The subculture of Conspiracy Theory: The logic behind the thinking and its social operation
22 Tuesday Nov 2011
≈ 41 comments
Excerpt from the book, Who rules the World? An Analysis of Conspiracy Theory By Tony Sobrado
Conspiracy theory is like any other world view. It takes the ontology of the social-political world, and often metaphysical world, and postulates theories with regards to the world that the theorists themselves live in. It is an alternative philosophical position to espouse that is controversial and radically challenges conventional conceptions of government, society and existence itself.
Conspiracy Theory is a discourse. The key theoretical element behind this discourse is that what appears to be unequivocal categorical phenomena, liable to intellectual and analytical scrutiny from within the social and natural sciences is anything but under the conspiracy schools. Conspiracy Theory provides some distorted and perverted alternative explanations for “goings on” and phenomena observed. The popularity of conspiracy theories, and their penetration of contemporary society, has even produced academic programmes in the subject matter. Jim Marrs, a prominent conspiracy theorist, has even taught classes in the Assassination of Kennedy at the University of Texas.
However Conspiracy Theory, itself, is severely defective as a credible discourse and theoretical discipline. This is with regards to the subject matter it attempts to engage. This is because it is disjointed, contradictory and often illogical. Furthermore it is rendered inept by complete paradoxes. Conspiracy Theory is deprived of annexing unifying principles or arguments. It is incoherent and various conspiracy theories do not, in any way, support other tenets in other conspiracy theories that engage the same subject matter. This problem becomes even more apparent in recognising the analytical difference between historically continuing conspiracy theories, modern conspiracy theories and meta-conspiracy theories
For a comparison, take quantum physics. As a modern discipline there are radically different positions to adopt in quantum physics. Yet at fundamental levels, there are mathematical principles and theoretical paradigms that are completely adhered to by its scholars. There is variation, but it is variation in one general direction. This also applies to the paradigm of evolutionary theory in the natural and social sciences. This, however, is not the case for Conspiracy Theory regarding the same subject matter whether it is 911, the Kennedy assassination or the Illuminati and freemasons. Here the conspiracy theory regarding one event or orgnaisation is scattered and contradictory. It has no overarching or unified principle. You probably could not get more than three conspiracy theorists to agree on the nature of the particular conspiracy theory in question and what it entails. As where in quantum physics, despite the diversity, scholars adhere to widely accepted theoretical and mathematical principles.
Moreover, the Conspiracy Theory culture is an industry field and genre itself; where people verily disagree and attempt to desecrate one another’s conspiracy theories and principles. Consequently, because of the nature of the subject matter, fellow conspiracy theorists, in their own proposed conspiracy theory, accuse their rival conspiracy theorists of being in collusion with the “powers that be”. This makes both individual conspiracy theories and overarching conspiracy theories, simultaneously, seem untenable and nonsensical. For instance Eric Phelps and others accuse Alex Jones of being a shiel. You would not get a historian or a quantum physicist accusing another fellow scholar, even if in disagreement, of not being a historian or a quantum physicist. However the broad paranoid nature and the theoretical, abstract and subjective fantasy of many conspiracy theories breed these radically accusative philosophical positions.
Conspiracy theorists, however, depend and hide behind circular logic in order to discredit their rival’s opinion in certain fields of Conspiracy Theory. This is because conspiracy theorists start with the presupposition, and thus incipient principle, that what they are observing is a conspiracy. From this schema, it logically follows that every other phenomena and actor must also be part of that particular conspiracy theory. This even includes rival conspiracy theorists that do not agree with their own proposed conspiracy theory.
This again illustrates that Conspiracy Theory is just another world view and philosophy to adopt, with controversial elements of ontology and epistemology. The issue that conspiracy theorists argue amongst themselves, with regards to which conspiracy theory is correct, and accuse each other of being conspirators themselves; is reinforced by the analysing of group formation within social psychology. This is “in groups” and “out groups” and what groups and individuals are perceived as threats to a particular ethos or ideal; regarding a certain philosophy. Conspiracy Theory is a political opinion that is contended in its own circles like any other opinion regarding the social world.
