[VIDEO] Why Conspiracy Theories Suck

So far, most of my videos have been about Scientology. As a former member of that organization, I have plenty of reasons to speak out against it and I will continue to do so. But my blog and website are called Critical Thinker at Large for a reason. I’m not the Ex-Scientologist at Large. So here we go with something new.

I’m taking up a challenge here. I’ve been accused of not being a critical thinker because I look on global conspiracy theories with doubts and skepticism. Now a majority of people don’t actually buy into the notion of conspiracies. If you are one of these people, I think you’re going to find this video very helpful in understanding why people do subscribe to these beliefs. It may also help when you are confronted by someone who insists on arguing with you about them.

For those of you who do believe in global conspiracies, I’m not here to tell you that your conspiracy theory is bollocks because I don’t know if it’s true or not. Just because I don’t believe your premise right away does not mean that I’m saying it’s not true. It’s not a black and white issue to me.

However, if you are going to be intellectually honest, then you need to admit that you don’t know either. That is what skepticism and critical thinking are all about.

For anyone to assert with total certainty that they know something is fact just because they read it on the internet is a parody of critical thinking.

Information Abuse

We are in the information age, but all that means is that information, raw data, is easier to access and there is a higher volume of that data than ever before. But just because data is faster to access and there’s more of it doesn’t mean we as human beings have gotten any better at understanding it any easier or processing it any faster.

We are all guilty of information abuse. By this I mean we receive data that may be alarming or interesting and we don’t evaluate that information before we accept it as true and pass it on. It’s the accepting it as true part that is especially important. When we don’t verify that information, don’t take the time to find out if we have all the story, if it’s even a current story, or if that event even happened…when we pass it on to others we are forwarding a lie.

I have good reasons to have a skeptical attitude. I think that if everyone shared my skepticism, we’d live in a much calmer and more civil world. There’s plenty to be upset about, plenty of bad news for us to worry about every day. But we don’t need to make stuff up to make it even worse.

Global Conspiracies

Conspiracies occur every single day, including ones that involve government operatives, bankers, financiers and people in other positions of power. We have seen these exposed in the media and the justice system. Real people were caught, admitted that they did conspire and they were sentenced to jail for their crimes. This is an irrefutable fact.

So if conspiracies do happen, then why do I think conspiracy theories suck?

By conspiracy theory, I mean these ideas of global or grand conspiracies. They involve agents and institutions stretching across the globe and influence almost everyone through government, media, religious and business manipulation. Most of these theories claim that these globe-spanning conspiracies have been going on right under our noses for decades or even centuries and would involve tens, hundreds or even thousands of people knowingly conspiring against the rest of the world population.

I’m sorry to say that I used to fall for these myself. I actually had an elaborate chart which showed the relationship of the bankers, the psychiatrists, educational institutions, the various world governments and the major media corporations. I could explain how all of them were working in collusion to create a New World Order whose sole purpose was to enslave all of mankind, all under the direction of the Bilderburg Group led by immensely wealthy families such as the Rockefellers and the Rothschilds.

We used to use this conspiracy information to recruit people to work in the upper levels of Scientology. Scientologists fall for this stuff almost uniformly because Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard was a conspiracy nut. He had a very elaborate conspiracy theory worked out as to how almost every government and mental health organization in the world was against Scientology. It was easy to convince Scientologists to hand over their money when they thought we were the only group effectively fighting back against the New World Order.

The Conspiracy Cult

For some people, conspiracies have become the fallback explanation for everything that is wrong in the world. Every time a news story breaks of some disaster or unfortunate turn of events, some people immediately assume that it must be some conspiracy at work – some secret organization – trying to destroy the world and their livelihood along with it.

It’s not just a lazy explanation or opinion. It actually has the characteristics of a cult belief system and I don’t like cults. If you challenge someone on his conspiracy theory, the conversation almost instantly degenerates into name calling and righteous indignation. There’s a black-and-white thinking going on, where if you aren’t part of the solution then you are part of the problem. I don’t think that viewpoint is healthy for anyone.

If the best argument you can make for your claim is to send a link to a conspiracy article or to call someone names when they challenge you, then you are not a critical thinker. Critical thinking involves a little bit more mental discipline than that.

Critical Thinking to the Rescue

I want to help everyone to explain their positions more clearly, more logically and more easily. If you have reason to believe that there is some conspiracy at work, then the information I give you here will be of use in proving it. So stick with me and see if this doesn’t help you out.

1. Verify your facts with independent confirmation

The key word here is independent. Going to four different blogs that copy and paste the same conspiracy theory is not independent confirmation of your facts. Can you verify the facts that you are presenting through something other than a website? Can you find articles, books or media who are neutral or even antipathetic to your conspiracy theory who will still confirm the facts you are presenting?

