TCT 016: Critical Thinking About Conspiracies (Part 1)

this is the critical figure episode 16 hey everyone thanks for tuning in for another episode of the critical thinker podcast the podcast dedicated to helping you understand what it means to be an independent critical thinker hi I'm your host Kevin de la plante you can find show notes to the podcast episodes at WWE echo thinker Academy comm where I also host a membership site where you can subscribe and gain access to over 12 hours of video tutorials on various aspects of logic argumentation critical reasoning and argumentative essay writing on this episode of the podcast I'll be introducing a topic that will occupy us for the next few episodes in fact we're going to be talking about critical thinking about conspiracies now why do I want to stretch this topic over a few episodes am i obsessed with conspiracy theories no here's the deal as I was preparing for the episode I realized there really was a lot of material that I wanted to cover and I've also wanted to go back into doing shorter episodes that come up more frequently I'm also trying to integrate the video podcast episodes into the tutorial courses that I offer on the critical thinker Academy site and it's just easier to have shorter episodes organizer and a single theme or a couple of themes I also realized while writing the episodes that I'm actually using this as a case study to introduce some other important critical thinking concepts like the concept of falsifiability and some other interesting cognitive biases and I don't want all of us to get lost in a one-hour episode that'll be a chore to sit through so these are the reasons for splitting up the topic into several shorter episodes in this episode I'm going to start off with a basic introduction to the topic what is a conspiracy theory and why is the topic interesting from a critical thinking standpoint okay what is a conspiracy theory well in a nutshell a conspiracy theory is a theory that purports to explain an historical event or a series of a historical events by appealing to a conspiracy of some kind so what's a conspiracy well minimally you have a conspiracy you need to have a group of people you can't conspire all by yourself and that good to people makes plans and acts in secrecy hidden from public view secrecy is an essential feature of conspiracies now by this definition that doesn't have to be anything sinister to make something a conspiracy on this definition when we plan a surprise birthday party for a friend were engaged in conspiracy when we work at keeping the magic Santa Claus alive for our kids we're actively promoting and maintaining a conspiracy but in the sense in which the term conspiracy theory is normally used in political contexts there's an assumption that the conspirators have sinister or at least objectionable aims of some kind to engineer events in control public perception to acquire money and power and influence and so on it's probably a mistake to build this into the definition of a conspiracy but in the cases it will be looking at the label conspiracy usually comes with a normative judgment but there's something objectionable about the aims of the conspirators also a conspiracy explanation of some historical event is usually contrasted with other explanations that have official status at the time and placed in question for example the official explanation of the collapse of the Twin Towers the World Trade Center on 9/11 is that it was the result of a surprise attack involving two hijacked planes that were flown into the towers 9/11 conspiracy theories challenged this official story most popular claim that the US government knew about the planned attacks and let them happen and that the government may even have helped engineer the collapse by rigging the buildings with explosives to ensure that they fell when the planes hit them so you got the official explanation and you've got an alternative explanation which involves a conspiracy among various parties including the US government to stage the event and a conspiracy to cover up the government's involvement in the event this gives a nice example of the kinds of theories that were talking about another good example is the moon landing conspiracy theories which claimed that the first moon landings were faked the idea is that during the 1960's the US was in a race with the Soviet Union to develop space technology to be the first to land on the moon but the moon landing turned out to be impossible it was technologically too challenging the political cost of this failure was perceived as too high so the government or are both decided to fake the 1969 moon landing on a soundstage the rocket was launched but a tree into the atmosphere soon after the launch and was ditched in the ocean the actual moon landing pictures in video were faked in a studio now the argument that conspiracy theorists make is that there are lots of anomalies in the photographs and videos that are hard to explain they were actually taken on the moon where there's no atmosphere and only one dominant light source but could easily be explained if they'd been shot on the soundstage so once again we've got an official version of the story and we've got an alternative version of the story that invokes a conspiracy now conspiracy theories come in different scales depending on the side and extent of the conspiracy both in space and in time the moon landing hoax conspiracy is fairly narrow in scope since it's targeted at a specific historical event but the conspiracy to cover up the hoax wouldn't necessarily have a long reach in time getting on now close to 45 years since the event in question but this is still small compared to what are sometimes called global or grand conspiracy theories global conspiracies involve conspiracies among agents and institutions that stretch across the globe and that have influence in almost all aspects of modern life governments media multinational corporations religious institutions and so on in terms of timescales that can extend over decades or centuries or even millennia now among global conspiracy theories the most prominent are so-called new world order theories now this term doesn't pick out a single theory is really an umbrella term for a bunch of different theories a share a set of core beliefs the basic core belief is that there exists a secretive power elite that is conspiring to eventually rule the world through a single world government that will replace sovereign nation-states this group operates in secret but as enormous influence through a wide network of public internationalist organizations that themselves have ties to the higher-level organization now among conspiracy theorists the list of front groups and institutions changes depending on who you ask but the names of institutions of the economy here include the US Federal Reserve the League of Nations the International Monetary Fund the World Bank the UN the World Health Organization the European Union the World Trade Organization and so on the agendas of these international institutions are established in secret meetings associated with elite figures and international power brokers like the Bilderberg Group the Council on Foreign Affairs the trilateral commission and so on because these institutions have so much power and influence new world order theorists are disposed to see almost all of the major geopolitical events of the 20th 21st century including all the major Wars as the product of an orchestrated plan to eventually bring about a single world government that while publicly espousing ideals of international citizenship and global community would in fact exert a totalitarian control that strips away individual liberties now these kinds of new world order theories are popular among certain libertarian and conservative Christian groups they're also increasingly popular among New Age thinkers on both the far right and the far left these groups vary in their views of the actual identities and ultimate motivations of the secret elite