For those of us privileged enough to live in what's referred to as the industrialized world, where drinkable water (or at least close to it) comes out of pipes and electricity & wireless internet are ubiquitous and often free, the biggest problem that we face is generally each other.
Most people find themselves aligning with one team or another, each with it's own figureheads, dogma, and rhetoric. There's a team that wants to use force & coercion against others because of their religion or skin pigmentation. There's a team for those who want to use force & coercion against others to stop them from indulging in their so-called "vices."
Whatever issue you are most concerned with, there is a team that wants to use force & coercion to make everyone act the way you want, in order to deal with that issue. Theoretically, at least.
Each of the teams has certain code words they use, certain labels that, when applied to someone, make it obvious to observers that the person should be ignored and anything they say should be disregarded. Labels like "SJW", bigot, Climate Denier, Commie, and Nazi are just a few examples of what these pseudo-magical words that are used to make people disappear from the conversation.
The majority of these words are specific to one team or another, and that team uses them to make sure that people from the other team are dismissed, usually when making statements that would be difficult to actually face on their merits. In a rare piece of collaboration between Team Red & Team Blue, there is another label that they both use quite frequently, in order to shut down anyone who isn't goose-stepping in line with the rest. That bipartisan label, used by Fox News, CNN, MSNBC, and so many others, is Conspiracy Theorist.
What Does The Phrase Actually Mean?
Let's Break It Down: Conspiracy + Theory(ist)
It's always important to actually understand what the words we are using mean. So often, people just repeat things they've heard, regurgitate keywords they've been fed, and have literally no understanding of what is coming out of their mouth. For the purposes of this conversation, I'm going to take a look at the dictionary definition (Cambridge), the etymological history of the words, and the legal definition of conspiracy.
- Conspiracy: a secret plan made by two or more people to do something bad, illegal, or against someone’s wishes
- Theory: something suggested as a reasonable explanation for facts, a condition, or an event, esp. a systematic or scientific explanation
- Theorist: someone who develops ideas that explain events or behavior
Ok, so according to simply the dictionary definitions of the words, a conspiracy theory is a reasonable explanation of an event, resulting from a secret plan made by two or more people, and a conspiracy theorist is someone who develops these reasonable explanations. I'm certainly not hearing anything yet that would justify the extremely dismissive, mocking use of the term in the corporate media & public conversation.
Etymology (history of words)
- Conspiracy: mid-14c., "a plotting of evil, unlawful design; a combination of persons for an evil purpose," from Anglo-French conspiracie, Old French conspiracie "conspiracy, plot," from Latin conspirationem (nominative conspiratio) "agreement, union, unanimity," noun of action from past-participle stem of conspirare "to agree, unite, plot," literally "to breathe together" (see conspire).
- Theory: 1590s, "conception, mental scheme," from Late Latin theoria (Jerome), from Greek theōria "contemplation, speculation; a looking at, viewing; a sight, show, spectacle, things looked at," from theōrein "to consider, speculate, look at," from theōros "spectator," from thea "a view" (see theater) + horan "to see," which is possibly from PIE root *wer- (3) "to perceive."
Earlier in this sense was theorical (n.), late 15c. Sense of "principles or methods of a science or art" (rather than its practice) is first recorded 1610s (as in music theory, which is the science of musical composition, apart from practice or performance). Sense of "an intelligible explanation based on observation and reasoning" is from 1630s.
- Theorist: "one given to theory and speculation," 1590s; see theory + -ist.
Historically, these words seem to hold pretty similar meanings all the way back. The interesting piece, to me, is that the root conspirare translates to literally "breathe together," and the Latin didn't have the intrinsically negative connotation that the word has held since shifting into French.
A conspiracy occurs when two or more people agree to commit an illegal act and take some step toward its completion. Conspiracy is an inchoate crime because it does not require that the illegal act actually have been completed. For instance, a group of individuals can be convicted of conspiracy to commit burglary even if the actual burglary never happens. Conspiracy is also unique in that, unlike attempt, a defendant can be charged with both conspiracy to commit a crime, and the crime itself if the crime is completed.
Conspiracy first requires a showing that two or more people were in agreement to commit a crime. This agreement does not have to be formal or in writing. All that is required is that the parties had a mutual understanding to undertake an unlawful plan. Second, all conspirators must have the specific intent to commit the objective of the conspiracy. This means that someone who is entirely unaware that she is participating in a crime cannot be charged with conspiracy. For instance, if two sisters agree to rob a bank and ask their brother to drive them to the bank without informing him of their intent to commit a crime, he cannot be charged with conspiring in the robbery. This specific intent requirement does not require that each individual knows all the details of the crime or all of the members of the conspiracy. As long as an individual understands that the act being planned is a criminal one and proceeds nonetheless, he can be charged with conspiracy.
