a theory that explains an event as being the result of a plot by a covert group or organization; a belief that a particular unexplained event was caused by such a group.
the idea that many important political events or economic and social trends are the products of secret plots that are largely unknown to the general public.
conspiracy theorist, noun
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2010.
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A definition of the thing itself is frequently a good start.
The thing about the nature of the conspiracy theory that jumps out right away for the observer is the question of their reality. Conspiracy theories exist in the realm of the questionable, the possible and the rumored, and they live a sort of half-life in which they struggle to become real. The drama of conspiracy theories is the drama of the almost, because as proof of the conspiracy theory seems to gather substance and weight for some, simultaneously, for others, it grows more and more tenuous and seems to evaporate into vapors and mists.
It is not a perculiarly American thing, though we Americans certainly love our conspiracy theories. We have them around the Lincoln Assassination and the Kennedy Assassination. We have them around 9/11 and we have them around the elections of 2000 and 2004 and now 2008. We have them around the Trilateral Commission and Iran/Contra. We have them around Vietnam and we have them around Iraq. We have them everywhere. Mike is wrong when he says they are peculiar to President Obama's administration, but he tends to see all evil as stemming from President Obama from time to time, so he can be understood for his bias.
I believe that it is not a good idea to dismiss Conspiracy Theories completely. They are a sort of paranoid thinking, and paranoid thinking never simply pops into existence without some reality behind it. There is always some truth in it some place. The challenge is to find it and account for it. The truth needs to be honored.
This may, in fact, be the cause of a lot of conspiracy theories in the first place: Honest observation of odd behavior that is discounted by folks in authority. Failure to offer explanations for odd behavior on the part of authorities, gives rise to wild speculations that grow more wild the longer the denials go on.
Authority likes to look monolithic and perfect. Acknowledging any error or fumbling makes authority fear for its grip on power; it's more comfortable issuing a denial that acknowleging goof-up. The more complicated the cover-up becomes, the more mistakes are made in maintaining it, and the less skillfully it is done. Therefore the more wild the speculation grows to cover the contradictions in the various versions of the cover story.
By the end, with some of the more elaborate cover-ups, the conspiracy theories used to make sense of them include flying saucers and alien abductions. These sorts of conspiracy theories take on a life of their own. I would be surprised if, at this point, anybody knows what the original cover-ups were actually about, but at some point they appear to have grown large enough to have dragged in a legitimate weapons testing and development site in Nevada, which required addition cover-ups to conceal the development of stealth aircraft.
One of the features of Conspiracy Theories is that they may grow large enough to create what are called pseudo-communities. The stories become convoluted enough to require narritive bridges, in other words, to make sense of the Theory. The bridges make sense of theory but may make little or no sense in real life, requiring people who believe in these theories to believe in connections that are logically unreasonable. Sometimes you can see these plotted as if they were true in horror movies, where your wife is an alien monster who sucks brains from french poodles, or some such.
Whole cultures can subscribe to Conspiracy Theories, and even hold matching Conspiracy Theories that put their mutual existence in danger. The Soviets believed that the West was looking for an excuse to invade them and wipe them from the earth (based in part on the 1919 invasion of the Soviet Union by the Allied Powers after WWI), while The United States believed that a hoarde of Soviets would come pouring through the Fulda Gap into Western Europe. Bothj sides believed that the other was waiting the Nuke them into oblivion. The reality was that it was a close thing, in part because of mutually held conspiracy theories based in part on reality.
There is always some reality.
There are loads of Muslims who believe that Zionists bombed The World Trade Center. This makes perfect sense to them. Loads of Egyptians believe that the British SIS assassinated Princess Diana, and, as I understand it, a fair number of Brits have that in their heads as well. The reasoning for why may be different.
There are and have been loads of Conspiracy Theories directed at the Jews by just about everyone. The Brits have had Centuries of of experience with Conspiracies against Catholics. Any number can play.
Anyhow, that's my thinking on the matter, Mr Bond.