Many academic works have analysed Conspiracy Theory in the format of social phenomena and socio-cultural opinions. In an article by Anita M. Waters, published in 1997 in the Journal of Black Studies, Vol 28 No.1 entitled Conspiracy Theories as Ethosociologies she writes “attributing social maladies to deliberate plots by hostile conspirators is an American tradition dating back to the 1760s, beginning with the rumours of a British plan to remove colonists’ rights and continuing through to the John F. Kennedy assassination theories”.
Undoubtedly, at the turn of the millennium, the Bush Administration, 9/11 and the Iraq war increased the propagations, popularity and success of conspiratorial publications and ideas. One of the biggest successes is the documentary Loose Change, which is internationally acclaimed as was even released as a full length motion picture at cinemas. In light of new evidence and changing social circumstances and phenomena, old conspiracy theories of secret societies and “secret world control” become adapted. As Obama is the first President of the United States that is not fully white and mixed race, new conspiracy theorists have come to involve the black Freemasons: a branch of Freemasons for black successful people. This includes politicians, lawyers and musicians. The first black man in the White House must have been pre planned by some conspirators! Or else conspiracy paradigms begin to fall apart.
(embedded links at the source)
abandonculture said: (1st comment)
November 24, 2011
A fascinating read about a very misunderstood subject for sure. Given the way conspiracy theories have shaped our world (not just in the 21st century but throughout history) I think it’s a subject which needs to be explored, particularly in terms of language – in terms of the very definitions of ‘conspiracy’, ‘conspiracy theory’ and ‘conspiracy theorists’.
According to the various dictionary definitions, a ‘conspiracy theory’ refers to a perceived secret or covert activity being conducted by a group or organisation which may or may not be powerful (politically, economically etc) and the perception that such a group are, or have been engaged, in a secret activity.
By definition, the propaganda spread to the German people by Hitler about various perceived agendas of the Jews was a ‘conspiracy theory’. The same can be said about the conspiracy theories concerning infiltration and subversion of the US by communists during the cold war.
Another more recent conspiracy theory was the theory that Saddam Hussein possessed and was building a stockpile of WMDs and therefore posed was an immediate threat to the west. This conspiracy theory was later proved to be wrong. Tragically it turned out that belief in this particular conspiracy theory, or blind trust in those who promoted and spread this conspiracy theory, has so far cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of civilians, destroyed a whole nation and cost trillions of dollars which could have been spent on helping civilisation, not wrecking it.
This most dangerous and destructive conspiracy theory was promoted not by basement dwelling tin foil hat wearing nut bars ‘on the internet’ but by governments (and presumably those who lobby them), who collectively disseminated their conspiracy theories through an (overwhelmingly) unquestioning corporate mass media.
Without question Saddam’s alleged WMDs has to rank among the most dangerous and destructive conspiracy theories of the last century, in terms of sheer body count, the huge drain on the taxpayer, the colossal environmental damage and souring of international relations.
Just recently Bush and Blair have been found guilty of war crimes and added to the War Criminals Register by a Malaysian tribunal.
I wonder if the Iraq WMD conspiracy theory is addressed in your book. And if not – given its huge impact on all of our lives across many nations – may I ask why not?
Surely we should not pick and choose what is or isn’t a conspiracy theory based on who is promoting it? We must surely adhere to the dictionary definition and include all that fit that description without bias …… lest we be accused of being ourselves part of some conspiracy to subvert the very meaning of the term ‘conspiracy theory’ to mean ‘people who question authority’. This is certainly NOT what ‘conspiracy theory’ means.
And then there’s 9/11.
The one thing we must ALL agree on is that 9/11 was a result of a sophisticated and despicable conspiracy (that is unless we choose to believe it was the result of a series of random coincidences).
