Main Menu

Conspiracy theory theories

Conspiracy theories are a pervasive part of the American experience. Why is that? The literature is replete with attempts to explain conspiracy theories by historians, sociologists, political scientists, psychologists and even neurophysiologists. While the United States may not be the most conspiracy minded country in the world, it’s right up there.

The American Revolution was a time of conspiracies on both sides. Conspiracy historian Peter Knight wrote in 2002:

From the anti-Masonism of the 1820s and 1830s to the anti-Catholicism of the 1830s and 1840s, and from the anti-Mormonism of the 1850s to the anticommunism of the 1950s, fears of invasion and infiltration by un-American influences have repeatedly dominated the American political scene.

The United States was founded in the midst of conspiracies and intrigues (it’s one of the reasons that we do not allow an alien-born person to be our president). The idea that conspiracy theorists are just a few crazies infecting an essentially “normal” American culture just doesn’t match the historical record.

Knight’s lists suggest an “us v. them” mentality where “they” is defined as something different, other. If he had written that list today, I don’t doubt that anti-Muslim would have been added.

We value the rugged individualist—the frontiersman and the cowboy. A culture that values individualism is less likely to see the State as benign, but rather as something to be mistrusted and even feared.

18 Responses to Conspiracy theory theories

  1. avatar
    The Magic M (not logged in) December 1, 2015 at 8:48 am #

    Don’t forget anti-Semitism which is astonishingly very alive in a nation so closely tied with Israel.
    At least half of the conspiracy nuts I see on Twitter include “Mossad”, “Zionists” or “Jewish Congressmen” in the list of participants of their favourite conspiracy.

    A culture that values individualism is less likely to see the State as benign, but rather as something to be mistrusted and even feared.

    What I find striking is how deep the mistrust towards (federal) government is, even though your country has one of the longest streaks in world history without a dictatorship, and has a very strong model of federalism to boot.
    I would’ve guessed the fear of government turning into a regime would be much less prevalent simply for being so far removed from personal experience.
    My father was in the Luftwaffe (and I highly suspect he was a Nazi party member, too) – how many generations back was any of your ancestors part of a murderous regime?

  2. avatar
    Dr. Conspiracy December 1, 2015 at 9:08 am #

    While most Americans would consider a dictatorship in the US as unthinkable based on our long democratic tradition, I note how quickly Americans are to implement authoritarian solutions when they are afraid: the internment of Japanese Americans in WW II comes to mind, and the USA Patriot Act.

    The essays in the book Conspiracy Nation, Barkun’s book “A Culture of Conspiracy” and “The United States of Paranoia” by Walker all suggest that we’re a pretty fearful people. Perhaps the reason is that we’re doing rather well, and have a lot to lose.

    In any case, paranoid ideas are as American as democracy. Walker wrote:

    “In America, it is always a paranoid time.

    “Pundits tend to write off political paranoia as a feature of the fringe, a disorder that occasionally flares up until the sober center can put out the flames. They’re wrong. The fear of conspiracies had been a potent force across the political spectrum, from the colonial era to the present, in the establishment as well as at the extremes. …”

    The Magic M (not logged in): What I find striking is how deep the mistrust towards (federal) government is, even though your country has one of the longest streaks in world history without a dictatorship, and has a very strong model of federalism to boot.

  3. avatar
    Daisy-Lady December 1, 2015 at 10:38 am #

    I’ve heard it said that it is easier to fool someone than to prove to them that they have been fooled.

  4. avatar
    Benji Franklin December 1, 2015 at 11:07 am #

    Daisy-Lady: I’ve heard it said that it is easier to fool someone than to prove to them that they have been fooled.

    I’m pretty sure that someone has fooled you with that statement, but it would be comparatively difficult for me to persuade you that they had done so.

  5. avatar
    Comrade Fogovich December 1, 2015 at 11:34 am #

    My general rule is, the more people who would have to be “in on it” in order to make a conspiracy work, the less chance there is that it’s real.

    My other rule is, not all conspiracies are the same. Birtherism consists of so many lies, and if you disprove one, any birther worth his salt will switch seamlessly to the next. “OK, it was legal to travel to Pakistan in 1981, but why did his grandmother say she saw his birth in Mombasa?”

    I don’t know if other conspiracy theories work like that. Birtherism is a whole fabric of lies now, with more added each year. This year Mia Marie Pope said he was known as Soetoro in Hawaii as a teenager and he was a coke-snorting male prostitute.

  6. avatar
    Lupin December 1, 2015 at 12:29 pm #

    Once again I refer folks to William Manchester’s THE DREAM AND THE GLORY.

    What is mind-boggling to me is that the same crazies (about 20%?) are still peddling the very same bigoted conspirational rubbish as they were in the 1930s –eighty years later, for god’s sake!

  7. avatar
    RanTalbott December 1, 2015 at 1:39 pm #

    Dr. Conspiracy: Perhaps the reason is that we’re doing rather well, and have a lot to lose.

    That’s part of it. I think a bigger part is that we’re spoiled: if you get drunk during Spring Break and fall off a balcony, a call to 911 will bring an ambulance that will whisk you away to quality medical care that’ll probably save your careless ass. If a tornado flattens your town, FEMA will be there the next day to help you dig out and start rebuilding. If you’re laid off from work, unemployment insurance will give you at least a chance to scrape by. Our social safety net at least softens the blows from our own carelessness and unforeseen tragedies. We’ve come to expect that nothing truly godawful is going to happen to us, and are shocked when it does. And easily frightened when someone tells us it might.

