I've been thinking about people self-sorting into credibility-destroying social groups. I've talked about Flat Earthers before, but general conspiracy theory interest is something that hits a lot closer to home for me. I've been in a room with these people. People I care about a lot. And I've admonished them for casually accusing someone of murder. It was exceptionally awkward.
But here's the thing: I'm pretty sure even conspiracy enthusiasts don't take the theories very seriously. "It's just interesting to think about" – I've heard that plenty of times. But you know what's really interesting to think about? Game of Thrones. Get all your predictions in before the last season begins.
But can't we be interested in something without confusing it with truth? Take accounting, for instance. It's the careful craft of making true statements, and not interesting. Important, but boring – that's most of life. Little of modern life is both hyper-engaging, like grand tales of betrayal and woe (such as Game of Thrones or a conspiracy theory), and still actually true.
Insert obvious comment about how Donald Trump has his comments reported on. Truth isn't the same as engaging.
And as more time goes on I worry this distinction gets blurred. The tawdry misdeeds of a Nixon or Trump make people see entertaining things as more and more possible, and confirmation of suspicion leads people to think suspicion itself is the limit of our curiosity. This seems like a terrible mistake.
We owe it to ourselves (and, ya know, the people conspiracy theorists casually accuse of murder) to get to the bottom of these things. Or as close to the bottom as you can reasonably get. While I no longer have hope the (quite thorough) 9/11 Commission Report would be a defense against "but we have all these open questions" nonsense, I think it has worth outside of potential persuasiveness. Who cares if a conspiracy theorist believes something wrong – I can disagree with them all day – but I want to believe true things. So the investigations help me.
At the end of the day, private cooperation exists everywhere. Every company, every friendship, almost every social institution is the same – they aren't actually transparent. Companies have trade secrets. Friends have inside jokes and keep some secrets as well. Hidden cooperation isn't what conspiracies are about. They're about interesting stories, and that's the part that easiest to miss.