A conspiracy theory is an explanatory proposition that accuses two or more persons, a group, or an organization of having caused or covered up, through secret planning and deliberate action, an illegal or harmful event or situation. In recent decades the term has acquired a derogatory meaning, and distinction should be made between the derisive use of the term and reference to actual, proven conspiracies. Different types of conspiracy theories have been distinguished, ranging from those merely based on a hunch to ones backed by evidence, and from localized, single-event conspiracies to pervading universal phenomena.
- 1 Usage of the term
- 2 Controversy
- 3 Proven conspiracies
- 4 Why people believe
- 5 Why people refuse to believe
- 6 Types
- 7 Conspiracism: a world view
- 8 Psychological origins
- 9 Socio-political origins
- 10 Political use
- 11 See also
- 12 Notes
- 13 References
- 14 Further reading
- 15 External links
Usage of the term
The Oxford English Dictionary records the first use of the phrase "conspiracy theory" to a 1909 article in The American Historical Review. Other sources predate this use by nearly four decades to at least 1871, where it is used in The Journal of Mental Science reporting on a conference of the Fifth Quarterly Meeting of the Medico-Psychological Association (now the Royal College of Psychiatrists), held on January 27, 1870:
- "The theory of Dr. Sankey as to the manner in which these injuries to the chest occurred in asylums deserved our careful attention. It was at least more plausible that the conspiracy theory of Mr. Charles Beade..."
Acquired derogatory meaning
Originally a neutral term, since the mid-1960s it has acquired a somewhat derogatory meaning, implying a paranoid tendency to see the influence of some malign covert agency in events. The term is often used to automatically dismiss claims that the critic deems ridiculous, misconceived, paranoid, unfounded, outlandish, or irrational. The term often implies that the proposed explanation of events is perceived as violating Occam's razor or the principle of Falsifiability. A conspiracy theory that is proven to be correct, such as the notion that United States President Richard Nixon and his aides conspired to cover up Watergate, is usually referred to as something else, such as investigative journalism or historical analysis.
Term of ridicule
Assessing the prevalent use of the term to ridicule or dismiss, Professor Rebecca Moore observes, "The word 'conspiracy' works much the same way the word 'cult' does to discredit advocates of a certain view or persuasion. Historians do not use the word 'conspiracy' to describe accurate historical reports. On the contrary, they use it to indicate a lack of veracity and objectivity."
As popular knowledge
Clare Birchall at King's College London describes conspiracy theory as a form of popular knowledge. By acquiring the title 'knowledge', conspiracy theory is considered alongside more 'legitimate' modes of knowing. The relationship between legitimate and illegitimate knowledge, Birchall claims, is far closer than common dismissals of conspiracy theory would have us believe. Other popular knowledge might include alien abduction narratives, gossip, some new age philosophies, religious beliefs, and astrology.
The general discussion of conspiracy theory is itself a matter of some public contention. "Conspiracy theorists on the internet are often dismissed as a "fringe" group, but evidence suggests that a broad cross section of Americans today—traversing ethnic, gender, education, occupation, and other divides—gives credence to certain conspiracy theories."
The term can also be used to dismiss what are in fact substantial and well-evidenced accusations. The legitimacy of each such usage will therefore be a matter of some controversy. Michael Parenti, in his 1996 essay which examines the role of progressive media in the use of the term, "The JFK Assassination II: Conspiracy Phobia On The Left", states,
"It is an either-or world for those on the Left who harbor an aversion for any kind of conspiracy investigation: either you are a structuralist in your approach to politics or a 'conspiracist' who reduces historical developments to the machinations of secret cabals, thereby causing us to lose sight of the larger systemic forces."
Structuralist or institutional analysis asserts that the term is misused when it is applied to institutions acting in pursuit of their acknowledged goals, for example, when a group of corporations engage in price-fixing to increase profits.
