Conspiracy theories; Religions of the Information Age (forum post)

This was originally posted on the Skeptics Guide to the Universe forum

I wanted to share my thoughts on the nature of conspiracy theories, any my concerns at the Skeptic community’s reaction to the challenges they pose. 

In the modern age, we’re bombarded with massive (and exponentially increasing) amounts of information. On paper, that should mean we’re getting smarter. In reality, it means we find it harder and harder to make sense of the world because it requires more and more analysis of incoming information. Information overload causes stress. Stress leads us to switch off. Of course, many people retreat into convenient narratives to help explain things. I’m sure you can see where I’m going with this. 

I think it is a natural inclination of us to use narrative to explain events n our lives, and we are masters of doing so after the fact (i.e. Nicholas Nassim Taleb’s “Narrative Fallacy”). Propagandists and marketing experts are well aware of this, as are the peddlers of religion. You all know as much too. But as religions decline in the West, we still yearn to have narratives to help explain things. Political ideologies go some of the way to filling this vacuum. New age belief systems do a better job of explaining the world “ holistically”. But hands down the greatest job of explaining the blizzard of information that fills the modern world are conspiracy theories. 

For every event that happens in the world, for every catastrophe and disaster, for every scrap of historical information you come across, there is one entity behind it all; the New World Order. The NWO is the malevolent God that rules the world, the evil entity that is cause every earthquake and tornado via their HAARP super-weapon, behind every disaster there is the sinister hands of their brainwashed agents, behind every war - however unforseen - they have shadowy and ever changing goals. Every plague. Every law enacted. Every change in a world of accelerating change. 

In this sci-fi reinvention of Christianity The NWO is the omnipresent God of Hate, who listens to you via your mobile phone and watches you with eyes in space. They hate you and they’re coming for your children. To implant you with microchips. The enslave you. I watched a video the other day saying they could kill you via the television, and with light-bulbs. This is all lulz to us, but to those who hang on his every word, it is paranoia bordering on superstition. 

Heretics are crushed and sidelined. Alex Jones - the Grand Ayatollah of the Conspiracy Theory cult - will not entertain any form of Heresy. He called Noam Chomsky a NWO Shill when he was in favour of Gun Control. He brands Julian Assange is an “MK-Ultra Zombie” because his leaks do not confirm the “truth” of the NWO masterplan. Most interestingly, he is constantly mocked Peter Joseph, founder of the now imploded Zeitgeist Movement / Cult, after seemingly identifying him as a false prophet or some such.  

And here is my worry. 

While many in the Skeptic community is locked in in well trodden battles with creationists and homeopaths, the most dangerous force against Reason is being given a free ride. Alex Jones alone produces over an hour of video a day weaving his narrative even tighter, and his fleet of websites filter massive amounts of information through his distorted lens. Part of what I do professionally is online marketing, and this guy could teach most of the people in the industry a thing or two. 

He and his organisation are staggeringly adept with online marketing technologies. I’ve followed Alex Jones for over ten years, and in that time I’ve seen him grow from a sidelined eccentric to a growing force in the US. Glen Beck was effectively ripping him off (much to Jones annoyance). Donald Trump is now leading in the Republican Presidential nominations, on the back of Birther conspiracies.  These ideas are seeping into the mainstream. 

And of course they are. Jones is has prophesied disaster in one form or another for over a decade. Disaster of some form is of course inevitable, but the financial disaster and 9/11 before it were taken as proofs of his prophesies coming true. There is a market for this, because people are suffering in the current economic climate and are looking for answers. Simple answers, in a nice digestible narrative tablet form. Alex, the great showman, offers the illusion of being well informed while tightly controlling what his followers are allowed to believe. 

But for all of his information, I see very little skepticism online to counter this other than a few, tumbleweed strewn outposts like Conspiracy Science. He and his guests (who 99% of the time are there to reinforce his worldview) get away with the most amazing and bold and outlandish statements, peddle their DVDs and books with no criticism by Jones, and very little attention by the Skeptic community*. Jones regular guests, such as Webster Tarpley, Lindsay Williams, Max Keiser, Gerald Celente and so on, also have very little in the way of critical analysis online. This needs to change. 

So in summary, Conspiracy Theories - or Illuminatism - is filling the void left by religion. And while Skeptics and Atheists focus their attention on the old religions, new ones are growing in thier place while our backs are turned.