Conspiracies ain't Conspiracy Theories
One of the latest conspiracy theories to hit the road seems to be that Mick Jagger murdered L'Wren Scott. One article asked its readers the following question: 'Did Mick Jagger get away with L'Wren Scott's murder?'. Perhaps this website simply raised the possibility of her murder – it's hard to tell with these things. It's also hard to tell if some of these conspiracy websites are pastiches because they're often indistinguishable from the real thing.
One vital piece of suspicion (or evidence), apparently, was expressed by the editor in this way: “HUH? 6'3' gal hung herself from 4' doorknob?” Yes, that's very odd... if true. But, then again, so is murdering someone in that way... but what the hell?
Conspiracies & Conspiracy Theories
Often the critics of conspiracy theories are accused of denying the existence of conspiracies. However, conspiracies and conspiracies theories aren't the same thing. Critics of conspiracy theories don't actually need to deny the existence of conspiracies -- how on earth could they? What they do have a problem with is, is the nature of most -- or even all -- conspiracy theories.
No one should ever automatically reject a theory just because it's about some kind of conspiracy. People should reject it if it sounds like a typical conspiracy theory: with all the hallmarks these things seem to have.
Conspiracies exist, sure – many of them and they're all over the place.
Theories can be good things too – in and outside of science.
Conspiracy theorists also often cite conspiracy theories which proved, in the end, to be true. The thing is, various conspiracies have been shown to have happened; though not all – or any – of the conspiracy theories about these conspiracies proved to be correct.
In fact what conspiracy theorists often cite to be conspiracy theories which have been shown to be true were not actually conspiracy theories in the first place. They betrayed none of the “paranoid style” of most or all conspiracy theories. These theories often included evidence, argumentation, data and all sorts of collaborative and conformational detail that wasn’t conspiracy-theory-like at all.
Despite all that, what people must note is that simply because a theory isn't widely accepted, that doesn’t make it a conspiracy theory (with all the faults of typical conspiracy theories). There was a wide nonacceptance or rejection of the various theories that the earth is not the center of the universe. They were largely scientific theories -- not conspiracy theories. On the whole, they had all the hallmarks of the scientific theories of the time.
Even if a scientific theories aren't widely accepted, which is true of all of them (at least at first), they should still nonetheless be scientific in nature. They should still involve observations, experiments, tests, the use of established laws of nature, successful predictions, explanatory success and whatnot. In terms of scientists themselves, the majority of them are part of a community. They abide by all sorts of scientific and academic requirements or procedures.
And it's not just scientific theories which are perfectly acceptable: the same can be true of philosophical, journalistic, literary, historical, etc. theories. They too rely on evidence, argumentation, observation, data, past records, research, etc.
There's also a strong interplay between the nontheoretical aspects of theories and the purely theoretical parts. There should also be a reciprocal interplay between theory and evidence.
With conspiracy theories, on the other hand, the theory side of the equation runs free of evidence and/or logical/philosophical argumentation. The average conspiracy theorist is rarely a scientist or professional of any description (though he's often writer of some description). Indeed many conspiracy theories begin as the work of individuals. Despite that, it is indeed the case that support for -- or belief in -- the theory widens (sometimes massively) over time. That single individual’s theory may later spread like a disease to encompass literally millions of believers. Nonetheless, the theory was still passed on largely without any scientific or academic scrutiny. That didn’t matter. Once the virus spread, it kept on spreading. And, again unlike scientific theories, that theory probably wasn’t subject to any critical scrutiny by the vast majority of its believers.
We also have to take into account the fact that different conspiracy theories about X or Y mutually contradict each other (e.g., many of the theories about 9/11 do so). This effectively means that there's nothing factual to help you decide which theory to accept. What could possibly decide the issue if nearly all the conspiracy theories about X or Y rely almost exclusively on unseen forces or events?