Complications occur for terms such as UFO, which literally means "unidentified flying object" but connotes alien spacecraft, a concept also associated with some conspiracy theories, and thus possessing a certain social stigma. Michael Parenti gives an example of the use of the term which underscores the conflict in its use. He states,
"In most of its operations, the CIA is by definition a conspiracy, using covert actions and secret plans, many of which are of the most unsavory kind. What are covert operations if not conspiracies? At the same time, the CIA is an institution, a structural part of the national security state. In sum, the agency is an institutionalized conspiracy."
George and Wilcox assert that in the criminal justice system, actual conspiracies, and conspiracy theories can also be distinguished by scale, as actual conspiracies are usually small in scale and involve "a single event or issue".
However, conspiracy has an integral role in many or most large-scale criminal enterprises, including those prosecuted under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) statute. A civil action for damages by victims of criminal enterprise, based on conspiracy, is prescribed in RICO. A basic American police academy text by a former Homeland Security agent notes, "When a crime requires a large number of people, a conspiracy is formed."
Despite the derogatory use of the term based on its acquired connotation, conspiracy theories are sometimes proven correct, such as the theory that United States President Richard Nixon and his aides conspired to cover up Watergate, or the theory that government surveillance projects developed an ability to monitor a large percentage of the world's telephony and Internet traffic. Many high profile individuals were so monitored.
Katherine K. Young states, "the fact remains, however, that not all conspiracies are imagined by paranoids. Historians show that every real conspiracy has had at least four characteristic features: groups, not isolated individuals; illegal or sinister aims, not ones that would benefit society as a whole; orchestrated acts, not a series of spontaneous and haphazard ones; and secret planning, not public discussion". Above all else a real conspiracy is evidenced by provable facts.
"Some historians have put forward the idea that more recently the United States has become the home of conspiracy theories because so many high-level prominent conspiracies have been undertaken and uncovered since the 1960s". The existence of such real conspiracies helps feed the belief in conspiracy theories.
Conspiracy theories that were later verified or rectified
- False flag operations.
- The theories about the Kennedy assassination. United States House Select Committee on Assassinations was established in 1976 to investigate the assassinations of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King; committee investigations lasted until 1978, and in 1979 issued the final report. The report said that based on the available evidence, President John F. Kennedy was probably assassinated as a result of a conspiracy. The Justice Department, the FBI, the CIA and the Warren Commission were severely criticized by that committee for their poor performance in the investigations carried out, and the Secret Service was labeled as deficient in its protection to the President.
- The Holocaust, during World War II was considered a baseless rumor or too unbelievable to be true descriptions.
- The intrigues and preparations coup by right-wing generals, after the results of the Spanish elections of 1936, and finally the revolt of July 18 which led to the Spanish Civil War.
- Operation MK Ultra, secret research program of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) of the United States, linked to the ARTICHOKE, BLUEBIRD, Project CHATTER MKDELTA and among others, trying to find ways to control the mind, and it came publicly to light thanks to the Rockefeller commission in 1975 at the time of smack did not have much impact, but several years later this would be well known.
- Operation Ajax: the coup of 1953 Iranian state was orchestrated by the United Kingdom and the United States to overthrow the government of Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddeq and his cabinet operation. Thanks to the work of Kermit Roosevelt, who worked for the CIA in a covert operation, bribed various positions of the Iranian government, which facilitated the coup.
- The National Organization of the Anvil.
- The Watergate scandal over illegal wiretapping of U.S. President Nixon rivals the Democratic Party.
- Operation Gladio.
- Operation Snow White: code name for a set of L. Ron Hubbard coordinated by Scientology -creator - in order to infiltrate the IRS , the FBI and even the CIA operations, the aim was to get information and benefits for worship.
- Attacks on Israeli Embassy (1992) and AMIA (1994) in Buenos Aires by Iranian agents, generating several conspiracy theories involving the neo-Nazi groups, law enforcement groups, the Syrian government and even against an inside job official hypothesis pointing to Hezbollah.