Finally, in most states, conspiracy requires an “overt act” taken in furtherance of the crime. This overt act does not have to be the crime itself, nor does it have to be an act that is illegal. Rather, the act must merely be a step taken in furtherance of the criminal objective, such as buying a weapon or holding a meeting to plan an attack. The act must also take place after the group of individuals has agreed to conspire. Actions taken before the agreement do not fulfill this requirement. While an “overt act” implies an affirmative action, some courts have held that silence can be an overt act where it is intentional, planned, and done in furtherance of the conspiracy.
I feel like the legal meaning here seems to be quite telling, when looking at the idea of the governmental & corporate conspiracies that we see so often. The fact that conspiracy doesn't require actually committing the crime that was planned, and that conspirators can (and are) often charged & convicted with crimes they didn't commit, simply because they were part of the originally agreement.
Another piece that feels quite important to the translation from "legal" to the real world is this: "or instance, if two sisters agree to rob a bank and ask their brother to drive them to the bank without informing him of their intent to commit a crime, he cannot be charged with conspiring in the robbery."
Take that example and apply it to something like the September 11th attacks. Someone who was told to give visas to the hijackers or someone who was part of the "war games" which kept the Air Force from stopping the planes, were aiding the crime in being committed, without being conspirators, or even knowing that a crime was taking place.
Like I Said, We're All Conspiracy Theorists
So, now that we've actually looked at what this phrase means, and we know that the US court system charges & convicts people for Conspiracy quite often, it becomes clear that conspiracy happens every day.
Even if you've never once questioned or wondered about anything that's referred to as a Conspiracy Theory in the media, you are certainly guilty many times over. If you believe that some people planned, in secret, to destroy buildings on 9/11/2001, then you're a conspiracy theorist. If you believe in any of the proven or supposed cases of voting fraud, you're a conspiracy theorist. Basically everything done by Monsanto, Haliburton, Blackwater, Google, or any of the other super-national corporations could qualify as conspiracy. District attorneys and most of the government's "justice system" are professional conspiracy theorists; their job is literally to present theories of conspiracies (or 1-person plots), and attempt to convince a jury/judge that their theory is correct.
Let's take a look at some well-known, widely-accepted, or even admitted/declassified Conspiracies:
- The Manhattan Project - Remember when the US, UK, and Canadian governments had over 100,000 people working on a completely secret project, under the threat of 10 years in prison or a $10,000 fine if they were to disclose anything.
- The Assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King - In late 1999, the family of MLK sued Loyd Jowers, as part of the conspiracy to assassinate MLK, and after more than a month in court, the jury unanimously agreed that Jowers was guilty, and "that others, including governmental agencies, were parties to this conspiracy as alleged by the defendant." (Transcripts: Full & Highlights)
- The "Government" poisoned alcohol during "Prohibition" - Pretty simple, the government pushed manufacturers of industrial alcohol to add methanol, pyridine, and benzene to their products, fully knowing that it would kill and blind thousands of people. (TIME, Slate, JSTOR)
- Operation Fast & Furious - From 2006-2011, the ATF and US Attorney's office illegally sold thousands of firearms as part of a "sting" operation, and lost track of many of them, ending up in the hands of gangs & drug cartels, and being used in multiple murders.
- The NSA (and through them CIA, etc.) is actively spying on everyone on Planet Earth - As everyone knows thanks to the whistle-blower Edward Snowden, the US government has been actively collecting and examining the communications of everyone, a la Enemy of the State.
- Operation Northwoods - In the 60s, the US government conspired to commit terrorist attacks (including crashing planes into buildings), in order blame them on the Cubans, and get the US into a war with Cuba. John F Kennedy refused to go along with the conspiracy. (Declassified Document)
- If you hadn't guessed yet, I could go on and on for days, just re-capping the publicly accepted & indisputable conspiracies of the US government (and you can be sure many other governments have the same kind of history), but I think this gives a bit of a starting point at least. I do have another article, focusing on the secret, consent-less human experimentation done by the US government over the past 100 years. There is also a giant list on Reddit of proven conspiracies to help get you started if you'd like to dive deeper.
When Did It Become A Pejorative?
Now, in the past few decades, this term has become more and more mainstream. The corporate news can't go a day without calling at least a few people conspiracy theorists, or comparing those questioning Epstein's death with people who believe in aliens. This is used as a simple & easy way to shut someone up when they don't want to toe the line, and that is completely intentional. Yep, the use of Conspiracy Theorist and the active push in media against the questioning of Official Stories is itself the result of a conspiracy. This conspiracy is one of those known, proven conspiracies, thanks to a FOIA request and the release of CIA Document 1035-960, titled Concerning Criticism of the Warren Report.
