Tag Archives: Julius Caesar

Listener Feedback: Conspiracies (Skeptoid)

Brian DunningBy Brian Dunning Skeptoid

Read transcript below or listen Here

It’s time again to open the mailbag and respond to some listener feedback, this time focusing on conspiracy theory episodes. But before addressing any specific emails today, I want to respond to the argument that’s far and away the most common regarding conspiracies. That argument is that real conspiracies do exist, therefore conspiracy theories are plausible. Julius Caesar was killed by a conspiracy. Conspiracies 901_300pxThe Watergate scandal was executed by a conspiracy. The Iran-Contra affair was a conspiracy. Since conspiracies do exist and have been confirmed, how can I say that no conspiracy theory has ever been proven true? And, just so there’s no ambiguity, I do say that: No conspiracy theory has ever been proven true. I stand by this statement as fact, given the distinction between a real conspiracy and a conspiracy theory. So let’s define that distinction clearly.

Conspiracies, as we refer to them, are crimes or schemes carried out in secret by a group of conspirators. Sometimes they are discovered, like the three I just mentioned; and others have undoubtedly successfully remained undetected. These clearly exist. But they are quite distinct from what we colloquially call a conspiracy theory, which is claimed knowledge of a conspiracy that has not yet been discovered by law enforcement or Congress or the newspapers or the general public. They are, in fact, future predictions. They are the beliefs or conclusions of the theorist that they predict will eventually come true or be discovered. Here are three examples. For decades, some conspiracy theorists have claimed prescient knowledge that the North American nations will merge into a single police state using a currency called the Amero; that has never come true. Many conspiracy theorists claim that 9/11 was conducted by the American government; that has never been discovered. They’ve claimed a huge number of alternate hypotheses of who killed John F. Kennedy, and none of those have ever been discovered. The list goes on, and on, and on. Unlike a Julius Caesar conspiracy discovered when or after it took place, a conspiracy theory is of a discovery that has yet to take place.

I maintain my claim that a real conspiracy is very distinct from a hypothesized conspiracy; and I maintain my claim that no hypothesized conspiracy, believed within the conspiracy theory community, has ever subsequently been discovered to be true.

So with that stated, in what I hope are no uncertain terms, let’s proceed to some feedback. Keith from Johannesburg commented on the episode about free energy machines, aka perpetual motion:

Nicola Tesla‘s Wardenclyffe Tower may just have been such an example, but we do not know thanks to J.P. Morgan’s greed.

Nikola Tesla, aged 37, 1893

Nikola Tesla, aged 37, 1893

Greedy companies suppressing miraculous technologies has long been a mainstay of the conspiracy theory community. The idea’s only problems are that it’s patently illogical and demonstrably untrue. There is not a single concept for any type of perpetual motion machine that you can’t freely purchase or even download from the Internet. YouTube is peppered with perpetual motion guys, which is hard to reconcile with the existence of a suppression conspiracy.

Similarly, you can’t find a single example of a theoretically plausible energy source not under development by some company somewhere. Naive investors even get snookered into funding implausible energy sources, such as perpetual motion, and it happens every day. Again, hardly indicative of suppression.

To address Keith’s specific example, Tesla’s tower at Wardenclyffe was not a free energy machine. It was a radio tower. Tesla described it himself in his own words:

As soon as it is completed, it will be possible for a business man in New York to dictate instructions, and have them instantly appear in type at his office in London or elsewhere. He will be able to call up, from his desk, and talk to any telephone subscriber on the globe, without any change whatever in the existing equipment. An inexpensive instrument, not bigger than a watch, will enable its bearer to hear anywhere, on sea or land, music or song, the speech of a political leader, the address of an eminent man of science, or the sermon of an eloquent clergyman, delivered in some other place, however distant.

J. P. Morgan had been one of the tower’s financiers, and had given Tesla $150,000, an incredible sum in 1902. Morgan and the other investors backed out not because they were trying to suppress it, but because Tesla’s system had already become obsolete before it was finished. Marconi had already beaten him to the market, selling successful radio equipment with no need for Tesla’s absurdly elaborate, and unproven, tower. As we’ve discussed before on Skeptoid, nothing about Tesla’s work was magical, miraculous, or remains unknown to today’s engineers.

Bob from Canada offered this in response to the episode about the conspiracy theories swarming around the Rothschild banking family:

That Mayer (Rothschild)’s original sentiment about control of money still thrives against the interests of the 99% is an important truth Brian Dunning would apparently prefer we didn’t think about. Take one sleeping pill a day is the message of Skeptoid. Till when?

This is really just a restatement of the old saying “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” Thus Skeptoid is advising you to take a sleeping pill, do nothing, and allow the evil of the Rothschild banking family to have its way with you. Well, that’s a fine saying, and certainly it’s good advice when there is some evil on your horizon. But are the Rothschilds truly the evil you should be worrying about?

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The Trouble with Conspiracy Theories

By Lee Harris via The American Magazine

Perhaps the problem with conspiracy theorists is not that they have gone too far, but that they haven’t quite gone far enough yet. But, if James Tracy is any indication, they are getting very close.

Samuel Johnson once heatedly remarked to a man he was conversing with in a coffeehouse, “I can give you an argument, but I cannot give you an understanding.” There is no evidence that the great sage made this comment to a conspiracy theorist, but I have often been tempted to repeat it when I am talking to one, especially after I have exhausted every argument I can think of to show the conspiracy theorist the error of his ways.

tin-foil-hat-3Today I would like to offer Johnson’s remark as a word of caution to anyone who has encountered the various conspiracy theories that have cropped up in the wake of the Newtown tragedy. Of these there have been several, but I would like to focus on the theory put forth by James Tracy, a media professor at Florida Atlantic University, who on his website Memory Hole has argued that the massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, did not really happen.

Normally when you hear this kind of thing, you are tempted to argue with the assertion, to adduce evidence to show Tracy, for example, that he is wrong. But if you yield to this temptation, you will quickly find yourself at the same point to which Samuel Johnson was driven. For no matter how many arguments you may give him, you cannot give the conspiracy theorist even an ounce of understanding.

The first obstacle you will encounter in your effort to refute the conspiracy theorist is his maddening habit of sly equivocation. Here’s an example of what I mean: “While it sounds like an outrageous claim,” Tracy writes on his website, “one is left to inquire whether the Sandy Hook shooting ever took place — at least in the way law enforcement authorities and the nation’s news media have described.”

Please note the force of Tracy’s qualifying phrase “at least” and consider how one might apply this caveat to what is among the most uncontested facts in world history, namely, the assassination of Julius Caesar on the Ides of March in the year 44 BC.

FeaturedImageNow the ancient historians have told us that Caesar said to Brutus the famous words “Et tu, Brute?” as his former friend plunged his dagger into Caesar. But suppose the ancient historians got this wrong. It may well be that Caesar did not utter these touching and pathetic words, but something akin to “You dirty bastard! I always thought you were a slimy piece of donkey dung” — except, of course, in Latin. This would be sufficient grounds for asserting that Caesar was not assassinated the way ancient historians have told us — but it doesn’t in the least mean that Caesar didn’t end up lying just as dead beneath the bust of Pompey as the ancient historians all reported him. By the same logic, both the law enforcement authorities and the nation’s media may have gotten many facts and details wrong about the Newtown massacre, but that is hardly reason for concluding that no massacre ever happened.

But there I go talking about logic and reason, which is precisely what the conspiracy theorist wants you to do. Because that is where the conspiracy theorist will trap you. Since this sounds like a bit of a paradox, I had better explain it, and to do this, I will assume the role of Tracy. Ahem.

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