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For a list of conspiracy theories see: List of conspiracy theories

Conspiracy theory is a term that originally was a neutral descriptor for any claim of civil, criminal or political conspiracy. However, it has become largely pejorative and used almost exclusively to refer to any fringe theory which explains a historical or current event as the result of a secret plot by conspirators.[1]

Conspiracy theories are viewed with skepticism by the scientific community and academia, and often ridiculed by pundits, because they are rarely supported by any convincing evidence and contrast with institutional analysis, which focuses on people's collective behavior in publicly known institutions, as recorded in scholarly material and mainstream media reports, to explain historical or current events, rather than speculate on the motives and actions of secretive coalitions of individuals.[2][3]

The term is therefore often used dismissively in an attempt to characterize a belief as outlandishly false and held by a person judged to be a crank or a group confined to the lunatic fringe. Such characterization is often the subject of dispute due to its possible unfairness and inaccuracy.[4]

In the United States of the late 20th and early 21st centuries, conspiracy theories have become commonplace in mass media. This has contributed to conspiracism emerging as a cultural phenomenon and the possible replacement of democracy by conspiracy as the dominant paradigm of political action in the public mind. [2] 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."[5] Belief in conspiracy theories has therefore become a topic of interest for sociologists, psychologists and experts in folklore.

Contents

Terminology

The term "conspiracy theory" may be a neutral descriptor for any legitimate or illegitimate claim of civil, criminal or political conspiracy. To conspire means "to join in a secret agreement to do an unlawful or wrongful act or to use such means to accomplish a lawful end."[6] However, conspiracy theory is also used to indicate a narrative genre that includes a broad selection of (not necessarily related) arguments for the existence of grand conspiracies.[7]

The word "theory" is, in this usage, sometimes considered to be more informal as in "speculation" or "hypothesis" rather than mainstream scientific theory. Also, the term conspiracy is typically used to indicate powerful figures, often of the Establishment, who are believed to be deceiving the population at large, as in political corruption. Although some conspiracies are not actually theories, they are often labeled as such by the general populace.

The first recorded use of the phrase "conspiracy theory" dates from 1909. Originally it was a neutral term but during the political upheaval of the 1960s it acquired its current derogatory sense.[8] It entered the supplement to the Oxford English Dictionary as late as 1997.[9]

The term "conspiracy theory" is frequently used by scholars and in popular culture to identify secret military, banking, or political actions aimed at "stealing" power, money, or freedom, from "the people". Less illustrious uses refer to folklore and urban legend and a variety of explanatory narratives which are constructed with methodological flaws.[10] The term is also used in a pejorative sense to automatically dismiss claims that are deemed ridiculous, misconceived, paranoid, unfounded, outlandish or irrational. For example, the term "Watergate conspiracy theory" does not refer to the generally accepted version in which several participants actually were convicted of conspiracy, and others pardoned before any charges were filed, but to alternative and additional theories such as claims that that the source(s) of information called "Deep Throat" was a fabrication.[11]

Daniel Pipes, in an early essay "adapted from a study prepared for the CIA", attempted to define which beliefs distinguish 'the conspiracy mentality' from 'more conventional patterns of thought'. He defined them as: appearances deceive; conspiracies drive history; nothing is haphazard; the enemy always gains power, fame, money, and sex.[12]

According to West and Sanders, when talking about conspiracies in the Vietnam 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." [13]

Types

Political scientist Michael Barkun has categorized, in ascending order of breadth, the types of conspiracy theories as follows:[2]

  • 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.
  • 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, and the Illuminati, as well as theories centered on international 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 all-powerful evil force manipulating lesser conspiratorial actors. Superconspiracy theories have enjoyed particular growth since the 1980s, in the work of authors such as David Icke, and Milton William Cooper.

