On “good” and “bad” conspiracy theories

From Jonathan Simon:


In light of certain of the comments on David Ray Griffin’s post, I think it is time to come more fully to grips with the term “conspiracy theory” as it has come to be used as the death ray of the “see no evil” establishment. The term itself–far more, I think, than such other brilliant propaganda formulations as “death tax,” “pro-life,” and “surge”–“settles” arguments on the spot, packing 20 megatons of discredit without actually proving or disproving anything.

The problem of course lies in the nearly limitless breadth of the bounds of thought and imagination, such that one can concoct a conspiracy theory for just about anything, so that the question becomes where to set the bar of plausibility. Right now, courtesy mostly of the punditry and MSM, the bar is set about an inch from the official story when that story is deemed necessary (by these elites) to preserve the public calm and social order. So–and there’s a real mathematics to this–when
the conspiracy theory is a very, very¬†disturbing one (e.g., 9/11 or computerized election theft in the US), the evidence required to trigger a serious official investigation has to meet so high a burden of proof that it could only come from such a serious official¬†investigation in the first place. Anything short of this “proof,” no matter how plausible or indeed probative, is filed under “conspiracy theory” and promptly dumped in the toxic waste bin.

Unfortunately it is not always easy (as David Griffin says, it would require “an enormous amount of research”) to separate the wheat from the chaff among conspiracy theories. So the plethora of “bad” conspiracy theories (e.g., the government since 2003 secretly implants a chip in all American brains at birth) sort of ruin it for the “good” ones (massive steel and concrete structures don’t collapse in their own footprint at virtual freefall speed without internal demolition; “glitches” in election tallies can’t always favor the same party by chance).

In dismissing virtually all “very disturbing” conspiracy theories simply by attaching the “conspiracy theory” label (which seems to have an automatic, quasi-Pavlovian inhibiting effect on the vast majority of those who hear it), the Republic can avoid a great deal of angst and distraction–and certainly it would be quite distracting to have to pay attention to, and properly assess, every conspiracy theory that comes down the pike, including all the “bad” ones.
But then the question becomes, What of the percentage–and whatever it may be, we know from history that it is certainly not zero–of very disturbing conspiracy theories that are “good” ones? How damaging would it be to face the truth? On the other hand, how damaging is living a collective lie?

These are not facile questions, though our MSM and punditry–both Right and Left–have provided what seems to be a reflex response and facile answer. Perhaps Ventura’s book sheds some light on this (I have it on order). Perhaps Sunstein et al will man up and grapple with it honestly.

Meanwhile, if you want something very disturbing not to be there, just call it a “conspiracy theory.”


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