Conspiracy Theories are Self contradictory

Conspiracy theories are a waste of time because they are internally self contradictory.

They are internally self contradictory because they are based on an underlying assumption that things are not what they seem, and that there is a conspiracy to cover the truth and project a lie. However, if things are not what they seem, then the conspiracy theory is also not what it seems. Once you enter the twilight zone of the conspiracy theorist everyone is a probably liar and every theory is just as credible as the next one. That has to include the conspiracy theorist as well, for isn’t the conspiracy theorist actually cooking up a conspiracy of sorts himself?

Then we get into the tail-chasing madness in which the conspiracy theorists are all conspiring to dish out a false version of the truth. In other words, conspiracy theorists become conspirators.

They chase their tails in a kind of nail biting, wild eyed introspection which follows the irrational logic of insanity: You start with the conspiracy theory. If there is no evidence for the official line it proves that ‘they’
are lying. If there is evidence, then it must be a fake. If there is incontrovertible scientific evidence it proves how very good ‘they’ are at covering up. If there are eyewitnesses it shows how easily people can be bought.

Conspiracy theorists tiptoe through quicksand. All evidence is suspect. All witnesses gullible dupes. All authority is involved in the massive cover up.

Let me illustrate how the fault of being internally self contradictory is revealed: Let’s take an interesting and historical conspiracy–that Queen Elizabeth I was a man. This is the old story of the Bisley Boy. To be brief, the conspiracy is that the infant Elizabeth was in the country town of Bisley during the plague. She died and the villagers–terrified of the king’s wrath–substituted the only other red haired child of that age, and it was a boy. Chances were that he would die young as well, and no one would know. But he survived, and the older he got and the more it looked like he would inherit the throne the more it was in his, and everyone else’s (who was in the know) interest to maintain the fiction. For the conspiracy theorist this explains Elizabeth never marrying, never allowing herself to be seen unclothed even by her handmaids, it explains her being bald, having a deep voice, enjoying masculine sports like hunting, wearing wigs and heavy make up, and it explains why she forbade an autopsy after her death.

Now for those who like conspiracy theories, this is a humdinger. The problem is, as with all conspiracy theories, it is internally self contradictory, for if the received truth that Elizabeth was female is overturned, why then most anything, with a little bit of ‘evidence’ might be promoted as the ‘truth’. We might say (as some do) that Elizabeth was actually William Shakespeare. We might cook up some other conspiracies and say she was a witch, or that she was cursed by the ghost of Ann Boleyn or that Mary Queen of Scots was not beheaded, and instead Elizabeth was beheaded and Mary Queen of Scots took the throne, but to avoid rebellion she pretended to be Elizabeth and all her courtiers (for fear of losing their own heads) helped to maintain the fiction.

The number of conspiracy theories is only matched by the amount of imagination people have along with the need to find some greater hidden meaning to it all. It’s a form of illness and the final slam for conspiracy theorists is to ask, ‘So what?’ So what if JFK was actually murdered by LBJ, George Bush and the Cuban Cigar manufacturers? Can you do anything about that? So what if you discover incontrovertible proof that George W Bush murdered JFK Jr in a rigged plane crash or Elvis ate a poisoned peanut butter sandwich or Bill Clinton is a secret Rockefeller love child? Or Princess Diana was murdered by an international secret group of reptilian aliens. What are you going to do about it? Nothing. So at worst it’s a waste of time and at best its an amusing hobby.

If you want to wonder at the hidden meaning of all things I recommend meditating on the mystery of Divine Providence.

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  • Practicing Mammal

    My first day on your brilliant blog. You are in my prayers. I have been surrounded in Conspiracy theorists all my Catholic life. So tempted to throw up my hands in disgust, when I should be clasping them in prayer….thanks and blessings. PM

  • Gail F

    Wow, I have never heard that one about the "Bisley Boy" before! But I am all up on Shakespeare, and I am sick of the whole "Shakespeare was Catholic" crowd. a) So what? b) If he was, and he really wrote disguised Catholic messages in his plays, he was so good at it that no one figured out they were there until now — in which case, what good were they? and c)so what?

  • Anil Wang

    The problem is, there are things as conspiracies. Take for instance, Mary Queen of Scotts. She's called Bloody Mary in England even though the other Queens and Kings are were far more bloody than her. The history that's taught in England is heavily edited to have an anti-Catholic slant. While it is true that most British pass on this history by inertia, the original rewriting of history was a conspiracy.If you want a modern example, consider potemkin villages, such as Gijeong-dong in North Korea. It's made for visitors to make them believe that the standard of living in North Korea is equivalent to that in Europe but satellite and other evidence it is just a show it's not inhabited.Granted, assuming a conspiracy without sufficient evidence is pure foolishness, but it's also foolishness to discount conspiracies even when it's plain they exist is also foolish.

  • Patricius

    Conspiracy theories? Well just because I am paranoid it doesn't mean they aren't out to get me!Previous commenter: Mary Stuart (Queen of Scots) should not be confused with Mary Tudor (Queen of England). It is the latter to whom Protestant propagandists apply the term "Bloody". You are quite correct, however, about the anti-Catholic bias of much that passes for history in England.

