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I am trying to build a world that appears to be much like our own but where the conspiracy theorists are right more often than they are wrong. Aliens did crash at Roswell, the Illuminati and the elves have been fighting a secret war, and the shooter on the grassy knoll was Elvis. It is easy to find motivation for most of the characters to keep the secrets, but I am having some problems with group motivations particularly I find the common justification that people would panic if they knew the truth unsatisfying. What would be some other valid reasons for the Air Force to keep the Stargate secret or the men in black to hide the aliens?

I am assuming hierarchical conspiracies where the army is keeping secrets for one reason, but the civilian oversight has different reasons and are probably controlled by people involved in other conspiracies keeping secrets for yet another reason so that there are often differences between the real reason for the secret and the justification for it given to the rank and file members of the conspiracy. I am more concerned with the justifications given then the real reason as the real reason is a plot element.

Edit: This question is starting to get some fun answers for character motivation (which I tried not to ask about as I thought it was off topic). I am looking for public or semi public justification. For example it is entirely likely the middle manager Bob will order someone to spy on his ex wife for purely personal reasons, but as he wants/needs to present an Image of a Good Guy he will put a reason on the paperwork that the new boyfriend is the brother of a silvot sympathizer.

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    $\begingroup$ What do you mean by "higeraceral"? $\endgroup$ – HDE 226868 Apr 1 '15 at 18:43
  • $\begingroup$ The real conspirators, have copted other conspiracies to their goals. A simple example would be that the true goals of the president are not known to the joint chiefs who are hiding their goals from the army and navy by giving contradictory orders to the two branches, and the officers aren't telling the corporals why they want that hill taken for the third day in a row. $\endgroup$ – hildred Apr 1 '15 at 18:52
  • $\begingroup$ According to most conspiracy guys, the secrets are kept because the conspiracists are evil. So just use that one, make everyone evil and build a society where everyone is plotting secretly about everything. $\endgroup$ – Oldcat Apr 1 '15 at 19:13
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    $\begingroup$ @hildred - I think the word you want is "hierarchical". $\endgroup$ – Bobson Apr 1 '15 at 19:21
  • $\begingroup$ @Oldcat, Indeed that is often the core true reason, but evil people lie and they need a believable lie for their justification, which is what I am looking for as many of the rank and file like to think of themselves as good guys even when they are not. $\endgroup$ – hildred Apr 1 '15 at 19:23
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Word to the Wise: This answer invoke's Godwin's Law.

Probably the last thing anyone should ever recommend, ever, but you could look to Hitler and the Nazi party during World War II. I seem to remember that Hitler structured everything so he was the only one who knew what was going on and the only one with clear authority in any matter. (I can't find a source for this, however, so it may just be my take on the issue.)

From the comments to your question, you say you want "a believable lie for their justification, which is what I am looking for as many of the rank and file like to think of themselves as good guys even when they are not". The Germans under Hitler managed this just fine, because Hitler was a master at propaganda and charm (and genocide and torture and...). Under the Nazi party of WWII, Germans were led to believe that Jews were imperfect/evil, and that the right thing to do for any citizen was to blame Jews for anything and everything. Anything else meant you didn't love your country.

For your situation, you could have some extremely charismatic leader in charge of some super secret conspiracy (is there any other kind?) who uses charm to convince his people that what he is trying to achieve is the best for all mankind (or just the city, if he's not particularly ambitious), and that anyone who doesn't support that vision is, you know, a traitor and evil.

(Note: This answer is no way intended to condone or support the endeavors undertaken by the Nazi party under Adolf Hitler during WWII.)

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  • $\begingroup$ Hitler would certainly find himself right at home in my setting, But what justification would he give the SS as to why the Nazi party should not know about the stargate? $\endgroup$ – hildred Apr 1 '15 at 19:56
  • $\begingroup$ @hildred Simple: paranoia. Having too many people know about something might lead to revolution in the ranks and him getting removed as leader of his own organization in a coup d'état. $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre Apr 1 '15 at 21:00
  • $\begingroup$ I say Hitler would never admit to anyone even the possibility that he could be removed (in fact, even discussing the idea should be punible by death, just to stay sure). In the case of Nazi Germany, simple is beatiful: because Hitler says so. No need to justify himself, after all he is the fuhrer. $\endgroup$ – SJuan76 Apr 1 '15 at 21:13
  • $\begingroup$ Additionally, just to point that Hitler did not invent antisemitism, racial theories and secret conspirations, nor did he led (all of) the Germans (or other Europeans) to believe these ideas... It is easy to "blame the guy" (who is dead), but those racial theories had wide coverage way before Hitler. $\endgroup$ – SJuan76 Apr 1 '15 at 21:16
  • $\begingroup$ @SJuan76 True, on both points, but I don't remember stating the opposite in my answer. (And there's still a lot of people who hate Jews; just look at all the countries around, you know, Israel.) $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre Apr 1 '15 at 21:51
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What would be some other valid reasons for the Air Force to keep the Stargate secret or the men in black to hide the aliens?

  • Personal paranoya of the leader.

