Conspiracy Theories & History Teachers

From time to time, I am asked as a history teacher to pontificate on the world-spanning conspiracy theories: the Freemasons rule the world; the government assassinated Kennedy for the same reasons it assassinated Lincoln; 9/11/2001 was an inside job… and so on.

In response, I offer today’s XKCD.

The truth is that the world is much too complicated, and much too factionalized, and (at the moment at least) much too documented for secret conspiracies to rule the world or try to rule the world for very long.  As we’re seeing at this very moment in lower Manhattan — even Goldman Sachs can’t hide its conspiracies for very long (admittedly, this is a link to Matt Taibbi’s commentary on his current piece in Rolling Stone, rather than the article itself which is not yet in a web edition… what, you don’t read paper magazines from time to time? Try it, you might like it).  Sooner or later, large numbers of people object to secret leadership for private gain.

Just recently, someone objected to my rejection of massive conspiracies. “What about the Roman Catholic Church?” this person argued.  “They’re clearly a multi-generational, multi-century program to take over the world.”

I laughed. “Oh, that may be true, my friend. That may be true.  But you have to admit, the Roman Catholic Church has been quite open about their plan and method for world domination.  So have the evangelical Christians.”

And I guess that’s the essence of it.  As a history teacher, I know how hard it is for anyone — governments, private corporations, fraternal societies, organizations, families — to keep secrets forever.  It’s not in human nature to keep secrets forever.  So you can have a secret conspiracy— but don’t expect your plan to last more than a couple of years before the conspiracy drags itself off the rails.  You can have a public conspiracy, too, and be quite open about your methods — but sooner or later an opposition will form.    Or you can be open and responsible about everything you do — in which case cabals may form to take advantage of you just because that’s what humans do.

But secret conspiracies spanning generations?  Nope.  Give it a rest.

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