Conspiracy theory or conspiracy fact?
Let’s get down to business – ‘only conspiracy theorists like conspiracy theories.‘ That’s what I’m told. Those who are labelled as conspiracy theorists are labelled away and marginalised with a number of adjectives e.g. deranged, demented, fantasists, paranoid, delusional. And of course, the words ‘conspiracy theorist’ are enough to make, people to look away.
Lots of things have been in the back of my mind but recently some things came up that led me to think further on this.
- A few months ago loads of people including myself, were labelled away when they said that COVID-19 was engineered and not accidentally released from somewhere in China. In recent weeks sentiment has changed, especially in parts of the USA and Europe – and there is a growing consensus that we conspiracy theorists might have been right all along.
- A few months ago if you said that COVID-19 was an engineered bioweapon, you would have been labelled away.
- Some were also labelled in the same way when they said that the UK government was covering up the Indian variant of the virus. Hey ho – now sentiment has changed. So those who were once called conspiracy theorists, rule.
The nature of conspiracy is some of the following:
- People plotting to do something.
- Usually the same people keep their cards close to their chests.
Plot or plotting means that there is a degree of secrecy. A conspiracy may be real, false, speculative, etc.
“A conspiracy, also known as a plot, is a secret plan or agreement between persons (called conspirers or conspirators) for an unlawful or harmful purpose, such as murder or treason, especially with political motivation, while keeping their agreement secret from the public or from other people affected by it. In a political sense, conspiracy refers to a group of people united in the goal of usurping, altering or overthrowing an established political power. Depending on the circumstances, a conspiracy may also be a crime, or a civil wrong. The term generally implies wrongdoing or illegality on the part of the conspirators, as people would not need to conspire to engage in activities that were lawful and ethical, or to which no one would object.” [Wikipedia] I’d say that’s a pretty good definition.
“Conspiracies typically attempt to usurp political or economic power, violate rights, infringe upon established agreements, withhold vital secrets, or alter bedrock institutions.” [In Understanding Conspiracy Theories, Karen M. Douglas et al in Advances in Political Psychology, Vol. 40, Suppl. 1, 2019] The latter article is a fantastic read. It goes on to say “It is important for scholars to define what they mean by “conspiracy theorist” and “conspiracy theory” because—by signalling irrationality—these terms can neutralize valid concerns and delegitimize people (Harambam & Aupers, 2017; McKenzie-McHarg & Fredheim, 2017; Orr & Husting, 2018; Raikka & Basham, 2018). These terms can thus be weaponized, and because of this, people often deny that their ideas are conspiracy theories even though they clearly qualify.”
I say that the above definitions are incomplete because they assume that conspirators have consciously conspired. I say, that In the area of civil wrongs – known as tort – some conspiracies may be born of biases – and hence may be unconscious or unintended. I explain this later on.
The European Commission has gathered some core features of conspiracies that seem pretty sensible [which does not mean I love or hate the EC, just in case.]
1. An alleged, secret plot.
2. A group of conspirators.
3. ‘Evidence’ that seems to support the conspiracy theory.
4. They falsely suggest that nothing happens by accident and that there are no coincidences; nothing is as it appears and everything is connected.
5. They divide the world into good or bad.
6. They scapegoat people and groups.
Readers may – in a free country – may now embark on PhD theses on conspiracy.
Can a conspiracy be true?
The people who ask this sort of question are biased to believing that all or most conspiracies are false. There will be a high percentage of alleged conspiracies that appear to be false because it is so difficult to find evidence that exposes a covert operation. But there are conspiracies that are proved. Here is a list of 15 proved conspiracies.
Can a conspiracy be a hoax? Of course, it can. People get conned ‘all the time’ by conspirators. So if hoaxes can be true then conspiracies to defraud must be true too.
Evidence is often lacking for those who suggest the existence of a conspiracy. After all, a conspiracy is meant to be secretive. So people with patchy or incomplete evidence who suggest a conspiracy are easily labelled away. Get down to brass tacks – the people who are truly conspiring won’t be expected to say “Hey – this is our conspiracy. We are planning to do this. Here is our devious plot.” You don’t expect to be told, “I’m selling you junk. I know it’s junk. But this is a conspiracy so buy my junk now!”
Conspiracy is often taken to mean a conscious and intentional plot. But there are also plots that aren’t necessarily all worked out towards a purpose. How is that possible? That’s so easy. A group of people who don’t like X, may all be working in parallel to create an unfavourable picture of X. In the strange world of human minds, parallel tracks do meet, at some point in the distance. Did I say X is a person? I did not! X could be a person or some ‘thing’ (or ‘issue’ as I should say in this politically correct world).
I have no doubt that many will look at the diagram at left and be ‘confused’. For those who are not confused, it’s obvious that people and minds are part of cultures to a large extent. However, organisational culture is a very huge lens, which actually shapes the operation of minds.
People – respecting the integrity of their own minds – tend to believe that their outputs are their own, even though at some level they have and idea that that is not true.
The point is that organisational culture can bring minds to focus in certain ways. Hence things like institutional racism when found, leaves people feeling pretty rough. How? Individuals obviously don’t like to accept that they could have been part of a ‘racist operation’.
But the reality – when found as fact by a proper investigative authority – will be that they conspired in a cultural organisational matrix to deliver harm or discrimination of some sort to individuals or minority groups. Interestingly, investigative authorities or bodies don’t need to find hard evidence for every issue that leads them to their conclusions. They need only find sufficient or adequate evidence – not every micro detail. Ahhhh.. but nobody calls investigative bodies ‘conspiracy theorists’ because they have incomplete evidence. If it’s a single individual doing the same sort of thing, well that individual is at high risk of being labelled.
Okay – the power of investigative bodies to find biases and conspiracy fact, is different to that of a single individual. It’s less likely that a proper investigative body comprised of many experts, is deluded. It’s more probable that a single individual may be ‘deluded’ in not seeing the ‘world’ as it truly is. What this means is that conspiracies are formed among people and are better unearth by other groups of people with the right expertise.
Single individuals will have a hard time creating ‘credibility’. They may have patchy evidence, which means the ‘holes’ in their evidence may be seen as inconsistent or unreliable.
Impacts – conspiracy effects
The obvious impacts of conspiracies fall into the following areas (not a full list):
- Exploitation of people, groups, businesses
- Vilification of individuals, victimisation and marginalisation.
- Mental and physical adverse effects.
- Reputational damage to victims.
- Mistrust and paranoia.
- Financial impacts.
- Social impacts.
- Adverse political consequences.
I can’t imagine that there is a positive impact, except perhaps if a victim learns something new and becomes wiser.
This has the following features:
- A group focuses on an individual or organisation’s alleged failures.
- The supposed failures could be a pack of lies mixed with half-truths, and devoid of rich contexts.
- The individual or organisation has no chance to address the above with any credible counter evidence.
- Any attempt to defend honour, is taken as insightlessness, blame-shifting, externalisation, or excuse-making – leading into a deeper hole.
One can conceptualise the above in different ways: scapegoating, victimisation, bullying etc.
Conspiracies are very serious things. It’s not a joking matter. People should be careful not to label others as conspiracy theorists just because they provide little tangible or credible evidence. Some conspiracies even if a minority are real and true.
Conspiracies can have serious health, reputational, social, political and economic impacts.
Disclaimer & Guidance