2. Be willing to be challenged

In science and in critical thinking, it is routine and expected that any theory will be challenged over and over again. Einstein’s theory of relatively was not accepted just because Einstein said it was true or because he got really upset with people if they found flaws in his reasoning. The only way that a theory becomes more than a theory is through independent confirmation and by testing it for alternaive explanations.

Do you think that your ideas of conspiracy are beyond reproach and that anyone who challenges you is not being a critical thinker? Then I would say that you have a misunderstanding of how critical thinking actually works.

Challenging a theory is not a personal attack. If the theory is correct, it will stand up to challenge and in fact could be further clarified and expanded by such challenges. On the other hand, if there are errors in logic or the theory is wrong, challenges to it will quickly point these out. Either way, a critical thinker will want to get to the truth.

3. Think up other explanations or reasons before sticking with the one you like. Make sure your theory explains all the facts and not just some of them.

In science, no theory is tested just once. Theories are routinely tested over and over and over again. One reason why is because of a tendency we all have as human beings to only look at facts and evidence which support our pre-conceived ideas for things, and reject or forget anything which doesn’t.

This is called confirmation bias and we all do it. If you think you’re somehow immune to this, you aren’t.

Here’s an example: On October 25, 2014, a large convoy of dozens of trucks was depicted on video, traveling on Interstate 64 under what appeared to be State Trooper escort. The video was posted on Facebook and immediately there were many comments asserting nefarious purposes for the convoy. One said the trucks were full of ammunition for secret underground military bases so they (yes, they!) could finally institute martial law. Another claimed the trucks were taking food to concentration camps on the east coast. Yet another commenter said the trucks were full of foreign military troops who were secretly being transported across the country so they could initiate a nationwide takeover of the country.

Each of these conspiracy minded people were using confirmation bias to explain what they were seeing. There were clues to the real purpose of this convoy in the news stories about it, but those clues were ignored and instead they jumped to these off-the-wall conclusions.

This police-escorted convoy was actually a charity event where police escort a convoy of trucks through cities and towns in 38 states and Canada. The event helps raise funds and awareness for Special Olympics athletes and this last year about 110 vehicles participated in the ride. The year before, this same event raised $20,000.

I don’t think that the press release on this or the Snopes article confirming this information changed the minds of any of the conspiracy theorists who were so sure that these trucks were bearers of doom. But if you do take the time to get all the facts, you’ll often find that your first guess was not always the best one.

4. Do not rely too heavily on “authorities”. Verify the legitimacy of your sources and ask yourself “Who benefits from me accepting this information as true?”

We all have authorities in our lives. We put our faith in them to explain things we don’t understand or to direct us to information that we should trust. These are people like our parents or teachers or leaders in whatever subjects we are interested in. No one can get through life just relying solely on their own wits or observations. We are all in this together and it’s natural to rely on people who know more than we do.

However, always always always be willing to question any authority figure. There simply isn’t anyone who is infallible or who knows everything.

Every single scientist, philosopher, doctor, religious leader, politician and parent has been wrong about something. And maybe the thing that you are so sure they are telling you the truth about is one of those things they are getting wrong. Listen to them but be cautious about taking only their word for it.

As to websites and blogs, you can’t always be sure that what you’re looking at is reliable. Just because something looks or sounds legitimate does not mean it is. There are some sites that will show you nothing but the facts that support whatever theory or idea the site owner wants to push, such as Alex Jones’ or David Icke’s sites. These are the epitomte of confirmation bias. A story or article may appear to be complete until you look elsewhere and find other facts that have been conveniently omitted or ignored because they don’t support whatever agenda that site owner is trying to push. Unfortunately, this also extends to the mainstream media and is not just something that happens on conspiracy websites.

You owe it to yourself to get all the facts from a number of legitimate sources.

5. When trying to decide on which idea may be the correct one, use Occam’s Razor.

Occam’s Razor is a very old principle that dates back as far as Aristotle and states “other things being equal, simpler explanations are generally better than more complex ones.”

Another way of stating this concept would be “When considering the facts, the explanation that requires the fewest assumptions or inferrences is usually the better explanation.”

One of the biggest problems I have with global conspiracy theories is that in order to believe them, you have to draw inferences or make assumptions which are not logical and which rely on pure coincidence.

Making connections with incomplete information and filling in the blanks is a part of logic, but if you have to stretch too far or infer too much, you’re not proving anything, you’re just playing a guessing game. That’s not good logic and it’s not good critical thinking.

There is also a tendency amongst conspiracy theorists to invent false causality, drawing caue-and-effect relationships between two or more things that in reality have no relationship at all. To their way of thinking, accidents never happen, there is no such thing as coincidence and every event must have a man-made cause.

Conclusion

The world is a vastly large and complicated place. Thousands of different corporations, religious organizations, government agencies and mass media all vie for our attention, our money and, to one degree or another, to control us. There’s no question that these groups can and do exert influence.

But global conspiracy theories actually trivialize the complexity of geo-political situations and offer up a simplistic world view that make it seem like everyone and everything is controlled by a few puppet masters. These ideas are almost fairy-tale like in their simplicity and in their believability.

