Write Your Own Conspiracy Theory

When I was working on my Master’s Degree, everyone in the MA (yes, I got a Master of Arts in Speech Communication – go figure) program had to go through grad-level statistics. Ostensibly, this was to teach us how to have valid experimental work and give us a better understanding in general of how statistics works. It was actually a good class and I’m glad I took it, even if the only real stats work I did was running a chi square test and some basic validity and reliability tests on my thesis. What I actually took away from the class was how easy it is to manipulate people with numbers. 60% of the time it works 90% of the time. 79% of people know that.

Since my degree – even though it was in Speech Comm – focused on rhetoric and persuasion, I’ve had a sick fascination with the ways people can be manipulated. Naturally, this last election cycle was like being on a several month long bender of lies and distortions. U.S. Presidential elections are usually like that, though. They’re like that crazy chick you know you should stay away from, but you still find yourself waking up in her bedroom and wondering what happened to your clothes and where you got the crazy idea to pierce various places.

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Shocked owl is shocked.

Just to get this out of the way, the election is over and this post isn’t directly about the election, anyway. What this is about, is all the paranoid ramblings that come up every election cycle. Since I’m a writer, I thought it would be fun to write a conspiracy theory and step y’all through the process of manipulating people for fun and profit.

Conspiracy theories are inherently interesting to us as humans. It’s easier to believe aliens built the pyramids than it is to understand a whole lot of people can accomplish something amazing when they set their minds to it. Just like with fake news stories (which are a form of conspiracy theories in that they exploit our base predilections) the trick with any good conspiracy theory is to take advantage the small truth and expand it in all kinds of exciting ways. We’re going to start with two small (probable) truths:

  • Self-driving cars will be a reality in about ten years
  • Insurance companies will offer higher rates for people who insist on driving themselves

I don’t have any concrete evidence for this, but the beauty of a good conspiracy theory is it doesn’t require much evidence. Actually, less evidence is better because it’s hard to refute nothingness. All you really need to do is work with something people already “know”.

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Meet your new car. The high-end ’82 Firebird turned a jaw-dropping 165 bhp from a V8 engine.

Now we’re going to throw some techno-babble at it to make it all sound scientific. Self-driving cars rely on GPS navigation and advanced near-AI computers. Don’t go overboard with the tech stuff or people will ignore it. Add a major corporation and a touch of heath care and you’ve got the makings of a great conspiracy theory.

To finalize the conspiracy theory all you need to do is add a bit of paranoid ramblings that sound truthy. Truthiness is important. A conspiracy theory plays on people’s inherent pre-judgements about the world around them. Again, take something everyone already “knows” is true. This is what separates a conspiracy theory from propaganda. Propaganda seeks to create the “truth”, conspiracy theories exploit that “truth”.  For our conspiracy theory we’re going to play on Americans’ inherent mistrust of government and large corporations. That’s actually one of the things that brings us together as a country: distrusting the people that run the joint and pay the bills.

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Knows a little too much about truthiness, if you know what I mean.

Put it all together and you get something like:

Self-driving cars are almost a reality. Google’s almost got one ready to deploy and you or your kids will probably be able to buy it. Guess what! You’ll also get a discount on your car insurance if you let the car drive itself because that’s how good Google is at this kind of thing and they’ve cut a deal with automotive insurance companies. Google’s actually creating an artificial intelligence to make it all work!

Think that’s a great idea? Think again.

Google is the same company that helped design the Great Firewall of China that blocked Chinese citizens from learning what their government is up to. And they did it at the behest of the State Department! It doesn’t take a genius to think they can do the same thing here in the United States. They’re also masters at working with GPS. Ever looked up your house on Google Maps? They’ve got pictures of your front door. They know where your phone is, too! Now, at the behest of the United States government, Google is going to be able to track your car and see everywhere you go! If you decide you’re going to McDonald’s, Google will know and they’ll tell the government. Since the government runs healthcare now, your health insurance rates will go up because you wanted a Big Mac and someone decided that’s unhealthy!

We’re through the looking glass here, folks. The future is now and it’s just like Orwell predicted: a boot on your throat forever. When self-driving cars debut, do yourself a favor and DON’T BUY ONE!

See how easy that was? Unfortunately, a lot of news these days follows the same kinds of formula. Find something interesting that are already twitchy about, extract it to a logical-sounding conclusion. Next time you read something that sounds too good to be true (Obama founded ISIS!), do yourself a favor and do some digging, especially if it smells conspiratorial. Just like with statistics, it’s possible to “prove” almost anything. Unlike statistics, a conspiracy theory or a fake news story doesn’t require much in the way of truth, it just has to sound true.

