From the 9/11 Truthers to the grassy knoll theorists, proponents of alternative explanations of causation, otherwise known as conspiracy theories, are openly ridiculed and sidelined by the collective red, white, and blue colony. In a country which thumps its chest and proudly proclaims its adherence to the principles of liberty and freedom, this is a curious defect. Proving that although freedom may exist in theory or in meaningless choices such as Nike vs Adidas or Starbucks vs Dunkin Donuts, it is thoroughly lacking in the area of thought.
In our modern lives we only have access to tiny slivers of information. Where the government is concerned, that sliver becomes increasingly narrower as information is usually redacted for "security" reasons. All this prompts the question; why do we follow the government's or the corporation's conclusions in lockstep given the massive amount of information that we just don't know?
Even worse, we all fall in love and in line with the narrative we create using our ideas, and- inevitably -- our actions follow our most dominant narratives. Many of us never challenge the narratives that we write to fit our own perspective. If we did, we'd find that one narrative is not necessarily any more or less true than any other. But where conspiracy theories are concerned, most people are eager to mock those who adopt an outlook which drastically diverges from the prevailing meaning ascribed by the national mob.
It follows that the marginalization of conspiracy theorists is the marginalization of ideas. Somewhere along the way in America we began to discount ideas which were out of line with the majority's thinking. The same Republicans who don't believe in hate crimes because they regulate and punish people for the thoughts behind their actions condescendingly lord themselves over the domain of relevant thought when they dismiss conspiracy theorists as loons and crazies.
But again, how can you know what's true if you don't know what's false? Rightly or wrongly, many conspiracy theorists are among a narrowing group of critical thinkers.
Where conspiracy theorists diverge from ordinary thinkers is in their cognitive process; they look closely at what they don't know and build a theory around that vast emptiness while more mainstream minds build theories around the little they do know. Conspiracy thinkers understand that what they don't know can be more relevant, and more impactful, than what they do know. They listen to the silence. They hear what's not being said. They are, in a word -- skeptics.
And in this era of imaginary WMD's, where handouts to the insurance companies masquerade as health care reform, skeptics are essential to the functioning of our democracy.
I would go even further to suggest that it would be a net positive if schools offered classes in conspiratorial thinking where students would be required to create as many scenarios as possible to explain how a particular event could've unfolded. The more flexible and nimble a mind, the better. Followers don't grow up to become investigative reporters or creatives. To teach people to cling to sameness in the depth and variety of their ideas encourages complacency and recycles drone-like behavior.
Take for example Peter Schiff who, in the days, months, and years leading up to the current mortgage crisis and recession that followed, was sounding the alarm bell for anyone who'd listen. Schiff, President of Euro Pacific Capital, was ridiculed by market cheerleaders on Fox and CNBC as -- you guessed it -- a conspirator and a dangerously pessimistic thinker. They mocked him, asking him such inconsequential and condescending questions as "are you fun at parties?" or "do you carry blades to cut your own wrist?" Schiff turned out to be right. The peanut gallery was wrong.
Knowing that most people are wrong most of the time creates mental space for alternative theories. Going along to get along, or worse, shouting down those who do not share your sense that a dynamic universe produces a set of human events which are utterly predictable, shrinks human thought. And as evidenced by Peter Schiff, sometimes a small, quiet prediction grows into a big and dangerous truth. You'll never notice the tipping point though if you've spent the vast majority of your time and intellectual energy jeering those whose charge it is to warn you.
Yvette Carnell is a political analyst for the African-American business and politics new site, atlantapost.com.