Social networking is a miracle of technology, a tool of unprecedented global reach. Its power to connect is truly a wonder.
Which is why it’s so disheartening to see it used too frequently for the spread of misinformation and lies. Some of it is innocuous or so blatantly false that it barely warrants comment.
But occasionally there’s a video or link so abhorrent, so ignorant, so devoid of value that by the fifth or sixth time I’ve seen it posted, I can’t help but react.
The Sandy Hook Conspiracy Video is just such a video (I almost don’t want to include the link and give it more exposure, but by this point the dam’s already burst).
Nor is this a post meant to address the larger issues and failings of conspiracy theories, as I’ve already written on that topic before.
No, this particular post is about the sad human weakness that causes people to latch onto conspiracy theories, especially ones as reprehensible and without merit as the Sandy Hook Conspiracy.
The Spread of Lies
Conspiracy theories have a lot in common with religion. When pushed, they both survive on faith and (at best) circumstantial evidence, with a healthy dose of confirmation bias. But beyond that, there’s also a kind of haughty assumption that they, the soldiers of the faith, are in possession of knowledge that the vast majority of people are too ignorant or too brainwashed to know or understand.*
But Conspiracy Theorists as a group aren’t all that remarkable. They tend to hide in their bunkers (metaphorical or real) and throw rocks at soft targets, and even though the internet has given them a louder voice, they’re still largely ineffectual in winning adherents.
No, it isn’t the ‘professional’ nutjobs that get videos up to 1,000,000 views. It’s normal people, your friends and family, your coworkers and fellow students who pass on a video, not because they believe it, but just because they “find it interesting.”
And hey, there’s nothing wrong with sharing a video. We’re all intelligent, reasonable people, we can look at the evidence and decide for ourselves. And in this utopian world where people always do follow-up research and big breasted mermaids bring us lemonade on hot days, that’s fine.
But in the real world where we actually live, people rarely (if ever) do their homework. Someone posts a video, you watch it (or part of it when it’s 30 minutes long) and either roll your eyes, hit ‘like’ or repost it, and the virus spreads further.
Most everyone I know who posted this video (and they have been legion) have done so with the caveat, “I don’t necessarily agree, but it is interesting.” Well, I disagree with that premise. The video isn’t interesting at all. It’s pathetic and it’s hurtful.
But it’s effective.
The Need For Order
The reason videos and conspiracies like this spread, even among people who aren’t naturally prone to conspiracy theories (although those numbers seem to be dwindling) is that the underlying premise is actually quite reassuring, almost hopeful. These conspiracy theories argue that atrocities like this aren’t meaningless and horrific acts of unpredictable human insanity, but rather they are the carefully crafted and orchestrated acts of governments in complete control.
Yet another similarity to religion: The false promise of order. No, the universe isn’t an indifferent void ruled by life’s endless fight for survival, there is a God and He has a plan and He cares about you. And no, these shootings aren’t random acts of violence by unhinged psychotics, they are chess moves in a national or international agenda and if enough people open their eyes we can rise up and stop it.
There is something absolutely pleasing in the promise of order, but all one has to do is take off your myopic goggles and look around to see that this version of ‘order’ doesn’t really explain everything as neatly as you’d like. God loves us all? What about AIDS babies in Africa? Mass shootings are an elaborate hoax in a scheme to set up a totalitarian government? Then why are Obama’s gun control efforts so pragmatic and frankly miniscule? (Yes, there are always answers to these questions, but when pressed further, the answers only become less and less satisfying.)
What’s the Big Deal?
So what, though, right? What’s the harm in indulging in a little conspiracy mongering? I mean, you don’t really buy into the theories, you’re just asking some questions. What’s wrong with asking questions?
There’s nothing wrong with asking questions, it’s the hallmark of an engaged populace. But, remember when they told you in elementary school, “There are no stupid questions?” Well, they were lying to you, there are stupid questions, and you’re asking them.
Before you get all huffed up and insulted, let me say that asking a stupid question doesn’t mean you are stupid. Very bright people can be sucked down very dumb rabbit holes. Consider this: Is there some opinion that you find completely ridiculous that is still held by smart people? I, for one, can think of countless examples.
But this isn’t about you.
Children have died, and not for the first time. I’ve spent most of my life knowing that any random person could get their hands on a gun and walk into my school or my place of work and kill dozens of people. My parents didn’t grow up with that kind of reality. But our kids will, that’s for sure.
We’re being told that gun control is a way for Adolf Obama to suppress the people for his authoritarian take over of our lives. Besides the fact that this is about as farfetched a scenario as they come (have you been watching Obama? He can barely get his own party to stay in line, let alone lead a lockstep army), it takes focus away from the real problems and the real solutions.
However you feel about gun control, I think we can all agree the Adam Lanza’s of the world shouldn’t be getting their hands on automatic weapons. Maybe you have a better solution than restricting access to such guns. If that’s the case, we should be talking about that along with having a real discussion about gun control, one free of hysteria and conspiracy theories and baseless comparisons to Hitler.
What we should not be doing is wasting 30 minutes of our day on ignorance-filled propaganda** that encourages its adherents to harass grieving families and decent people who tried to help.
There is nothing wrong with questioning, but some answers aren’t worth your time.
*A whole other post should be written on how people who claim to have knowledge based on scientific evidence are considered arrogant, but professing knowledge based on intuition is somehow pure and the mark of humility.
**From Wikipedia: Propaganda is a form of communication that is aimed towards influencing the attitude of a community toward some cause or position by presenting only one side of an argument.