Conspiracism

A world view that centrally places conspiracy theories in the unfolding of history is sometimes termed "conspiracism". 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 then labels people's attitudes as well as the type of conspiracy theories that are more global and historical in proportion.[14] The term conspiracism was popularized by academic Frank P. Mintz in the 1980s. Academic work in conspiracy theories and conspiracism presents a range of hypotheses as a basis of studying the genre. Among the leading scholars of conspiracism are: Hofstadter, Karl Popper, Michael Barkun, Robert Alan Goldberg, Daniel Pipes, Mark Fenster, Mintz, Carl Sagan, George Johnson, and Gerald Posner.

According to Mintz, conspiracism denotes: "belief in the primacy of conspiracies in the unfolding of history":[15]

"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".[16]

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 most prominent examples; there have been numerous others.[17] In some cases there have been claims dismissed as conspiracy theories that later proved to be true.[18][19] 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."[20]

The term conspiracism is used in the work of Michael Kelly, Chip Berlet, and Matthew N. Lyons.

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".[21]

Criticism

Conspiracy theories are the subject of broad critique by academics, politicians, and the media.

Perhaps the most contentious aspect of a conspiracy theory is the problem of settling a particular theory's truth to the satisfaction of both its proponents and its opponents. Particular accusations of conspiracy vary widely in their plausibility, but some common standards for assessing their likely truth value may be applied in each case:

  • Occam's razor - does the alternative story explain more of the evidence than the mainstream story, or is it just a more complicated and therefore less useful explanation of the same evidence?
  • Logic - do the proofs offered follow the rules of logic, or do they employ fallacies of logic?
  • Methodology - are the proofs offered for the argument well constructed, i.e., using sound methodology? Is there any clear standard to determine what evidence would prove or disprove the theory?
  • Whistleblowers - how many people – and what kind – have to be loyal conspirators?
  • Falsifiability - is it possible to demonstrate that specific claims of the theory are false, or are they "unfalsifiable"?

Noam Chomsky, an academic critical of the United States establishment, contrasts conspiracy theory as more or less the opposite of institutional analysis, which focuses mostly on the public, long-term behaviour of publicly known institutions, as recorded in, e.g. scholarly documents or mainstream media reports, rather than secretive coalitions of individuals.[22]

Controversy

Aside from controversies over the merits of particular conspiratorial claims, the general discussion of conspiracy theory is itself a matter of some public contention.

The term "conspiracy theory" is considered by different observers to be a neutral description for a conspiracy claim, a pejorative term used to dismiss such a claim without examination, and a term that can be positively embraced by proponents of such a claim. The term may be used by some for arguments they might not wholly believe but consider radical and exciting. The most widely accepted sense of the term is that which popular culture and academic usage share, certainly having negative implications for a narrative's probable truth value.

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 at least some conspiracy theories.[23]

Given this popular understanding of the term, it can also be used illegitimately and inappropriately, as a means 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."[24]

Structuralist or institutional analysis shows that the term is misused when it is applied to institutions acting in pursuit of their acknowledged goals, e.g. when a group of corporations engage in price-fixing in order to increase profits.

Complications occurs 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."[24]

The term "conspiracy theory" is itself the object of a type of conspiracy theory, which argues that those using the term are manipulating their audience to disregard the topic under discussion, either in a deliberate attempt to conceal the truth, or as dupes of more deliberate conspirators.[citation needed]

When conspiracy theories are offered as official claims (e.g. originating from a governmental authority, such as an intelligence agency) they are not usually considered as conspiracy theories. For example, certain activities of the House Un-American Activities Committee may be considered to have been an official attempt to promote a conspiracy theory, yet its claims are seldom referred to as such.[citation needed]

Further difficulties arise from ambiguity regarding the term theory. In popular usage, this term is often used to refer to unfounded or weakly-based speculation, leading to the idea that "It's not a conspiracy theory if it's actually true".

Study of conspiracism

In 1936 American commentator H. L. Mencken wrote:

The central belief of every moron is that he is the victim of a mysterious conspiracy against his common rights and true deserts. He ascribes all his failure to get on in the world, all of his congenital incapacity and damfoolishness, to the machinations of werewolves assembled in Wall Street, or some other such den of infamy.[25]

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 US 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.

