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Conspiracies and Secret Societies: Why So Appealing?

Like many Americans and others abroad, I am fascinated with conspiracies. The late President John F. Kennedy had famously said, “The very word secrecy is repugnant in a free and open society, and we are as a people–inherently and historically–opposed to secret societies, secret oaths, and to secret proceedings.” And yet, arguably it is this repugnancy, to borrow Kennedy’s words, which seems to make conspiracies irresistible for many of us.

Indeed, conspiracies may very well be attractive not just because of the element of secrecy, but because of the allure that darkness has in general. In much the same way that horror films and frightening things present an exciting, compelling variety of entertainment, apparently even the real possibility of dark cabals in our midst has become something that is able to draw many people in… and hence, people tend to project it outward just as well.

Image by cao_dai09 via Wikimedia Commons at http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Thi%C3%AAn_nh%C3%A3n_Cao_%C4%90%C3%A0i.jpg

Maybe this is why we now find “evidence” of conspiracies almost everywhere. Even prior to the birth of Prince William and Catherine’s infant heir, there were already beginning to be conspiracies that the Dutchess of Cambridge had been late on delivery (let alone crazier notions that are no doubt being tossed around that the poor little chap may be a blue-blooded reptilian). Whether it’s a royal family birth, or a despicable act of terror that makes the headlines, more than ever before it seems that people are quick to label almost anything as being a potential conspiracy… so what is it about conspiracies that have managed to permeate our culture so easily?

One way of looking at this would entail a phenomenon we might call “conspiracy assertion,” where people essentially presume that there are secretive components to virtually all things they can perceive, especially when they may only possess limited knowledge about the actual details of the matter. I’ve noted in the past the way that conspiracy talk show host Alex Jones–who, in the past, has covered a wide range of very valid conspiracies–had been claiming within hours of the Boston Marathon bombing that the entire thing had been a “false flag.” The fact that he could not have possessed enough information about this incident to be able to make this determination at that (or perhaps at any) time may have less to do with the circumstances than the fact that Jones, among others, has for years made similar assertions about incidents such as the 9/11 terrorist attacks, as well as the raid on the Branch Davidian complex near Waco, Texas, in the 1990s. In some circumstances, there may very well be elements of conspiracy; but by looking at them, and thus virtually all things as being the norm, rather than isolated instances unto themselves, the assertion of conspiracy becomes more a matter of one’s world view, rather than an evidence based analysis on a case-per-case basis.

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While conspiracy theories and belief in them may be centered largely around one’s world view, this does not mean that secretive happenings don’t actually transpire. Still, another fallacy in the “conspiracy mind” would probably be the presumption that such things are always occurring solely behind closed doors. Rolling Stone writer Matt Taibbi recently expressed dissatisfaction with conspiracy theories on these grounds, arguing instead that a lot of the evidence of misdeeds and conspiratorial activities on part of government may be right in front of our faces:

Taibbi said that this level of government audacity is why he has a problem with conspiracy theorists, such as those who argue that the September 11 attacks were an inside job. (He also dismissed suggestions of government foul play in relation to the death of Michael Hastings, a fellow writer for Rolling Stone who covered national security issues before dying in an alleged car accident on June 18, 2013.)

“They are still convinced that conspiracies are these things that take place with the Rothschilds and the Illuminati, and that it’s all taking place behind some closed door somewhere,” Taibbi said. “I’m like, ‘They’re not hiding it. It’s right out in the open.’

The fact that many secret operations begin outside the general scope of public knowledge, but eventually do become well known should not be misconstrued as an argument against conspiracies altogether. Rather, the conspiracy theory is something that remains distinguishable from its alternative: conspiracy fact. We may not know precisely what secret organizations like the Bilderberg group are discussing, but we would be hard pressed to assume that they weren’t there at all. Few of us (again, perhaps with the exception of Alex Jones) have spent a weekend retreat in Bohemian Grove… but that hardly removes the fact that strange things seem to occur there, which the likes of former President Richard Nixon had even spoken publicly about.

Like all things, proper discernment between vast global conspiracies and the mere assertion of such becomes a balancing act, teetering on opposing sides of truth and logic, paired with those things which are merely inferred from supposition. Someplace therein, between the facts and confusion, the truth does exist.

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Micah Hanks is a writer, podcaster, and researcher whose interests cover a variety of subjects. His areas of focus include history, science, philosophy, current events, cultural studies, technology, unexplained phenomena, and ways the future of humankind may be influenced by science and innovation in the coming decades. In addition to writing, Micah hosts the Middle Theory and Gralien Report podcasts.
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