Conspiracy Theories, Writing and Logic 103

Conspiracy Theories, Writing and Logic 103

Guest Blogger

In editing a piece of promotional work for someone one morning, I was reminded again of the many similarities between writers, who tell fantastic stories for a living and have no intention that they be taken as fact, and conspiracy theorists, who tell fantastic stories for a variety of reasons with every intention that they be taken as fact.

In Truther circles, as in plotting a story, the narratives often become increasingly elaborate as they expand. Take Jade Helm, for example, or the Birther Movement, or Sandy Hook, or 9/11 or any one of a number of conspiracy theories that have grown up over the course of the last decade. These theories often become increasingly byzantine as the conspiracists seek to answer the inevitable logistical and logical questions that their theories evoke.

For example, with regard to Jade Helm (which is either a mundane and regularly held military exercise or a plot to take over Texas) one might ask the following:

Where will the US military put the Texans they so fear while taking over that sovereign nation . . . er, embattled territory . . . uh, I mean, federated state?

Well, there are several empty Wal-Marts in various locations in various cities in Texas. That’s where the enemies of the Federal Government will be taken.

But how shall they be gotten to and from these centers without anyone noticing?

Ah, there are underground tunnels that connect the empty Wal-Marts to train yards or other points of dispersal.

Dispersal to where? Where would an incursion of prisoners not be noticed?

Obviously, to FEMA camps set up in unpopulated areas of the country so isolated that no one knows they’re there.

This line of questioning could go on for some time, but I’ll stop there.

battleshipAs I suggested in the previous post in this loose series, a question that is seldom asked (or, if asked, is treated superficially as if it, too, was a matter of simple logistics) is WHY? Why does the US military wish to forcibly “take over” one of the states that is already part of our Union?

Answer: Because the Feds want them to do it.

But this only leads to yet another WHY: why does the Federal government want to capture rank and file Texans?

Answer: Because the POTUS wants it to.

As you can see, we’re no closer to the Big WHY. WHY does the POTUS want to militarily take over a state that is already part of the Union of which he is the presiding executive, and imprison random Texans (at great expense)?

Answer: I’ve heard it’s because he hates America (why?) or that he wants ISIS (or the Chinese) to take over the country (why?) or because we suspect he’s a Muslim (why?) or because . . . Well, you get the drift.

At this point, “just coz” simply doesn’t work. It doesn’t work in the real world in any real sense. It doesn’t even work in fiction. In fiction, far more than in real life, we expect coherent patterns to emerge and coincidence to be a non-factor. Above all, we expect to be able to understand the motives and rationales of the characters, else we cannot follow their story lines, much less empathize with them. There must be an actual motive that merits the scale of the events the writer proposes occurred.

diffuse-an-argument-800x800The trick to writing readable stories in just about any genre is to make the characters’ logic accessible to the reader even if that logic is flawed, based on false premises, ethically and morally bankrupt, or completely alien. A character’s motives—their Big WHYs—must make sense to readers on some level or readers will be unable to suspend their disbelief or follow the narrative. Their reaction may be much like my reaction to conspiracist logic: “Wha—? You’ve got to be . . . LOL. . . . Wait a minute. Seriously? OMG, I can’t even . . . Oy. Headache.”

A phrase that’s been floating around the blogosphere for awhile is “word salad”, which is the verbal outcome of thought salad. An article I read a while back referred to this verbal incoherence as a “sentence-like string of words”. It also described trying to extract real meaning or logic from these strings of words as “a category error”—as in, you are attempting to understand logically something that is not logical, but is merely a logic-like string of thoughts. The author likened it to attempting to polish a duck.

I believe writers of fiction and non-fiction (journalists, pundits, statesmen) owe their readers more than something that only seems like a logical thought because it’s set in what looks like a real sentence describing a real Thing.

Perhaps there are writers clever enough that they can get away with murder (literary murder, at any rate) because their sentence-like strings of words sound enough like the real deal to dazzle readers into thinking they have experienced a coherent idea, felt a particular emotion, or discovered a truth.

salad_platterSome polemicists, for example, make such good use of evocative phrases and emotionally charged words that they give the perception that they’ve said something factual, when no facts have changed hands. Some politicians are especially adept at stringing together evocative words that, if confronted with those words later on can—in all honesty—say, “No, I didn’t say that.” And, by golly, a careful reading of what they wrote or said reveals that they didn’t actually say what people thought they said. This form of plausible deniability allows every reader or listener to take away from the sentence-like string of words whatever they wish.