Remember, perception is reality.

Book Review – The Experiencers by Val Tobin

I had a fun childhood. I grew up looking for UFOs and buried treasure. Our school library had all manner of kick-ass books on UFOs and ghosts and MiBs. I got my first copy of Who Goes There? from a school book drive when I was 11. For those of you not in the know, Who Goes There? would later become a little movie called The Thing. These were the heady days when Star Trek and Space:1999 reruns could be found from time to time and movies like Hanger 18 were out there. My childhood also include V, that crazy series about spacefaring lizard people and the rebellion that fights them on Earth. The end result was I spent a lot of time thinking about aliens and UFOs and MiBs and all the other fun stuff that makes up a healthy childhood.

Space, you might say, was injected into my blood from a very early age. Maybe not injected. Maybe an IV drip would be a more apt description. At any rate, space is there.

Any time you start talking about UFOs and aliens, it’s only a matter of time before conspiracies start getting bandied about. That’s total X-Files territory. One of the things that always fascinated me about the totality of the UFO-MiB-Government Conspiracy mythology was the individual. Who would work for an organization that was hell-bent on covering it all up and why? Men In Black touched on this, but it was far too lighthearted a take on a group of people who silenced those who knew too much.

In saunters Val Tobin’s The Experiencers (The Valiant Chronicles) (Volume 1) and shows us the story of alien abduction and silencing those who know too much from the points of view of an abductee, a guy working to silence people, and the head of an organization working with the aliens. Tobin also manages to weave in other paranormal aspects through her psychic lead character.

Tobin (not the author of the Spirit Guide, BTW) doesn’t pull punches with her action or allow her characters to stray too far off into the woods. By adding the psychic element to the classical UFO tale, The Experiencers has a dimension most alien abduction stories lack. The story is tightly paced and full of enough wonder to keep everyone entertained. Amazingly, considering the subject matter, The Experiencers manages to feel grounded and grittily (if that wasn’t a word, it is now) realistic.

All in all, a unique mixture of UFO conspiracies and psychic theory wrapped in a bow and adorned with believable characters. An excellent read.

Michael Valiant, Agency black ops assassin, deals death without question. He knows it’s all in the name of duty and the fight against terror, particularly at a time when the earth is as close as it’s ever been to self-destructing. But when his orders include silencing members of a UFO group who look less like terrorists and more like housewives and UFO buffs, he decides to do some digging.

His curiosity arouses the ire of his boss and his partner, who warn Michael that his actions are putting him in danger. When Michael’s wife dies in what appears to be a traffic accident, Michael, with his partner’s help and support, pushes aside his doubts and immerses himself in the jobs he needs to complete.

Carolyn Fairchild, Psychic medium and believer in angels, lives happy and contented in a nice home in Newmarket, Ontario, with her husband and daughter. All Carolyn wants is to live in peaceful obscurity. When Carolyn loses her husband under suspicious circumstances, and other members of her group die or disappear, Carolyn grows desperate to uncover the truth and save herself and her daughter.

Ordered to kidnap Carolyn and turn her over to the Agency, Michael confronts Carolyn in her home, ready to complete his assignment. But when Carolyn connects to Michael’s dead wife and reveals to him the truth about her death, Carolyn forces him to choose between saving himself and doing what’s right.

Unaware that they are repeating a pattern enacted over many lifetimes, Michael and Carolyn must find a way to break the cycle, or continue playing it out over lifetimes to come.

A New Age Sci-Fi thriller that delves into existing UFO and doomsday weaponry conspiracy theories,The Experiencers keeps readers riveted with non-stop action while the characters struggle to control destinies that may have been predetermined lifetimes ago.

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Get your copy here

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Follow-up

Late last week, on the way home from school, my son tried to convince me something he had heard was the TRUTH.  For starters he’s decided he’s going to be a cryptozoologist and he already knew almost everything he’d need to know to do it.  While that would be an interesting career path, that wasn’t the true zinger of the conversation.  He had heard, probably on the playground, that the U.S. Government was distributing guns and paying people to hunt Sasquatches in the Florida forests.

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OMG!

