Conspiracy Round-up – End of 2015 Edition (Part 1)

I really did mean to make these round-ups a monthly thing, but I guess that did not work out. I mostly managed to write a new post on a weekly basis, and hopefully next year I’ll commit to that in earnest. Then again, prepping the weekly podcast is actually quite a time consuming affair, and I have been engaged in a bunch of projects, most of which I can’t announce at this time. Irksome, to be sure. Just like this stereotypical opening paragraph that almost every blogger is writing to mark a less-than-successful year of blogging…

It’s very easy to blame conspiracy theories. After all:

Part of the appeal of conspiracy theories is their simplicity. In a complex, changing world, it is tempting to reduce multifaceted issues to the us-and-them narrative. It is a vision that meets little contradiction because reasoned facts are sidelined by emotion. It is a binary scheme, with “the people” on one side and “the system” on the other.

That’s from a piece in the Guardian, which basically wants to talk about how Marine Le Pen is blaming the Establishment, rather than tactical voting, for her party’s dismal result in the recent regional elections in France.

The topic of how people use the rhetoric of conspiracy to escape blame is an interesting one, but the Guardian article makes the typical and fatal mistake of conflating rhetorical moves with conspiracy theories themselves. No one doubts that people use the language of conspiracy to shift blame, but that tells us nothing about the merit of conspiracy theories. It just tells us that people like to sometimes allege conspiracies where none occur. So, bad show, Natalie Nougayrède.

Talking about rhetoric, what about Alex Jones and Donald Trump? In what was a minor story for some and a huge story for others, Trump made a half-hour appearance on Jones’ show. It’s pretty much what you would expect of the two men, but what’s interesting is just how little effect it’s had on Trump’s popularity. People though Trump talking to a known conspiracist would completely derail him, yet no one seemed to think that it perfectly fits Trump’s brand. Trump is – quite possibly – the conspiracy theory president the U.S.A. deserves.

And talking about Trump, theories abound that the Republican Party might conspire against their own in order to stop Trump from getting the nod. Although given his supporters, I’m not sure I’d blame them if they did. One of them, for example, is this guy:

John Captain, of Portland Tub and Tan, home of “Portland’s premier hot tubbing and tanning specialists with exclusive outdoor hot tubs year round” in Oregon, was glad that I called because he wanted to talk about his girlfriend, who he believes was a monarch mind control slave who was murdered by her family, part of the Illuminati and the New World Order.

More here.

In other charismatic leaders of the world news, someone is asking the question “Is Vladimir Putin immortal?”

This Vox article does a good job of summarising a recent paper on what motivates belief in political conspiracy theories in the U.S., but it kind of misses the point that belief in conspiracy theories itself is not necessarily a bad thing. Indeed, it kind of falls into the trap of saying “Look, those dastardly people [on the other side of the political spectrum from us] believe conspiracy theories, and isn’t that just a fiasco!” Part of that kind of analysis comes from the oft-repeated (but hardly ever analysed) claim that conspiracy theories are more popular now than ever. Yet that’s not necessarily true, and it kind of ruins the analysis in the second half of the post, where David Roberts decides to go beyond what the research actually says.

A #dirtypolitics update: Cameron Slater is still up to his old tricks. An advertiser has left his site because of organised hit pieces appearing on the WhaleOil site and the #dirtypolitics crew have a newsletter out that you probably don’t need to read. Meanwhile, Comrade Giovanni Tiso tells us about the raid on Nicky Hager’s house.

Sam Kriss writes on conspiracy theories. I felt the need to respond to this piece in the comments (which, I might add, doesn’t seem to have made it through moderation…), because whilst some of it is rather interesting, a lot of it really only makes sense if you think there’s no existing literature on the topic…


About Matthew Dentith

Author of "The Philosophy of Conspiracy Theories" (Palgrave Macmillan), Matthew Dentith wrote his PhD on epistemic issues surrounding belief in conspiracy theories. He is a frequent media commentator on the weird and the wonderful, both locally and internationally. On occasion he can be caught dreaming about wax lions but, mostly, it is rumoured he works for elements of the New World Order.