You can easily be dismissed in academia for proposing conspiracy theory, indeed the very name is a dismissal in itself. However, this reaction also dismisses an important trope in modern life.
This post has frequently collapsed which is possibly evidence of conspiracy. 🙂
It continues in the next post
Plausibility of conspiracy
People naturally “team-up” to do things because people can do more together than alone, and coordinating the actions of different groups acts as a source of power, just as wealth adds to that power. Sometimes people join together without telling outsiders – although sometimes it won’t be hidden, the collaboration can just avoid publicity, perhaps through the group’s influence on the media, and perhaps because of fear of legal action. In these cases we can call it conspiracy, if we want.
As Right wing conspiracy theorist Gary Allen argued, we know relatively powerless people can produce great effects by conspiring (as with those people who organised the French and Russian revolutions), so why not accept that already powerful people could also conspire/collaborate with effect against other powerful people or against the populace?
Indeed we know powerful people team up to magnify their effect, in things like the “Minerals Council of Australia”, and the “Business Council of Australia”. We know that wealthy people subsidise news organisations to promote their ideals and politics, or to hide news that might disturb those ideals and politics. We further know that wealthy people subsidise think-tanks to support them, and provide “independent testimony” for their ideals and politics. Some of these wealth-founded media organisations, like Breitbart, and Fox news pretend to be reacting to left wing bias elsewhere and hide their embedding in elite wealth.
Conspiracy theory could always arise with investigation of how the ‘ruling classes’ go about ruling, rather than just being crazy stuff. The problem, then, is to identify that class and its actions plausibly. Before we move onto that problem let us consider a few other problems with conspiracy theory.
Problems with Conspiracy Theory
Popularity and persuasion do not equal truth The most obvious problem is that such theories can be very popular and very wrong. They can be promoted by agents of the powerful, to distract from the operations of those powerful people, and to motivate hatred against possible enemies, or because it is easier, quicker and more appealing to construct an imagined conspiracy, than to do real analysis, and to check initial bias.
As the people identified as being in a conspiracy are generally acting politically according to the conspiracy theory, then conspiracy theory tends strongly to be an arm of politics and affected by political bias and intention.
For example, it seems extremely unlikely there was ever a world wide conspiracy involving all Jewish people, or even some Jewish people, which aimed at taking over the Western World. I don’t know of any evidence other than a few obviously fake documents, and a few statements attributed to members of powerful and wealthy Jewish families, which may or may not be theirs, or which may be taken out of context. While inaccurate, the theory summarised in an acceptable symbolic form a lot of conservative nationalist problems with world capitalism. It was also based in a wide-spread anti-Semiticism which had been fueled by Christianity for a long time and so fitted in with existing pre-conceptions. As such it was obviously believable to many and the consequences of this theory were horrific, and enabled horroric acts to be carried out. This particular conspiracy theory still hangs around.
Are conspiracy theories themselves conspiracies? We may even ask whether this conspiracy theory was a result of a conspiracy against Jewish people, which aimed to make them scapegoats for problems, and use this scapegoating to gain power?
At a much lesser level, we can also think of many of the conspiracies that Hillary Clinton was supposedly involved with, from Pizzagate to the vanished emails, or the accusations she had people, who threatened her, killed. Nothing incriminating has ever come to light from the many and wide hostile investigations into her. Indeed, so little criminal activity has been revealed by people eager to attack her, that she may be the cleanest politician in US history. However, as a result of the promotion of these theories and inquiries, her name was blackened and many people in the US hate her in particular and use her as an exemplary example of a corrupt politician. Does this hatred result from a conspiracy to discredit her? Or was that ‘team-up’ an accident? While she may not have conspired, it may be interesting to ask why so many appear to have acted together against her – especially given that the failure of these investigations was not used to promote her integrity.
The consequences for the world, of the apparent conspiracy against her seem to have been pretty grave so far, and are likely to get worse.
