Can you be a conspiracy theorist and follow Stoic philosophy?

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Can you be a Stoic and subscribe to some conspiracy theory? Yes, but only if your conspiracy theory makes sense and doesn’t merely try to poke holes in the official theory. There have been conspiracies in the past with few people involved like Charlie Wilson’s War. During Charlie Wilson’s War, the United States Congress hid their plan from the public to arm Afghani rebels with weapons to stop the Soviets from taking over Afghanistan. This plan was a successful Cold War strategy and it was later disclosed to the public. The United States also secretly created and funded the Manhattan Project to develop a nuclear weapon to use on Germany but when Germany surrendered, the bomb was used on Japan since they wouldn’t unconditionally surrender. When a group of Senators planned to assassinate Julius Caesar their conspiracy was almost revealed when Mark Antony went to tell Caesar but Mark Antony was ambushed. Notice that these conspiracies were known after the fact and there wasn’t a decades long official version that competed against the existence of a conspiracy theory. All of these conspiracies were quickly known and were quickly indexed under official versions of what happened. Another interesting thing about these conspiracies is that none of them were created by a person or group of people cackling with sharp teeth and a forked tongue. They were normal people who had varying personalities and different agendas. Of course, that’s not what we usually mean when we talk about conspiracy theorists, though.

The problem is with many of the conspiracy theories that you hear about on the Internet and even on the radio is that they’re largely or completely made up. I used to think conspiracy theorists were merely incorrectly filtering data until I realized that many of them just make things up out of thin air or deliberately leave things out. There are videos of Building 7 falling on the day of September 11th, 2001 in NYC but the footage doesn’t begin until after the roof begins to collapse. Why would they not show the roof collapsing part? Because they want it to look like a perfectly symmetrical controlled demolition. If they showed the whole footage, then it wouldn’t mesh with the controlled demolition narrative.

It disturbs me that there are people who believe that Hollywood celebrities and politicians are trafficking children and drinking their blood in some kind of Satanic ritual. What is problematic about the QAnon conspiracy theory is that followers of QAnon actually believe that there is a large group of people in our country that are super evil. In addition, they think that anyone who follows or supports certain celebrities and politicians might be in on the conspiracy or are sheeple. And that kind of mentality means that it’s going to be virtually impossible to have a rational dialogue with QAnon followers.

Stoicism is all about avoiding passions aka negative emotions. Passions are based on irrational judgments. The stronger the irrational judgments, the stronger the passions. If you think there is a big bad supernatural force out there bent on culling humanity or turning frogs gay (like Alex Jones claims), then you’re going to suffer. If everything you see is only something bad or leading to something bad, then you’re going to suffer. But the Stoics knew that even bad guys can be forgiven because if you looked at the whole history of their life, you’d know that they lived in circumstances and made unwise choices that created maladaptive behaviors. You never see Qanon conspiracy theorists humanizing anyone that they paint as evil. No, they’re just pure evil with one dimensional personalities. Nothing human about Hollywood celebrities.

Just to get to the gist of it, conspiracy theorists are basically judging things entirely incorrectly. First, they simplify humans as pure evil when they’re in positions of power. Conspiracy theorists also simplify politicians or celebrities as only having one goal or one agenda. Second, conspiracy theorists are irrationally judging events as part of something bigger that they can’t actually prove. The best conspiracy theorists can do is poke holes in any official version of any big event or set of events. Every theory, no matter how good, will always have some holes. If your theory is swiss cheese and you’re trying to point out that there’s a hole in someone’s cheddar cheese because of just one bite, then you might want to think a little harder about the validity of your own theory.

Stoics do not believe in evil or an evil force. Stoics believe that there is only the good and the privation of good. Stoics are similar to Platonists except that Stoics think that good is present in only a corporeally existing soul. Virtue is the only good and vice is the only bad. Bad is simply the privation of good. Being bad means lacking practical wisdom. Bad means lacking wisdom, lacking justice, lacking courage, and lacking temperance. A bad person can be super intelligent and still be a complete fool. I agree with the Stoics that people aren’t ever voluntarily evil since if anyone knew how great life would be if they lived with arete and excellence, then they’d obviously choose the virtuous life.

So if you want to follow Stoicism, then read history and try to understand how actual conspiracies were put into action. Also read about human behavior and see if people could actually pull off a fake moon landing. Human beings are complex individuals with multiple interests and different agendas. Information leaks super easily in most government and private institutions. A Stoic would know that because a Stoic must learn about human behavior and they must keep themselves from believing fanciful ideas, no matter how nice they sound or how evil they sound. It might be possible that a conspiracy theorist gets something right eventually but it won’t be because they had the correct premises for their conclusion.

By Jess W

JW has a B.A. in Philosophy from Drury University. JW has practiced philosophy for years after graduating Drury U, though he hasn't pursued philosophy as a career of choice. JW eventually learned what Stoicism was really all about and decided to adopt virtually all of its precepts. It's served JW well and has helped him through his journey through a life of ups and downs.

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