This is the second part of the article „‚Conspiracy Theory‘: What is behind this term? – An attempt at explanation – part 1„, where the word and its definition itself was discussed. I also showed since when the term has played a role in our modern society and how the mother of all conspiracy theories, the attacks of September 11th and her scientific investigation is.
Afterwards I named some personalities who were also expelled from the mainstream because of their deviant attitude towards certain topics, similar to the scientist Dr. Ganser, who is investigating precisely those events around September 11.
In this second part, the main question will be what the human search for truth is all about. What do we believe in? Why do we believe in what we believe in? Who conveys knowledge? And how do we absorb this knowledge? And what does our school education have to do with it?
Let us start with the question of information management. The first and greatest difficulty nowadays is to keep an overview and at the same time a clear head in the sea of information. However, since you can never view and evaluate all information on a topic, let alone consider all aspects of a topic field and their internal and external connections, you are unfortunately forced to select (sort out). The less time we take, the more arbitrarily and unreflectively we select.
Flood of information
A critical attitude is basically a good thing. Now, unfortunately, people tend to be critical only on one side. That which fits into our current world view is usually more easily accepted and less questioned than that which stands in more or less strong contrast to our world view. This permanently prevents us from really objectively judging the things we are taught, even if they are limited to pure information, which unfortunately is not often the case.
The so-called information, no matter from which source it comes, is always put into a certain context and thus already loses its independent neutrality to a certain extent. Unfortunately, this applies to everything and everyone. Real objectivity is a construct that can be approached more or less strongly. Whoever claims to be completely objective can unfortunately, in my opinion, simply be wrong.
We are currently in the so-called information age. Millions and millions of pieces of information shoot around the globe every second, every minute hours and gigabytes of information are produced and fed into the Internet. What is trustworthy? What is „fake“? What is really „objective“? What is a deliberate lie? What is simply passed on unchecked? All these questions must be asked by every media consumer, i.e. anyone who owns a smartphone, a television, books or a radio. The ability to assess these questions is one of the core competencies that should actually be taught early on in a modern educational system.
The answers to these questions can all be broken down to a common denominator: One can never answer these questions with absolute certainty. At a certain point, you have to rely on your own intuition, your own sense of truth. This circumstance must also be accepted. In my opinion, anyone who believes that he or she is in possession of the absolute truth on a certain subject is mistaken.
The own world view as anchor point
„But you have to believe in something.“ Unfortunately, that’s true. Without faith in certain things, man cannot survive. Beginning with the existence of one’s own person, through the relationship between „above“ and „below“, the belief in what we call „time“, to the material reality itself. However, the social human being as part of a society must believe many more things in order to be an unrestrictedly functioning part of this (social) system.
He must believe that politics acts in the interest of the people. He must believe that the media report objectively. He has to believe that his wage/salary will still be in his account at the end of the month. He must believe that the money can still be exchanged for bread tomorrow. He must believe that money has a value of its own. He must believe that it is already taken care of, that he can still live in dignity in old age. He must believe that there are also meaningful wars. He must believe that science is the truthful description of nature. He must believe that what he believes in is right.
This list can also be continued playfully. But if at a certain point in your life you begin to doubt even one of these things, then your own view of the world, which has been constructed up to that point, begins to totter. Where does this world view actually come from? If what I have described so far is true, where do our opinions come from?
School education as the basis of our perception of the world
Our view of the world, the glasses through which we perceive our surroundings, every conversation, every experience, everything that enters our brain through our senses, we perceive through our personal filter system – our „Self“. However, this „Self“ is not innate, but appropriated. This appropriation takes place for the most part in the respective educational institutions.
Within a country, there is always a more or less uniform school system at any given time. According to its nature, this system forms a mass of partially more or less strongly preformed children in a certain way. This shaping then determines the way in which the adolescent takes in each new experience.
What is the general educational goal of German schools? The BMBF gives the following brief answer:
„At school, children learn basic social skills in dealing with their peers, they systematically acquire knowledge and receive a basic education in mathematical, scientific, linguistic, historical-political and aesthetic subjects.
[T]he federal states have the sovereignty over the design of teaching curricula, for example. The Federal Ministry of Education is therefore committed to the overarching aspects of school education that go beyond the federalism of Germany – such as the expansion of all-day schools or international comparative studies.
After all, in an increasingly globalized world, the competition for Germany’s future opportunities has also become an international competition for the quality of education systems. This is why participation in international comparative studies is of great importance.“
Let us take a short time to critically examine the individual aspects: In my view, it is not exactly representative of everyday life when children learn social interaction exclusively with their peers. It is probably rather an untypical situation to interact only with people of the same age. Therefore, learning to interact socially with older or younger people is a self-taught undertaking.