  • veritas

    I read a brilliant article some time ago (but I can't remember where!) from a person who argued that when people in a Western country like the United States or Great Britain start believing that their own government is part of a massive conspiracy to cover up the truth about a number of major events, then that is a form of mental illness.For example the view that the Moon Landing was a hoax would mean that literally hundreds of thousands of scientists, technicians, military personnel, astronauts, politicians and others would all be deliberately lying to the world and that none of them would crack and spill the beans over the many years that have passed. This is so nonsensical as to be totally laughable – and yet, apparently thousands of people believe in this conspiracy theory.Similarly, the view that the Twin Towers disaster was arranged by the United States Government would require hundreds of thousands of law enforcement personnel, military personnel, scientists, pilots, politicians etc to be a part of a massive, deliberate murder plot against their own people. Yet thousands of people seem also to believe in this ridiculous conspiracy theory.This is a serious form of mental illness. When a society gets to the stage that significant numbers of its own people start thinking like this then the question has to be asked – why? Have the Left’s constant assaults on the beliefs and actions of Western Democracies, through the education system, through the media and through Hollywood and the entertainment industry, finally seeped into the psyche of the people so that they honestly can’t think straight about major events any more?

  • Palmetto Papist

    Shakespeare's "coded language" is only one piece in the very convincing case that Shakespeare was a Catholic, and understanding the reasons for such a language, for instance, provides further insight into Shakespeare's life and that of other Elizabethans, especially those the crown did not favor or persecuted. Dismissing it is like dismissing the allegorical language of the Book of Revelation.Further, understanding who Shakespeare was can help us to understand what he was trying to say. Otherwise, we simply read ourselves into Shakespeare, or into any poet, for that matter. To take another example of a persecuted poet who used "coded language," Dante cannot be fully understood without breaking the code, and nobody denies that. Why then put Shakespeare into his own "It doesn't matter who he was" category?Finally, poets simply don't expect that everything they write will be fully understood by everyone. Sometimes "coded language" serves the pleasure of the poet, regardless of who will ever read their work.

  • danightman

    Re: Gail,I'm a lot happier with that contention, and it turns out to be a very good prism to look at his plays. It also pays the Bard the compliment of saying he actually wrote his plays (contra the "Shakespeare was anyone but crowd that has reigned in error for years).

  • Marija

    In defence of conspiracy theories, I would like to say that we should not just dismiss the whole category of conspiracy theories as useless obsessions, although like anything else, they can become such. A legal definition of the word conspiracy is, "An agreement between 2or more persons to engage jointly in an unlawful criminal act."A more common definition is, "A secret plan by a group of people to do something bad." Any time an agreement is made between two or more people to do something bad and it actually comes to pass, we become curious to know what really happened. We immediately want to know who, what and why! We all are involved in conspiracy theories, small or large, whether we admit it or not. The quest for truth is actually the driving force behind conspiracy theories. But how to really find out is the great challenge, especially because God's Word tells us that, "But God is true, and every man a liar." (Romans 3:4)

  • johnny

    The ultimate conspiracy theory is that the fullness of truth and redemption is unavailable to us isn't it?

  • johnny

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  • Anneg

    Dr Francis Beckwith on his Rome Return blog on Patheos said this:Consider the rare political conspiracy theorist known as the truther-birther. He not only believes the wrong guy, bin Laden, was killed, but that the wrong guy, President Obama, ordered the killing. And now we can add to this conspiracy theory stew the newly-minted, “deather,” who doesn’t believe bin Laden was really killed. Thus, you can in theory have someone who believes that the wrong guy issued an order to kill a guy that didn’t die for a crime he did not commit.

  • Marija

    Amusing quote from Anneg. We shall probably see more amusing quotes appear as our government's official line about bin Laden continously changes over the next few weeks, provoking ever more conspiracy theories! "The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie — deliberate, contrived and dishonest — but the myth — persistent, persuasive, and unrealistic." – JFK

  • Anneg

    @Marija, You mentioned a legal conspiracy, for example, you and I get together, make a dummy company, sell stock, take the money and go to Brazil. Those kinds of things happen.What Fr D mentions, though is the stuff of "Conspiracy Theories". Today these include the assassination of JFK, the moon landing and, now, the irregular war attacks of Sept 11, 2001. I agree with Fr's explanation. In a few of my past positions I have been in a position to know things that are not public knowledge and a few that were and still are classified. It is hard enough to keep those secret, even when they should be. It is impossible to keep secret something known by dozens, hundreds or thousands of people when they know they are wrong.Dr Beckwith's quote is a joke that only a philosophy professor could fabricate. Praying for a return to humor and balance, AnneG in NC

  • Marija

    Anneg wrote: "Dr Beckwith's quote is a joke that only a philosophy professor could fabricate. Praying for a return to humor and balance."Yes, I did realize his quote was a joke and I appreciate his wit.I like humor and balance too, so here is my contribution regarding the Obama/Osama show: There are only 2 letters different in their names: B and S. :)

  • LarryD

    Father – I didn't know you had written this when I wrote a post at The American Catholic called Conspiracies and Controversies. So for you truthers and birthers and deathers out there, there was no conspiracy between Fr and me.:-)

  • Kirstin

    Every conspiracy theory doesn't necessarily have merit, but that doesn't mean that ALL conspiracy theories don't have merit. There are (and have been) demonstrable conspiracies in history. So, certainly if there are really some conspiracies out there, theories about conspiracies cannot be condemned en masse.