23 December 2008


I think I am the only person I know who is excited about this movie.

It's about a conspiracy to do something good, which is pretty rare I think. I can't think of any others. Tom Cruise wears an I patch. I don't really care to find out whether that is based on history or not. I've been called "Tom Cruise" by black kids in Brooklyn on two occasions. I don't think I look like him, so I think they're trying to say something else. Also, the whole movie is in English, which seems really weird, but I guess it's for Americans. What is that called? Authenticity?

Here's a picture a took on my new cell phone that has a camera in it while driving out of New York today:

I doubt that I will actually see Valkyrie in theatres, or write a follow up to this, but you never know. If you click on the image to enlarge it you will see the sentence that contains the word "conspiracy" which precipitated this post.

16 December 2008

Ockham's Razor

"Entia non sunt multiplicanda sine necessitate."

I found this the other night, which attempts to define the concept behind "Occam's Razor." It's a fairly good description of the concept, if glorified. ("And yet it is, of course, probably the most important principle ever introduced into human logic.") But it made me realize that I have never explained Occam's Razor or it's relationship to this blog. I did some research which is actually pretty interesting.

Occam's Razor (you could probably just read the blog entry or this to understand it but whatever) is basically the premise that given a theory or set of theories, human logic will lead one to trust the theory which requires the fewest assumptions. An easy, but inaccurate, way to say this is that the simplest theory is always true. The simplest theory may usually true because it makes the fewest assumptions, but if one of those assumptions is outrageous, one would have to trust a more complex theory. The weird thing about Occam's Razor is that it's pure philosophy; it will never prove anything concretely.

For example (one that's a bit more specific to my blog than the examples in the link), I'll use the JFK conspiracy. There are basically two theories, though the conspiracy theory popularized by Oliver Stone's movie etc. can have a lot of different nuances. One is that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in assassinating JFK. The other is that Oswald was a patsy (as he referred to himself in a press conference) for a massive conspiracy that went all the way up to Lyndon Johnson. So if you apply Occam's razor, you have to look at the assumptions that each theory takes to determine which is more probable. One assumption you have to accept for the lone gunman theory is that Oswald was a capable enough marksman to hit Kennedy from the sixth floor of the book depository with 6.5 millimeter Italian carbine rifle and four-power scope. This is hard to believe, but impossible to finitely falsify. For the conspiracy theory, you have to assume that Jack Ruby was hired by the conspirators to kill Oswald in order to keep him quiet. As a possiblity, this is sort of easy to believe, especially considering that the motive Ruby gave was that he wanted to spare Jackie Kennedy from having to testify. But it's difficult to prove. It's also difficult to falsify. But both are just one of many assumptions that both theories require, though the conspiracy theory would probably have many more assumptions.

Okay, long-winded example.

After the jump I want to do a quick summary of the history of the principle, and then I'll explain wtf it has to do with this blog.

The principle is attributed to William of Ockham, a 14th century logician. Some people claim that a bunch of other people invented it, including Thomas Aquinus (my bff) and even Plato (or was it Aristotle). He was a controversial figure with the Catholic church because he basically denied the immortality of the soul and the existence of God. Both require a lot of assumptions. He was an important contributor to the philosophy of Nominalism, to which he contributed his theory of universals, which was that they don't exist. Basically the original skeptic. In some cases he was a little to skeptical, like he denied the comlexity of human biology. But in other cases he was pretty awesome, ie he was one of the first people to advocate the seperation of Church and State.

What's also funny is that there's writing on the "Myth of Ockham's Razor" which denies that he came up with the concept of that it has attributed to him by later scholars. And that it's not really important. That paper is actually really dense, so I don't reccomend reading it, I didn't get very far.

Applying Occam's Razor to conspiracy theories in the literal sense is not really what I'm interested in doing with this blog, so the title is a bit inaccurate. What I'm interested is the narrative form that conspiracy thoeries use. But the principle is important, because it gets to the heart of what is fascinating about conspiracies, which is that they can't be proved, but present a set of assumptions which can be more believable that the theory accepted as status quo. Granted, conspiracies are exploitative, they take advantage of people's natural fears and insecurities to convince us that there are powers in the world greater than what we see in our everday lives. If Ockham were alive today he would undoubtedly scoff at most conpiracies, some of which take on an almost religious role in our lives, requiring belief and even faith in certain ideals, mainly "the truth", in order believe things we would otherwise write off immediately.

