By Peter Kreko
In an earlier post this year, Marley Morris and myself were writing about the importance of conspiracy theories in populist discourses and ideologies based on the French, Hungarian and Slovakian cases. This post will focus instead on the extremist threat of conspiracy theories.
Conspiracy theories are present in practically every violent intergroup conflict. And these theories are not just following violent events – they are driving them. The Russian official ideology and Kremlin-close media has been spreading conspiracy theories for years to justify the regime’s anti-western stance and give justification for the nationalist, expansionist goals of the Kremlin. The Middle East has always been and is a fertile ground for conspiracy theories – even the most ludicrous ones such as that Israel is distributing libido-increasing chewing gum in the Strip. At the heart of the ideology of the Islamic State we come across a theory that a part of the Muslim clergy is secretly conspiring with the West, plotting for the Crusaders to invade the Muslim World – and IS’s ‘defensive jihad’ is the only tool to prevent this epidemic of Westernization.
Conspiracy theories are extremely helpful for leaders provoking violent conflicts. They simplify the world, victimise the ingroup, diabolise the enemy, and give justification for violence against the outgroups, calling for “apocalyptic aggression”: “if we don’t defend ourselves today, they will destroy us tomorrow”.
By Jan Willem van Prooijen
London School of Economics
Whenever threatening, high profile events take place, conspiracy theories offering alternative explanations to the official narrative tend to emerge. One does not need to look far on social media to find sweeping statements about recent events, such as ‘Israel’s national intelligence agency Mossad committed the Charlie Hebdo attacks’, ‘Islamic State beheadings were staged by Hollywood producers’, or ‘the economic crisis in the EU was deliberately caused by the International Monetary Fund’.
Far-fetched as these conspiracy theories might be, it would be a mistake to portray conspiracy theorists as simply mentally ill: indeed some conspiracy theories – including theories that the CIA was behind the John F. Kennedy assassination, or that 9-11 was an inside job – are endorsed by a surprisingly large number of citizens. Moreover, conspiracy beliefs can have harmful consequences: people who believe that climate change is a hoax will be less motivated to reduce their carbon footprints; while people who believe that the pharmaceutical industry tries to harm instead of help the public through vaccines are less likely to get their child vaccinated. There is therefore good reason for the social sciences to conduct serious research on the psychology behind belief in conspiracy theories.
The link between political ideologies and conspiracy theories
Conspiracy theories often assume that politicians, or governmental institutions, are playing a role in a scheme or plot designed to harm or deceive the public. It therefore stands to reason that political ideology matters for the conspiracy theories that people consider to be plausible. As might be expected, the political left tends to be suspicious of the political right, and the political right tends to be suspicious of the political left. But the best predictor of belief in a given conspiracy theory is belief in another conspiracy theory: put simply, people often exhibit a ‘conspiratorial mindset’ that seems to transcend traditional left-right distinctions.
By Tony Sobrado
As any Philosopher of Science will tell you formal theories serve as explanations to observed phenomena, an association between the explanandum – the object of phenomena to be explained; and the explanans – the framework, concept or theory to be used as an the reference point for explanation. Pioneers in philosophy of Science such as Hempel coined this logic inference to the best explanation.
Employing a Meta theory that explains a form of social reality and existence has long been the goal of Philosophers who propagate abstract thinking and rules of logic to define and set the boundaries of ontology and epistemology. In Political Philosophy one often has the espousing of an Ideology: A set of ideas that best serve to explain political and social phenomena and thus attempting a correlation between the theory used in explanation with that of the “goings on” observed. For long periods in history Philosophers and Social Scientists have debated whether Liberalism, Marxism, Anarchism, Structuralism or Methodological Individualism best serve as theoretical explanations of social reality.
In this same instance we find Ideologists today who advocate Conspiracy Theory. Like so many others in the realm of theoretical and philosophical explanation they too employ ideal frameworks that account for observed phenomena. Regardless of the aspects that encompass specific conspiracy theories, whether they are single point conspiracy theories like 911 or Meta conspiracy theories of the New World Order, they all occupy the spectrum of political ideology. This is because they advocate an explanation for observed phenomena. As where Marxism does it through the lens of capitalism and its dialectic with the human essence, Liberalism through inalienable individual property rights, conspiracy theorists do it through the lens of an esoteric operating cabal – for instance a horde of business and political agents responsible for 911 and its cover up.
By Colin Todhunter
Films for Action
ment “Conspiracy Theories”
In recent years, populist explanations for world events have become common and often taken the form of anti-establishment conspiracy theories. The contradiction between how people believe the world should be, according to the mainstream propaganda pertaining to liberty and democracy, and how it is in this time of crisis leads people to search for easily digestible answers.
It’s easy for conspiracy theorists to play on people’s fears and prejudices and to point fingers at certain groups. In the past, it has been ‘the Jews’, ‘the Irish’, ‘the blacks’, ‘the Poles’ or some other easily identifiable target that was blamed for society’s ills. Resorting to selective interpretations of history or some simplistic Hollywood-esque inspired political or sci-fi narrative where giant reptiles are taking over the planet can be quite seductive, particularly for ‘right-leaning’ sections of the population who never had any truck with socialism and probably once believed in the ‘free market’ and capitalist liberal democracy but now have trouble in fathoming out why it has all gone wrong.
Conspiracy theories of different kinds have been found on both the left and the right of the political spectrum over the decades. While the right saw reds under the bed everywhere, the left regarded every negative event as a consequence of capitalism – what sociologists call ‘left functionalism’.
by R.J. Jacob
Conspiratorialism and traditional distrust in elites has shaped American history since its initial conception beginning with the Anglo-Republicanism of the 17th century and it’s conspiratorial views of Charles I and James II, to the Boston Tea Party British colonists who saw More…