The official narrative of 9/11 is (by dictionary definition) a conspiracy theory: that 19 religious extremists, masterminded by OBL conspired to hijack four planes etc etc ….. Alternative theories that other groups were involved (in conjunction or separately) such as the CIA, Mossad, space aliens etc are also conspiracy theories. Regardless of who carried out 9/11 the level of sophistication and complexity of the conspiracy is (for the sake of argument) about the same and we are all conspiracy theorists (unless we believe the whole thing was a result of accidental coincidence).
It’s important to labour these points and clarify the language – otherwise how can we discuss these important and serious subjects properly?
What is so striking about 9/11 discussion is that the numerous people who now question the validity of this official conspiracy theory with various bits of evidence, facts, arguments, the laws of physics etc are usually labelled as …… ‘conspiracy theorists’.
To classify people who question a ‘conspiracy theory’ as ‘conspiracy theorists’ reeks of Orwellian ‘double think’.
“However Conspiracy Theory, itself, is severely defective as a credible discourse and theoretical discipline. This is with regards to the subject matter it attempts to engage. This is because it is disjointed, contradictory and often illogical…..”
It is true that many conspiracy theories are problematic. However you refer here to ‘conspiracy theory, itself’ as being inherently problematic. It is not. I think you need to refer to the dictionary. It is a perfectly straightforward definition of behaviour which is commonplace among all humans at all levels of society. We all conspire with each other in various ways, or are on the receiving end of such conspiratorial behaviour. A surprise birthday party is one example of this. Or cheating at cards, or doping horses at the races, or secretly setting up two people for a date or competing businesses agreeing to engage in price fixing. There is nothing inherently problematic about theorising a conspiracy (or anything else for that matter), regardless of whether that theory turns out to be correct or not.
Perhaps you are referring to conspiracy theories proposed by people NOT in positions of power and without the resources to conduct expensive independent investigations or make a slick documentary film or computer model and therefore are always going to be at a disadvantage in conveying their conspiracy theory convincingly. Or a theory which, to be proven, requires information which is being withheld by a third party.
But such shortcomings and limitations must be acknowledged and accounted for (if truth is the goal, that is). An unproven – or currently unprovable – conspiracy theory is not necessarily wrong.
But of course some CT’s are weak and inconsistent, for sure! But I have to say these criticisms are equally applicable to many official conspiracies theories, such as 9/11.
I don’t want to get into the specifics of 9/11 any more than I have to to make my point…… but would you agree that, for example, the fact that the FBI never formally indicted Bin Laden for the events of 9/11 because in the words of Rex Tomb, Chief of Investigative Publicity for the FBI, “…….the FBI has no hard evidence connecting Bin Laden to 9/11″ would appear to contradict an essential component of the official government conspiracy theory of 9/11 – namely that it was masterminded by OBL?
OBL was never formally charged (much less tried or convicted) of 9/11 by anyone, yet there he is, smack bang in the official conspiracy theory as the alleged mastermind behind the whole event. This makes his involvement in the event a matter of hearsay by definition (rather like his alleged murder and hasty disposal, I might add).
The fact that this blatant contradiction of the official conspiracy theory comes from the FBI, as opposed to some basement dwelling ‘internet user’, makes it extremely problematic, as I’m sure you would agree.
And the fact that this contradiction (one of hundreds it has to be said) is not even being addressed – let alone resolved – by those who promote the official conspiracy theory is also noteworthy. ‘Crazy conspiracy theorists’ (as we all know) always sidestep inconvenient facts and evidence which do not support their wacky theories. The facts surrounding OBL vs the official conspiracy theory represent a classic example of wilful blindness to the facts.
This huge contradiction is further reinforced by the fact that the Bin Laden family in fact had many connections to the Bush family. This includes Bin Laden’s brother helping GW Bush set up his first oil company (‘Arbusto’) in Texas.
