I tried to think back to the earliest lie the United States government told me. I settled on the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba, where the government hid CIA involvement. Then where was the Gulf of Tonkin incident, secret bombing of Cambodia, Watergate and the list goes on to the Bush Administration and “yellow cake.” While the argument might be made that the US Government is more transparent than most, most of the time, that’s not where I’m going. History justifies a healthy skepticism about what the government says.
There really are government conspiracies and cover-ups, but the difference between healthy skepticism and conspiracy theories is that the latter persist even after they are proven to be wildly improbable. The problem with conspiracy theorists is that they give healthy skepticism a bad name and leave skeptics to start in the public perception hole dug by conspiracy theorists. It’s easy for real government conspirators to discredit skeptics just by using the “conspiracy theorist” label as the Bush campaign did to Howard Dean in the 2004 when he said that the Bush Administration was manipulating the terrorist alert level and recycling old intelligence for political purposes (which they were). And just as writing off skeptics as conspiracy theorists weakens healthy skepticism, so does using “conspiracy theorist” label (even if correctly) dull the users ability to distinguish between healthy skepticism and nutcase denialism. This is why I’m going to try to make a conscious effort to avoid any ad hominem argument that looks like: “you’re a conspiracy theorists; therefore, you are wrong.” They are wrong because of the facts, not because they are conspiracy theorists.