but structurally they have a lot in common okay this gives us some idea of what we're talking about when we talk about conspiracy theories I think you'll agree the topic is fascinating in its own right but why is this topic interesting from a critical thinking perspective well I think there are some obvious reasons why they're interesting and some not so obvious reasons obvious reason number one belief in conspiracy theories of one form or another is very widespread among the general public and has become increasingly so over the past 20 years surveys indicate for example that a sizable minority of the general population believes that George Bush and/or the CIA knew about the September 11 attacks in advance but intentionally did nothing to prevent them while a smaller but still not insignificant proportion believes the US government actually had a hand in orchestrating the attacks with the express intent of using the attacks as a pretext for launching a global war on terror and justifying military incursions into the Middle East so the widespread belief in conspiracies of one form another is initiative phenomena by itself a natural question to ask is are there good reasons to believe any of these conspiracy theories what attitude should we as critical thinkers have toward these theories this leads to obvious reason number two among philosophers and I think most mainstream academics the most common attitude is a default skepticism about conspiracy theories of this sort among professional skeptics who advocate for scientific rationality it's mostly taken for granted that belief in conspiracies is unjustified and irrational not all conspiracies obviously but the big conspiracy is like the moon hoax or the intentional demolition of the twin towers by the US government or global conspiracy theories that posit a small secret elite is engineering world events these are viewed by most academics not all but most as fundamentally implausible if not outright delusional now if this is right that a question to ask is how exactly is this default skepticism justified are there good reasons to adopt this view well one of the things I'm gonna do in the episodes to come is to run through what I take to be the main arguments for default skepticism about conspiracy theories I'll leave it to you listeners to decide whether you think they're good arguments now there's another reason why conspiracy theories are interesting from a critical thinking perspective this one not so obvious has to do with the attitude that conspiracy theorists have toward critical thinking itself and I find it both ironic and absolutely fascinating it turns out that many people who endorse conspiracy theories are also passionate advocates for critical thinking education they promote the teaching of logic and argumentation skills they want us to understand informal fallacies and the difference between justified and unjustified beliefs I know this because I receive emails from people on both the right and the left who say their admirers of the podcast they love what I'm doing they want to spread the word about the importance of critical thinking and you follow up with that oh by the way have you looked at this website I think you might find it interesting and the website they refer me to is associated with some socio-political movement that is predicated on a conspiracy theory of some kind and it turns out for some of these groups the more global and all-encompassing the pause and the conspiracy is the more importance they place on logic and critical thinking skills and what's fascinating and like I said ironic is that this runs exactly counter to what for lack of a better term I'll call the establishment view of conspiracies and critical thinking which is that the more global and all-encompassing the conspiracy is the less plausible it is and the more irrational is to believe it now let me just pause and elaborate a bit about this last point because II think I understand what's going on in the minds of conspiracy theorists and I think it's interesting for a conspiracy theorist to identify a conspiracy you need to be able to see beyond and behind the official story which by hypothesis will be a misrepresentation of reality at issue of facts half-truths and outright deceptions that is designed to hide the truth seeing past the lies the deceptions requires the ability to identify inconsistencies in the official story follow sometimes long chains of inferences and identify fallacies and techniques of intentional deception hence identifying a conspiracy seeing it for what it is is an act of successful critical thinking that's the way conspiracy theorists see it and the more broad and encompassing of the conspiracy the greater the challenge for critical thinking requiring even more vigilance and more rigor in her thinking now what makes the identification of conspiracies even harder still and I've learned that this is a widely shared view especially among new world order theorists is that one of the techniques that the powerful elite have used to maintain control is by a deliberate program of dumbing down the general public by suppressing the development of critical thinking capacities among the unwashed masses they'll point to the distractions of Hollywood professional sports our music and video games as tools for keeping us distracted and entertained they'll point to the systematic elimination of critical thinking education from the public school curriculum for example classical liberal arts education used to be structured around three core disciplines that constitute what was called the Trivium which included grammar logic and rhetoric this core was part of a basic instruction in how to think how to learn and how to communicate one's understanding of a given subject matter now this material isn't generally taught in public schools anymore and they'll ask why not here's why not they'll say the purposes of public schooling have been subordinated to the purposes of the elite ruling classes which require citizens who are conformist obediently depended on external guidance and direction intellectually in curious and easily controlled we can't have the unwashed masses going around thinking for themselves in criticizing the status quo that's not part of the elite game plan so critical thinking education for the general public becomes important on this view because if suppression has been instrumental in maintaining and perpetuating the conspiracy so it follows then that if the goal is to unmask the conspiracy and free people's minds to see reality as it truly is that we need to promote critical thinking skills and make critical thinking resources more available to the general public and that in a nutshell is why so many conspiracy proponents are also strong advocates of critical thinking education you can see why someone in my position would find this to you both attractive and ironic at the same time it's a very romantic vision of the critical thinker as an anti-establishment cultural warrior whose special knowledge and skills can help us to see behind the veil of appearances free our minds and begin to live a life outside the matrix as it were I love this it makes me feel like Morpheus and yet at the same time my skeptic friends view these sorts of grand conspiracy theories has classic examples of irrational and misguided belief they see a call for critical thinking education from these people as bizarrely ironic as astrologers are flat earthers advocating for better science education in the public schools okay that wraps up my introduction to this topic I hope I've convinced you to stick around for the next few episodes where we'll take a closer look at some of the more common arguments for default skepticism about conspiracy theories let me also say that I will have a few critical things to say about these arguments so hold off on your judgement about my own views until we're finished this series I invite you all to visit the Academy site at letter two so thanks again and we'll see you next time you