Psychological origins

According to some psychologists, a person who believes in one conspiracy theory tends to believe in others; a person who does not believe in one conspiracy theory tends not to believe another.[26] This may be caused by differences in the information upon which parties rely in formulating their conclusions.

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 formulating 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.[27]

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, in part because it is more consoling to think that complications and upheavals in human affairs, at least, 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.[28]

Projection

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. Richard Hofstadter, in his essay The Paranoid Style in American Politics, 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."[29]

Epistemic bias

Conspiracy theories are popular because no matter what they posit, they are all actually comforting, because they all are models of radical simplicity.

—Novelist William Gibson, October 2007.[30]

It is possible that certain basic human epistemic biases are projected onto the material under scrutiny. According to one study humans apply a 'rule of thumb' by which we expect a significant event to have a significant cause.[31] 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.

Another epistemic 'rule of thumb' that can be misapplied 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. However, this is also a valid rule of thumb for detectives to use when generating a list of suspects to investigate. Used in this way "Who had the motive, means and opportunity?" is a perfectly valid use of this rule of thumb.[citation needed]

Clinical psychology

For relatively rare individuals, an obsessive compulsion to believe, prove or re-tell a conspiracy theory may indicate one or more of several well-understood psychological conditions, and other hypothetical ones: paranoia, denial, schizophrenia, mean world syndrome.[32]

Socio-political origins

Christopher Hitchens represents conspiracy theories as the 'exhaust fumes of democracy'[citation needed], the unavoidable result of a large amount of information circulating among a large number of people. Other social commentators and sociologists argue that conspiracy theories are produced according to variables that may change within a democratic (or other type of) society.

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.[33]

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)[citation needed] require. Like moral panics, conspiracy theories thus occur more frequently within communities that are experiencing social isolation or political dis-empowerment.

Mark Fenster argues that "just because overarching conspiracy theories are wrong does not mean they are not on to something. Specifically, they ideologically address real structural inequities, and constitute a response to a withering civil society and the concentration of the ownership of the means of production, which together leave the political subject without the ability to be recognized or to signify in the public realm" (1999: 67).

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 (Fenster, 1999).

Conspiracy theorists on the internet are often dismissed as a "fringe" group, but evidence suggests that a broad cross section of Americans today believe in some conspiracy theories.

Media tropes

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.[34] 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.[35] Again, if this is a true observation, it may reflect a real change in how the media consumer perceives negative events.

Hollywood motion pictures and television shows perpetuate and enlarge belief in conspiracy as a standard functioning of corporations and governments. Feature films such as Enemy of the State and Shooter, among scores of others, propound conspiracies as a normal state of affairs, having dropped the idea of questioning conspiracies typical of movies of eras prior to about 1970. Shooter even contains the line, "that is how conspiracies work" in reference to the JFK murder. Interestingly, movies and television shows do the same as the news media in regard to personalizing and dramatizing issues which are easy to involve in conspiracy theories. Coming Home converts the huge problem of the returning injured Vietnam War soldier into the chance that the injured soldier will fall in love, and when he does, the strong implication is that the larger problem is also solved. This factor is a natural outcome of Hollywood script development which wishes to highlight one or two major characters which can be played by major stars, and thus a good way of marketing the movie is established but that rings false upon examination. Further, the necessity to serve up a dubiously justified happy ending, although expected by audiences, actually has another effect of heightening the sense of falseness and contrived stories, underpinning the public's loss of belief in virtually anything any mass media says. Into the vacuum of that loss of belief falls explanation by conspiracy theory.

Too, the act of dramatizing real or fictional events injects a degree of falseness or contrived efforts which media savvy people today can identify easily. "News" today is virtually always dramatized, at least by pitting "one side" against another in the fictional journalistic concept that all stories must contain "both sides" (as though reality could be reduced to two sides) or by using more intensive dramatic developments similar to feature movies. That is, by obvious dramatizing, the media reinforces the idea that all things are contrived for someone's gain which could be another definition of, at least, political conspiracies theories. --Dr. Charles Harpole in "History of American Cinema" Scribner/U. Calif Press.

Fusion paranoia

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 claimed were motivated by a shared belief in conspiracism or anti-government views.