It takes a lot of time and effort to grasp all of the causes and consequences of even one military conflict or socio-economic crisis. To think that all of the world’s problems all boil down to one simple explanation is simply to deny reality. You can do it but don’t expect to be taken seriously.

I hope this data is useful to you, not just to investigate conspiracy theories but for any claims that sound dubious or too good to be true. I’d be very interested to hear what you have to say about anything I’ve said here.

Thank you for watching.

[VIDEO] Scientology: Coming Apart at the Seams

Introduction

For anyone who pays attention to the Church of Scientology on a fairly regular basis, it has become obvious over the past couple of years that its public image has taken repeated well-deserved beatings. It’s so bad that at ths point I believe it has passed the point of no return. There is no road out for Scientology to gain a favorable public image and it’s only going down from here. Continue reading [VIDEO] Scientology: Coming Apart at the Seams

Waking Up from Scientology

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I was able to contribute to a presentation about the dangers of Scientology which I’d like to share here.

There’s a bit of back-story about this which starts with studies on the subject of cognitive dissonance. This is a psychological term which is often used to describe what Scientologists and many other members of mass movements do when confronted with opposing information about their beliefs. Cognitive dissonance simply means “the mental stress or discomfort experienced by an individual who holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values at the same time, or is confronted by new information that conflicts with existing beliefs, ideas, or values.” (Leon Festinger from A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance) Continue reading Waking Up from Scientology

Knowing How to Not Know

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How many times have you been caught out trying to fake knowing all about something which you really know very little or nothing of? How many times in life do we pretend in order to impress, to try to entertain or at least not appear foolish? It happens all the time. We delight in catching others out when they do this, yet dread when we ourselves are met by someone smarter or more experienced or who can just see through our shenanigans. Continue reading Knowing How to Not Know

Instituting Something Good

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First, A Personal Update

I know it’s been a little while since I’ve posted anything and before I get into the main subject of my article, I thought I’d give a little personal perspective on what I’ve been up to that’s kept me away.

Like TV shows in each new season, characters come back a little older and a little wiser from the lessons of the previous season and are usually  refreshed and ready to take on the new challenges offered by the show’s writers. Continue reading Instituting Something Good

We’re Closing to Better Service You

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“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us…” Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

Whenever one looks at the press releases or promotional materials of Dianetics and Scientology, one is presented with the picture of amazing success. Claims of “straight up and vertical expansion” are made, citing hundreds of thousands of square feet of new church building space as proof of this success. Far be it from me to challenge these claims, but I don’t know that a building’s girth ever helped enlighten anyone. I’m quite sure that the last time I was looking for help sorting out my relationship with the universe, I did not look in the yellow pages under “largest construction site in town.” Continue reading We’re Closing to Better Service You

A Change Will Do You Good

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“Progress is impossible without change,and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything” – George Bernard Shaw

Looking at the ex-Scientology community, the blogs and video channels and Facebook groups, I would say that I have put out my fair share of articles and videos about the abuses and darker sides of the Scientology experience. Frankly, there has been so much to say that I haven’t yet suffered from anything like writer’s block. Scientology is the gift that keeps on giving when it comes to oppression, deception and abuse.

But there is a point to all this and it’s not just to be a critic for the rest of my life. These articles and the videos I make are a form of catharsis and as much as I’m informing and helping others, I’ve also been helping myself. Continue reading A Change Will Do You Good

Damn I’m Good!

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Admiration and the Scientology Mindset

After coming out of a cult experience like Scientology, I’ve seen a lot of former members try to make sense of the experience. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and learning in the past year since I’ve been out, trying to undo the psychological damage that being in a cult for 27 years does to you. I’m not even close to being in a place where I can say I have it all figured out but I think it’s good to take note when one hits certain milestones and I believe this is one of those. None of what I’m saying here in this article (or in any of my public writings) are an attempt to demean or insult current or former Scientologists.  Continue reading Damn I’m Good!

Escaping the Prison of Belief

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Critical thinking and logic have radically changed my life for the better. Unfortunately, when I bring up ‘critical thinking’ I notice that some people’s eyes seem to glaze over. People seem to think these are immensely philosophical and deep subjects which only college-educated intellectuals want to have anything to do with.

I’d like to break through that, so let’s talk about something really practical and useful, which also just happens to be the very heart and soul of critical thinking. Continue reading Escaping the Prison of Belief

[VIDEO] Scientology’s Organizational Madness

Introduction

All Scientologists wonder why Scientology isn’t as successful as they think it should be. The Ideal Orgs are not filling up with new people and the church is taking a beating in the media and in the court rooms almost every day. You can write this off to the psychiatrists or grand governmental conspiracies against Scientology, but that doesn’t really open the door to any handling or make these problems go away. Continue reading [VIDEO] Scientology’s Organizational Madness