This selective bias factor is also illustrated by the comments on a youtube video in which Noam Chomsky outlines the ways that the Right made climate change into a “liberal conspiracy” rather than a distressing fact. It seems that many people commenting were eager to accept Chomsky’s accounts of US foreign policy and military action, but thought he had sold out (or become part of a conspiracy) when he denounced the conspiracy to denounce climate change. People choose what conspiracy they believe in by their existing ideologies and biases, or by their loyalties to particular groups, not by the strength of the evidence presented.
As another example of how existing bias filters ‘facts’, Gary Allen, if I remember correctly (and I don’t have the book with me to check at this moment, but I will), argued that American capitalists subsidised Lenin. He then concluded that some wealthy people in the US establishment were Bolshevik communists, rather than concluding that (if these facts where correct) Lenin probably was doing what he was paid to do which could explain why the revolution was totalitarian and not liberatory. Allen was also celebratory that Americans had such common sense they hated communism, without knowing anything about it…. Nothing to do with US media propaganda, and the wealth elites, of course.
Other conspiracy people point to the mention of ‘Liberals’ as tools of the Elders of Zion in the Protocols to argue that modern Democrats and left-wingers are tools of international jewry, rather than bother to check that ‘Liberal’, in the days the Protocols were written, meant something more like modern Republican supporters of unrestricted capitalism, ie themselves – which would surely produce some dissonance for them. Again the bias, and group loyalties and hostilities, foreclose understanding and make links that are not likely.
People rarely ever seem to think that some conspiracy could be deliberately affecting what they think about the world at this moment. They assume their ability to track conspiracy is evidence of the conspiracy they are tracking. But, if conspiracy is a mode of politics, how can you trust the information you are using to prove conspiracy?
As implied earlier, we can assume that these supporters of the validity of the Protocols and Allen are part of the conspiracy they are supposedly denouncing; either operating as false flags, or being manipulated by those engaged in conspiracy…. and that demonstrates another problem with conspiracy theory: everything can be made to fit together neatly, by supposition and bias. This leads to another problem…..
Bias Expansion. This occurs when people accept a reasonable possibility of conspiracy and then expand it in areas which are less and less plausible.
For example, it appears that the QAnon movement reasonably argues that people with criminal aspirations, can come to power in hierarchies. These people are likely to have no empathy for others, threaten, lie, cheat, and be focused on their own power, rather than on robbing the corner store. This is plausible, we can see criminality or sociopathy in Religious organisations where we might expect otherwise, and in the management structures that we experience everyday. It is not quite so clear that these criminals always collaborate with each other. However QAnon extend this plausibility, and seem to argue that every person who they dislike is criminal and probably satanic (Hilary Clinton being a good example, because if you are pro-Republican she must be evil), and that President Trump is fighting for the American People against this criminality. Given Trump’s business record, and his actions against his enemies while in power this seems highly improbable. If he is fighting against criminals, it is probably to benefit himself or other criminals he sees as being on his side. However, the theory allows any criticism of Trump’s actions and policies to be dismissed as the work of criminals – Trump is not trying to obstruct the course of justice for example, but obstructing subversive criminals – and thus the theory supports bias in favour of Trump, which again leads to the possibility it is part of a pro-criminal-pro-Trump conspiracy.
I have also read the suggestion that QAnon is satire, directed at ‘ignorant’ Trump followers but, if so, many people (on both sides) take it as genuine. And if it is a satire, then for some people it might well be a satiric conspiracy.
Again people who suspect US foreign policy of being imperialistic, often end up extending their bias and supporting Russian intervention in Syria or Ukraine, when there is little to suggest that Russian interventions are any less imperialistic than the US, but it fits in with an anti-US bias.
There is no end.
Secrecy and projection Another problem with conspiracy theory, involves the fact that a conspiracy is usually secret and so it is hard to get evidence, but this secrecy also makes it easy to fake information (there are few sources that contradict the fakery), easy to interpret data however you want through projection (ie attributing your own vices to despised others who are not that visible) and to use the fakery politically because it seems right according to your existing biases which make the fakes seem plausible.
