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Speaker: Why we should not dismiss conspiracy theories

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  • Kumara Republic,

    There's probably no conspiracy theory more infamous than the Elders of Zion - it took only a generation for it to go from conspiracy theory to mainstream opinion to genocide. And Eurabia is threatening to go down the same path.

    The southernmost capital … • Since Nov 2006 • 5430 posts Report Reply

  • Matthew Poole,

    Where most conspiracists fall down is a response along the lines of "That's just what 'they' want you to think" when faced with some compelling piece of official evidence that contradicts the theory.

    That and the supposed ability of necessarily hundreds, if not thousands, of people to actually Keep. A. Secret!

    Auckland • Since Mar 2007 • 4097 posts Report Reply

  • HORansome,

    The history of the writing of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion is a great example of an actual conspiracy for the purposes of generating an unwarranted conspiracy theory. I don’t have many complementary things to say about David Aaronovitch’s “Voodoo Histories” but his coverage of the Protocols illustrates this point nicely.

    Oh, and for people who don't know, I, HORansome, am the very same "Matthew Dentith" whose chapter excerpt you have just read.

    Tāmaki Makaurau • Since Sep 2008 • 441 posts Report Reply

  • HORansome, in reply to Matthew Poole,

    Where most conspiracists fall down is a response along the lines of “That’s just what ‘they’ want you to think” when faced with some compelling piece of official evidence that contradicts the theory.

    Yes and no: the "that's what they want you to believe" is a perfectly acceptable response if you can actually prove the existence of a conspiracy. For example, Stalin's regime successfully conspired to get the verdicts they wanted in the Moscow Trials and the Dewey Commission proved that. However, no one believed the Dewey Commission report because of disinformation put out by Stalin and his cronies. Effectively both sides said "That's what they want you to believe!" but one side said that knowing the other side was actually conspiring to hide the truth of what happened.

    Tāmaki Makaurau • Since Sep 2008 • 441 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson,

    I see quite a strong parallel between calling "conspiracy theory" on a debate and calling "Godwin" on it. Neither is a strong argument of any kind but they put a very powerful spin on the ridiculousness of what they're calling out. Sometimes it's warranted, but one has to remember that being unable to actually argue conspiracy theories lends aid to genuine conspiracies, and being unable to even mention Nazi parallels lends aid to actual fascists. Both of which are actually real things.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10653 posts Report Reply

  • HORansome, in reply to BenWilson,

    Aye. I think it's true that when we generally disparage theories about conspiracies, it does make it easier for some people to successfully conspire. For example, most of us* thought it was ludicrous the American intelligence agencies where spying on all and sundry, which made it all the easier for said agencies to claim said theories about what they were actually doing were the ramblings of conspiracy theorists.

    * Though surely none of us explicitly.

    Tāmaki Makaurau • Since Sep 2008 • 441 posts Report Reply

  • Nick Melchior,

    It might be helpful to have some examples of conspiracy theories that do make sense as a way of getting my head around what you're talking about here. All the specific examples given are fairly negative ones.

    Melbourne • Since Nov 2006 • 36 posts Report Reply

  • HORansome, in reply to Nick Melchior,

    It might be helpful to have some examples of conspiracy theories that do make sense as a way of getting my head around what you're talking about here. All the specific examples given are fairly negative ones.

    Fair enough:

    The Moscow Trials
    The Gulf of Tonkin incident
    The Watergate Scandal
    The General Motors Streetcar Conspiracy
    The Ford Pinto

    Also, arguably any explanation of the events of 9/11 is a conspiracy theory (given that if you accept the official theory you accept a theory about a conspiracy by terrorists to attack mainland America), only one of which will be warranted by the evidence.

    Tāmaki Makaurau • Since Sep 2008 • 441 posts Report Reply

  • Kumara Republic, in reply to BenWilson,

    I see quite a strong parallel between calling “conspiracy theory” on a debate and calling “Godwin” on it. Neither is a strong argument of any kind but they put a very powerful spin on the ridiculousness of what they’re calling out. Sometimes it’s warranted, but one has to remember that being unable to actually argue conspiracy theories lends aid to genuine conspiracies, and being unable to even mention Nazi parallels lends aid to actual fascists. Both of which are actually real things.