Furthermore, the children learn „systematic knowledge“ in various subjects. To be honest: I’m actually still in school education, but even a good part of the not too distant past high school graduation material is not available as actively retrievable knowledge anymore. How is it with you, dear reader?
The expansion of all-day schools is also a declared goal of the BMFB. The time spent „imparting knowledge“ to listeners of an age group is thus to be further extended, since the previous teaching strategy, which in my opinion has been moderately successful, is to be improved by increasing the factor „time“ – my conspiracy theory thought behind this is rather the following: the longer the parents do not have to look after their children, the more working time they can devote to the capitalist social order. At the same time, the children are exposed to the influence of our school system even longer. But this is just a crude claim that maliciously disparages the achievements of our system.
An entire section of this guide is dedicated to the concept of competition. The pupils are thus already prepared for the global competition „neoliberalism“ in school. Who can temporarily store more knowledge? Who can implement tasks most effectively? Who can best deal with the omnipresent pressure to perform? The „international benchmarking studies“ are „of high importance“ to get to the bottom of exactly these essential questions.
Of course, this is only the absolutely scarce version of the German general teaching objective. A detailed version will certainly cover even more aspects. But it is precisely the short form of this educational goal that makes it clear which aspects are important enough to be included in this concise concept.
The attentive reader and the persevering reader may already have an inkling of what I am getting at: What is missing in this concept is the communication of what I understand by „learning“ as such. What does true „learning“ mean? From the above concept it only follows that „knowledge“, i.e. „pure“ information, is passed on by the teaching staff to the students and at a certain point in time is queried again.
From the students‘ point of view, the teacher is the neutral medium that explains the world. The relationship is „dehumanized“ in a certain way, because especially the younger students would usually never think that the teacher could be mistaken or even if intentionally or due to ignorance he or she makes false statements – but „to err is human„. Similar to the parents and other role models starting with the older siblings up to well-known idols. What these characters say about the world must simply be true. We simply believe it. And this is exactly where the problem lies.
The innocent, evil expressed: naive attitude of the children is on the one hand vital, on the other hand it makes us extremely manipulable. If small children were to start questioning while sucking their mother’s milk whether the person holding us in their arms might be trying to cheat us, we as humanity would probably not have got very far.
At the same time, however, we should at some point come to a point in our education at which we would be introduced to the achievements of the French Revolution: „sapere aude!“, which according to Kant means: „Have the courage to use your own intellect! (source).
Therefore, in my opinion, the declared goal of school education should be to promote (not to „shape“) the children’s minds in such a way that they can independently gain knowledge by using them. Instead, we teach our children only factual knowledge. Performance is also measured by how much of these facts the children are able to reproduce in the expected form on the instructions of the teacher (queries & tests).
The result at the end of the school career is a person who has learned to store knowledge provided by authorized agencies for as long as necessary, to recall it when needed, and to understand and adapt to different forms of inquiry.
This knowledge is divided into individual subjects and is unfortunately too often taught to us incoherently and usually without emotional connections. Studies have shown that information linked to certain emotions is stored more sustainably. Furthermore, information should always dock to other information in order to be remembered and processed as well as possible. Unfortunately, conventional schools, as I have experienced them, do not do all this adequately.
Questioning: Doubt is daily scientific practice
In my opinion, the students are not trusted enough. One simplifies the school in order to „get through“ as many children as possible. If everyone wants to graduate, then we have to make it easier and shorter (G9 / G8), so that these students are available for the job market as soon as possible – uuuhh, evil conspiracy theory. No, simply my personal analysis of the conventional education and work system. But I am not just talking about a decline in the quality of education over the last twenty or fifty years, but about a fundamentally wrong approach to education in general. While the world is changing rapidly, the sluggish ministry apparatus is only lagging behind and changing details, while the basic idea, which in my view is deficient, remains.
The result of this school career is in my view a young adult who has learned to listen to central authorities and to think and act according to their ideas. This is even less problematic in math and the natural sciences than it is in more intellectual subjects such as German, history and art. Everyone knows this feeling of complete arbitrariness when grading essays and essays in German classes.
It is precisely there that the inescapable subjectivity of every perception becomes particularly clear. However, since we are given the feeling at school that there is only one true and one false, the intellectual subjects tend to frustrate us more than the natural sciences, because there, for example, an equation can only have one result according to its logic – at least that is my personal view.
But it is exactly the mental subjects (= humanities) that are much more human than the natural sciences. In the mental subjects, man himself is the center of attention, which is why there can be no absolute right and no absolute wrong. The increased degree of consciousness of man becomes obvious especially in his seemingly boundless ability to act completely illogically.
This dull black-and-white view sets very original limits and blockades, which all true sages of every epoch have been discussing and trying to explain since time immemorial. The gaze of these wise men such as Goethe, Hesse, Socrates, Aristotle, Plato and Siddharta Gautama, Jesus, Moses and Mohammed is directed inwards and not outwards. In my opinion, this inward research is another important core competence that should definitely be encouraged.