Social critics have 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 millenarian scenarios in the United States of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. They warn that this development may not only fuel lone wolf terrorism but have devastating effects on American political life, such as the rise of a revolutionary right-wing populist movement capable of subverting the established political powers.[36]

Daniel Pipes, a Jerusalem Post journalist, wrote in the 2004 article Fusion paranoia:

Fears of a petty conspiracy – a political rival or business competitor plotting to do you harm – are as old as the human psyche. But fears of a grand conspiracy – that the Illuminati or Jews plan to take over the world – go back only 900 years and have been operational for just two centuries, since the French Revolution. Conspiracy theories grew in importance from then until World War II, when two arch-conspiracy theorists, Hitler and Stalin, faced off against each other, causing the greatest blood-letting in human history. This hideous spectacle sobered Americans, who in subsequent decades relegated conspiracy theories to the fringe, where mainly two groups promoted such ideas.

The politically disaffected: Blacks (Louis Farrakhan, Cynthia McKinney), the hard Right (John Birch Society, Pat Buchanan), and other alienated elements (Ross Perot, Lyndon LaRouche). Their theories imply a political agenda, but lack much of a following.

The culturally suspicious: These include "Kennedy assassinologists," "ufologists," and those who believe a reptilian race runs the earth and alien installations exist under the earth's surface. Such themes enjoy enormous popularity (a year 2000 poll found 43 percent of Americans believing in UFOs), but carry no political agenda.

The major new development, reports Barkun, professor of political science in the Maxwell School at Syracuse University, is not just an erosion in the divisions between these two groups, but their joining forces with occultists, persons bored by rationalism. Occultists are drawn to what Barkun calls the "cultural dumping ground of the heretical, the scandalous, the unfashionable, and the dangerous" – such as spiritualism, Theosophy, alternative medicine, alchemy, and astrology. Thus, the author who worries about the Secret Service taking orders from the Bavarian Illuminati is old school; the one who worries about a "joint Reptilian-Bavarian Illuminati" takeover is at the cutting edge of the new synthesis. These bizarre notions constitute what the late Michael Kelly termed "fusion paranoia," a promiscuous absorption of fears from any source whatsoever.[37]

Political use

In his two volume work The Open Society and Its Enemies Popper used the term "conspiracy theory" to criticize the ideologies driving fascism, Nazism, Marxism and communism. Popper argued that totalitarianism was founded on "conspiracy theories" which drew on imaginary plots driven by paranoid scenarios predicated on tribalism, chauvinism, racism or classism. 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 & Its Enemies).

In his critique of Marx and the twentieth century totalitarians, Popper wrote, I do not wish to imply that conspiracies never happen. On the contrary, they are typical social phenomena.[38]

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."[38]

Popper proposed the term "the conspiracy theory of society" to criticize the methodology of Marx, Hitler and others whom he deemed to be deluded by "historicism" - the reduction of history to an overt and naive distortion via a crude formulaic analysis usually predicated on an agenda replete with unsound presuppositions.[39]

Fiction

Because of their dramatic potential, conspiracies are a popular theme in thrillers and science fiction. Complex history is recast as a morality play in which bad people cause bad events, and good people identify and defeat them. Fictional conspiracy theories offer neat, intuitive narratives, in which the conspirators' plot fits closely the dramatic needs of the story's plot. As mentioned above, the cui bono? aspect of conspiracy theories resembles one element of mystery stories: the search for a possibly hidden motive.

Dr. Strangelove was a 1964 comedy about modern nuclear warfare. The end of the world is precipitated by the delusions of General Jack D. Ripper who happens to be in control of a SAC nuclear air wing. General Ripper believes there is a Communist conspiracy which threatens to "sap and impurify" the "precious bodily fluids" of the American people with fluoridated water.

Conspiracy Theory is a 1997 thriller about a taxi driver (played by Mel Gibson) who publishes a newsletter in which he discusses what he suspects are government conspiracies, and it turns out that one or more of them are true.

