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The Dummies’ Guide to Conspiracy Theorising

This entry was posted in Controversies, Current conspiracy theories on 1 November 2013 by

A question that has surfaced repeatedly in our Conspiracy & Democracy weekly meetings is when – if ever – we can conclusively identify someone as a conspiracy theorist. For, as our Directors mentioned at the recent highly successful Festival of Ideas event, we are not concerned with proving or disproving conspiracy theories and neither are we particularly desirous of awarding the title of a ‘conspiracy theorist’ to anyone. After all, the mere label involves an exercise of power and constitutes a moral and political judgment of a nature that we are keen to eschew. However, when we get responses to a BBC story on our project such as this and this, I think we can safely declare that we have spotted true blue conspiracy theorists. Taking these writings as exemplars of a distinctive literary genre, I have identified 5 basic steps to becoming a successful conspiracy theorist.

  1. Employ high rhetoric to catch attention (you…and me are threats to democracy), work through binaries (imperialists vs. activists), decontextualize to the extreme, repeat repeatedly (“No, no, no, no, no, no, no”) and reduce points deductively to arrive at the already predetermined conclusion of a brewing conspiracy.
  2. Don’t do your homework. The BBC story is markedly different from the research project not just as forms of knowledge (a short news item versus a five-year interdisciplinary body of scholarly research) but also in the actual questions presented. The BBC story asks if conspiracy theories are destroying democracies whereas we ask what is the link between conspiracy and democracy.
  3. Utilise catchy if contrary adjectives for the same set of conspirators. In this case these were our dear directors (“academic hit-men”, “goofy”, “pea-brained”, and “distinguished” all at once).
  4. Allude to the dark history and dubious credentials of well-known institutions such as the BBC, Leverhulme Trust, and Cambridge University. Furthermore, assume that these three distinct entities are colluding for malign purposes and, definitely, the people with the money (and, but-of-course, the imperial, racist past) are controlling the goofy-but-distinguished academics.
  5. Make sure even the advertisements on your webpages are conspiratorially inclined. Behold at the bottom of this page the adverts for removing a fungus that 80% of us are said to have in our brains and the ‘quantum jumping’ site that will reveal our subconscious mind!


  • stephen bollom says:

    Am I actually allowed/ encouraged (as a member of the public) to leave an opinion- you don’t make it clear? There doesn’t seem to be many….

    Interested to read of your discussed reluctance to use the ‘conspiracy theorist’ label, and subsequent resort to doing just that. Was it the subject matter of the linked articles that swayed you I wonder?

    In terms of your classification scheme, well I would suggest that points 1,2,3 could be applied to probably two thirds of daily newspaper articles in the UK, so perhaps not so useful as defining criteria. Item 5, I guess refers to David Icke’s site which I avoid.
    Point 4 is more useful if you are committed to identifying ‘a literary genre’. Edmonds’s article certainly makes allusions to dark histories of at least two of the mentioned institutions, and, I would agree, infers that there is collusion. However, the roles of trusts, scholarships and foundations in shaping society have been the topic of many a writer that I am sure you wouldn’t consider ‘conspiracy theorist’ (George Monbiot and Arundhati Roy are two names that immediately spring to mind), so a fuller consideration of Edmonds’s point there would have to include reference to such sources I would argue.
    I think that you should continue to strive to avoid using the mentioned label, unless you can produce a clear definition of exactly what you are referring to.

    • Rod says:

      You may also want to add to your definition of what constitutes a conspiracy theorist as someone who believes in a nexus of beliefs commonly regarded as conspiracy theories. It has become apparent to me that people who believe in things like “9/11 was an inside job” will also believe in wilder JFK assassination conspiracies, denial of the moon landing, etc. In my experience these people are hopeless to convince using logic and science because their closed system thinking. They are completely incorrigible.

      On the other hand I have found that those who may give credence to some elements of one conspiracy but who have not formed a hard opinion on other conspiracy theories, usually, after it is pointed out, admit to the ridiculous nature of conspiracy theories. They are not conspiracy theorists.

      To me this has been a fundamental determinant as to whether I will want to engage in a conversation with a person at a cocktail party, or go talk with someone who has a real life.

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