- Anthrax attacks in 2001, initially attributed to Al Qaeda, later it was shown that the spores came from a U.S. government lab States.
- The Iraq war was largely about oil (recognized by Alan Greenspan, chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve at the time); alleged weapons of mass destruction Saddam Hussein (the "casus belli"), which served as an argument for the invasion Iraq and the alleged connection to Al- Qaeda with the Iraqi government.
- Continued sabotage by Israel and the U.S. on the Iranian nuclear program, 18 and tests of the Israeli Air Force for a possible bombing of nuclear facilities.
- State terrorism in Argentina in the 1970s and 1980s-
Why people believe
Belief in conspiracy theories has become a topic of interest for sociologists, psychologists, and experts in folklore since at least the 1960s, when the assassination of U.S. President John F. Kennedy eventually provoked an unprecedented public response directed against the official version of the case as expounded in the Report of the Warren Commission. Later, United States House Select Committee on Assassinations in 1979 said that based on the available evidence, President John F. Kennedy was probably assassinated as a result of a conspiracy.
Sociologist Turkay Salim Nefes  underlines the political nature of conspiracy theories and suggests that one of the most important characteristics of these accounts is their attempt to unveil the "real but hidden" power relations in social groups.
To explain evil forces
The political scientist Michael Barkun, discussing the usage of this term in contemporary American culture, holds that a conspiracy theory is a belief which explains an event as the result of a secret plot by exceptionally powerful and cunning conspirators to achieve a malevolent end. According to Barkun, the appeal of conspiracism is threefold: First, conspiracy theories claim to explain what institutional analysis cannot. They appear to make sense out of a world that is otherwise confusing. Second, they do so in an appealingly simple way, by dividing the world sharply between the forces of light, and the forces of darkness. They trace all evil back to a single source, the conspirators and their agents. Third, conspiracy theories are often presented as special, secret knowledge unknown or unappreciated by others. For conspiracy theorists, the masses are a brainwashed herd, while the conspiracy theorists in the know can congratulate themselves on penetrating the plotters' deceptions.
The conspiracy theorist's five assumptions
In his essay "Dealing with Middle Eastern Conspiracy Theories", Daniel Pipes notes that "five assumptions distinguish the conspiracy theorist from more conventional patterns of thought: appearances deceive; conspiracies drive history; nothing is haphazard; the enemy always gains; power, fame, money, and sex account for all".
According to West and Sanders, when talking about conspiracies in the Vietnam War era, Pipes includes within the fringe element anyone who entertains the thought that conspiracies played a role in the major political scandals and assassinations that rocked American politics in the Vietnam era. He "sees the paranoid style in almost any critical historical or social-scientific analysis of oppression".
Why people refuse to believe
Psychologists such as Robert Hopper and William Woodward have cited avoidance of cognitive dissonance, a conflict between two beliefs held at the same time, as a leading reason why people deny the validity of conspiracy theories even in the face of overwhelming evidence. Recognizing a conspiracy may require a shift in worldview that can be traumatic. For example, if one recognizes that a government has attacked its own people in a false flag operation, it is problematic to also view that government as a protector. To avoid trauma and preserve the belief of government as protector, the person will deny the existence of the conspiracy.
Rothbard: shallow vs. deep
Economist Murray Rothbard distinguished between what he described as "shallow" and "deep" conspiracy theories. A theorist of the former variety observes a questionable or potentially shady event and asks Cui bono? ("who benefits?"), jumping to the conclusion that a posited beneficiary is in fact responsible for covertly influencing events. In contrast, the deep conspiracy theorist begins with a suspicious hunch, but goes further by seeking out reputable and verifiable evidence. Rothbard described the scholarship of deep conspiracy theorist as "essentially confirming your early paranoia through a deeper factual analysis".