Now, the document is only a few pages long, so I highly recommend reading through the whole thing yourself. That said, let's take a look at just a few highlights:
Conspiracy theories have frequently thrown suspicion on our organization, for example by falsely alleging that Lee Harvey Oswald worked for us. The aim of this dispatch is to provide material countering and discrediting the claims of the conspiracy theorists, so as to inhibit the circulation of such claims in other countries. Background information is supplied in a classified section and in a number of unclassified attachments.
So, this particular document is referring specifically to the "Warren Commission," the official investigation & report of the Assassination of John F. Kennedy. Certainly the tactics included can be applied to all sorts of events just as easily.
To employ propaganda assets to [negate] and refute the attacks of the critics. Book reviews and feature articles are particularly appropriate for this purpose. The unclassified attachments to this guidance should provide useful background material for passing to assets. Our ploy should point out, as applicable, that the critics are (I) wedded to theories adopted before the evidence was in, (II) politically interested, (III) financially interested, (IV) hasty and inaccurate in their research, or (V) infatuated with their own theories.
You'll notice that their plan is to respond, not to the facts presented, but by exclusively committing logical fallacies. Now, you might think that this is simply a one-time thing that happened in the 1960s, but the CIA's involvement with (control over) media in the US and abroad is well-documented.
Since this piece is already quite long, and the CIA's ties to media aren't exactly central to my point, I'll just leave some links if you'd like to dive deeper:
- MintPressNews: Newly Declassified Documents Detail CIA’s Relationship With Media
- GlobalResearch: The CIA and the Media: 50 Facts the World Needs to Know
- New York Times: Worldwide Propaganda Network Built by the C.I.A.
- GlobalResearch: Weaponizing the Term “Conspiracy Theory”: Disinformation Agents and the CIA
- Corbett Report: Meet The Conspiracy Theorists (a collection of quotes from historical "conspiracy theorists" like Thomas Jefferson & Woodrow Wilson)
- The CIA and the Media: Hearings Before the Subcommittee on Oversight of the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence
Gone Too Far...
Don't Conspiracy Theorists Believe In Reptilian Overlords & Flat Earth?
Don't get me wrong here, there are most certainly folks out there ranting about absolutely insane ideas. There are a variety of reasons that these folks may be out there talking about the flat Earth, our reptilian overlords, the faked moon landing, and so many other things that seem more outlandish.
- Some of them are most certainly controlled opposition, part of a program like CoIntelPro, specifically working to discredit theories about actual conspiracies, and to create division among activist groups.
- Some of them are simply making money / building followings by putting out content about things that will draw people to them, specifically because their claims are so outlandish.
- I would guess that most people end up going down the path of extreme & unlikely conspiracies because either:
a. They followed the "rabbit holes" of so many true conspiracies, learned of the uncountable times that government & corporations most certainly did lie to them, and thus assumed that they are always lieing, or...
b. They lack critical thinking skills (which is almost a guarantee of those who suffered through 13+ years of government indoctrination camps referred to as "schools."
Whatever the intentions of those promoting conspiracy theories that are quite unlikely to be true, and certainly far outside the realm of what is an acceptable possibility for most, are at best wasting their time. Everyone knows their government lies in general, so presenting a single event where they did is simple. Asking people to consider the possibility that their entire understanding of reality is wrong... much trickier (whether true or not).
The real harm I see being done by these kinds of "tin foil hat" folks is that they are used as examples of why everyone who questions the official narrative should be ignored, and in some cases they actually cause division & conflict within movements/communities.
Taking the "Flat Earth" conspiracy as an example, this is quite obvious. Whether we want to look at the "Truth Movement" (generally focused on 9/11) or the "Freedom Movement" (generally focused on the promotion of anarchist principles), there has been a TON of division caused by the growth of the FE theories. People who may agree on goals AND tactics in making the world a better place, end up seeing each other as idiots, and often getting aggressive, simply because they believe the Earth is a different shape. Besides, according to Neil DeGrasse Tyson, the earth is pear-shaped.
I'm interested to hear your thoughts on this everybody. Would you agree that we're all conspiracy theorists?
This piece was inspired by someone on FedBook, when I shared my last post, who went off quite aggressively and replied mostly with a lot of logical fallacies & calling me a "conspiracy theorist" repeatedly. I decided to go through the way he communicated, and the actual points he made (many comments in) piece by piece in articles. So far, I have planned:
- Conspiracy Theorist? CHECK
- 97% Consensus... Apparently 100% as of 2019?
- ClimateGate is a bunch of non-sense?
- Who am I to talk about science? I don't have a PHD...
- The difference between Climate Change and Environmentalism