We also know that the TV news told us within minutes of the first plane hitting the twin towers (before the towers had even come down) that the events we were witnessing live on TV “…bore all the hallmarks of an Bin Laden/ Al Qaeda attack”. Such bold conspiracy allegations, before any investigation, without any facts and before any valuable intelligence could possibly have been gathered (it was supposed to have been a surprise attack after all!) is precisely the kind of reckless accusatory behaviour levelled at so called ’9/11 truthers’ – is it not?
(The fact that ‘truther’ – ie one who seeks the truth – is now being used as a derogatory term by those who believe in the official government 9/11 conspiracy theory is extremely disturbing to say the least. What would Orwell have said about such use of language?!)
While the public was being primed, via the media, with the idea that Osama Bin Laden was responsible, the entire Bin Laden family were being flown out of the US. They were not detained and questioned, despite OBL having been already accused as ‘number one suspect’. In fact they were flown out at a time when all US civilian flights were still grounded.
If someone were to ask the simple, straightforward question “why were they flown out in such a hurry instead of being questioned about their relative who was already alleged to be ‘number one suspect’?” what kind of person would that make them…… a conspiracy theorist? …… or an intelligent critical thinker asking a perfectly valid question?
“Here the conspiracy theory regarding one event or orgnaisation is scattered and contradictory. It has no overarching or unified principle. You probably could not get more than three conspiracy theorists to agree on the nature of the particular conspiracy theory in question and what it entails.”
Is it not more unhealthy and dangerous for everyone to agree and form a consensus world view? Isn’t history littered with the devastating consequences of populations willing to act in a herd like manner?
Can this lack of agreement not be regarded instead as a sign of (a) healthy scepticism (b) inevitable confusion and speculation in the face of an overly secretive state unwilling to give us the information we need?
For example, (again not wishing to get into specifics too much) there is much debate and disagreement about what exactly hit the Pentagon. Is that the fault of so called ‘conspiracy theorists’? Does it demonstrate a lack of intellect, rigour, consistency or critical prowess on their part? Or could all the bickering and crazy theories perhaps be because there is too little evidence being made available to convince anyone of anything specific? All the 80 or so CCTV cameras were confiscated immediately and only a few frames were ever released showing no evidence of a plane whatsoever. Some Pentagon employees say they saw wreckage while others say they escaped from the building through the entry hole and saw no plane wreckage at all.
“Nothing to hide nothing to fear”, as we are always told. So why such an effort to hide the CCTV and other evidence from the public?
What if it was an night time shop break in insurance claim and the shop owner refused to release the CCTV images which would identify the thieves – who wouldn’t suspect some kind of foul play in that instance? It would be rational to at least be suspicious of an insurance job in that case.
As if the CCTV issue wasn’t enough to raise suspicions, the initial hole in the Pentagon (before the wall collapsed 45 minutes later) is clearly about 16 feet across with intact windows on either side. In addition no significant wreckage was identified (landing gear, titanium engines etc) with various official narratives being tried out on the public such as ‘instant vaporisation of plane due to fire’ etc (despite office furniture and plastic computer monitors surviving without any melting or burning).
We also have the conflicting news reports from the scene with reporters stating live on air that they saw no evidence of a plane having hit the building.
Many experts including those from the US military and civilian pilots question or refute the official narrative which alleges that a 757 hit indeed the Pentagon, as can be seen in this video. Perhaps they are all misguided or inexplicably deluded. We have to consider that possibility. But why is it that their questions are never addressed, let alone answered? If the official conspiracy theory is valid (ie factually correct and true) there should be an answer available to every question raised. It shouldn’t be a problem. Yet there are no answers forthcoming. To validate the official conspiracy someone has to address these issues and provide satisfactory (evidence based) answers. Until then the official conspiracy theory is just another unverified, problematic, speculative theory yet to be proven.
