The truth behind the conspiracy theory

A super pressure balloon of the kind used by Nasa. Photo by NASA.
A super pressure balloon of the kind used by Nasa. Photo by NASA.
I do like a good conspiracy theory. Who really killed JFK? Who shot JR? Questions that keep you hanging on the edge of your seat until the next series or the newest wave of evidence/fabrication come into play.

Not that I was actually allowed to watch Dallas.

I had to conspire with a friend to pretend we were doing history homework at around 8pm every Wednesday.

While I never did much studying in those evenings and couldn't even tell you who shot the man in the big Texan hat, or why I even cared that much at the time, the lure of making sense of the plurality of possibilities remains.

That's the beauty of a good conspiracy theory.

It asks ''what if?''

It doesn't rest on the laurels of what it's been spoon-fed.

It flies in the face of Occam's razor, stacking up potentially-less-plausible possibilities to create interesting truths.

Take the Nasa balloon launch over Wanaka.

Surely there's a good conspiracy theory or seven just aching to be born there, though social media is not spouting any forth.

Maybe the silence over possible theories is a conspiracy in itself.

Maybe the remains of MH370 are being shipped back across the oceans under its massive white protective cover, along with Elvis and the aliens.

Maybe it is the hugest spy experiment ever, so big we are blinded.

Or maybe my powerless, anxious existence coincidental with rereading The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy leads me to such conclusions.

There's a conspiracy theory that the term ''conspiracy theories'' was invented by the CIA in the 1960s as a way of marginalising creative thinking and inconvenient truth.

It's pretty effective.

Just ask Nicky Hager.

See also ''feminist ranting'' and ''witchcraft'' for similarly dismissive phrases, although I'm pretty sure the CIA didn't invent them.

The word ''conspire'' is plenty older than that.

Plutarch wrote of Brutus and Cassius as conspirators against Caesar.

Beware the bad men as well as the Ides of March.

To conspire is to plot or plan against, suggesting a group, an evil plan, an enemy/hero (depending on your world-view).

But if we're going to get properly old Latin about it, it also means ''to breathe together''.

An interesting slant; an amassing of natural forces, perhaps.

Are we wired to conspire?

Research shows that most of us are open to ideas of conspiracy, attracted to them, even.

Apparently a third of Americans are open to the ideas that 9/11 was an inside job and that Obama has a fake birth certificate.

And up to 63% of us believe in some conspiracy theory or other.

But come on.

There are so many questionable truths thought of as conspiracy theories now that there must be some with kernels of plausibility at least.

Access to more information leads us to try to make increasingly convoluted sense as we navigate through our lives.

So Lincoln was shot by John Wilkes Booth at Ford's theatre and Kennedy was shot in a Lincoln car, made by Ford and Caesar was at the Theatre at Pompey when he got killed and the towers came tumbling down.

We play life-scale Cluedo, hyped as we are on reality TV cliffhangers and acronymmed sleuth shows.

Still, one culprit is pretty clear.


No, it's not a secret sect.

Our amygdalae are the bits of brain that free-wheel or control anxiety responses and memory control.

They can hijack our rational brains just as surely as (insert cause/effect of most probable conspiracy theory you can think of here).

Sort of the creative cushioning to all that is bleak, terrible, unfathomable, too horrid to be true or just up against the official line.

Having spent a good while googling conspiracy theories in the name of research and being almost convinced that the Titanic wasn't itself and Princess Diana was pushed, I'm no longer sure that my rational brain is behaving itself when I read that France is banning access to conspiracy theory websites.

It's all too, too much.

Perhaps the only rational truth we'll ever know comes from Douglas Adams and his Hitchhiker's Guide.

''Anything that happens, happens.''


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