Rothbard defends the analysis of conspiracies: "Far from being a paranoid or a determinist, the conspiracy analyst believes that people act purposively, that they make conscious choices to employ means in order to arrive at goals. Hence, if a steel tariff is passed, he assumes that the steel industry lobbied for it; if a public works project is created, he hypothesizes that it was promoted by an alliance of construction firms and unions who enjoyed public works contracts, and bureaucrats who expanded their jobs and incomes. It is the opponents of "conspiracy" analysis who profess to believe that all events – at least in government – are random and unplanned, and that therefore people do not engage in purposive choice and planning."
Chomsky: secretive coalitions
Noam Chomsky contrasts conspiracy theory as more or less the opposite of institutional analysis, which focuses mostly on the public, long-term behavior of publicly known institutions, as recorded in, for example, scholarly documents or mainstream media reports, rather than secretive coalitions of individuals.
Walker's five kinds
Jesse Walker (2013) has developed a historical typology of five basic kinds of conspiracy theories. The first identifies an “Enemy Outside”, with devilish figures mobilizing outside the community scheming against it. The “Enemy Within” finds the conspirators lurking inside the nation, indistinguishable from ordinary citizens. The “Enemy Above” involves powerful people manipulating the system for their own gain. The “Enemy Below” features the lower classes ready to break through their constraints and overturn the social order. Finally, there are the “Benevolent Conspiracies,” where angelic forces work behind the scenes to improve the world and help people.
Barkun's three types
Barkun (discussed above) has categorized, in ascending order of breadth, the types of conspiracy theories as follows:
- Event conspiracy theories. The conspiracy is held to be responsible for a limited, discrete event or set of events. The conspiratorial forces are alleged to have focused their energies on a limited, well-defined objective. The best-known example in the recent past is the Kennedy assassination conspiracy literature, though similar material exists concerning the September 11 attacks, the crash of TWA Flight 800, and the spread of AIDS in the black community.
- Systemic conspiracy theories. The conspiracy is believed to have broad goals, usually conceived as securing control of a country, a region, or even the entire world. While the goals are sweeping, the conspiratorial machinery is generally simple: a single, evil organization implements a plan to infiltrate and subvert existing institutions. This is a common scenario in conspiracy theories that focus on the alleged machinations of Jews, Freemasons, or the Catholic Church, as well as theories centered on Communism or international capitalists.
- Superconspiracy theories. Conspiratorial constructs in which multiple conspiracies are believed to be linked together hierarchically. Event and systemic are joined in complex ways, so that conspiracies come to be nested together. At the summit of the conspiratorial hierarchy is a distant but powerful force manipulating lesser conspiratorial factors. Superconspiracy theories have enjoyed particular growth since the 1980s, in the work of authors such as David Icke, Alex Constantine and Milton William Cooper.
Conspiracism: a world view
Academic work in conspiracy theories and conspiracism (a world view that places conspiracy theories centrally in the unfolding of history) presents a range of hypotheses as a basis of studying the genre. According to Berlet and Lyons, "Conspiracism is a particular narrative form of scapegoating that frames demonized enemies as part of a vast insidious plot against the common good, while it valorizes the scapegoater as a hero for sounding the alarm".
The historian Richard Hofstadter addressed the role of paranoia and conspiracism throughout American history in his essay The Paranoid Style in American Politics, published in 1964. Bernard Bailyn's classic The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution (1967) notes that a similar phenomenon could be found in America during the time preceding the American Revolution. Conspiracism labels people's attitudes as well as the type of conspiracy theories that are more global and historical in proportion.
The term "conspiracism" was popularized by academic Frank P. Mintz in the 1980s. According to Mintz, conspiracism denotes "belief in the primacy of conspiracies in the unfolding of history":
"Conspiracism serves the needs of diverse political and social groups in America and elsewhere. It identifies elites, blames them for economic and social catastrophes, and assumes that things will be better once popular action can remove them from positions of power. As such, conspiracy theories do not typify a particular epoch or ideology".
