Monday, December 31, 2007

Conspiracies, Ghosts, and Videotape

Bhutto Conspiracy Theories

Some aspects of the human race completely frustrate me. Now that Bhutto has been assassinated, one of humanities more frustrating and obnoxious habits will exhibit itself, the habit of drawing up conspiracies about her death.

This morning, I woke up to read that a new video had been discovered that cast doubts on the official story of what caused Bhutto’s death. The official story is that the gunman did no harm – that she was killed when the concussion from the blast wave bashed her head against a part of the car she was riding in. However, as the video shows, he hair flew up when she was being shot at.

So, this casts doubt on the official story of how she died. According to the news broadcast, the video is fueling claims that there was a cover-up, and that the Pakistani government is being deliberately deceptive as to the cause of death.

I don’t understand the argument.

One question that can be raised is whether the video does, in fact, show that Bhutto was shot rather than killed as a result of the explosion. However, that is not the question that concerns me. The question that concerns me is: Why does it matter?

It may matter to the family and to historians. However, as far as proving some sort of conspiracy to hide the facts, I do not see any facts in this dispute worthy of being hidden.

If the government concocted a lie about something that (1) did not matter, and (2) could easily be shown to be false as video of the assassination emerged (and it is stupid to think that there would be no video), then they re not clever conspirators. They are insane.

All of this is in addition to the fact that the frames relating to the assassination do not show anything clearly. The fuzzy images are an invitation for people to invent whatever stories they like.

Skilled liars know to tell the truth as much as possible (because the truth is easier to defend and is more likely to be verified than falsified), and to lie only when necessary.

My point is that it is stupid to have debates over what individuals see in a blurry piece of video. The bad (is in, obnoxious) thing about these videos is that people can find whatever they want to find in the blurry elements at the edge of resolution.

It’s like the video of the blue ghost seen through the security camera at a gas station. People are in the habit of ignoring what is obvious and dreaming up outlandish interpretations, and saying, “See, it is right there! Right before your eyes.”

Sorry, no. You are forcing an interpretation on what you see, ignoring the obvious things that do not fit with what you want to believe about what you are seeing, and making things up about what you do see.

The moral element is the fact that the culture panders to this form of sophistry. The story of the blue ghost should never have been broadcast. Or, if it was broadcast, the broadcasters should have given an honest account of the story. “At a gas station in downtown wherever, the obviously bored ignoramuses at the place are entertaining themselves by ‘interpreting’ the blurry image of a bug on their surveillance camera lens is actually a ghost. In other news, the local television station has decided to pander to this nonsense by suggesting that there might even be a ghost.”

These types of stories encourage other people to go out and engage in the same obnoxious behavior – in the hopes that they, too, can get their fifteen minutes of fame.

What happened to the responsible news director who says, “It’s a bug on the lens. It’s not a story. Go cover something important. Or, if you want to cover this, then make it a story about a group of bored people seeking excitement by deluding themselves about an image that shows up on their video tape.

It’s just harmless fun, right? Why are you so much against people having harmless fun?

It is because the same habits feed into these conspiracy theories. They create a culture in which people not only see what they want to see in surveillance video at a local convenience store, but video of the 9/11 attacks, the Kennedy assassination, and the Bhutto assassination. They are used to misdirect people’s attention away from the people who are actually guilty of an atrocity (allowing them to escape some of the wrath that is actually due them), and onto the innocent that the conspiracy theorists want to see harmed but have no real evidence against.

They allow the less savory forces with access to the media to deceive and manipulate the masses to better fulfill their own political agenda.

Some conspiracy theory seems to be symptoms of mental illness – paranoid delusions experienced by people prone to paranoid delusions. We are wise to recognize that these types of people exist. It is unfortunate, and we should help the scientific community to find ways of curing and treating these types of breaks from reality. We should not be setting them up as model citizens whose way of living (and ways of thinking) provide a model for the rest of us.

Seriously, the morally responsible version of the ghost at the gas station story – if it was to be covered at all – should have been, “Here are some people who are entertaining themselves by saying that this is a ghost, and here is what probably happened.” The morally responsible version of the Bhutto video story should be, “Here is some video of the story and, as is usual, conspiracy theorists will pour over it, reading into the video what they want to see rather than paying attention to what the video actually shows.”

One possible response to this would be, “Where is the fun in this? You people who only look at reason and what makes sense miss out on so much wonderful stuff, and you are ruining things for the rest of us who like the idea of a ghost at the gas station.”

I suppose there are others who like the idea of a 9/11 or Bhutto assassination conspiracy as well. But what reason is there for saying that understanding the real world is an inferior substitute to living a life where one’s thinking is muddied and muddled by deception and sophistry?

The people who “take the fun out of things” by discovering the truth are not people who find enjoyment in ruining other people’s fun. There are people who actually think that it is fun to know the truth of things. People like this give up nothing when they discover the truth of some state of some state of affairs. They find their value in truth. When they embrace some conclusion, they are not embracing some fiction or myth that has no relation to the real world. They are embracing something that’s real.

The people who claim that realists ‘take the fun out of things’ are people who have been taught to have fun in deception and myth. To some extent, this is not a bad thing. I enjoy my share of fiction – in television shows and movies and online computer games. However, a key element for this type of entertainment comes from recognizing the difference between fact and fiction. It is essential that those who are entertained by works of fiction not get confused and let these fictions impede on the decisions they have to make in the real world.

People who find their entertainment in malicious deception and self-delusion are people who ignore this distinction between fantasy and reality. As such, the enjoyment that they find in fantasy ends up having an effect on the real world – an effect that we can generally trust to be harmful. Even if a particular instance of self-delusion proves to have no great bad consequences, it still contributes to a culture of malicious deception and self-delusion where these traits are embraced even when lives are at stake.

That, in turn, leaves the world worse than it would otherwise be.

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