[Marxism] conspiracy theories

Haines Brown haines at histomat.net
Tue Sep 13 08:45:50 MDT 2011


On Tue, Sep 13, 2011 at 04:27:53PM +1000, dajj1950 at primusonline.com.au wrote:
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> I. F. Stone the great American journalist use to lecture students 
> and open with 'Remember all government's lie'. I think that is the 
> starting point of all conspiracy theories. It does indicate a 
> postive attitude towards Governments and the spin they put on their 
> policies. While I discount many of them I suspect there is a kernal 
> of truth in some of them.

While true, I don't believe this quite represents a "conspiracy 
theory." Let me offer an off-the-cuff definition to show why I think 
so.

Conspiracy theories are apparently rampant in the kind of society we 
(in the US) presently experience. To explain this it might be well to 
look at both objective and subjective reasons for it.

The underdetermination of theories by empirical evidence means that 
there is usually a range of incompatible explanations for an event 
that are both logical and adequately supported by evidence. So the 
choice among them, in this case, reduces to subjective factors.

For conspiracy theory, the subjective criterion for choosing seems to 
be the mindset of those drawn to it. This mindset is that of an 
individual who feels helpless in the face of a threatening world. This 
encourages seeing the world as sharply polarized between good and ill, 
where a force of evil seeks to betray all that is good (this seems
better than the usual reference to paranoia, which seems too strong
and is psychologically reductionist).

This sense of personal powerlessness reduces causes from the interplay 
of a multiplicity of factors over which a person might reasonably have 
some influence, such as institutions, to a single inaccessible factor, 
a potent group of conspirators that enjoys extraordinary powers and 
organizational ability.

Because of their mindset, conspiracy theorists find it impossible to 
to persuade others not sharing it by an appeal to evidence. This 
failure is explained by suggesting that the public at large is also 
powerless and so unable to think for themselves in the face of 
propaganda put out by those in power.

It also requires the conspiracy theorist insulate the conspirators 
from any empirical evidence. The conspirators are therefore 
represented as operating behind a shield of complete secrecy so that 
events are attributed to a cause that cannot be validated.

Haines Brown



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