    Look at Hoover in real life. Or Albus Dumbledore in popular literature. You grow up hating exposure and nurturing secrets. And then you become the leader of a conspiracy. You'd never ever consder revealing it - your psyche rejects the concept.

  • Institutional inertia

    We hide XYZ because we have always hidden XYZ (probably because your founder was a paranoid Albus Dumbledore). Some don't care to bother changing the routine. Some have a Japanese-like conservative mindset and heavily defer to the judgement of their prior bosses.

  • Worry that rocking the boat would have negative consequences

    A change (revealing the secret) could cause unanticipated problems. "People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals", as the wise man said.

  • Resource/status competition

    If you're the only one who knows about StarGate, you're the only one getting funds to research/operate StarGate.

  • We know how well that turned out for X-Men!

    Yeah, today we tell everyone that us Elves are out there fighting against Iluminati. And tomorrow USA would declare that we need to register with Authorities and live in a camp because we represent danger; USSR would catch us all and put into a research lab; and Saudi Arabia shoot us all as Shaitans. NoThankYouVeryMuch. Rather stay in the shadows, Mkay?

  • Staying under the radar means you have no oversight

    If nobody knows about your little Vampires vs. Werewolves conflict, neither side has to worry about pesky details like being prosecuted for murder, assault, and jaywalking.

    If you operate StarGate and assign a comlete moron who incurs the wrath of a powerful alien within 3 weeks leading to Earth almost being wiped out, you'd rather NOT let everyone else know, or they'll remove you from the project at best and throw you in jail for criminal negligence at worst.

  • Don't let them know they are living in the Conspiracy World!!!

    OK, so you're THE master conspirator and you have to juggle 10 conspiracies.

    If you let people know about the Elves, all over the sudden, they realise Things Are Not What We've Been Led To Believe; and Those Conspiracy Theorist Cooks Were Not Nuts. The world isn't quite so rational and known as everyone was told. So, they start digging en masse and trying to see if all the OTHER conspiracies they dismissed are also more real than everyone assumed.

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  • $\begingroup$ These are fun reasons much like the core reasons I will actually be using I am looking for announced justifications. $\endgroup$ – hildred Apr 1 '15 at 22:29
  • $\begingroup$ @hildred - most of them can be announced as well OR real (except #1/#2 that are probably... less good to use in public; and #3 that shouldn't be used on low-level employees) $\endgroup$ – user4239 Apr 1 '15 at 22:38
  • $\begingroup$ Regarding #2, if you justify institutional inertia AND talk about Dumbledore, you must be Cornelius Fudge. $\endgroup$ – A. Darwin Apr 3 '16 at 6:15
  • $\begingroup$ @A.Darwin - technically speaking, I don't justify it, I merely note it exists as a force :) So if anything, I'm whoever the head of Unspeakables department was, or whoever else was the MoM's main scholar. $\endgroup$ – user4239 Apr 3 '16 at 19:26
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What would be some other valid reasons for the Air Force to keep the Stargate secret or the men in black to hide the aliens?

Power and profits; which boils down to reasons of national security and to protect vital assets and interests of the nation as to what is told to the people that are working on the project. Given that your question deals with Stargate and men in black, both answers are completely believable (both the cynical version and the non-cynical version that says exactly the same thing) to those that are working on the project.

Of course, the best kept secrets are ones where there are layers of secrets and misdirected secrets purposefully seeded and then clamped down hard, and where most of the people working on a project only know portions of a secret and not even the actual thing that is trying to be kept secret. Point being that keeping secrets especially in large organizational structures is really hard to do and trying to cover up a secret after it is loose is one of the best ways of confirming at the very least that you are hiding something; at the very least learn from the mistakes of the DOD and DOE on their failures to keep secrets.

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As mentioned, power and profit. But it is more complex (even without the conspiracy). The goals of each level of the conspiracy may not be perfectly aligned (what Corporal Bloggins wants is going to be much different than that of the Commanding General), so each layer needs to structure the "narrative" in such a way that it satisfies the lower echelons without revealing the "real" story. Revealing the truth not only exposes the conspiracy, but even letting the lower echelons and the Hoi polloi know what is really going on will also reveal the extent of the power and wealth being concealed or withheld from them. Nothing like an enraged mob crazed with envy to have you swinging from a lamp post.

The other reason for structuring narratives is the conspirators may know or suspect other conspiracies exist, so it will be imperative to conceal the true nature, power and resources that you command. This level of uncertainty should keep other groups at bay, wondering what exactly you might have up your sleeve. You may be bluffing, but then again you may have created the Kwisatz Haderach and will take over the universe at the time and place of your choosing. Of course what is true for you may be equally true of the putative other conspiracies, maybe they have created a doomsday machine to trump your high card.

A world like that with wheels within wheels will be quite exciting to plot, but for the people trapped within, there will also be the huge problem of inertia (it will be hard to change so many overlapping narratives) and paranoia (who else might know about this, and what will they do with the information?). Living here might be like living in the world created by Thomas Pynchon in the 1973 novel "Gravity's Rainbow".

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