A conspiracy theory is the attempt to explain certain events, conditions or developments by a conspiracy, i.e. the goal-oriented, secret actions of a group of people towards an illegal or illegitimate purpose. Often the term conspiracy theory is used in a degrading or defaming manner regarding opinions which are seen as unfounded, irrational, remote, paranoid or ideologically closed. On the other hand it is often used by supporters of irrational convictions as the easiest explanation of their failures. Ryke Geerd Hamer (Germanic New Medicine) for example claims the existence of a world wide Jewish conspiracy aimed at keeping their alleged knowledge hidden from non-Jews.
Conspiracy theories are eagerly applied because they typically form self-contained systems of arguments. These are composed in a way which makes it hard to refute them (falsifiability). In the eyes of supporters of a conspiracy theory, non-believers are either part of the conspiracy, or simply not aware enough.
Conspiracy theories often contradict each other and can sometimes be refuted that way, or at least have some doubts cast on them.
Typical characteristcs of a conspiracy theory are:
- There is an alleged elite behind the conspiracy, people with alleged or real power (e.g. in politics, science or economy). These can be secret societies operating in the background, or people officially occupying the corridors of power. This elite, and this is usually a fundamental issue, conceal their true motives and purposely deceive the public regarding their intentions. The brave conspiracy theorist Davids are fighting against powerful Goliath.
- Supporters of a conspiracy theory are members of a small minority who know the truth. Only they clearly see what should be obvious to everyone. But the small group of those who have seen through the conspiracy knows what is coming, and wants to warn everyone else. Often these small groups believe their movement is growing constantly.
- Questions are raised without actually wanting to receive answers. Usually these questions are counterfactual, making it difficult to unmask them. They are rhetorical in nature, even though they appear as legitimate questions. Even an in-depth answer to such a question does not stop conspiracy theorists from asking it over and over again.
- Conspiracy theorists have their own answers ready, the conspiracy theory, of course. At a closer look, however, they usually rely on numerous additional assumptions and implausible premises.
- Even facts which are objectively wrong will repeatedly be used in discussions. This works, as supporters of such theories are not interested in discerning the plausibility of arguments, but rather mean to confirm their preconceived opinions. Instead, they construct their arguments to match the results intended.
- Counter arguments will rarely be addressed since the central point is the confirmation of their conspiracy theory. There is no evaluation of pros and cons; claims are never tested for plausibility. The thesis justifies the arguments.
- Often the biggest contradiction of a conspiracy theory lies in the need for secrecy which is a central tenet of the conspiracy theory in itself. On the one hand, conspirators allegedly manage to keep huge operations secret, contrary to common experience, while at the same time they commit gross errors which will only be perceived by conspiracy theorists.
- A reality check never happens. They may move on to the next idea, but the flavour of the month theory is never evaluated. Thus the end of all times, the total enslavement, poisoning or control of all humanity is predicted time and again, without any of the predictions ever actually happening.
Versions of this article in other languages
- Deutsch: Verschwörungstheorie
- Wilson, Robert Anton(1998). Everything is under control. Harper Paperbacks