The X-Files was a popular television show during the 1990s and early 2000s, which followed the investigations of three FBI agents, Fox Mulder, Dana Scully and John Doggett, who were sometimes helped by a group of conspiracy theorists known as The Lone Gunmen. Many of the episodes dealt with a plot for alien invasion overseen by elements of the U.S. government, led by an individual known only as the Cigarette Smoking Man and an even more mysterious international "Syndicate". The famous tag line of the series, "The Truth Is Out There", can be interpreted as reference to the meaning-seeking nature of the genre discussed above.

Umberto Eco's novel Foucault's Pendulum is a broad satire on conspiracism in which the characters attempt to construct an all-embracing conspiracy theory starting with the Templars and including the Bavarian Illuminati, the Rosicrucians, hollow Earth enthusiasts, the Cathars, and the Jesuits.

The three-part novel Illuminatus! by Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson (published in 1975) is a highly satirical, psychedelic novel dealing with complex, Byzantine conspiracies nested within other larger conspiracies—with the scale of the plots and the audacity of their plotters expanding to enfold more and more minds as the story progresses, evolving to wrap itself around many extant conspiracy theories such as the ones revolving around the Bavarian Illuminati, the Masons, the Vatican, the Mafia, governments large and small, and fringe groups of both left and right-wing persuasions. Their plottings merge with the overarching plans of several fictitious organizations—and also an actual "religion" which conceives of itself as a joke (the Discordians.) In an ironic twist of fate, Illuminatus! may have even caused the development of a real-world Discordian society (which manifests in loose clusters of affiliation, rather than as any formalized group) when the novel's cult success as a countercultural mainstay brought the "holy writ" of the Discordians, the Principia Discordia, out of obscurity over the final three decades of the twentieth century. Shea and Wilson used witty quotes drawn from this comedic pamphlet glorifying Eris, the Greek goddess of chaos and discord, as opening lines for chapters of the Illuminatus! books.

The 2003 novel Elvis and the Blue Moon Conspiracy by Mark McGinty tells the satirical story of the 1969 moon landing, where Elvis Presley accompanies astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to the lunar surface and becomes the first man to walk on the moon. An accident on the surface causes NASA to abort the mission and broadcast a version of the landing without Elvis, later dubbed a "hoax" by a little known reporter named Dani Mitchell. Proving a humorous look at several conspiracy theories from the 1960s, the book ties together the assassination of JFK, the deaths of Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe and the first moon landing.

Conspiracy theories have even influenced video games. The critically acclaimed RPG/shooter Deus Ex, and its sequel (albeit to a lesser degree), Deus Ex: Invisible War, draw upon current-day conspiracy theories such as Majestic 12, Area 51, and the Illuminati.

Other novels, such as Dan Brown's 2000 controversial book "Angels and Demons" have also popularized the idea of conspiracy theories. The book surrounds the quest of Robert Langdon, a fictional Harvard University symbologist who is bent on uncovering the mysteries of a secret society known as the Illuminati. Brown's novel, and others alike, harp on the ideas of the unknown, a life source for conspiracy theorists.

Michael Barkun, a political scientist specializing in the study of conspiracism in American culture, notes that a vast popular audience has been introduced by the 1997 film Conspiracy Theory to the notion that the U.S. government is controlled by a secret team in black helicopters - a view once confined to right-wing extremists.[2]

