Is it a Conspiracy? Who Gains?


By Mike Cronin

As we saw last week, Occam’s razor is one tool for helping us avoid falling into the trap of believing in every conspiracy theory that comes along.  Another way to evaluate conspiracy theories for credibility is by asking the simple question: Who stands to gain?  In 1998, when Hillary Clinton was First Lady, she alleged that there was a “vast right-wing conspiracy” to besmirch her husband over the Monica Lewisnky scandal.  The political right certainly made every attempt to tarnish her husband for his indiscretion, but that was not a conspiracy, it was simply opposition politics. The right stood to gain by impeaching the president, but it didn’t take any secret cabal to put together a smear campaign; each individual pundit and politician was able to drum up outrage on his own! On the other hand, Mrs. Clinton stood to gain if she could rally support by painting herself as the embattled victim fighting for truth and dignity, so she let fly with the allegation, and it became one of the most often-cited Hillary quotes.  When the president from one party provides his opposition with the ingredients of a scandal, OF COURSE the opposition will take advantage of the opportunity!  That’s not a conspiracy, it’s an axiom!

Like the “vast conspiracy” against the Clintons, sometimes the activity of a conspiracy theory is credible, but the motives and/or competence ascribed to the perpetrators are dubious: The political right is fond of alleging that the left controls the education system and is intentionally dumbing down our kids through Common Core, campus speech codes, revisionist history curricula, etc.  As with the right’s non-conspiratorial opposition to the Clintons, the state of our education system need not be attributed to a conspiracy of the left. Instead, the state of our education system is the accumulated results of long-term government control.  OF COURSE a government-controlled education system is going to promote and advance a pro-government agenda! That’s not a conspiracy, it’s an axiom!

Let’s look at another example:

Some allege that the wars in Iraq (Desert Storm in 1991, Iraqi Freedom beginning in 2003) were all about oil. It is easy to fan that flame, as Dick Chenney (President Bush Sr’s Secretary of Defense, and Bush Jr’s Vice President) was the CEO of Haliburton (a huge company that provides all manner of services to the oil industry) in between the Bushes presidencies. In the sense that the Bush administrations conspired to go to war in order to gain personal control of Iraqi oil, the answer is doubtful, as Iraqi oil remains under Iraqi control. However, there is a more credible context under which “oil” can be held as the reason for the wars: Saddam Hussein took over Kuwait and threatened to invade Saudi Arabia (his forces actually did cross the border at Najaf). That meant he held a significant portion of the world’s oil reserves (and therefore the lifeblood of international commerce) at risk. OF COURSE the Iraq Wars were about oil! That’s not a conspiracy, it’s an axiom…but not the same one some conspiracy theorists would have us believe.

Often, though, the conspiracy theories are just ludicrous. From the 1990s onward, the term “black helicopters” has picked up the connotation among believers that nefarious forces under the auspices of the United Nations patrol the US and engage in clandestine activities designed to bring about a “New World Order.”  IF such forces exist, and IF they used helicopters for transportation, it is highly unlikely they would adopt a “signature” that would defeat their efforts to remain hidden.

“Chemtrails” is another ridiculous theory. Supposedly, “they” are using jet airliners to spray mysterious chemical agents across the nation for unknown purposes.  The evidence: Contrails. Occam’s razor leaves us no guesswork here: The simplest explanation for contrails is that they are CONTRAILS, not weaponized chemical clouds. Who stands to gain?  The charlatans selling “reports” on chemtrails.

Probably one of the looniest has to be the flat earthers.  Yes, there are still people out there who believe the world is flat.  In order to swallow that pill, you have to ignore or evade absolutely proven scientific facts. For example, you have to believe that every photo and bit of video from orbit showing the curvature of the earth has been faked. That would require that all space programs across the globe have conspired to tell the same lie to billions of people since the USSR launched Sputnik in 1957. The real conspiracy here is the one being perpetrated by the theorists themselves in furthering this drivel.

“What is more likely, a complicated scenario that requires tortured logic to arrive at, or the simple explanation?” “Who stands to benefit, the alleged conspirators, or the person alleging the conspiracy?” When you examine a conspiracy theory and ask a few simple questions, OF COURSE you’ll get a much better sense of the theorists’ credibility!

Three Random Thoughts


By Mike Cronin

I have been holding my criticism of Common Core until I could see for myself how it is being applied to my own children’s education.  It isn’t all that special.  My son is learning multiplication.  He recently asked for my help.  The problem he was working on required him to describe various tools he could use to solve it, such as grids, counters, and number lines.  One tool conspicuously missing from the “kit:” multiplication tables!  How “common” can Common Core be if it eschews the near-universal “tools” taught to previous generations?

The Supreme Court recently ruled in favor of gay marriage, essentially granting the right to homosexuals nationwide to wed and enjoy the same legal advantages as heterosexuals, such as designating the spouse as beneficiary for insurance.  In my opinion, homosexuals were seeking the wrong remedy to the wrong injury.  The injury is that for far too long, government has held sway over who could be married to whom, in direct contravention of the concepts of free association and individual rights. It would have been much more proper to argue that the remedy would be for government, at any level, to exercise no purview over the relationships of competent, consenting adults, except in terms of contract enforcement. The quest for nationally-legalized gay marriage was successful…at reinforcing the assumption of a power by the government it was not endowed to by the Constitution.

I recently heard an atheist offer a quip to the effect that if  Creationism (AKA Intelligent Design, or I.D.) becomes a required “theory” to be taught in public school, Evolution should then be a required subject to be preached in church.  I thought that was a neat bit of rhetorical art.  However, as with gay marriage, it would be the wrong remedy for the wrong injury.  The problem isn’t that Creationism/I.D. are religious beliefs disguised as scientific theory, and would therefor constitute a violation of the separation of church and state.  The problem is that we have massive federal interference and oversight (disguised as “support”) for public schools, which ought to be solely the domain of the states. (This may come as a surprise, but there is no power enumerated in the Constitution that gives the federal government any purview over education. The word “education” does not even appear in the Constitution proper.)  Remission of federal control over education would not eliminate the argument over separation of church and state, or of Evolution vs. Creationism/I.D. But it would localize the problem. The states, counties, and school districts would be freer to experiment with curriculum design, and if a family objected to the local curriculum, whether it included Creationism/I.D. or not, they would have more power to influence change or a greater likelihood of finding a curriculum to their liking in a different school system.  And they might have a little more money in their pockets.

Disagree with my reasoning?  Let’s hear it!