Source: Butte College
You say you believe the government is hiding something at Area 51–captured alien spacecraft, perhaps? The conjectures and rumors surrounding Area 51 comprise a revered conspiracy theory (many theories, actually). Do you believe the aliens among us are the hidden driving force in human history? That top world leaders (and they aren’t who most people think they are!) are cooperating for personal gain with the alien “reptile overlords” to bring about the enslavement of our species? You might be a conspiracist.
You might buy into one or more conspiracy theories without being an all-out conspiracist. Conspiracism is a world view that sees history as driven primarily by interwoven webs of secret conspiracies. Conspiracy theories are leaner, more restrained, more limited in scope than conspiracism. A conspiracy theory alleges that a secret conspiracy involving hidden actors is behind particular historical events. Its explanation for events usually runs counter to the official or mainstream account, which is itself seen as an elaborate fabrication.
Test your favorite conspiracy against the following components typical of conspiracism and conspiracy theories:
- THEY (the conspirators) are a relatively small group, but powerful and corrupt. They are evil, or at least selfish, acting in their own interest and against the public interest. They have great foresight, patience, and deviousness. Nevertheless, they are not all-powerful or even that smart, really, since WE have figured them out.
- WE are a small, dedicated group of freedom fighters and freethinkers. We are soldiers, rebels in the fight for good against evil.
- YOU are clueless. Why can’t you see what’s going on here? (Conspiracy theorists place most people in this group.)
- THEY have hidden or destroyed all the evidence that would implicate them and have manufactured false evidence that exculpates them.
- YOU are close-minded. In fact, you are probably one of THEM.
The comfort of conspiracy theory is that it provides a well-defined enemy and a sense of control (or at least structure) in the face of upheaval and disempowerment; the tendency to perceive conspiracy is more common in groups experiencing social isolation or political marginalization. The freedom fighters of conspiracy theory need not see themselves as being at the mercy of irresistible, inexplicable, or random natural or social forces, but as soldiers in a just cause. Many, if not most, conspiracy theories probably result from the human tendency to look for pattern in chaos-even if there isn’t any.
Conspiracy theories and conspiracism share three problems:
The main problem with any particular conspiracy theory is not that it’s wrong, but that it’s inarguable; not that it’s false, but that it is unfalsifiable. Because it is unfalsifiable, a conspiracy theory is not provable or disprovable.