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Conspiracy Theory

Conspiracy Theory M.SOHAIB AFZAALDefinitionA conspiracy theory is an explanatory proposition that accuses two or more persons, a group, or an organization of having caused or covered up, through secret planning and deliberate action, an illegal or harmful event or situation.Some scholars suggest that people formulate conspiracy theories to explain, for example, power relations in social groups and the perceived existence of evil forces.It has been suggested by some thinkers that conspiracy theories have chiefly psychological or socio-political origins.Proposed psychological origins include projection; the personal need to explain a significant event [with] a significant cause;" and the product of various kinds and stages of thought disorder, such as paranoid disposition, ranging in severity to diagnosable mental illnesses. Some people prefer socio-political explanations over the insecurity of encountering random, unpredictable, or otherwise inexplicable eventsThe effects of a world view that places conspiracy theories centrally in the unfolding of history have been debated, with some saying that it has become the dominant paradigm of political action in the public mind." Although the term "conspiracy theory" has acquired a derogatory meaning over time and is often used to dismiss or ridicule beliefs in conspiracies, it has also continued to be used by some to refer to actual, proven conspiracies, such as U.S. President Richard Nixon and his aides conspiring to cover up Watergate.HISTORYAcquired derogatory meaning:Originally a neutral term, since the mid-1960s, in the aftermath of the assassination of US President John F. Kennedy, it has acquired a derogatory meaning, implying a paranoid tendency to see the influence of some malign covert agency in events.The term is often used to dismiss claims that the critic deems ridiculous, misconceived, paranoid, unfounded, outlandish, or irrational.A conspiracy theory that is proven to be correct, such as the notion that United States President Richard Nixon and his aides conspired to cover up Watergate, is usually referred to as something else, such as investigative journalism or historical analysis.Despite conspiracy theorists often being dismissed as a "fringe group," evidence suggests that people from "a broad cross-section of Americans todaytraversing ethnic, gender, education, occupation, and other divides" believe in a wide variety of conspiracy theories. The term often implies that the proposed explanation of events is perceived as violating Occam's razor or the principle of Falsifiability.

Term of ridicule:Assessing the prevalent use of the term to ridicule or dismiss, Professor Rebecca Moore observes, "The word 'conspiracy' works much the same way the word 'cult' does to discredit advocates of a certain view or persuasion. Historians do not use the word 'conspiracy' to describe accurate historical reports. On the contrary, they use it to indicate a lack of veracity and objectivity."As popular knowledge:Clare Birchall at King's College London describes conspiracy theory as a form of popular knowledge.By acquiring the title 'knowledge', conspiracy theory is considered alongside more 'legitimate' modes of knowing. The relationship between legitimate and illegitimate knowledge, Birchall claims, is far closer than common dismissals of conspiracy theory would have us believe. Other popular knowledge might include alien abduction narratives, gossip, some new age philosophies, religious beliefs, and astrology.

SCALE:Professor of political science and sociology John George notes that unlike conspiracy theories propagated by extremists, conspiracies prosecuted within the criminal justice system require a high standard of evidence, are usually small in scale and involve "a single event or issue"

PROVEN CONSPIRACIESConspiracy theories are sometimes proven correct, such as the theory that United States President Richard Nixon and his aides conspired to cover up Watergate, as well as the theory that some of President Ronald Reagan's aides conspired to cover up the Iran-Contra affair.Katherine K. Young writes that "every real conspiracy has had at least four characteristic features: groups, not isolated individuals; illegal or sinister aims, not ones that would benefit society as a whole; orchestrated acts, not a series of spontaneous and haphazard ones; and secret planning, not public discussion" "Some historians have put forward the idea that more recently the United States has become the home of conspiracy theories because so many high-level prominent conspiracies have been undertaken and uncovered since the 1960s". The existence of such real conspiracies helps feed the belief in conspiracy theories.Author Shawn Hamilton states: "Conspiracies are common. If they weren't, police stations would not need conspiracy units to investigate and prosecute crimes such as 'conspiracy to import cocaine' or any other collusion on the part of two or more people to subvert the law."Why people believeBelief in conspiracy theories has become a topic of interest for sociologists, psychologists, and experts in folklore since at least the 1960s, when a number of conspiracy theories arose regarding the assassination of U.S. President John F. Kennedy. Sociologist Turkay Salim Nefes underlines the political nature of conspiracy theories and suggests that one of the most important characteristics of these accounts is their attempt to unveil the "real but hidden" power relations in social groups.To explain evil forcesThe conspiracy theorist's five assumptionsLack of control

