Conspiracy theories have already started to flourish after the Boston bombing and the West, Texas, fertilizer plant explosion. I suppose it wouldn’t do for the Area 51 brigade to conclude that the Boston bombing was caused without reason by two twisted young men, and that the fertilizer plant explosion was an accident devoid of nefarious cause. Rational people will start investigations from the beginning and work their way through data that may yield discovery and preventable solutions, which, to my mind, must be the only agenda. That seems a fundamental difference between conspiracy theory and the reality of an event: Conspiracy theory depends upon powerful, evil, and hidden forces that cannot be exposed, so solutions to problems are not, and never will be, forthcoming. The reality of events like the Boston bombing and the West disaster, on the other hand, rely on rational, systematic, and above-board data that people can use to prevent such tragedies from recurring.
Conspiracy theorists take advantage of the tendency of many people to live in black-and-white worlds. When sifting fact and reason is just hard, tedious work left for rational folk, conspiracy theorists find fertile ground. Gray areas just won’t do for those consumed by a touch-screen society. By God, if there are gaps in fact, if answers aren’t readily available, the conspiracy theorists are there to fill them in with wild and fearful ideas that rest solely on “If you can’t prove it, it must be true.” Accident is out of the question. Even Hollywood knows the burden of proof is on the storyteller, which is why movies almost always tie things up neatly in the end.
Conspiracy theory is easy to do — and kind of fun. All you have to do is ask “What if?” of any scenario that reeks of a nefarious plot and cover-up, typically by covert government groups; exploit only the information that fits your conspiracy theory; and put the burden of proof of contravening facts on your opposition (although most people have neither the time nor the inclination to engage with conspiracy theorists, something the Tin Hatters bank on). Here, I’ll use my own life as an example.
I am one of three Americans living in Szczytno, Poland, about nine kilometers north of Szymany where a CIA Black Site is located, about 50 miles from Russia, and 125 miles from Slupsk, one site for the United States' proposed Missile Defense Shield. I have a Polish friend who is in the Polish military. He specializes in electronics and psychology. I have been coming to Poland off and on since 1993, shortly after the Berlin Wall collapsed. I don’t speak the language and most people here don’t speak English. I live alone. My old and new passports are thick with added pages and visas and stamps from around 30 countries, many in the Middle East. I lived in Kuwait, China, and Saudi Arabia. I was in Kuwait during 9/11 and when Operation Iraqi Freedom began. I arrived in Saudi Arabia just after the 2003 compound bombings. I am a Vietnam Veteran (1971). I was in a platoon detached from an infantry unit in Cam Rhan Bay and outposted on the South China Sea near Phan Rang. I qualified as an expert on everything I fired. When I was processing out of Vietnam and the Army simultaneously, a few of us were taken into a room where a CIA official pitched public service. I went home to Oregon, went to work, started a family, went to college, got a few degrees, and went abroad where I have been ever since. Many of my friends on Facebook speak Arabic.
In other words, I’m not a CIA Black Ops agent. I’m a retired teacher who came to Poland in 1993 to teach at a university where I met my wife, who is Polish and also a teacher. At that time, the Poles wanted all the American influence they could get. We had two young girls and taught abroad together before separating in 2004. I retired to Poland so that I could be near my two daughters — in other words, the CIA Black Site and the Missile Defense Shield site nearby are coincidences. When I was separated from my girls, I traveled to Poland to visit them at every opportunity, which put me on a plane about every two months for five years.
I suppose if you wanted to concoct a fanatical and fearful conspiracy theory, you could conclude that I was, in fact, a CIA Black Site operative protecting the secrets of whatever fantasy you like. It’s just sexier and more entertaining than the bookish exploits of an international schoolteacher. And, given coincidence and gaps in facts and time, I’d have a hard time disproving your theory since you reason that the burden of proof is on the defendant.
There is, however, one caveat that interests me: What would be the point? What is the point to any conspiracy theory other than to force the theorists’ impotency, fears, and fantasies on others and to assuage boredom? To those conspiracy theorists who see themselves as lone crusaders for justice, I’d advise that you read something other than comic books, look up therapies for delusion, and then ask, To what end? What have you ever, or will you ever, accomplish to advance human flourishing? All you do is muddy the waters for those hard at work posing reasonable questions and sifting through fact to find reasonable solutions to real problems, like the many people working for answers to the Boston bombing and the West fertilizer plant explosion are doing.
But then, even that is giving you too much credit. Come on, admit it: You’re really in it for your own morbid entertainment, and that’s really OK —but please stay out of the way of the advancement of civilization. It’s serious business.