August 3, 2010

Thoughts On Wikileaks & Conspiracy Theories

It's been all over the news the last few weeks. WikiLeaks released classified military files about the war in Afghanistan. Lots of commentators stepped up on television and in the newspapers condemning such an act and that it put the soldiers, Afghan collaborators and informants at risk. Personally I have to give that part of the story the green light. Releasing information that puts certain people directly at risk and in mortal jeopardy is of course not the route to take. As much as I want the truth, getting that at the expensive of human life is not something I, and presumably others, want.
Having said that I also think, and this is the other side of the mental coin, releasing classified files is also a good thing since it shows you what the exact truth really is and how your government really works. It shows you how much you're being deceived at times and how much corruption there really is in the world by your elected officials. You start to realize how much you're being fooled and hopefully you'll also get the notion that things should be better in the world. I realize that at this point people are at a crossroad, they can totally lose faith in the system or they can slowly work to make things better in a constructive way.

WikiLeaks will probably also fuel new conspiracy theories, something some folks will adhere to while others would oppose. Conspiracy theories are tricky. From my perspective some are totally unfounded or false, some could have a grain of truth in them (like in myths) and some can actually be spot on. It depends on the information and how factual it really is. You would have to find that balance between being skeptical and what could be possible based on confirmed data. Most of all you would have to be objective and this is something most people on this planet have a hard time getting at when factors such as nationalism, patriotism and other ideologies such as religion come into play.
Those folks that strongly oppose conspiracy theories, I have some bad news for you. There were cases where they were proven to be true. That is basically the reason why conspiracy theories continue to surface. In the past stories have surfaced that were shockingly true and showed the misleading if not criminal machinations of the people in charge. Again, the confirmed stories that show the workings of the people in power fuel those theories that have not been proven. Lets just look at a few.

The Pentagon Papers was a top-secret United States Department of Defense history of the United States' political-military involvement in Vietnam from 1945 to 1967. Those files were copied by Daniel Ellsberg and show that the Pentagon Papers demonstrated, among other things, that the Johnson Administration had systematically lied, not only to the public but also to Congress, about a subject of transcendent national interest and significance.

Project MKULTRA, or MK-ULTRA, was the code name for a covert, illegal CIA human research program, run by the Office of Scientific Intelligence. Basically what the CIA did was experiment on their own citizens they swore to protect just to get information about how it would be possible to control someones mind. What's important here is the willingness by certain people in positions of power and the intelligence community to totally throw every human right out the window.

1973 Chilean coup d'état, the 1954 Guatemalan coup d'état, the 1953 Iranian coup d'état. Anyway, you can find more of those here. What that shows is that the United States, the beacon of democracy and the home of the brave, sponsors and makes possible, the overthrowing of other foreign democratically elected governments because they wanted to protect their own (national) security.

You wonder why conspiracy theories originate?
Because people in positions of power have been shown, and proven, to be utterly corrupt.

WikiLeaks is on a precarious road. I'm sure there are some people that will be happy if it disappeared tomorrow. Me? I say let them go on, yet at the same time I hope they will be careful not to put some person who is just another cog in the wheel die for the people that put them there in the first place. Let truth prevail and may it lay enlighten those that want a better world.


Muertos said...

I have some difficulty with your formulation of conspiracy theories--particularly your claims of historical incidents "proving" that some conspiracy theories "turn out to be true." This is a tactic often used by conspiracy theorists, and the items you point to, such as the 1953 Iranian coup or MKULTRA, are the usual tropes trotted out by conspiracy theorists in an attempt to illustrate why idiocy like 9/11 Truth or "the Christ conspiracy" are more likely to be true.

This is a fallacy. In none of the cases you mention was the pattern of the event even remotely close to the way conspiracy theories work. For example, in the 60s, it's not as if people sat around trading conjectures like, "Hmm, you know, I wonder if the CIA is doing mind control experiments," and then voila, suddenly documents magically come to life proving that they were. The 1953 coup in Iran, a very complex event, also didn't unfold that way--CIA involvement was known and provable from the very beginning. None of these examples were "conspiracy theories" that arose sui generis and were later "proven" true, to the gleeful vindication of the people who supposedly thought of them. This is the conclusion your post seems to want to lead us to, but it's not even close to reality.

I commend you, though, for not mentioning the conspiracy theorists' favorite toy, that being Operation Northwoods. I cringe at the silliness that conspiracy theorists ask people to believe in when they suggest that these documents, detailing a plan that was roundly rejected AT THE TIME of its formulation, somehow demonstrates that other, as-yet unproven conspiracy theories (particularly "9/11 was an inside job") are more likely to happen. So, kudos to you for not jumping on that bandwagon, though I seriously question the implicit assumption you make here--and one that's shared by conspiracy theorists--that the "opposite" of believing in conspiracy theories is having some sort of naive belief that governments or corporations never do any wrong and that there are never any secrets about anything. You should know this is a totally false assumption, and in my opinion you should make it clear that you don't subscribe to it (which I sincerely hope you don't).

Muertos said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Ed V. said...

Hey Muertos. Sorry if I sound a bit incoherent but I did a bit partying last night and I'm still a little red-eyed. Oh, and I deleted one of your messages, double post.

For me a conspiracy theory is what the word implies, an assumption - a hypothesis at best. I agree with you that theories have to be proven yet I can also understand why some people would make such claims. They base it on 'circumstantial evidence', like you see with the 9/11 truthers. (Building 7, Air Force training schedules at the exact same time as the attack, official agency warnings pointing to an attack with airliners, denial by Condoleeza Rice at inquiries of such warnings, quotes from 9/11 commission saying that the hijackers money trail was of little significance.) Matters like these form pieces of the puzzle which some people use to make a picture.

Then there is the cultural aspect. It's common knowledge now that the good old U.S. interfered in other countries, toppling over undesired democratically elected regimes. That creates an atmosphere of distrust. Do you understand?
Where I disagree with you is that you state interventions like the 1953 coup in Iran don't have the same mechanics as a conspiracy theory. Not many people were aware at the time of the CIA involvement, yet you can safely bet that there were people at the time who saw events unfold make the assumption that foreign intelligence agencies were behind it all. That's a conspiracy theory.

Look, I've read some of your articles and you make some good points. There are parts where I would disagree or lean towards another conclusions. What's a bit unclear to me is why you take up such a firm position against conspiracy theories. To me it seems like overkill at times.

Muertos said...

Thanks for deleting the double browser acts funny whenever I interact with Blogger.

I'm very strongly against conspiracy theories because they're a frontal assault on logic and critical thinking. So many people swallow unquestioningly what charlatans like Alex Jones and (forgive me) Peter Joseph tell them, and they ignore the actual evidence and logical reasoning that indicates these things aren't true. That doesn't bode well for the intellectual future of our country if so many people learn to think that way (or not think, as it were). Since the theories spread by Alex Jones and Peter Joseph are demonstrably false, I think it's appropriate that somebody out there demonstrate how they are false, especially considering that the vast majority of information on the Internet supports, rather than attacks, conspiracy theories.

Conspiracy theories are also corrosive to democracy. They teach people to disengage from the political process because "it doesn't matter anyway, 'they' are in charge." Hitler came to power in Germany in part because he advanced conspiracy theories. I see conspiracy theories becoming more popular in our own country, advanced by outlets such as the Zeitgeist films, and it worries and saddens me that these outlets essentially send the message that participating in the political process is pointless, even counterproductive.