Throughout human history, political and economic leaders genuinely have been the cause of enormous amounts of death and misery, and they sometimes have engaged in conspiracies while at the same time promoting conspiracy theories about their targets. Hitler and Stalin would be merely the 20th century's most prominent examples; there have been numerous others. In some cases there have been claims dismissed as conspiracy theories that later proved to be true. The idea that history itself is controlled by large long-standing conspiracies is rejected by historian Bruce Cumings:
"But if conspiracies exist, they rarely move history; they make a difference at the margins from time to time, but with the unforeseen consequences of a logic outside the control of their authors: and this is what is wrong with 'conspiracy theory.' History is moved by the broad forces and large structures of human collectivities."
Justin Fox of Time Magazine gives a pragmatic justification of conspiracism. He says that Wall Street traders are among the most conspiracy-minded group of people, and ascribes this to the reality of some financial market conspiracies, and to the ability of conspiracy theories to provide necessary orientation in the market’s day-to-day movements. Most good investigative reporters are also conspiracy theorists, according to Fox; and some of their theories turn out to be at least partly true.
Conspiracism as replacing democracy
Some scholars argue that conspiracy theories once limited to fringe audiences have become commonplace in mass media, contributing to conspiracism emerging as a cultural phenomenon in the United States of the late 20th and early 21st centuries, and the possible replacement of democracy by conspiracy as the dominant paradigm of political action in the public mind. According to anthropologists Todd Sanders and Harry G. West, evidence suggests that a broad cross-section of Americans today gives credence to at least some conspiracy theories. Belief in conspiracy theories has therefore become a topic of interest for sociologists, psychologists and experts in folklore.
According to some psychologists, a person who believes in one conspiracy theory tends to believe in others.
Some psychologists believe that the search for meaning is common in conspiracism and the development of conspiracy theories, and may be powerful enough alone to lead to the first formulation of the idea. Once cognized, confirmation bias and avoidance of cognitive dissonance may reinforce the belief. In a context where a conspiracy theory has become popular within a social group, communal reinforcement may equally play a part. Some research carried out at the University of Kent, UK suggests people may be influenced by conspiracy theories without being aware that their attitudes have changed. After reading popular conspiracy theories about the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, participants in this study correctly estimated how much their peers' attitudes had changed, but significantly underestimated how much their own attitudes had changed to become more in favor of the conspiracy theories. The authors conclude that conspiracy theories may therefore have a 'hidden power' to influence people's beliefs.
A study published in 2012 also found that conspiracy theorists frequently believe in multiple conspiracies, even when one conspiracy contradicts the other. For example, the study found that people who believe Osama Bin Laden was captured alive by Americans are also likely to believe that Bin Laden was actually killed prior to the 2011 raid on his home in Abottabad, Pakistan.
In a 2013 article in Scientific American Mind, psychologist Sander van der Linden of the London School of Economics argues there is converging scientific evidence that (1) people who believe in one conspiracy are likely to espouse others (even when contradictory); (2) in some cases, conspiracy ideation has been associated with paranoia and schizotypy; (3) conspiracist worldviews tend to breed mistrust of well-established scientific principles, such as the association between smoking and cancer or global warming and CO2 emissions; and (4) conspiracy ideation often leads people to see patterns where none exist.
Humanistic psychologists argue that even if the cabal behind the conspiracy is almost always perceived as hostile, there is often still an element of reassurance in it for conspiracy theorists. This is in part because it is more consoling to think that complications and upheavals in human affairs are created by human beings rather than factors beyond human control. Belief in such a cabal is a device for reassuring oneself that certain occurrences are not random, but ordered by a human intelligence. This renders such occurrences comprehensible and potentially controllable. If a cabal can be implicated in a sequence of events, there is always the hope, however tenuous, of being able to break the cabal's power – or joining it and exercising some of that power oneself. Finally, belief in the power of such a cabal is an implicit assertion of human dignity – an often unconscious but necessary affirmation that man is not totally helpless, but is responsible, at least in some measure, for his own destiny.