    Contrast that with the situation of most people in the world, where it could take hours, or even days, to get medical attention if you’re injured. Some of the people in those terrible floods in Pakistan had to wait weeks just for someone to bring them food and safe water. They have a clearer picture of the real risks they face.

    We live a fairly soft life in the developed world, and many of us have never developed the ability to do a rational threat assessment.

  8. avatar
    Pete December 1, 2015 at 3:49 pm #

    Comrade Fogovich: This year Mia Marie Pope said he was known as Soetoro in Hawaii as a teenager and he was a coke-snorting male prostitute.

    What a load of total bat-crazy horse manure. Everyone knows that Obama spent almost ALL of his teenage years working with his REAL father Frank Marshall Davis in the CIA’s top-secret future-President-development program on Mars.

  9. avatar
    Dave December 2, 2015 at 12:08 am #

    Seems like there’s a slight lack of logical consistency in a society that values individualism but is anxious about anyone who’s different.

  10. avatar
    Comrade Fogovich December 2, 2015 at 6:23 am #

    Pete: What a load of total bat-crazy horse manure. Everyone knows that Obama spent almost ALL of his teenage years working with his REAL father Frank Marshall Davis in the CIA’s top-secret future-President-development program on Mars.

    Oh yeah. I forgotted that part. Oops.

  11. avatar
    Dr. Kenneth Noisewater December 2, 2015 at 7:21 am #

    Comrade Fogovich: This year Mia Marie Pope said he was known as Soetoro in Hawaii as a teenager and he was a coke-snorting male prostitute.

    I actually had someone contact me about Mia Pope on YouTube. She was harassing and stalking a coworker and was always high from what the person said

  12. avatar
    Woodrowfan December 2, 2015 at 5:29 pm #

    Pete: What a load of total bat-crazy horse manure. Everyone knows that Obama spent almost ALL of his teenage years working with his REAL father Frank Marshall Davis in the CIA’s top-secret future-President-development program on Mars.

    that was the Obama CLONE, who went by Barry rather than Barack.

    (there are CTers who argue that Lee Oswald and Harvey Oswald were two different people.

  13. avatar
    SFJEFF December 2, 2015 at 5:37 pm #

    Lupin:
    Once again I refer folks to William Manchester’s THE DREAM AND THE GLORY.

    What is mind-boggling to me is that the same crazies (about 20%?) are still peddling the very same bigoted conspirational rubbish as they were in the 1930s –eighty years later, for god’s sake!

    Reading the Glory and the Dream right now- how much some Americans were yearning for a Mussolini like strong man around the time of FDR’s first election was mind boggling.

  14. avatar
    Rickey December 2, 2015 at 9:32 pm #

    Dr. Kenneth Noisewater: I actually had someone contact me about Mia Pope on YouTube. She was harassing and stalking a coworker and was always high from what the person said

    And her claims are easily disproven by Obama’s high school yearbook. In all of his photos he is identified as “Barry Obama.”

    http://imagehost.vendio.com/a/7708214/view/ObamaYearbook013.jpg

  15. avatar
    Lupin December 3, 2015 at 2:54 am #

    SFJEFF: Reading the Glory and the Dream right now- how much some Americans were yearning for a Mussolini like strong man around the time of FDR’s first election was mind boggling.

    What I find positively astonishing is that the very same fears and “scarecrows” are present today still; the average post on GERBIL REPORT could have been written in the 1930s, just replace Obama with FDR. Then they thought Eleanor was negroid! Now they think Michelle is a transsexual.

    I daresay we have our crop of lunatics in France, but their “scarecrows” and phobias have changed since the 1930s. Why is America still locked in the same irrational fears?

    I strongly urge anyone here to (re)read Manchester’s book. You’ll be amazed.

    (It’s now available on kindle which is how I’m rereading it.)

  16. avatar
    The Magic M (not logged in) December 3, 2015 at 4:34 am #

    Woodrowfan: (there are CTers who argue that Lee Oswald and Harvey Oswald were two different people.

    And the real fathers of Mary Kate and Ashley Oswald?

    Lupin: the average post on GERBIL REPORT could have been written in the 1930s, just replace Obama with FDR

    A couple years ago, only the comments section of RW outlets (and RW figureheads on Twitter) read like the Germans in 1930, today the outlets and figureheads themselves read like that. That’s a discomforting development.

    Dr. Conspiracy: all suggest that we’re a pretty fearful people. Perhaps the reason is that we’re doing rather well, and have a lot to lose.

    However it appears the most radical ones are always those who have the least to lose.

  17. avatar
    Keith December 3, 2015 at 9:50 pm #

    Food for thought:

    Semi-Controlled Demolition

  18. avatar
    dunstvangeet December 5, 2015 at 1:12 am #

    Daisy-Lady:
    I’ve heard it said that it is easier to fool someone than to prove to them that they have been fooled.

    Talk to a birther, and show them that the original article that claimed that Obama was a foreign student was an April Fools Joke, and see if they believe you.