The joy of conspiracy

Dateline: 06 February 2008

Did Lyndon Johnson conspire with the CIA to have JFK assassinated? Have governments been keeping knowledge of aliens secret? Did George W Bush (and/or the Jews) have prior knowledge of the 9/11 attacks? The answers to these questions would clearly be no, no, and no.

We can dismiss them one at a time, of course. The Oliver Stone theory about Lyndon Johnson killing JFK in order to prolong America’s involvement in Vietnam falls flat. Kennedy was the real hawk of the administration and committed to defending Vietnam. One of the reasons Johnson did not dare back down is that he feared Bobby Kennedy would denounce him for betraying JFK’s anti-communist legacy. That Bobby ultimately denounced him for supporting Vietnam (absurdly claiming that his brother would have withdrawn) merely shows Bobby’s opportunism.

The motive for keeping knowledge of aliens secret is always rather obscure. Some claim it is to maintain a vicious police-state – which they seem to be free to denounce. Others claim it is to support some New World Order in which governments – sometimes in league with the aliens – secretly run the world. Again, the idea is ridiculous on its face. Psychologically, people have a need of the ‘other’. Popular hostility to world government is likely to remain. The one thing that could shake it is likely to be clear evidence of alien intelligence. What better way to unite the whole world than in opposition to a common enemy? Also, if governments want to promote a police-state and infringements on civil liberties then a vague and hard to assess threat such as alien invasion would promote this aim. In other words, to achieve the goals attributed to the conspirators it would be much better to announce the existence of aliens as widely as possible, not suppress knowledge of them.

So-called 9/11 Truthers also believe America is a police state. They apparently haven’t noticed that in police states you don’t get away with saying you are living in a police state.

People struggle to believe that big things can have small causes. Can one man really shake the world the way Oswald did? Sure. A skilled or lucky shot by one man can kill a President. Charisma is not bulletproof. Can one extra glass of whisky by Princess Diana’s driver lead to worldwide outpourings of grief? Of course. A princess is as vulnerable as anyone else to hitting a concrete pillar at 100 miles per hour. Can 19 people destroy two landmark buildings and three thousand lives? Why not? It doesn’t even take that many to hijack three planes – and planes can do a lot of damage.

But the real question is actually this. It is not ‘is it credible that small causes can have big consequences?’ It is ‘is it credible that big causes can?’ Could a government really pull off such a conspiracy? The CIA is nowhere near as competent as conspiracy theorists imagine. It believed Saddam’s WMD were a ‘slam dunk’. It was surprised when Saddam invaded Kuwait and when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. In my own country a government department recently lost computer disks with personal (and banking) information relevant to 25 million people – 40% of the population. The disks were lost in the post.

The people who can’t run the DMV can run a secret world government? You have to be kidding.

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