Some historians have argued that there is an element of psychological projection in conspiracism. This projection, according to the argument, is manifested in the form of attribution of undesirable characteristics of the self to the conspirators. Historian Richard Hofstadter stated that:
...it is hard to resist the conclusion that this enemy is on many counts the projection of the self; both the ideal and the unacceptable aspects of the self are attributed to him. The enemy may be the cosmopolitan intellectual, but the paranoid will outdo him in the apparatus of scholarship... the Ku Klux Klan imitated Catholicism to the point of donning priestly vestments, developing an elaborate ritual and an equally elaborate hierarchy. The John Birch Society emulates Communist cells and quasi-secret operation through "front" groups, and preaches a ruthless prosecution of the ideological war along lines very similar to those it finds in the Communist enemy. Spokesmen of the various fundamentalist anti-Communist "crusades" openly express their admiration for the dedication and discipline the Communist cause calls forth.
Hofstadter also noted that "sexual freedom" is a vice frequently attributed to the conspiracist's target group, noting that "very often the fantasies of true believers reveal strong sadomasochistic outlets, vividly expressed, for example, in the delight of anti-Masons with the cruelty of Masonic punishments."
A 2011 study found that highly Machiavellian people are more likely to believe in conspiracy theories, since they themselves would be more willing to engage in a conspiracy when placed in the same situation as the alleged conspirators.
According to the British Psychological Society, it is possible that certain basic human epistemic biases are projected onto the material under scrutiny. One study cited by the group found that humans apply a rule of thumb by which we expect a significant event to have a significant cause. The study offered subjects four versions of events, in which a foreign president was (a) successfully assassinated, (b) wounded but survived, (c) survived with wounds but died of a heart attack at a later date, and (d) was unharmed. Subjects were significantly more likely to suspect conspiracy in the case of the major events—in which the president died—than in the other cases, despite all other evidence available to them being equal. Connected with apophenia, the genetic tendency of human beings to find patterns in coincidence, this allows the discovery of conspiracy in any significant event.
Another epistemic "rule of thumb" that can be applied to a mystery involving other humans is cui bono? (who stands to gain?). This sensitivity to the hidden motives of other people may be an evolved and universal feature of human consciousness.
For some individuals, an obsessive compulsion to believe, prove, or re-tell a conspiracy theory may indicate one or a combination of well-understood psychological conditions, and other hypothetical ones: paranoia, denial, schizophrenia, mean world syndrome.
Conspiratorial accounts can be emotionally satisfying when they place events in a readily understandable moral context. The subscriber to the theory is able to assign moral responsibility for an emotionally troubling event or situation to a clearly conceived group of individuals. Crucially, that group does not include the believer. The believer may then feel excused of any moral or political responsibility for remedying whatever institutional or societal flaw might be the actual source of the dissonance. Likewise, Roger Cohen, in an op-Ed for the New York Times propounded that, "captive minds... resort to conspiracy theory because it is the ultimate refuge of the powerless. If you cannot change your own life, it must be that some greater force controls the world."
Where responsible behavior is prevented by social conditions, or is simply beyond the ability of an individual, the conspiracy theory facilitates the emotional discharge or closure that such emotional challenges (after Erving Goffman) require. Like moral panics, conspiracy theories thus occur more frequently within communities that are experiencing social isolation or political dis-empowerment.
Sociological historian Holger Herwig found in studying German explanations for the origins of World War I, "Those events that are most important are hardest to understand, because they attract the greatest attention from myth makers and charlatans."
This normal process could be diverted by a number of influences. At the level of the individual, pressing psychological needs may influence the process, and certain of our universal mental tools may impose epistemic 'blind spots'. At the group or sociological level, historic factors may make the process of assigning satisfactory meanings more or less problematic.