    If you want to reinforce an argument without resorting to Godwinning, look no further than Umberto Eco's Eternal Fascism:
    Fourteen Ways of Looking at a Blackshirt
    . Obsessions with conspiracy theories are one of them.

    7. To people who feel deprived of a clear social identity, Ur-Fascism says that their only privilege is the most common one, to be born in the same country.

    This is the origin of nationalism. Besides, the only ones who can provide an identity to the nation are its enemies. Thus at the root of the Ur-Fascist psychology there is the obsession with a plot, possibly an international one. The followers must feel besieged. The easiest way to solve the plot is the appeal to xenophobia. But the plot must also come from the inside: Jews are usually the best target because they have the advantage of being at the same time inside and outside. In the United States, a prominent instance of the plot obsession is to be found in Pat Robertson's The New World Order, but, as we have recently seen, there are many others.

    The southernmost capital … • Since Nov 2006 • 5430 posts Report Reply

  • David Hood, in reply to Nick Melchior,

    It might be helpful to have some examples of conspiracy theories that do make sense

    http://spectrum.ieee.org/geek-life/history/the-great-lightbulb-conspiracy

    Dunedin • Since May 2007 • 1445 posts Report Reply

  • Kumara Republic, in reply to HORansome,

    The Moscow Trials
    The Gulf of Tonkin incident
    The Watergate Scandal
    The General Motors Streetcar Conspiracy
    The Ford Pinto

    Most, if not all the above, were eventually exposéd by investigative journos. They're more important than ever in this public relations-dominated day & age.

    The southernmost capital … • Since Nov 2006 • 5430 posts Report Reply

  • Ian Dalziel,

    piracy & cons...
    What does a 'Conspiracy Theory' become if it is proven?
    A cartel?
    A Commission?
    in a world full of machinations, schemers, plotters and chancers we must be surrounded by them...

    Conspiracy Theory: a belief that some covert but influential organization is responsible for an unexplained event.

    When really at its simplest it need only be two people sharing breath and plotting an altering of someone else's reality...

    The TPPA is to all intents and purposes a Conspiracy of Silence!

    Christchurch • Since Dec 2006 • 7944 posts Report Reply

  • Lilith __, in reply to BenWilson,

    being unable to even mention Nazi parallels lends aid to actual fascists

    It’s not a Godwin if the comparison is actually relevant.

    Godwin’s law applies especially to inappropriate, inordinate, or hyperbolic comparisons of other situations (or one’s opponent) with Nazis – often referred to as “playing the Hitler card”. The law and its corollaries would not apply to discussions covering known mainstays of Nazi Germany such as genocide, eugenics, or racial superiority, nor, more debatably, to a discussion of other totalitarian regimes or ideologies, if that was the explicit topic of conversation, because a Nazi comparison in those circumstances may be appropriate

    [ Wikipedia ]

    Dunedin • Since Jul 2010 • 3891 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to HORansome,

    Aye. I think it’s true that when we generally disparage theories about conspiracies, it does make it easier for some people to successfully conspire.

    The most notable recent example has been the way John Key has consistently referred to Nicky Hager: as variously, "a conspiracy theorist", "a left wing conspiracy theorist" and even "a screaming left wing conspiracy theorist".

    The line was being deployed preemptively, before Dirty Politics was even published. And it was quite effective. The number of people who can't perceive a difference between Hager and Ian Wishart is quite remarkable.

    In the terms of your argument, of course, Hager is a conspiracy theorist.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22834 posts Report Reply

  • Joe Wylie, in reply to Russell Brown,

    In the terms of your argument, of course, Hager is a conspiracy theorist.

    Those terms of argument eh. I seem to recall Graeme Edgeler, in party-pooper mode here a while back, arguing that Nelson Mandela was in fact a terrorist.

    flat earth • Since Jan 2007 • 4593 posts Report Reply

  • Greg Dawson, in reply to Joe Wylie,

    Those terms of argument eh. I seem to recall Graeme Edgeler, in party-pooper mode here a while back, arguing that Nelson Mandela was in fact a terrorist.

