Conspiracy Theories

Birthers, and I'm sure most have heard this term by now, are groups of people who think that Obama should not be president as he is not an American citizen. This is not about any bias they claim, rather its the principle and about our constitution.

Originally the argument went that Obama's mother, while living in Hawaii actually had baby Barack in another country and the birth certificate showing that he was born in Hawaii is actually fake. This idea has been around for awhile but all attempts to prove it have failed. Reliable, smart people, doing their jobs, have carefully examined the document, its origin and surrounding information and decided that indeed, Obama's Birth Certificate is authentic. Still the rumor continues as perhaps, the argument goes, this could be a conspiracy of the “liberal” main stream media. The certificate is easily shown to be false as any boob on the internet can prove..

Now I'm not sure of the numbers of “birthers” in this camp, but adding to this is now a new group (a sub group?) that is saying even if the birth certificate is real, Obama is not a Natural Born Citizen. Now here is a place where true conspiracy and tin foil wearing can happen. Natural born is a requirement to become president, but its not well defined. By the 14th amendment, it's generally considered that a person being born on US soil is natural born. Yes, this would make John McCain not able to be president but oh God, lets not go down that path. You see, its complicated. And complicated issues are good breeding grounds for a conspiracy theory.

Now I had always thought that with the internet, a lot of the crazy misinformation that gets peoples' panties in a bunch would slow, but it's had the opposite effect. You would think that since most people have access to the web, people would look up “Natural Born Citizen” and information on Obama's birth Certificate and come up with the reasonable conclusion (in this case, that the probability that he is a legitimate president is about 99.99999999%) But here is the kicker. If you put on some aluminum foil and stare at the sun for a bit, you suddenly start wonder if someone hasn't been tampering with the Internet. Maybe its a huge conspiracy by the main stream media and liberals or something. Maybe our country has secretly been taken over by someone from another country without a gunshot being fired.

But it goes to show that conspiracies are driven by something other than facts. I often wonder if the theory isn't the conspiracy. You can keep a lot of people diverted from real issues if you keep them thinking about conspiracies.

But it still begs the question of why do people buy into them so easily. The world is complicated and often you can't you take things at face value, but why start believing in the very improbable? Sure aliens could be hiding out behind a comet but the odds are pretty slim, especially lacking any evidence beyond some “leader” telling you its true. And the crazy thing is even if evidence is presented of its improbability, rarely does it have any effect at all.

Once I was at a lunch with 7 Information Technology professionals, all of them quite smart. During the course of normal conversation, it came up that one the the gentlemen didn't believe the US ever landed on the moon. He pointed out that Fox had a special on it and he believes the whole thing is a fake. Well the conversation continues and it turns out that no one at the table believes that we landed on the moon except me as they had all seen the Fox special and they all felt Fox was a pretty reliable source of information.

This whole thing has me baffled so I start asking a few questions and the conversation ran something like this: (M is for Me, T is for Them)

M: Why? Why would we fake the moon landing?

T: To impress the Russians and get them to stand down on the Space Race thing. That dog in the round spaceship thing scared the crap out of us.

M: OK, but its a pretty elaborate hoax. Wouldn't someone, one of the astronauts or someone have come forward by now if that was the truth?

T: No, it's a tightly guarded secret. Everyone was paid off.

M: OK, but we landed there 6 times. That's a lot of hoaxes. Why 6 times? Doesn't that open the door for a slip up somewhere?

T: Six times? Are you sure we landed there six times?

M: Yes, six times. Almost 7 but Apollo 13 didn't make it.

T: Well it is just more convincing that way.

M: So you're saying we faked an accident that almost killed 3 astronauts. Three real people who have given interviews and speeches?

T: Yes. It makes it that much more convincing. In the end the Russians bought the whole thing so obviously it was a good strategy. I'm pretty sure they still believe it (said with a slight smirk).

M: (To Waiter) Can we get the check?

So all 7 people really were stuck believing this “truth” that was so improbable one has to start asking the question “How smart can these people really be?”. But I honestly don't think it has too much to do with intelligence. I think this comes down to a strength/weakness of the human brain, a concept we label belief.

Belief is a powerful force. If Orville and Wilbur hadn't believed it was possible for man to fly when it was thought impossible (well maybe hard to do would be more accurate), we probably wouldn't be enjoying South West Airlines peanuts while flying to Phoenix.

If Kennedy hadn't inspired an entire country to believe that we could “send a man to the Moon and return him safely before the decade's end”, we surely would not have done it. (if it really happened).

Believing in something can yield amazing results. I think this is one of man's greatest strengths and what has pushed us to where we are today. Yet this same ability has led people to do crazy, destructive things, especially when the belief has no basis in reality. The Jonestown mass suicide, the Kansas City bombing, the witch burnings of the late 13th century and the Holocaust, all can be attributed to beliefs in ideas that were essentially lies. And one could easily list hundreds of such events.

In the Birther's case, I think its fairly obvious that their cause is based an an obvious lie, just like the Mooners (OK, I just made up that term for people who don't believe in the moon landings). In both cases, a little research and some critical thinking would clear things up for these people. But the fact they are unwilling to do that research does show their bias and unfortunately makes them appear a bit stupid. And in both cases, other than reflecting poorly on their intellect, it probably won't cause much harm. And in the end, it does provide a bit of entertainment.


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