I am obsessed with fiction, and I see conspiracies as a sort of counterpoint to fiction. I'm not going to be able to express this very well at this point in my life (maybe one day I'll write a dissertation (which would have to come after my Roth dissertation)), but I think the idea is apparent. Conspiracies are basically fictions that are applied to the real world. It's not a lot different from history and the news, which often contain elements of fiction, but it's much easier to see the fiction and narrative making behind it.

A funny example of a conspiracy that fictionalizes reality is the World War Crew, from Richmond Virginia. I don't know them personally, but my sister dated on of them, and I've been close to people who do know them, so I sort of know what their deal is. Basically, they're a bunch of teenagers who live in Richmond and graffiti things and do random pranks. But the police decided that they were a gang, and actually went the kid's houses and confiscated their computers and suspected them of being much more criminal than they actually were. I heard they had a whole task force dedicated to the World War Crew, which is pretty hilarious considering that Richmond has one of the highest crime rates in American for a city of its size, and the police were focusing their energies on a bunch of kids in a hard core band.

01 December 2008

The Plot Against America

Apparently I haven't written anything on here since September. There are still some conspiracies that I want to talk about, but I've been working on this one 911 documentary that is pretty subpar, so I've had difficulty coming up with anything to say about it.

I did read this awesome Philip Roth book recently. It's not entirely relevant, but the plot does involve a couple conspiracy theories, which was cool.

The Plot Against America is kind of crazy book when you consider it in Roth's oeuvre. His work started as thinly veiled autobiography, and then moved to quite overt autobiography, that toyed with the reader's ability to interpret the autobiographical cues. Then he wrote a book called The Facts, which is supposed to be an autobiography, but contains letters to Roth from fictional characters. Operation Shylock took it a step further by placing Roth as a character in the middle of the Israeli conflict, and fucking a little bit with actual events. The Plot Against America goes even farther by reinventing a significant period of American history in order to tell a fictional version of Roth's childhood, again with Philip Roth as the main character.

That subject could possibly be the subject of a dissertation that I will write in like a million years, but I'll quickly focus on the conspiracy aspects of the book.

So the basic premise of the book is that Charles Lindbergh, who was known in real life as a Nazi sympathizer, defeats FDR in the 1940 election on an anti-war platform (in reality Lindbergh was pushed to run, but didn't want to enter politics), at which point he signs a deal with Hitler and begins a veiled anti-Semitic Americanization program for minorities.

In the book, Philip Roth (who is eight at the time) is related to a famous Rabbi Bengelsdorf (not a real person) from Newark, who back Lindbergh and gets a position in his cabinet. As the novel reaches it's climax, Roth's Aunt Evelyn returns to Newark, and has to hide in the Roth's basement, because she fears that the government is after her, but Roth's parents won't let her in. The young Philip is the only one who knows of her hideout, and brings her food.

At this point there are two opposing conspiracy theories. One is that the Third Reich was responsible for the kidnapping of Lindbergh's son in 1932 (based on actual events) and used Charles Jr as leverage against Lindbergh, who they helped get into office and then used to set policy in America allowing them to conquer Europe before eventually taking over the United States as well. The second theory is that Bengelsdorf is a modern day Rasputin, who has mesmerized Lindbergh and controls him as part of an international Jewish conspiracy to rule the world.

The Bengelsdorf conspiracy echoes the New World Order conspiracy that you will find in more reactionary conspiracy media, which goes back to the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and other absurdities of anti-Semitism.

The conspiracy involving Lindbergh's son is kind of cool, if totally implausible.

Neither of the theories are meant to hold any water in the book, and actually have little effect on the plot, but reflect the hysteria and paranoia that accompanies periods of political unrest. I think Roth captures the conpiracy theorists reasoning quite precisely.