    And (almost) everyone's a liar, and ridiculous but accurate fact b and ridiculous but accurate fact c and... Quick way to end up nowhere.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 294 posts Report Reply

  • HORansome, in reply to Joe Wylie,

    Well, Mandela was an agent of terror by some definitions, but I suppose the issue is how does the common usage apply here? We tend to think of people who are like terrorists but fight for just causes as "freedom fighters", and there's some literature on how certain world powers have tried to get us to use terrorist rather than freedom fighter in order to win a PR war in the eternal war on terror.

    In my work I reject the common usage of "conspiracy theorist" and "conspiracy theory" as a pejorative because working with a pejorative term influences the debate. If you define conspiracy theories generally as a species of irrational belief, then any question about whether a particular conspiracy theory is justified with respect to the evidence gets muddied with lingustic gymnastics as to why this particular theory about a conspiracy isn't really a conspiracy theory (or how what was once considered a conspiracy theory is not one anymore).

    Tāmaki Makaurau • Since Sep 2008 • 441 posts Report Reply

  • HORansome, in reply to Kumara Republic,

    Most, if not all the above, were eventually exposéd by investigative journos. They're more important than ever in this public relations-dominated day & age.

    Meanwhile, the Police raid Nicky Hager's home...

    Tāmaki Makaurau • Since Sep 2008 • 441 posts Report Reply

  • Kyle Matthews,

    What does a ‘Conspiracy Theory’ become if it is proven?

    It just drops the theory and becomes a conspiracy (or, it was always a conspiracy, but now we just know about it).

    Since Nov 2006 • 6243 posts Report Reply

  • Kumara Republic, in reply to Russell Brown,

    The number of people who can't perceive a difference between Hager and Ian Wishart is quite remarkable.

    In the terms of your argument, of course, Hager is a conspiracy theorist.

    If Hager & Wishart both claim to be investigative journos with a conspiracy theory streak, then what's the biggest separation between them? My guess is that Hager is reality-based, while Wishart is faith-based.

    The southernmost capital … • Since Nov 2006 • 5430 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to HORansome,

    Meanwhile, the Police raid Nicky Hager’s home…

    Whoa, WTF?

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10653 posts Report Reply

  • HORansome, in reply to Kyle Matthews,

    Ah, but that only works if you implicitly accept that the term “conspiracy theory” isn’t really a pejorative marking out irrational beliefs. Many academics, journalists and politicos tend to use “conspiracy theory” to refer to some belief which is clearly nonsense and the product of conspiracism (i.e. a conspiracy theory is something not based upon evidence nor good argument). If such a theory comes to be proven, they have to go through a whole bunch of metaphysical mechanics to show how it wasn’t really a conspiracy theory at all (consider David Aaronovitch’s “Voodoo Histories”: he starts the book by claiming conspiracy theories are nonsense and then spends the next half of the book trying to show how the conspiracy theories he accepts as being warranted aren’t really conspiracy theories).

    Tāmaki Makaurau • Since Sep 2008 • 441 posts Report Reply

  • Joe Wylie, in reply to HORansome,

    Well, Mandela was an agent of terror by some definitions, but I suppose the issue is how does the common usage apply here?

    In the context of which that assertion was made, the argument seemed to be that the narrow legal definition trumped the wider judgement of posterity – i.e. the popular will.

    Part of the attraction of apparent conspiracy theories seems that they give an illusion of power to the powerless – the eureka moment of “I was right, everything I knew was wrong!”

    flat earth • Since Jan 2007 • 4593 posts Report Reply

  • HORansome, in reply to Russell Brown,

    The line was being deployed preemptively, before Dirty Politics was even published. And it was quite effective. The number of people who can’t perceive a difference between Hager and Ian Wishart is quite remarkable.

    In the terms of your argument, of course, Hager is a conspiracy theorist.

    Indeed. As are you, what with your remonstrations of Messrs. Farrar, Williams and Graham on Twitter the other day. :)

    Tāmaki Makaurau • Since Sep 2008 • 441 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson,

    As Wolverine said to Captain America: "Terrorists! That's what the big army calls the little army".

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10653 posts Report Reply

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