To explain evil forces:The political scientist Michael Barkun, discussing the usage of this term in contemporary American culture, holds that a conspiracy theory is a belief which explains an event as the result of a secret plot by exceptionally powerful and cunning conspirators to achieve a malevolent end. According to Barkun, the appeal of conspiracism is threefold:First, conspiracy theories claim to explain what institutional analysis cannot. They appear to make sense out of a world that is otherwise confusing.Second, they do so in an appealingly simple way, by dividing the world sharply between the forces of light, and the forces of darkness. They trace all evil back to a single source, the conspirators and their agents.Third, conspiracy theories are often presented as special, secret knowledge unknown or unappreciated by others. For conspiracy theorists, the masses are a brainwashed herd, while the conspiracy theorists in the know can congratulate themselves on penetrating the plotters' deceptions

The conspiracy theorist's five assumptions:In his essay "Dealing with Middle Eastern Conspiracy Theories", Daniel Pipes notes that conspiracy theories are outstandingly common in the Middle East and writes that five assumptions"distinguish the conspiracy theorist from more conventional patterns of thought: appearances deceive; conspiracies drive history; nothing is haphazard; the enemy always gains; power, fame, money, and sex account for all"Lack of control:Professor Stephan Lewandowsky, a cognitive scientist at the University of Western Australia, asserts that strong supporters of conspiracy theories usually experience a feeling of lack of control. A theory can help a believer regain a sense of order explaining some extraordinary events. Knowing some facts can even bring the feeling of power. Lewandowsky states that belief in conspiracies can be a protective mechanism against the horror of possible disasters.A lack of trust can also be regained by belief in a conspiracy theory. This also explains why such theories are more popular with members of the lower social classes: the members of the upper class feel more integrated into prominent social, political and economical structures and are more likely to trust the general information they receive.Another explanation is that people are inclined to believe in ideas that they initially supported. This is called "motivated skepticism" or a "self-sealing nature of reasoning"TypesChomsky: secretive coalitionsWalker's five kindsBarkun's three typesRothbard: shallow vs. deep

Chomsky: secretive coalitions:Noam Chomsky contrasts conspiracy theory as more or less the opposite of institutional analysis, which focuses mostly on the public, long-term behavior of publicly known institutions, as recorded in, for example, scholarly documents or mainstream media reports, rather than secretive coalitions of individualsWalker's five kinds:Jesse Walker (2013) has developed a historical typology of five basic kinds of conspiracy theories:The first identifies an "Enemy Outside," with devilish figures mobilizing outside the community and scheming against the community.The "Enemy Within" finds the conspirators lurking inside the nation, indistinguishable from ordinary citizens.The "Enemy Above" involves powerful people manipulating the system for their own gain.The "Enemy Below" features the lower classes ready to break through their constraints and overturn the social order.Finally, there are the "Benevolent Conspiracies," where angelic forces work behind the scenes to improve the world and help people.Barkun's three types:Barkun (discussed above) has categorized, in ascending order of breadth, the types of conspiracy theories as follows:Event conspiracy theories. The conspiracy is held to be responsible for a limited, discrete event or set of events. The conspiratorial forces are alleged to have focused their energies on a limited, well-defined objective. The best-known example in the recent past is the Kennedy assassination conspiracy literature, though similar material exists concerning the September 11 attacks, the crash of TWA Flight 800, and the spread of AIDS in the black community.Systemic conspiracy theories. The conspiracy is believed to have broad goals, usually conceived as securing control of a country, a region,


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