I’d like my stories—whether fictional or fact-based—to contain real sentences that grow out of coherent thoughts. I’d like to give my readers the real Thing, not a semblance of that Thing, even at my most ambiguous. And that’s why when I begin to turn ideas into stories, I ask myself WHY; why would my character do this, say this, feel this?

If the answer is “just coz” I’d like them to, I’m not doing my job.

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5 thoughts on “Conspiracy Theories, Writing and Logic 103

  1. G W Bush convinced some fellow fanatical Methodists to fly airplanes into the World Trade Center and Pentagon. Why? So he could have a pretext to launch a crusade against Islam.
    Just kidding.

  2. Without doubt, one of the factors in the emergence of anti-religious ideas and a phalanx of deniers of God, has been the false teachings, the inadequacies and the intellectual perversions of the followers of some religions. The peculiarities and separate characteristics of each religion must, therefore, be individually examined when studying the reasons that have led men to adhere to that religion.

    1. Thank you, Hasain, for your comment. Which quite true. Inevitably, when I’m discussing religion with self-identifying New Atheists or anti-theists a major reason they have turned away from religion, the Prophets and God is the behaviors and attitudes of believers or groups of believers they have encountered.

      Were I unable to do what you suggest—study the faith itself, not the human edifice raised in its name, I would probably have fallen into the same trap. As it was, I was greatly challenged by Baha’u’llah’s assertion that if I studied the scriptures of the various religions, I would find commonality, unity and rational prescriptions for human behavior—all suited to the age in which these messages were delivered.

      I was especially challenged by being asked to contemplate the idea that Muhammad was a Prophet of God just as Moses and Jesus were. But, of course, Baha’u’llah was correct: when I looked past the behavior of the adherents to any religion to what the Founder had taught, I found a common reality.

      Alas, I also discovered that in many cases, the behavior of the professed adherents of a particular faith ran 180 degrees opposite of what the Prophet taught. When I look at Christianity and Islam, especially, I am dismayed by the insistence by extremist elements that somehow love of God can result in hatred of our fellow human beings when a foundational tenet of both faiths (which are, in essence, one faith) is that love of God must be accompanied by sacrificial love for our fellow humans—even those we want so much to despise.

      1. Where does Muhammad teach we have to love all humans? I have not seen that in the Qur’an.

        1. Here are a few verses that deal with different aspects of the love and unity that is supposed to extend even to enemies:

          O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise each other). Verily the most honoured of you in the sight of God is (he who is) the most righteous of you. And God has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things). — Quran 49:13

          It may be that Allah will ordain love between you and those of them with whom ye are at enmity. Allah is Mighty, and Allah is Forgiving, Merciful. – Qur’an 60:7

          O ye who believe! Be steadfast witnesses for Allah in equity, and let not hatred of any people seduce you that ye deal not justly. Deal justly, that is nearer to your duty. Observe your duty to Allah. Lo! Allah is Informed of what ye do. — Qur’an 5:9

          There is also this verse which is one of the earliest Muhammad revealed. It sets the foundation of Islam firmly on the attitudes and behavior of the believers. Specifically, it makes it clear that kindness, not public piety is beloved of God. This reminds me much of Jesus’ story of the widow’s mite.

          Hast thou observed him who belieth religion?
          That is he who repelleth the orphan,
          And urgeth not the feeding of the needy.
          Ah, woe unto worshippers
          Who are heedless of their prayer;
          Who would be seen (at worship)
          Yet refuse small kindnesses!” — Qur’an 107

          There are a variety of other places in the Qur’an in which Muhammad speaks very specifically about the way believers are to treat each other, their servants, their kin, the People of Scripture (that is, Jews and Christians). He often does this by relating to the believers how God views these people. For example, he calls upon them to forgive their enemies by noting that God is ever-forgiving.

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