See also

Concepts

Notes

  1. ^ James McConnachie and Robin Tudge, The rough guide to conspiracy theories (2005)
  2. ^ a b c d Barkun, Micheal (2003). A Culture of Conspiracy: Apocalyptic Visions in Contemporary America. University of California Press; 1 edition. ISBN 0520238052. 
  3. ^ Domhoff, G. William (2005). Who Rules America? Power, Politics, and Social Change. McGraw-Hill Humanities/Social Sciences/Languages; 5 edition. ISBN 0072876255. 
  4. ^ Fenster, M. 1999. Conspiracy theories: Secrecy and power in American culture. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
  5. ^ Harry G. West, Todd Sanders. (2003) Transparency and conspiracy: ethnographies of suspicion in the new world order. Duke University Press. pp 4.
  6. ^ Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary, p. 243 (8th ed. 1976).
  7. ^ Ramsay, Robin (2006). Conspiracy Theories, Pocket Essentials. ISBN 190404865X.
  8. ^ "20th Century Words" (1999) John Ayto, Oxford University Press, p. 15.
  9. ^ Plots, paranoia and blame by Peter Knight, BBC News 7 December 2006.
  10. ^ Johnson, 1983
  11. ^ Slate Magazine
  12. ^ Daniel Pipes, in Orbis, Winter 1992: "Dealing with Middle Eastern Conspiracy Theories".
  13. ^ Transparency and conspiracy: ethnographies of suspicion in the new world order. Harry G. West, Todd Sanders. pp 207.
  14. ^ Bailyn, Bernard (1992). The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution:. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. ASIN: B000NUF6FQ. ISBN 978-0-674-44302-0. 
  15. ^ Mintz, Frank P. (1985). The Liberty Lobby and the American Right: Race, Conspiracy, and Culture. Westport, CT: Greenwood. p. 4. ISBN 0-313-24393-X. 
  16. ^ Mintz, Frank P. (1985) [1985]. The Liberty Lobby and the American Right: Race, Conspiracy, and Culture. Westport, CT: Greenwood. p. 199. ISBN 0-313-24393-X. 
  17. ^ Arendt, Hannah (1973) [1953]. The Origins of Totalitarianism. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. 
  18. ^ Fenster, Mark. Conspiracy Theories: Secrecy and Power in American Culture. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. 
  19. ^ Dean, Jodi. Aliens in America: Conspiracy Cultures from Outerspace to Cyberspace. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press. 
  20. ^ Cumings, Bruce. The Origins of the Korean War, Vol. II, The Roaring of the Cataract, 1947–1950. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. 
  21. ^ Berlet, Chip; Lyons, Matthew N.. Right-Wing Populism in America: Too Close for Comfort. New York: Guilford Press. 
  22. ^ Michael Albert, quoting from Zmagazine. "Conspiracy Theory". http://zena.secureforum.com/znet/ZMag/articles/oldalbert19.htm. Retrieved 2007-08-23. 
  23. ^ Transparency and conspiracy: ethnographies of suspicion in the new world order. Harry G. West, Todd Sanders. pp 4.
  24. ^ a b questionsquestions.net, "The JFK Assassination II: conspiracy phobia on the left", Michael Parenti, 1996
  25. ^ H. L. Mencken, Baltimore Evening Sun, June 15, 1936
  26. ^ Goertzel (1994). "Belief in Conspiracy Theories". Political Psychology 15: 733–744. doi:10.2307/3791630. http://www.crab.rutgers.edu/~goertzel/conspire.doc. Retrieved 2006-08-07. 
  27. ^ Karen Douglas and Robbie Sutton (in press). "The hidden impact of conspiracy theories: Perceived and actual influence of theories surrounding the death of Princess Diana". Journal of Social Psychology. 
  28. ^ Baigent, Michael; Leigh, Richard; Lincoln, Henry (1987). The Messianic Legacy. Henry Holt & Co. ISBN 0805005684. 
  29. ^ Hofstadter, Richard. The Paranoid Style in American Politics. Harper's Magazine, November 1964, pp. 77–86.
  30. ^ Beers, David (October 18, 2007). "William Gibson Hates Futurists". The Tyee. http://thetyee.ca/Books/2007/10/18/WillGibson/. Retrieved January 2, 2010. 
  31. ^ "Who shot the president?," The British Psychological Society, March 18, 2003 (accessed June 7, 2005).
  32. ^ "Top 5 New Diseases: Media Induced Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (MIPTSD)," The New Disease: A Journal of Narrative Pathology 2 (2004), (accessed June 7, 2005).
  33. ^ Vedantam, Shankar (2006-06-05). "Born With the Desire to Know the Unknown". The Washington Post (The Washington Post): p. A02. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/06/04/AR2006060400618.html. Retrieved 2006-06-07. "Conspiracy theories explain disturbing events or social phenomena in terms of the actions of specific, powerful individuals," said sociologist Theodore Sasson at Middlebury College in Vermont. By providing simple explanations of distressing events — the conspiracy theory in the Arab world, for example, that the September 11, 2001, attacks were planned by the Israeli Mossad — they deflect responsibility or keep people from acknowledging that tragic events sometimes happen inexplicably."
  34. ^ Ivan Emke, "Agents and Structures: Journalists and the Constraints on AIDS Coverage," Canadian Journal of Communication 25, no. 3 (2000), (accessed June 7, 2005).
  35. ^ "The Blame Game". BBC News. 6 September 2005. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/4217024.stm. Retrieved 2007-08-23. 
  36. ^ Barkun, Michael. 2003. A Culture of Conspiracy: Apocalyptic Visions in Contemporary America. Berkeley: Univ. of California.
  37. ^ Pipes, Daniel (2004). Fusion Paranoia. http://pqasb.pqarchiver.com/jpost/access/525174951.html?dids=525174951:525174951&FMT=ABS&FMTS=ABS:FT&date=Jan+14%2C+2004&author=DANIEL+PIPES&pub=Jerusalem+Post&edition=&startpage=13&desc=Fusion+paranoia. Retrieved 2009-06-11. 
  38. ^ a b "Extracts from "The Open Society and Its Enemies Volume 2: The High Tide of Prophecy: Hegel, Marx and the Aftermath" by Karl Raimund Popper (Originally published 1945)". Lachlan Cranswick, quoting Karl Raimund Popper. http://lachlan.bluehaze.com.au/books/popper_open_society.html. Retrieved 2007-08-23. 
  39. ^ Popper, Karl (1966). The Open Society and Its Enemies. Princeton University Press. 

