Friday night topic: The rise of conspiracy theories

We've seen incidents related to several prominent conspiracy theories dominate the news in the past few weeks, from the release of Obama's (purported?) long-form birth certificate to the (purported?) killing of (purported?) 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden. It's all enough to make one's (purported?) head spin.

I'll admit to not having much patience for these things. The argument about Obama's birth status seems inane and annoying at this point; if you dislike the guy's policies, you're much better off seeking his outright political defeat. The idea that 9/11 didn't really happen as advertised, like Steelers RB Rashard Mendenhall has suggested, seems silly given the number of witnesses. And the instant pop-up theories about bin Laden not really being dead seem rather strange to me. If the dude's not dead, producing proof of such requires only today's newspaper and a camera phone.

Yet with today's amazing communications possibilities, it seems conspiracy theories are more prominent than ever. Why do you think that is, and why do such theories attach themselves to some events and not others? Is there comfort in thinking that some dark force manipulates our reality by hidden means? Do these claims deserve to be taken seriously in certain cases—say, the Kennedy assassination, the moon landing, or the Freemasons—or are they all equally daffy? Discuss.

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