When you reach the point where you begin to doubt the truths that are taught to us at school, by parents or the media, then you put a lot at stake. This doubt, if it is really thought through consistently, has a lasting effect on our lives, our fellow human beings and our environment.
With parents, as soon as you are older or have become a mother or father, you realize that they too can be wrong. Teachers often come to this realization at a relatively early age. However, the basic concept of blind trust in authority is often still present. One continues to trust the newspapers one buys, the newsreaders one sees every day, the leading politicians one has elected, one’s closest confidants and, of course, the „experts“.
If one recognizes however that there are still numerous further small branchings and possibilities, thus other points of view, beside the broad, pre-drawn way, the said moment of doubt can come. And perhaps this doubt is so great that after a first cautious look we finally deviate from the „secured“ path.
Away from the „mainstream“
The „secured path“ here is just a metaphor for what we call the „mainstream“ today – in alternative circles it has become almost as much a swearword as the term „conspiracy theory“ within the „mainstream“.
If we deviate from this, this is what is called hypothesis-driven research in science. One makes an assumption that has not yet been formulated or sufficiently researched. Then we look for clues and patterns that confirm our assumption.
What is accepted as a clue and/or pattern that supports or refutes this or that assumption is a really difficult question. However, every conscientious scientist, no matter what discipline, will agree with the statement that the consideration of single arguments and statements of a hypothesis-led explanation is never sufficient to evaluate the theory as a whole completely.
If, as a scientist, and here I am speaking from my own experience, one wants to evaluate an argumentative work, then there are always points that are worthy of criticism, no matter how flawless the work as a whole may be. In the same way, there will always be a point to be gained from a really poorly conducted investigation.
However, it always depends on the overall impression of a work – on the whole line of argumentation. Besides, a brilliantly argued work can nevertheless be very wrong in terms of content. The best example is probably legal discussions. An ingenious lawyer is able to get the guiltiest person out of a case if he argues with sufficient repartee.
So how is it possible that the practice of professional discourse, which is really common in science, is conducted so unobjectively in public political, social or media debates?
The answer is simple: it is only at the university that one learns how different accepted views can be, that often different expert opinions on a topic exist in parallel and how one can develop a research dynamic from these different opinions.
In modern linguistics, for example, two views of language exist in parallel. Which school of thought one belongs to is solely the decision of the respective researcher. Whether one is a follower of „construction grammar“ or „generative grammar“ must be weighed up for oneself.
Yes, there is technical dispute between these two camps. But these technical disputes are conducted objectively and on an equal footing. Ultimately, there are basic assumptions about language that separate these two streams of linguistics and make them incompatible. It is precisely disagreements like these, however, that drive science ever further!
„Well, when is he gonna start talking about conspiracy theories!“
„Exactly, what’s all this bullshit! Get to the point!“
„Hey, he’ll get to it, I’m sure, in the next part.“
„Whoever believes it, I’ve had it! I’m looking for real facts on Youtube again!
Here again I would like to set a point. Basically, it doesn’t matter which topic you choose, you could always be so excessive. To digress means to treat a topic really comprehensive. But I think that the topic „conspiracy theory“ is especially suitable for this. Because „wherever people come into play, it gets complicated!“ This quote comes from myself. I deliberately quoted myself, because somehow quotations are always easier to remember.
Modern man, however, is hardly able to have such a long attention span to reproduce complex thought patterns. And our educational system and the modern information society with the smartphone as the central medium are also responsible for this. If you’ve made it this far, you can congratulate yourself. Dare you! Just tell yourself: „Well done, really well done.“
But let’s summarize this article again very briefly:
In this article I have argued how difficult it is nowadays to really evaluate information. To evaluate information, we need media competence. This competence should be part of our school education. Furthermore, we have to realize that there are always several perspectives on one and the same thing.
Our school education, however, does not do both sufficiently. Instead, we learn to listen to authorities and store their information according to certain patterns.
However, when we come to university, we quickly realize that almost everything we have heard about math, German, physics, history, etc., somehow doesn’t really fit in with what we are taught at university. There we are suddenly supposed to practice source criticism, to understand that there are different schools of thought, that researchers can make mistakes and that the lecturer or professor ideally communicates at eye level. In addition, we ourselves are suddenly supposed to become those authorities there that we have blindly trusted up to now.
In the next article I would like to finally get to the core topic: Conspiracy theories. Why anyone can potentially become a victim of these theories, what distinguishes real conspiracy theories from „alternative facts“ or simply dangerous/prohibited knowledge, and how the term is currently being turned into a dangerous political weapon.
by Marco Lo Voi
This the english translation of the article: