Five Things They Don’t Want You to Know About Conspiracy Theories

It might seem like we’re living at a uniquely rich moment for
conspiracy theories. Over the last few years, we’ve seen it claimed
that Osama bin Laden didn’t really die, that Barack Obama is
covering up the true circumstances of his birth, that Kanye West
and Kim Kardashian have encoded Illuminati symbolism in their
baby’s name, that the National Security Agency has been secretly
intercepting Americans’ phone calls and e-mails—oh, wait. That last
one’s true.

It’s easy to write off conspiracy theories as the delusions of
the political fringe, a minor nuisance fueled by the rise of the
Internet. Easy—and inaccurate. Conspiracy stories have been a major
part of American life since the colonial days. They are not just
found in the political extremes, and they are not invariably wrong.
And even when they are wrong, as is so often true, they still have
lessons to teach us. To understand why conspiracies matter, it
helps to clear away some myths that have attached themselves to the
subject.

Myth #1: People today are uniquely prone to believing
conspiracy theories

A 2011 article in the British newspaper The Independent
flatly declared that “there are more conspiracy theories and more
conspiracy theory believers than ever before.” This, the reporter
continued, was largely “because the internet has made it easy to
propagate rumour and supposition on a global scale.” As an example,
he cited a story that the Ku Klux Klan secretly owned KFC and was
lacing “the food with a drug that makes only black men
impotent.”

But there has never been an age when conspiracy theories were
not popular. From Puritan fears that Satan was commanding a
conspiracy of Indians to Thomas Jefferson’s concern that the
British had “a deliberate and systematical

You can read the rest of this article at: http://reason.com/archives/2013/10/26/five-things-they-dont-want-you-to-know-a

Five Things They Don’t Want You to Know About Conspiracy Theories

It might seem like we’re living at a uniquely rich moment for
conspiracy theories. Over the last few years, we’ve seen it claimed
that Osama bin Laden didn’t really die, that Barack Obama is
covering up the true circumstances of his birth, that Kanye West
and Kim Kardashian have encoded Illuminati symbolism in their
baby’s name, that the National Security Agency has been secretly
intercepting Americans’ phone calls and e-mails—oh, wait. That last
one’s true.

It’s easy to write off conspiracy theories as the delusions of
the political fringe, a minor nuisance fueled by the rise of the
Internet. Easy—and inaccurate. Conspiracy stories have been a major
part of American life since the colonial days. They are not just
found in the political extremes, and they are not invariably wrong.
And even when they are wrong, as is so often true, they still have
lessons to teach us. To understand why conspiracies matter, it
helps to clear away some myths that have attached themselves to the
subject.

Myth #1: People today are uniquely prone to believing
conspiracy theories

A 2011 article in the British newspaper The Independent
flatly declared that “there are more conspiracy theories and more
conspiracy theory believers than ever before.” This, the reporter
continued, was largely “because the internet has made it easy to
propagate rumour and supposition on a global scale.” As an example,
he cited a story that the Ku Klux Klan secretly owned KFC and was
lacing “the food with a drug that makes only black men
impotent.”

But there has never been an age when conspiracy theories were
not popular. From Puritan fears that Satan was commanding a
conspiracy of Indians to Thomas Jefferson’s concern that the
British had “a deliberate and systematical

You can read the rest of this article at: http://reason.com/archives/2013/10/26/five-things-they-dont-want-you-to-know-a