There is always so much happening in the world, that some evidence for anything you want to prove will probably exist somewhere, and can be linked through some mechanism to others. Such as, if people meet occasionally they must conspire together, or if people agree about something they must conspire together. However, people can agree independently of each other, and anyone can occassionally meet people they have little connection with. The FBI, the Intelligence agencies, the military and many lawyers and judges, may all agree that it looks as if President Trump is behaving in ways which will damage the US, without them having conspired together against him. They may simply agree as to the apparant facts. Just as scientists who think there is a climate crisis, do not have to have conspired together to come to that conclusion. However, if both cases if you believe that Trump is good, or that climate change cannot occur, then the conspiracy functions as an explanation for why others disagree.
Likwise, if you believe that the real reasons for US foreign policy is hidden, which is not unreasonable, and you believe that the US government hides contact with aliens (which a secretive organisation might do), then this secretive foreign policy could have something to do with the secrecy about aliens. Perhaps it is an alien inspired attempt to control the world. Perhaps President Trump (who is known for his tough stance against ‘illegal aliens’) is fighting hard against the aliens, or for the aliens…
And some people have no issue with making up evidence or accusations to support their bias (it must be true if it confirms the enemies’ badness), as seems to be the case with Clinton or Soros.
Assumptions of success Another problem of conspiracy theory is that it often assumes that conspiracies have their intended consequences, which makes them far more effective than normal political movements which fail all the time. A consequence of this is that conspiracy theories are often proposed to explain why the results of an action by the conspiracy proposer’s side did not work. This ‘proves’ that not only were the proposer’s theories correct, but the ideal results were foiled by deliberate evil, exonerating them from attempting to discover if they have innacurate theories and policies, or from making any changes to how they behave.
When one’s favoured side looses, is often a clear sign of conspiracy. Thus I read a lot of conspiracy theory alleging that US Democrats are criminals and evil because some established members of the party can conspire or collaborate together against ‘the Left’ and out-manoeuvre them. To me, this sounds like normal politics in action; calling it conspiracy when one faction defeats another is possibly going too far. Clinton was better at the numbers game than Sanders. But this is probably what we should expect, given that Sanders had only recently joined the party and had not built allegiances, and was probably seen as a something of an opportunist by many members of the party. It does not need active evil.
Again the question arises, who is making this apparently normal internal politics into a conspiracy? Why are they doing so? And are they participating in a conspiracy themselves? The articles alleging dirty tricks in the Democrats seem to aim pretty clearly to discredit mainstream Democrats and persuade people not to vote for them. This benefits the Republicans. So we can wonder if this news is a Republican conspiracy, planted amongst the Left, to split potential democrat Voters? Or are the Left doing it to themselves? The articles might benefit the Republicans without them being a Republican conspiracy: effect does not always imply intent.
One thing that might convince people these articles are a Republican conspiracy is that they seem part of the “both sides are equally bad” meme which, at the moment, benefits the Republicans, especially as nobody points out the problems of their internal politics to such a degree. Also it seems notable that when the Republicans do bad things overseas, the articles say the US is doing bad things, but if it is the Democrats doing bad things, then that is pointed out. But this is not proof, only suggestion. What would be required would be the incredibly difficult work of tracking the articles as they circulate, and who they are circulated by.
Given the massive choice of conspiracies, when I see conspiracy theories in action, I look at what people do with them. If they primarily attack one side of politics, and largely ignore conspiracies which suggest the other side of politics is bad, then I guess they are working for the side which is not blamed, whether deliberately or otherwise.
While people can claim certain allegiances, their selection of conspiracy theories may indicate others or have the effect of supporting those others. But this may not itself be conspiracy.
Conclusion of part 1
People may work together without conspiring, and without even knowing they are working together. This kind of effect happens all the way through complex societies. People make things, which help other people to act. People have similar ideas without ever talking to each other and so on. This is normal, but the interdependence probably can be manipulated.
Interdependence can suggest conspiracy, but it is normal without conspiracy.
However, it is also plausible that members of the Ruling Classes do conspire with others against each other and against those they rule. They may well make use of people who see an advantage in supporting them, or who think that their rule is good and justifies support. These people may not only conspire, but they may use conspiracy theory to hide their own conspiring.
This is not inherently implausible. As implied it is likely that the way the ruling class rules resembles conspiracy.
This discussion continues in the next post, on probable conspiracy.