Alternatively, conspiracy theories may arise when evidence available in the public record does not correspond with the common or official version of events. In this regard, conspiracy theories may sometimes serve to highlight 'blind spots' in the common or official interpretations of events.
Influence of critical theory
French sociologist Bruno Latour suggests that the widespread popularity of conspiracy theories in mass culture may be due, in part, to the pervasive presence of Marxist-inspired critical theory and similar ideas in academia since the 1970s.
Latour notes that about 90% of contemporary social criticism in academia displays one of two approaches which he terms “the fact position and the fairy position.” (p. 237) The fact position is anti-fetishist, arguing that “objects of belief” (e.g., religion, arts) are merely concepts onto which power is projected; Latour contends that those who use this approach show biases towards confirming their own dogmatic suspicions as most "scientifically supported." While the complete facts of the situation and correct methodology are ostensibly important to them, Latour proposes that the scientific process is instead laid on as a patina to one's pet theories to lend a sort of reputation high ground. The “fairy position” argues that individuals are dominated, often covertly and without their awareness, by external forces (e.g., economics, gender). (p. 238) Latour concludes that each of these two approaches in Academia has led to a polarized, inefficient atmosphere highlighted (in both approaches) by its causticness. “Do you see now why it feels so good to be a critical mind?” asks Latour: no matter which position you take, “You’re always right!” (p. 238-239)
Latour notes that such social criticism has been appropriated by those he describes as conspiracy theorists, including global warming denialists and the 9/11 Truth movement: “Maybe I am taking conspiracy theories too seriously, but I am worried to detect, in those mad mixtures of knee-jerk disbelief, punctilious demands for proofs, and free use of powerful explanation from the social neverland, many of the weapons of social critique.” (p. 230)
||This section possibly contains original research. (July 2012)|
Media commentators regularly note a tendency in news media and wider culture to understand events through the prism of individual agents, as opposed to more complex structural or institutional accounts. If this is a true observation, it may be expected that the audience which both demands and consumes this emphasis itself is more receptive to personalized, dramatic accounts of social phenomena.
A second, perhaps related, media trope is the effort to allocate individual responsibility for negative events. The media have a tendency to start to seek culprits if an event occurs that is of such significance that it does not drop off the news agenda within a few days. Of this trend, it has been said that the concept of a pure accident is no longer permitted in a news item.
Michael Kelly, a Washington Post journalist and critic of anti-war movements on both the left and right, coined the term "fusion paranoia" to refer to a political convergence of left-wing and right-wing activists around anti-war issues and civil liberties, which he said were motivated by a shared belief in conspiracism or shared anti-government views.
Barkun has adopted this term to refer to how the synthesis of paranoid conspiracy theories, which were once limited to American fringe audiences, has given them mass appeal and enabled them to become commonplace in mass media, thereby inaugurating an unrivaled period of people actively preparing for apocalyptic or millenarian scenarios in the United States of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Barkun notes the occurrence of lone wolf conflicts with law enforcement threatening the established political powers.
|“||Conspiracy theories exist in the realm of myth, where imaginations run wild, fears trump facts, and evidence is ignored. As a superpower, the United States is often cast as a villain in these dramas.||”|
In his book The Open Society and Its Enemies, Karl Popper used the term "conspiracy theory" to criticize the ideologies driving historicism. Popper argued that totalitarianism was founded on "conspiracy theories" which drew on imaginary plots driven by paranoid scenarios predicated on tribalism, chauvinism, or racism. Popper did not argue against the existence of everyday conspiracies (as incorrectly suggested in much of the later literature). Popper even uses the term "conspiracy" to describe ordinary political activity in the classical Athens of Plato (who was the principal target of his attack in The Open Society and Its Enemies).
In his critique of the twentieth century totalitarians, Popper wrote, "I do not wish to imply that conspiracies never happen. On the contrary, they are typical social phenomena." He reiterated his point, "Conspiracies occur, it must be admitted. But the striking fact which, in spite of their occurrence, disproved the conspiracy theory is that few of these conspiracies are ultimately successful. Conspirators rarely consummate their conspiracy."
