One thing that’s been the subject of much debate in libertarian circles, is what many would refer to as “conspiracy theories”. I hate this term, because I feel as though it is used to dismiss an idea without looking into it, but for the purpose of this article I will use it to refer to a class of information commonly deemed as such. Things like alternative narratives about the September 11th attacks, or the Boston Marathon bombing, “chemtrails”, the Bilderberg group, the “New World Order”, and a long list of other stories, some of which have proof, others of which are complete crap.
I’ll point out a couple of examples to differentiate soon, but the purpose of this article is not to confirm or debunk any particular conspiracy theory. My premise here is that, whether they are right or wrong, conspiracy theories are good for libertarianism in general. This sets me apart from many other content producers and “movement leaders” in that they say these ideas are detrimental to the movement, either because they are incorrect, or because they are fear mongering, or because they harm our credibility, or any number of other reasons.
Common Arguments Against Conspiracy Theories
They Are Not True
To make this assertion, the person making it must necessarily have studied every conspiracy theory, and deemed all of them to be false. Since their premise is usually that we shouldn’t even be discussing these things, I find this terribly unlikely. With the Alex Jones program airing seven days a week, and InfoWars.com pumping out articles every single day, even the most dedicated conspiracy theorist would have his hands full trying to confirm or debunk all of them. Add to this dozens if not hundreds of other conspiracy theory websites, radio shows, and podcasts, and the task of finding out about all them, much less researching them, becomes quite the chore. Someone who dismisses an entire class of information, just because they call it a “conspiracy theory” is certainly not spending nearly that much time researching all of these ideas.
Granted, some of these things are not entirely supported by reality.
One of the more ridiculous claims I’ve heard made is that juice boxes are turning children into homosexuals. Then again, the idea just sounds so preposterous, that I’m not bothering to research it. I’d be willing to bet if you did research it, you would find some confirmed evidence that could lead one in that direction, but reaching the asserted conclusion is not necessarily supported by fact.
Take “chemtrails” as another example. There is evidence to suggest that it has been proposed by government agents and corporations to spray chemicals into the sky for “geoengineering”, and people have found elevated levels of certain chemicals in the soil in some areas. From these very real facts, people jump to the insane conclusion that every line in the sky is a radical depopulation agenda.
“Conspiracy theories” pertaining to the attacks of September 11th 2001 abound, some of which contradict one another. Some people say a plane didn’t even hit the pentagon, it was a missile. Some people say the planes were guided by remote control. Some people say there were explosives in the twin towers, some say thermite. I’m honestly not claiming to know the answer, but I would say that the most ridiculous conspiracy theory I’ve heard about September 11th is the “official” 9/11 Commission Report. Truth is the first casualty of any war, and to assume the “War on Terror” is any exception is lunacy.
Take the Boston Marathon bombing for another example. Some people claim there to have been “crisis actors” who came in and staged the whole thing. I personally find this a little bit ridiculous, since even if the government did stage the attack, they would have no problem murdering a bunch of innocent people in the process. That’s kinda what governments do, after all. The one absurd claim, is no reason to dismiss the fact that bomb drills describing exactly what happened were ongoing when it went down, or the many contradictions of the “official story” that have been pointed out by “conspiracy theorists”. Especially when it leads to something as insane as martial law in Boston, there’s plenty of reason to be skeptical about the narrative that leads to something like that.
For these reasons and others, I think dismissing “conspiracy theories” as untrue, is just plain bogus. One could make the criticism that conspiracy theorists should be a bit more careful in their positive assertions, but I think they have done a lot of extremely important work in exposing government lies.
A common criticism lobbed, especially by the “peace is the way” crowd, is that conspiracy theories scare people, and that fear is unproductive. I couldn’t disagree more. Fear is a healthy instinct. If you find yourself stranded in a jungle somewhere, and you see a pack of hyenas killing something, fear may lead you to walk in the other direction, and that’s a good thing.
Likewise, governments have murdered 260 million of their own citizens in the last century, so people who are not afraid of it, concern me. Government is the number one preventable cause of human death and suffering in the world, and I couldn’t think of a better thing to be terrified of. If showing people shocking documentaries about government atrocities and exposing government lies helps lead people to the conclusion that government is a terrifyingly violent and evil institution, I’d have a hard time coming up with a better possible outcome.
People should be afraid of government! It kills people! Even the most anti-conspiracy libertarian should be able to understand that.
Credibility of “The Movement”
This one really burns me, especially because it’s not just limited to “conspiracy theories”. If you don’t want to be associated with exposing government lies and atrocities, then by all means, don’t. For those of us who value this though, you have no more a right to claim ownership over a “movement” than anybody else. This “you’re hurting the movement” crap is lobbed at every faction by every other faction, who thinks everybody should be doing what they’re doing. The whole point of liberty is to understand that we don’t all do the same things, that we have different motivations and that people respond to different stimuli.
I certainly don’t agree with a lot of things Alex Jones says. I don’t want to “restore the republic”. I don’t think Christianity is particularly helpful in spreading freedom. I’d also have to be dumb, deaf, and blind to think that he hasn’t done more to diminish the credibility of the State, than every activist I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting combined. The fact that you see so many conspiracy theorists in libertarian circles should be all the evidence you need to prove that conspiracy theories help grow the libertarian movement.
Libertarianism is a radical movement. If you’re trying to make it populist, you’re not only fooling yourselves, you’re actively on the path to ruining it. The goal is not to win elections, the goal is to radicalize a large enough minority to make statism impossible. I have a hard time believing that millions of people screaming “9/11 was an inside job!” and “the answer to 1984 is 1776!” harms that goal.
If anything hurts the movement, it’s feeding credibility to the government by discrediting the people who spend their days disproving its lies.
Reprinted with permission from Christopher Cantwell.