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I actually wrote this for a philosophy board, but decided that it was interesting enough that I should cross-post it here. :)

On either the 1st or 3rd of July in 1947, the little town of Rosewell, New Mexico, became famous. Something crashed outside of a farm and the United States Air Force initially claimed to have recovered a UFO. Claims also started to circulate of alien bodies having been recovered. Several days later, an abrupt reverse in direction happened: they denied that any bodies were ever recovered, and claimed the object was a weather baloon. Then in 1997 the Air Force released The Roswell Report: Case Closed, in which it claimed that the bodies recovered were manequins from Project Mogul.

A friend and I started discussing UFOlogy one day, and this case came up. I pointed out that I'd looked at the Air Force's official story, and well, there were problems with it. The one that I mentioned in specific as a big one was simple: the crash happened in 1947, while Project Mogul, the alleged source of the bodies, didn't start until 1953. Then he looked shocked when after asking my source I relied, "That would be the mainstream media, Dave. The Washington Post picked up on it."

There's a point to this story, which is that there's something signifigant going on not only in how we form, but also in how we justify beliefs. The fact that I can remember the mainstream media picking up - and reporting on - a few problems with the report that Dave has a reason. And I suspect it has to do with an "interest" in beliefs.

I've always had an interest in UFOlogy and conspirology. Let's face it: it's a fun field. Anyone who doesn't think reading about the Illuminati, Majestic-12, or how the Council on Foreign Relations and Trilateral Commission are the secret government isn't fun just hasn't found the right material. But on the whole, the cover-up of Roswell is accepted at face value: perhaps the explanation that we added the aliens after the fact holds. Or perhaps there were bodies recovered, as some of the living witnesses to the event claim.

I'm not trying to start a dispute on the Roswell case, though I will say that something crashed, and something is being covered up, but not necessarily extra-terrestrials. What's more interesting about this - and conspiracies in general - is our reaction to them.

Most people don't have an interest in abandoning the Air Force's story in favour of the conspirologist tale of events. They do have an interest in keeping to the Air Force's story: your first reaction was probably to think, "Does he really believe this?" with a large degree of disbelief that anyone could be so silly. Social ostracism and popular opinion is a powerfull force. So the problems with Roswell Report: Case Closed are conveniently supressed by all but those who enjoy reading about such things, and the true nutjobs who believe every tall tale they come across.

We can call this the "I Want To Believe" syndrome. How much evidence we demand for any given proposition will depend on our interest in maintaining the belief that it is true or false, and how well it accords with what we have already decided is the truth. Consider: what if it really was an alien spacecraft, complete with bodies, at Roswell? I would now have to accept that there is intelligent life on other worlds, with the ability to travel from whatever planet they are from (most likely Beta Reticuli, if the literature is any indication), and some interest in visiting Earth.

That’s a major revision from what most of us believe. Because quite frankly, we don’t see Reticulans flying overhead, landing on the White House lawn, or even walking down the street. It is simply much easier for us to accept the official story despite any problems it has, because it more readily fits in with the way we’ve decided the way the world is – and that way doesn’t include any of the above, except perhaps that intelligent life exists on some world or other out there aside from Earth.

Of course, it doesn’t just hold there. Conspiracy theories abound about Martin Luther King’s and John Kennedy’s assassinations. Most people will either accent the Warren Commission’s report on the later, or say that they know something is fishy is going on there, but they know not what. And King? Well, people laugh at the suggestion that his assassination was the result of some sinister conspiracy as well.

We’ve decided to take the world one way – and that way has no place for the machinations of the Rothschilds and Rockefellers, or the Council on Foreign Relations, Trilateral Commission, and Bilbergers. Any evidence in favour of even the most reasonable conspiracy theory must be suppressed, lest it challenge our preconceived and socialised notions of the world too much.

There is a book called American Hero which is heavily footnoted. It is, all in all, a dramatic picture of a world in which the first Gulf War was produced in a Hollywood Studio. The movie Wag the Dog, in which a similar thing happens with Albania, is based off of it. Yet despite the heavy footnoting, the reliance on actual documents, an implicit case made for the conspiracy in American Hero, I would be laughed at for accepting it. Most people would say that I should probably go and verify the information contained in there.

Here’s the thing: American Hero has just as much “authority” to it as the press. Both are accounts give to us, but one is generally rejected while the other is accepted without question.

The point of this is that the UFOlogists aren’t the only ones who have Mulder’s “I Want To Believe” poster on their wall. The rest of us do as well. Our standards of evidence are relative to what we have already decided is the case about the world, and even the most well-documented work generally won’t dislodge our accepted framework of the reality we have already decided must be the case.

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