24 thoughts on “TCT 016: Critical Thinking About Conspiracies (Part 1)”

  1. isn't conspiracy theory a sort of a ad hominem fallacy?, imho most conspiracy theories break only at the end and by then they make some good points either true or false, i.e. we (generally the people, laymen) wouldn't think of why the flag on the moon behave as it does if there's no wind, but there's also no air resistance. Some other points are not that easy to dispute (not talking about moon landing but otherwise), and that's when we hear "he is a conspiracy theorist". It seems to me that we often stand hopeless in front of the facts not knowing what to do or where to put them, because if you acknowledge their validity you cannot go about as usual and therefor you deem people who confront you with such facts a conspiracy theorists.

  2. Most conspiracy theorists want the "easy" answer; can't understand that it's a complex world. Conspiracy theorists, bring forth your evidence and convince the world or shut the Hell up. You're costing money and lives now. And don't post a link to some 14-year-old's jumbled video of faked documents and photos; go convince a major news organization or a major group that your conspiracy theory is correct (I fear for you if you find yourself standing in front of a bunch of critical thinkers because they'll tear you to shreds if you don't come correct with the evidence). Your fantasy is not the world's reality. Keep that shit in your house.

  3. Such claims are seen as "delusional" in some respects because to admit the possibility or extent of conspiracy would unravel the fabric of our society. How about looking into MK Ultra or the Mafia .. proven conspiracies that should make us weary and vigilant at all times.

  4. Yeah the US Mafia… that was a nefarious conspiracy. Conspiring to break the law and cause harm etc… The mafia operated in secrecy for years before the feds found out about it. It was a theory by investigators until they discovered the actual extent of the conspiracy…

  5. So if the theory is that the "powers that be" et al. intentionally took critical thinking subjects out of education, any conspiracy theory that has them in that level of control at any point when they have been added to any publicly available education program is inconsistent.
    Is some sort of list of generalized conspiracy counterarguments that I should be adding this to?