(the issue of unanswered questions applies to just about every aspect of the official 9/11 conspiracy theory, another example being the thousands of experts and professionals who question the official narrative concerning the free fall, symmetrical, vertical collapse of WTC 7)
You also seem to assume the public debate is focused on which ‘conspiracy theory’ is true (ie defending one’s own particular stance against an opponent’s stance). But as I have already pointed out, while some do argue in this manner, most serious people looking into events like 9/11 are actually questioning and challenging existing conspiracy theories (such as the official conspiracy theory of 9/11). In this sense they are merely gathering and verifying data, testing various hypothesis against the data, seeing what DOES and DOESN’T make logical sense etc.
This is the scientific method.
Sure, discussions on the internet often get heated and emotional but being a ‘truther’ (wanting to get to the truth through a process of persistent enquiry and debate) should always applauded and encouraged. Do you agree?
The alternative is to blindly adhere to ‘authority’ and ‘group think’ which is without doubt a recipe for disaster and a one-way ticket back to the dark ages of superstitious beliefs dispensed by authority figures – the very antithesis of all that this enlightened scientific age stands for.
“Undoubtedly, at the turn of the millennium, the Bush Administration, 9/11 and the Iraq war increased the propagations, popularity and success of conspiratorial publications and ideas.”
As I have already mentioned, these events are, by definition, based on conspiratorial ideas themselves. (the ‘Saddam’s got WMDs’ conspiracy, the ‘OBL masterminded 9/11′ conspiracy etc). These official conspiracies are problematic and contradictory at best and in many cases already proven to be fraudulent (eg Iraq’s WMDs).
This simple point cannot be over emphasised: government policies such as Homeland Security and the Patriot Act through to its wars of terror, occupation and genocide – are based on the government’s very own conspiracy theories. This has been the case throughout history. The entire WoT is based on a conspiracy theory concerning terrorists ‘out there’ who are relentlessly planning to commit unspecified crimes over here somewhere, anywhere, everywhere…. probably of a suicidal and explosive nature. This conspiracy theory is so strong it justifies locking up suspects and torturing them without trial, and ignores their pleas of innocence and lack of knowledge of any such conspiratorial schemes. (“don’t be such a bunch of paranoid nutters, stop water boarding me and let me go!” they might be inclined to say).
Meanwhile, most of the western world is being stripped of their rights and privacy in order to allegedly protect them against this vague threat central to the conspiracy theory of ‘global terrorism’. With drones, retina scans, lamp posts with hidden microphones in them and software in school laptops discreetly taking pictures of pupils in their own homes already in place and in the news every day it probably won’t be too long before tin foil hats are distributed to all to increase out protection against these etherial but deadly* terrorist conspirators.
(*despite the fact that more people die in DIY accidents than acts of terrorism, statistically speaking).
When the public questions and challenges these ever increasingly paranoid official conspiracy theories (and the ‘insecurity state’ they create) it does not automatically make them ‘conspiracy theorists’. It just means they are questioning an existing conspiracy theory. It is healthy to do so. And when the public does put forward their own conspiracy theories they are doing nothing that the government isn’t also doing (although, unlike government conspiracy theories, the public’s conspiracy theories rarely result in torture, loss of human life or cost the taxpayer any money).
In addition, it does need to be said that governments across the world have been caught lying, deceiving and using their power, authority and weaponry for criminal activities over and over and over and over again recently and throughout history. If there were not conspiracies occurring involving people inside or connected to governments right now it would be the first time ever in human history. If one eliminates the possibility of conspiracy involving governments, corporations or the ‘establishment’ one might as well imagine the rest of society is free of conspiracy too. It’s equally as ridiculous.
Hey, let’s all get rid of all the police and leave our houses and cars unlocked all the time (and banks too!), because as we all know conspiracies are so ridiculous and only idiots believe in them!!!
