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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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!