The content on this blog is my personal opinion and does not reflect the views of the Department of Defense or the US Navy in any way.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Conspiracies and Truth

... because I feel like pointing and laughing this week, I think.

Okay, that's a bit too much. Really it's more of a helpless pity, since I have no idea how to convince someone like Mike Adams or the average person who actually believes that NaturalNews is accurate that their view of the way reality works has become rather dramatically divergent from the way it actually works. Case in point: a recent article that I found via RationalWiki.

Apparently the Mayan apocalypse was the only crackpot theory Adams doesn't believe in (granted, this was apparent long before now). I would say I don't understand how it's possible to believe in this many wild theories... but I think this article does actually show how people get drawn in.

For example, the article mentions how the number of deaths at Sandy Hook is miniscule compared to, say, car accidents. That happens to be true. As is the fact that there is some collateral damage resulting from US drone strikes, and that the media rarely mentions it. Further down, the Fed can, in essence, create more money to put in the US economy. And there are powerful societal pressures to conform to everyone around you...

Granted, there's a lot that's... untrue, to put it mildly. Vaccines, while not 100% free of adverse effects (nothing is), tend to be far better than the diseases they replace - and if that becomes untrue then we tend to stop using them. There's essentially zero evidence of a massive propaganda system covering everything we watch, hear, or read. NaturalNews and Infowars either aren't seeking the truth, or are so breathtakingly incompetent that they're effectively useless - yes, more so than Fox or MSNBC's blatant partisanship.

Still, those truths appeal to people who are just realizing that something is wrong. Their presence makes the untruths easier to swallow - unfortunately, it's quite natural to think that if he's right about this one thing, then maybe he's also right about the other things I'd never considered before. That suggests that, however hard it may be, it's important to check all the claims being made, even if you know some are true...

But... and perhaps more to the point... those "truths" I mentioned are a little more complicated than the article mentions. The experience of many other countries suggests our number of gun deaths is abnormal, whether due to our gun culture or due to the number of guns we have. While I haven't exactly asked them about it myself, I'm reasonably certain the entire military chain of command from the President on down deeply regrets that collateral damage - and does what they can to minimize it (which might not be enough from some people's point of view, but even if you believe that, it's still better than nothing). The Fed has to carefully balance risks of inflation and deflation as they decide where to set rates and how much money to lend - they can't just create whatever they want. And those societal pressures are an unconscious product of psychology, not an intentional propaganda war - perhaps more to the point, they can be acknowledged and countered (to various, sometimes limited extent) without believing in all sorts of conspiracy theories.

They're true, but incomplete. In my experience, that's a much easier way to lie to someone... sometimes, even without actually knowing it (although, for something of this magnitude, even my naturally forgiving personality struggles with that idea). And that suggests that sometimes it's important, not necessarily to question the things we know are true (because ultimately, there's little we can do but rely on our own judgement for determining that, whether it's using personally observed facts or advice from others as input), but to ask ourselves if there's something else we haven't considered that might make a more simple answer partially wrong.

I think the failure to do that is both the easiest and the most tenacious way in which we convince ourselves to believe something that's wrong and settle for only part of the truth.

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