Someone I currently follow on Twitter has written about “Conspiracy Theory” (apparently a proper noun):
The problem faced by Conspiracy Theory
Conspiracy Theory as Political Philosophy and Ideology
I don’t (yet) know enough to decide whether these articles are serious political and social analysis, or post-modernist waffle. I’ll post some analysis of my own from 2002/2003:
The context is a bizarre Usenet dialogue (“Child Support Reforms International Conspiracy“) from 2002 with someone who was (technically) an expert in certain child support systems (as was I at the time, for different systems). His perspective was that anything other than using courts to determine child support payments, using his own technology, was a threat to western civilisation based on importing ideologies from the communist world. (Read the dialogue!) I took the position that these were genuinely his views, and he was not simply playing a game at my expense.
I wrote the following simple analysis method following this, to try to break down a conspiracy theory into manageable parts so that it could be examined. I would recommend doing the analysis within the framework of my AEIOU method for the purpose.
Some things really are the result of people or groups conspiring together. A Cartel is a group of companies or organisations acting together to control a market. One obvious example is OPEC, which controls oil production & prices. There are other examples where people or groups really have acted together. Some are widely known, and presumably there are many that are not generally known. Such cases are not included here.
Conspiracy theories, for the purposes of this web site, have the emphasis on “theory”. They are theories, without useful basis in fact, that people or groups are conspiring to cause certain perceived ills. They state a false view of history to provide a focus for blame, and that is their point. They are simplistic explanations for unwanted realities. Instead of accepting that things are the way they are because of valid choices by a society, or else because of “cock-ups”, they are stated to be the way they are because of a conspiracy. (Note – sometimes things really are unreasonable! The distinguishing feature of a conspiracy theory is that the causes are not properly supported by useful evidence).
Conspiracy theories don’t lead to genuine solutions, because they deny what really has to be solved. To some people, the idea that it is a valid choice for a society to force separated parents to provide financial support for their biological children is intolerable. To others, the amounts concerned are seen as so unreasonable that they cannot be accepted as either plausible costs of raising children or the result of careless legislation. Instead, child support is claimed to be a fascist or totalitarian or Marxist or socialist or communist or feminist conspiracy. (Take your pick according to your own hate figures!) Without the conspiracy theory, it may be harder to recruit more support to “the cause”, and it may be necessary to accept that the way ahead is to use analytical & democratic means to change things. This may be unacceptable to people who don’t like the harshness of reality – analysis may undermine their position. Reality is often complex, but people often seek simple patterns within complexities.
Analysis of a conspiracy
What is the conspiracy trying to achieve? The reason for starting with “what?” rather than “who?” is to avoid inventing a spurious justification for hating people you hate. If conspiracies exist, they exist to do something special.
When did this start? How long has it being going on for? This provides clues about whether there could be a single group conspiring.
Where is the conspiracy trying to achieve its results? This provides clues about whether there could be a single group conspiring.
The “who?” question needs to support the above questions, and not drive them. A group of people that you hate talking to one-another isn’t a conspiracy. It is only a conspiracy if they are trying to achieve something bad, which needs the above analysis.
If you think “they are out to get you” – “why?” Power? Money? Ideology? Or are you simply blaming someone else for your misfortunes?
How did the bad things happen? If it involved new laws, how did “they” make so many politicians vote the way they did? Bribes? Mind control? Or are you simply deluded?
I find that the 6 what? when? … how? questions are useful for asking open questions while still focusing on just parts of the topic at a time to avoid too much rambling.
I don’t know how useful this approach would be for tackling some of the big (potential) conspiracy theories in the world: man-made climate change, yes/no?; evolution, yes/no?; 9/11 was government plot, yes/no?; Flying Saucers, yes/no?; Elvis still alive, yes/no?
Perhaps I’ll pursue this further, if time doesn’t conspire against me.