked up?

And yea, I have heard this nonsense from conspiracy theorists, usually spoken as they exhale bong hits in their parent's basement.  Everything is a con-job, they tell you, at length, and everything in life sucks.  These are simply very depressed people, period.

And fighting depression is important - and you can't do that and believe in conspiracy theories.  Just give that stuff up and grow up and move on with life.  The real story is far more interesting and also right out there for you to see.  And, as it turns out, you have so many choices in life that allow you to get ahead.

But conspiracies?  No, they don't exist - at least not like the conspiracy theorists want you to believe.  There are a lot of mechanisms in our society that have evolved or have been designed to entrap the unwary - but they are hardly secret conspiracies.  But again, the conspiracy theorist will fall right into those traps - arguing that couponing makes sense, while at the same time, blathering on about how Corporate America is taking everyone in.  They fail to see the irony of it.

UPDATE: October 7, 2013:

A friend of mine gave me a 1967 copy of LOOK magazine (the new car issue!).  In it was an article by Lee Harvey Oswald's brother.   On the 50th anniversary of the Kennedy Assassination, this was, to say the least interesting.

But the story was that there was no story.  Lee Harvey Oswald was just another nut-job with a gun, like the guy in Aurora Colorado, the Columbine losers, or that fellow in Connecticut.  Nut-job + gun = people dead.

It turns out that Oswald was taking pot-shots at a local General, which in his deranged mind, was responsible for his being dishonorably discharged from the Marine corps.  He tried to kill the General and failed.  Kennedy was merely a target of opportunity.

And lo and behold, Mom was crazy too, just like the Connecticut guy.   She believed in conspiracy theories and was into self-aggrandizement.  When she found out Kennedy was shot, she was happy, as it meant she would be "famous".

Pretty sick stuff.

But you know, "Crazy guy with a gun" just isn't a story you can sell - nor do the American people buy it.  Everyone wants to hear about some grand conspiracy or some shadow organization behind it all.

Crazy-guy-with-a-gun just doesn't SELL, does it?