Obviously nobody really thinks like that. We know that the potential for conspiracy between people will always exist. If you take steps to secure and insure your own property then, by definition, you believe the potential for conspiratorial behaviour exists among human beings. The more power available to would-be conspirators to wield (financial, political, military etc) the more destructive a conspiracy can potentially be. Fascism (or indeed communism) is born out of a conspiracy between the state and corporations. It is one of the most destructive conspiracies imaginable. Should we dismiss the possibility of fascism/ communism occurring forever more, and deny its existence in history and the millions who died under it? Isn’t that far more ‘wacky’ than believing such things remain an ever present possibility that we need to guard against?
It is a fundamental aspect of so called ‘democracy’ that the public question and keep checks on their government, in fact it is their duty as responsible citizens to do so, in order to protect society from (would be) tyrants abusing the power of the state or any other form of power.
Would you condemn, dismiss, or ridicule the German public for questioning and challenging Hitler’s conspiracy theory about communist terrorists burning down his Reichstag? Perhaps if they had been more inclined to do so Hitler would not have been able to pass his ‘Enabling Act’ which was supposedly brought in to protect the Homeland from terrorists in the wake of the Reichstag fire.
Likewise, what harm does it do for people to question the official conspiracy theory of 9/11 and question the motive for the subsequent creation of the Homeland Security Act supposedly to protect Americans from terrorists in the wake of 9/11?
If questioning official government conspiracy theories becomes socially stigmatised to the point that nobody dares to question them for fear of ridicule, ostracism or persecution, what message would this send out to anyone seeking to gain power and wield the power of the state for their own nefarious agendas?
Lastly, I would like to ask you to clarify at what point, in your opinion, a conspiracy theory become credible or at least worthy of further research and consideration.
For example we know that more than half the US presidents were freemasons. Freemasonic symbolism is built into the very street map of Washington for goodness sake! If that is not enough to pique your interest what would your threshold be?
What if 80% of presidents being freemasons….. 90%….95%….? At what point would you become suspicious?
Is it ‘crazy’ to believe that perhaps no commander in chief in charge of a super power with nuclear weapons should ever belong to any secret society? (certainly not secret societies which force their initiates to pledge total loyalty on pain of death, superseding all laws when they first join – like the freemasons do).
Or do you think it’s OK for presidents and other people in power to have such conflict of interests?
In a recent US presidential election the choices were between GW Bush and John Kerry. They are cousins, both connected to the oil industry and both admit to being members of the Skull and Bones secret society (an order with distinct Nazi connections FWIW).
I’m assuming you find nothing suspicious or potentially conspiratorial about these ‘coincidences’ in a country of 300 million where ‘anyone can become president’. This is fair enough, we’re all entitled to our opinions.
But I invite you to state what exactly your threshold would be before your suspicions were raised. What if they had been brothers, or perhaps identical twins – would that be cause enough to suspect some kind of conspiracy at play?
My point is that a conspiracy theory might at first ‘feel’ ridiculous, but often this just means we are feeling uncomfortable thinking of possibilities beyond the artificially generated (eg mass media) consensus world view we have all been born into. But to evaluate the outlandishness of any conspiracy theory we need to always consider the ‘opposite’ of that conspiracy theory, too.
The ‘opposite’ of a conspiracy theory is usually either another conspiracy theory or coincidence theory.
For example the idea that 9/11 was the result of some kind of false flag operation might seem too outlandish, at first ….. but before we dismiss the possibility entirely it’s important that we also examine the ‘opposite’ of this theory and see how it compares in terms of outlandishness.
Disregarding coincidence (I think it’s safe to do so) we are left to consider the degree of outlandishness of the official conspiracy theory vs the various false flag conspiracy theories. This official conspiracy is very seldom explained in detail in the media. Which is odd, when you consider how much this conspiracy theory has changed society, and changed the world, over the last decade.
Here is a short summary of the major components of the official 9/11 conspiracy theory.
Well, I tried to keep it as short as I could!
(I love you Mac. Please don't hurt me.)