Conspiracy theories by their nature are, in my experience, impossible to discredit. It is not that they are not discreditable, but rather that the difficulty and amount of time necessary are disproportional to the value, generally. For instance, there are those who believe that NASA is covering up evidence of extraterrestrials on Mars, that they have hidden the reality of the “face” on Mars and other “clear” indications of intelligence, such as massive buildings and cities. The fact that such a discovery would lead to immediate and large boosts in NASA’s budgets followed by attempts to quickly get people over to Mars—both things that NASA would like more than anything—seems to escape the understanding of those locked into the conspiracy. Finding evidence of life is something NASA scientists would be tempted to sell their souls for, both from the sheer joy of it, as well as the money their agency would get.
Most conspiracy theories, like those that argue we never landed on the moon, or that the earth is flat are benign. To refute them often requires a lot of time and effort and those who are experts in a given field rarely feel much reason to bother refuting what, in their minds, is obviously ludicrous. After all, how lame do you have to be to not realize that the Earth is round?
A few years ago I did a review of a book with some very bizarre notions relating to the ancient world and astronomy. One comment that the author made in his book stood out for me: “…after the publication of [my previous book] and the evidence therein –which has not been refuted since its first printing…” One of the most common responses of both the crackpot and the conspiracy theorist is to argue about how their positions have not been refuted, and to believe, therefore, since they have not been refuted that they must be true. The reality is something else. To refute a book requires an entire second book, usually, something that those with the ability don’t really want to make the time or take the effort for, since serious scholars ignore and are unburdened by nonsense like them.
Furthermore, publishers rarely are interested in refutations; the bizarre notions sell well, but destroying them doesn’t. Compare the sales figures of The DaVinci Code (which was only a novel!) with the several well-done refutations of it.
Working scholars simply have better things to do than worry about things that to them seem obviously wrong. And as I said, most such conspiracy theories and crackpot ideas are harmless aside from the time wasted on them and the trees sacrificed to print the books. To give a short refutation of The DaVinci Code, it was the Gnostics who would have been displeased with the idea of Jesus getting married and having a child, not the early Christians. Christianity affirms the humanity of Christ and marriage and having children would have merely been that much more evidence of that fact. Furthermore, the early Christians did not view sex as a sin or a defilement, unlike many of the Gnostics. Essentially, the author of the novel attributed the wrong beliefs to the wrong people. But then, that book is just a novel. It is surprising that anyone would assume a novel would necessarily give accurate information. It’s a story, for goodness sake, and designed to entertain. That’s all.
So, the tendency when faced with crackpot ideas is to ignore them. Since they are so ludicrous to those who know better, it seems unnecessary to waste time with them. For instance, there is a Flat Earth Society headquartered in Lancaster, California. It is unlikely that one will find detailed refutations of their point of view, not because their point of view cannot be refuted, but just because it seems not worth the effort.
But there are some conspiracy theories that, though crackpot, need to be paid attention to and actively refuted. For instance, anti-Semites argue that there is a vast conspiracy run by Jewish people to control all the world’s governments and banking. A variety of odd charges are raised, the most peculiar being what is called the blood libel: that Jews make matza for Passover from the blood of Christian children. Such libels, about controlling governments and killing children, are repeated endlessly by anti-Semites around the world and receive official acceptance in much of the Moslem world. In both Saudi Arabia and Egypt, for instance, the official government daily newspaper, as well as government run newsmagazines, regularly repeat the blood libel. Syrian Television produced a mini-series on the blood libel which was played in several Arab nations during Ramadan as recently as 2003. For more details on such things and to actually watch video clips of these rather unpleasant materials, visit www.memri.org, The Middle East Media Research Institute, which tracks and documents extremism in the Middle East.
Anti-Semitism is so obviously wrong that spending the time to refute the arguments its proponents raise would seem to make as much sense as bothering with the Flat Earth Society. Like the Flat Earth Society, the anti-Semitic arguments are long, complex, and filled with so many details that it would take some time to tackle them all point by point.
However, the anti-Semites of the world, unlike those who believe in a flat earth, or the novel The DaVinci Code is accurate history have historically been dangerous, and are responsible for killing millions of people. They continue, year after year, to use the same tired arguments that they have been using for years to justify their hatred and desire to persecute the Jewish people. Ideas that in the past have led to millions of murders are not ideas that we can afford to ignore. Ideas that continue to provoke murders and terrorists attacks cannot be ignored.
Thus, anti-Semitism must be condemned. Likewise, its arguments must be refuted, point by point. The short answer, of course, is to ask the obvious question: if the Jews are running everything, then why does history record unending persecution, confiscations of their property, expulsions, and finally, in the Nazi era, their near extermination in Eastern Europe? If they’re running things, then they are incredibly incompetent. Of course, as one person commented, there are about two billion Christians and about a billion Moslems. There are only eighteen million Jews. You really think eighteen million are going to control three billion?
But people will believe odd things, despite the facts. Some will try to deny that the Nazi’s killed six million Jews, despite the fact that those responsible for the atrocity kept detailed records and freely confessed their crimes after the war. Few things are as well attested as that nightmare, and yet the conspiracists will try to pretend it never happened.
It is important to remember what happened. It is important to understand what is happening even now. And it is important to refute those who would say otherwise. We’d prefer to not see such things ever happen again. We must stop it.