In addition, what Marxists/Leftists conspiracy theorists, for example, tend to do is that if reality (or what is the case) doesn't square with prior Marxist theory, then Marxists will make damn sure that it does so. What you'll usually get, then, are innumerable Marxist “auxiliary hypotheses” which simply explain away the equally innumerable inconvenient facts.
I mentioned journalists a moment ago. You'd think that if all -- or some -- of these conspiracy theories had so much meat on them, then our super-journalists (or even the lesser ones) would be keen on showing the world that they are true. After all, if these journalists did this, then they'd quickly become both rich and famous. But of course the conspiracy theorists will have yet more neat and tidy conspiracy theories (or auxiliary hypotheses) to explain why this isn't the case. For example, they'll say that journalists (all of them?) are in cahoots with the conspirators. Either than, or the conspirators have warned journalists (all of them?), on pain of death, not to open their mouths. (When has that ever stopped our best journalists?)
Conspiracy Theories ain't Really Theories at All
There are indeed many conspiracies which have actually occurred. Yet the true theories about these conspiracies weren't at all based on spooky unseen forces or events at work behind the scenes. The forces could be seen or known – even if sometimes only in principle - even if governments, businesses, etc. tried to suppress all outside knowledge of them.
There's also a distinction to be made between the conspiracy being uncovered and the conspiracy theories which attempted -- or claimed -- to do that uncovering.
Sometimes actual/real conspiracies and the conspiracy theories about them have become massively out of sync. In fact many conspiracy theories were never in sync with any real conspiracies in the first place. They are literally made up. Either that or simply the imaginative or paranoid creations of their inventors. This can even be the case when the conspiracy theorist doesn’t even realize he’s making the whole thing up. (Psychologists have done much work on this facet of human nature; so it’s no surprise to anyone, except, perhaps, to conspiracy theorists, that conspiracy theories are so common.)
Two writers on conspiracy theories, James McConnachie and Robin Tudge (in their excellent Rough Guide to Conspiracy Theories), offer their own list of conspiracies (not conspiracy theories) which turned out to have occurred after all. Believing in these governmental -- or otherwise -- conspiracies doesn’t make you a conspiracy theorist. It's often been the case that the theorists or journalists (e.g., Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein in the case of the Watergate Scandal) offered data and argumentation and, perhaps more importantly, a systematic and critical style of thought which put them at odds with the average not-too-much-thought-please conspiracy theorist.
Anyway, this is what James McConnachie and Robin Tudge said about the real conspiracies (not conspiracy theories) which they argue actually occurred:
“Of course there are a few exceptions… the politically-motivated plots to kill Fidel Castro, the ‘Iran-Contra’ affair, the barely legal rigging of the US presidential elections in 1876 and most heinously, the Nazi conspiracy to murder millions of European Jews.”
The problem here, though, is that the final clause of this passage won’t appeal to many conspiracy theorists. Here again we have that simple distinction between conspiracy and conspiracy theories: the distinction between the National Socialist conspiracy to annihilate every European Jew and the numerous conspiracy theories of denial which followed.
So it’s doubly ironic that a conspiracy that has literally millions of separate bits of data and evidence to show that it really did occur, is precisely the one that many National Socialist -- and other -- conspiracy theorists claim didn't happen! It’s almost as if these conspiracy theorists prefer their conspiracies to work solely as unseen forces or events. In the Holocaust example, much of the evidence -- most of it! -- was seen, cataloged, filmed, recorded, written-down, etc. -- and yet many conspiracists still don't believe it. Instead they believe conspiracies about the Jews, or Freemasons, or bankers, or the Illuminati, aliens, UFOS, etc. which aren't seen, written down, filmed, cataloged, recorded, etc. And perhaps this is precisely how many conspiracy theorists like their conspiracies to be. If the conspiracies didn’t or don't happen firmly behind closed doors, and remain behind closed doors in perpetuity (as it were), then most conspiracy theorists simply wouldn’t find them sexy enough.