  6. I think what you teach is very important. I think your way of explaining is also very valuable.
    The way you toe the line on this issue on indicating rather you are for or against conspiracies, is very well done. I don't know you, and I'm never really sure about your own opinions about conspiracies and ulterior motives. But, I think it adds value to your educational videos that you don't express your personal feelings. I believe this is because people may be biased against you if they found you to be for or against their conclusions on the subject matter.
    So, Kudos.

  7. Independent critical thinker? That's a problem already. People are both rational and irrational. Sometimes we get over-emotional about something. We then use critical thinking in an unconsciously biased way.

    We need other critical thinks to spot when our emotions are hihacking our rationality. So 'independent' isn't always great.

  8. for starters, default skepticism must be towards the official, government version. they are oppressors and known liars.

  9. So the big thing in your mind is the fact they found a passport on the ground?

    Are you aware of flight 1771?

    They found the suicide killer's note in the wreckage.

    A piece of paper has little to no mass so it's not surprising if it's ejected from a crash etc that it might remain intact. Also that passport was in the cockpit during impact so it's no surprise it continued forward through the building and exited the other side.

    Do you deny that some of the plane went right through the building?

  10. I don't question at all whether or not the towers were demolished or fell naturally. I question who Bin Laden was, I question how they found passports undamaged blocks from the towers, why NORAD stood down, etc.

  11. Usual conspiracy theorist cowardice.

    Make a claim, asked to back it up with rational discourse, run away.

    Usually they try to use some type of distorted or misunderstood perception regarding science like in this case Newton's Laws of Motion.

    Clearly Indrasblade39 couldn't even pass a grade 10 level physics exam yet he proclaims his knowledge of Newton's laws means 911 is a conspiracy.

    When faced with counter claims and logic showing flaws in their reasoning then simply run away like cowards.

  12. Have you ever heard of a thing called inertia and perhaps momentum?

    Are you one of these 9/11 twoofers that still thinks the towers fell at free fall speeds?


  13. Anytime someone says something like "end of debate," in relation to science is probably ill-informed. I assume you are not a physicist?

  14. Note that these 'mainstream skeptics' never or very rarely offer evidence or facts, they constantly smear character, or accuse 'conspiracy theorists' of delusional thinking.
    Man made global warming. Skeptics "No hotspot, mediaeval warm period hotter globally than today, no discernible human-induced trend, no warming for past 17 years, no sea level rise increase, no sea temp increase, above average antarctic ice, CO2 rise lags 800 years behind temp rise etc."
    Alarmists "…Consensus!.."

  15. Ummm, no. It's proven by Newtonian physics to be a controlled demolition. NO debunker has been able to explain how an object can ACCELERATE through resistance greater than it's static weight. Nor can they explain how Newton's third law is violated by the fact that for every floor destroyed in the lower section, a floor must be destroyed in the falling section, so after 15 floors there would be no more pile driver. .
    NO debunker can explain the freefall of building 7 that PROVES explosives.

  16. You're right he shouldn't have said, "then explain how it was not a controlled demolition." However some of the points that he brought up do raise cause for concern of doubt in the main story told.. that the explosion of a hijacked plane's jet fuel caused the structural failure of the steel framed WTC inside of an hour. Several repudiable physicists' and first responders' testimonies raise reasonable doubt in the plausability of that explanation of how the towers collapsed.

  17. America can't even gain control of Afghanistan yet you think "they" could create a global government controlling the world !?!

    You are totally IRRATIONAL and basically INSANE.

  18. Your starting your whole premise on the bases of there the reported information being a forgone fact. Now if you wish to develop, it’s a reductionist spiral. It’s like a court, look at a whole set of facts, in a case, the guy has motive, connection, DNA, connection, gun in hand, ballistics connection, witnesses. All pointing toward him. IS he guilty. More than like YES! Thats how I work, I see a web, like very large jigsaw and it all fits.

  19. Conspiracy, big government, Check George Bush, and many other presidents and leading Politian’s, and multinational companies who are on record mention the NEW WORDL ORDER, NOW, global government, these are conspiracy theories which are if searched conspiracy FACTS!

  20. following on:
    the lists go on and on, Skewed TV news reporting ( not giving a fair and balanced view) proven this goes on, busted! WHY, because they are owned and connected to those who want things to be kept secret, from the public, they have hidden agendas, conspiracies. Don’t be fooled by this crap!

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