What can government do about conspiracy theories? Among the things it can do, what should it do? We can readily imagine a series of possible responses. (1) Government might ban conspiracy theorizing. (2) Government might impose some kind of tax, financial or otherwise, on those who disseminate such theories. (3) Government might itself engage in counterspeech, marshaling arguments to discredit conspiracy theories. (4) Government might formally hire credible private parties to engage in counterspeech. (5) Government might engage in informal communication with such parties, encouraging them to help. Each instrument has a distinctive set of potential effects, or costs and benefits, and each will have a place under imaginable conditions. However, our main policy idea is that government should engage in cognitive infiltration of the groups that produce conspiracy theories, which involves a mix of (3), (4) and (5).
- Conspiracy (disambiguation)
- Conspiracy in civil law
- Conspiracy in criminal law
- Conspiracy fiction
- Fringe theory
- Furtive fallacy
- Influencing machine
- List of conspiracy theories
- Stigmergy — a mechanism of indirect coordination between agents or actions
- Miriam Webster "conspiracy theory"
- Miriam Webster "conspiracy"
- Oxford dictionary "conspiracy"
- Dictionary.com "conspiracy"
- The Free Dictionary "conspiracy theory"
- Barkun, Michael (2003). A Culture of Conspiracy: Apocalyptic Visions in Contemporary America. University of California Press; 1 edition. p. 3. ISBN 0-520-23805-2. "a conspiracy belief is the belief that an organization made up of individuals or groups was or is acting covertly to achieve a malevolent end."
- Berlet, Chip (September 2004). Interview: Michael Barkun. Retrieved 1 October 2009. "The issue of conspiracism versus rational criticism is a tough one, and some people (Jodi Dean, for example) argue that the former is simply a variety of the latter. I don't accept this, although I certainly acknowledge that there have been conspiracies. They simply don't have the attributes of almost superhuman power and cunning that conspiracists attribute to them."
- Link text, Turkay Salim Nefes (2013) The Sociological Review Volume 61, Issue 2, pages 247–264.
- Link text, Turkay Salim Nefes (2012) Journal of Historical Sociology, Volume 25, Issue 3, pages 413–439, September 2012.
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- Slate Magazine
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- Birchall, Clare (2006). Knowledge Goes Pop: From Conspiracy Theory to Gossip. Oxford: Berg. ISBN 1-84520-143-4.
- Transparency and conspiracy: ethnographies of suspicion in the new world order. Harry G. West, Todd Sanders. pp 4.
- questionsquestions.net, "The JFK Assassination II: conspiracy phobia on the left", Michael Parenti, 1996.
- George, John; Laird M. Wilcox (1996) American extremists: militias, supremacists, klansmen, communists & others Prometheus Books p. 267.
- "Former Shipping Executive Indicted for Role in Price-Fixing Conspiracy Involving Coastal Freight Services Between the Continental United States and Puerto Rico". U.S. Department of Justice FBI Office of Public Affairs Jacksonville Division. March 21, 2013. Retrieved 11 July 2013.
- "Former Executive Convicted for Role in Price-Fixing Conspiracy Involving Coastal Freight Services Between the Continental United States and Puerto Rico". Retrieved 4 December 2013.
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- The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
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- Mathias Bröckers. Conspiracies, Conspiracy Theories and the Secrets of 9/11. Sees conspiracy as a fundamental principle between cooperation and competition. Proposes a new science of "conspirology."
- Sorrentino, Juliano. Society at war, The society of thieves. São Paulo (2008): Scortecci. ISBN 978-85-366-1291-1. A shadow government and a code of war move a secret war against an old common enemy. Polemical literature of the Brazilian writer Sorrento.
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- Stuart J. Murray (2009). "Editorial Introduction: 'Media Tropes'". MediaTropes eJournal 2 (1): i–x.