References

  • American Heritage Dictionary, "Conspiracy theory"
  • Barkun, Michael. 2003. A Culture of Conspiracy: Apocalyptic Visions in Contemporary America. Berkeley: University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-23805-2
  • Chase, Alston. 2003. Harvard and the Unabomber: The Education of an American Terrorist. New York: W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN 0-393-02002-9
  • Fenster, Mark. 1999. Conspiracy Theories: Secrecy and Power in American Culture. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press. ISBN 0-8166-3243-X
  • Goldberg, Robert Alan. 2001. Enemies Within: The Culture of Conspiracy in Modern America. New Haven & London: Yale University Press. ISBN 0-300-09000-5
  • Hofstadter, Richard. 1965. The Paranoid Style in American Politics and Other Essays. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. ISBN 0-674-65461-7
  • Johnson, George 1983. Architects of Fear: Conspiracy Theories and Paranoia in American Politics. Los Angeles: Jeremy P. Tarcher, Inc. ISBN 0-87477-275-3
  • McConnachie, James. and Robin Tudge, The rough guide to conspiracy theories (2005)
  • Melley, Timothy. 1999. Empire of Conspiracy: The Culture of Paranoia in Postwar America. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press. ISBN 0-8014-8606-8
  • Mintz, Frank P. 1985. The Liberty Lobby and the American Right: Race, Conspiracy, and Culture. Westport, CT: Greenwood. ISBN 0-313-24393-X
  • Pipes, Daniel. 1997. Conspiracy: How the Paranoid Style Flourishes and Where It Comes from. New York: The Free Press. ISBN 0-684-87111-4
  • ---. 1998. The Hidden Hand: Middle East Fears of Conspiracy. New York: St. Martin's Press. ISBN 0-312-17688-0
  • Popper, Karl R. 1945. The Open Society and Its Enemies. Princeton: Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-01968-1
  • Posner, Gerald. 1993. Case Closed: Lee Harvey Oswald and the Assassination of JFK. New York: The Random House. ISBN 0-385-47446-6
  • Sagan, Carl. 1996. The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark. New York: The Random House. ISBN 0-394-53512-X
  • Vankin, Jonathan, and John Whalen. 2004. The 80 Greatest Conspiracies of All Time. New York: Citadel Press. ISBN 0-8065-2531-2

Further reading

Conspiracist literature

External links








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