Being that he’s nine I took this with a grain of salt and calmly explained a few things to him that the U.S. Government

  • Has no vested interest in Sasquatch one way or the other; it simply doesn’t show up on their radar
  • Is not in the business of giving out guns

I also asked him why anyone would want to hunt and kill Sasquatch – a creature that (if it exists) is causing no apparent harm and is no threat to anyone.

No one can capture a clear image of Sasquatch because the creature itself is blurry.

No one can capture a clear image of Sasquatch because the creature itself is blurry.

To his credit, he listened calmly to the arguments and agreed that there was no way what he had heard was true.  As for his final assertion – the one about being very close to knowing what he’d need to know to be a cryptozoologist I asked him one question: What do you know about the Mongolian Death Worm?  He admitted he’d never heard of it and I explained the wee beastie briefly.

It would seem he has quite a bit of study before he can say he’s a cryptozoologist.  At least he listened to reason, which is more than you can say for a lot of people out there.

A few months ago I wrote about a little military exercise known as Jade Helm 15.  It was a military exercise that took place on U.S. soil and was intended to train American troops in a variety of things including escape and evasion and less than linear warfare.  All very important things in this day and age.  Exercises like these take place pretty regularly and are mostly innocuous.  What blew this one up was a unclassified PowerPoint presentation that got leaked that labelled Texas as hostile territory.  Alex Jones, of the famed InfoWars site, saw those labels and decided that meant the U.S. Government was about to invade Texas.  Soon the Governor of Texas was making noise about keeping an eye on things, Chuck Norris was asking questions, and even Ted Cruz – who never met a crazy theory he didn’t love – was making noise.

All of these folks ignored a couple key facts about the situation:

  • Texas was already part of the United States
  • The U.S. military already had thousands of troops stationed in Texas, just like there are lots of U.S. troops all over the country.  Yes, even in Albuquerque.

I can get Alex Jones blowing this all out of proportion.  That’s just the kind of thing he does.  But shouldn’t a Governor and a United States Senator be a little smarter?  And why didn’t any of these people stop to think about what they were saying?  It makes almost as much sense to say the United States military will be taking over Texas as saying the Government is handing out guns and paying people to hunt Bigfoot.

My guess on this is our good friend Cognitive Dissonance, a wonderful tool we’ve adopted to allow us to continue believing what we like to believe.  If we start from the premise that we don’t trust the Government then everything flows neatly from there and all the crazy theories (faked Moon Landing, Kennedy was killed by the CIA, Obama is a foreign-born secret Muslim, Jade Helm 15 was an attempt to take over Texas) suddenly work because they fit with our internal narrative.  It’s a beautiful bit of IRL novel writing.

No, really. I'm handsome. The mirror is just lying.

No, really. I’m handsome. The mirror is just lying.

The crazier parts of the Jade Helm 15 nonsense would have made a great novel.  A secret Government cabal decides to invade a state because the state has far too many people who KNOW TOO MUCH.  They can’t flat out invade because no one would stand for it, so they concoct a story about an exercise that’s supposed to take place nationwide.  The exercise goes off as planned, but all the troops working in Texas are loyal to the cabal.  Instead of rubber bullets, those guys are rounding up dissidents and disappearing them.  A former vet witnesses a disappearance and saves the plucky, but smart daughter of a patriot.  Together, they sneak out Texas and blow the lid off the whole thing.

Great summer read.  I might consider writing that.  Well, that and the one about the Texas gold.  Both of those would make some cracking good stories because they have enough of an element that all novels need: Truthiness.

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Now that Jade Helm has blown over and the only change to America is Texas is now part of the United States, we should be able to look back on the whole thing and laugh.  Well, that and write books using the whole mess as a backdrop or clever plot device.  Because, in the final analysis, a good story needs only a few things: relatable characters, a clever story, and a hefty dose of truthiness.  It doesn’t matter that there’s no way a story can be real, what matters is that it feels real to the reader.  No one will read a story where it’s patently obvious that the events of the story could never happen.  But a story where the events could be real, especially if they’re pretty outlandish, and you’ve got a winner on your hands.

I’m hoping, in the future we’ll see people spinning yarns about the things that really matter: like how werewolves have been secretly infiltrating our school system in the hopes of creating an army to fight the vampires.  That’s totally real.  I also hope our elected leaders learn to think a bit before they start shooting their mouths off, but that’s never happened.  A story about werewolves taking over the schools seems plausible.  A story about elected leaders thinking a bit before they start talking is about as plausible as a story about the government handing out guns and paying people to hunt Sasquatch in Florida.