Conspiracy Theories and the Critical Skills

Conspiracy theories have been around for a long time and proponents of such theories use the critical skills to imbed such theories in the minds of willing listeners. Conspiracy theories can lead and have led to disastrous consequences – and we all should be aware of their existence and how they work.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines conspiracy theory as the theory that suggests an event or phenomenon occurs as a result of a conspiracy between interested parties. Specifically, a conspiracy theory is a belief that some covert but influential agency or group (typically political or religious in motivation and oppressive in intent) is responsible for an unexplained event.

Here is what people who use conspiracy theories do:

  • State premises (facts or findings from which they will draw conclusions) that are often false, or occasionally use the conclusion they want to draw as the premise (the “information” skill)
  • Knowing that false premises can lead to any conclusion that is desired, they draw the conclusions that they want their followers to believe. They might have started with their conclusion as the premise and, lo and behold, they arrive at the same conclusion; (the “analysis” skill)
  • They effectively boil down their argument into short and believable sound bites that can be easily understood and remembered by their followers. (the “communications” skill)
  • They broadcast their arguments to their willing listeners over and over and over again through such media as cable news and social media. (the “technology” skill)

Some examples of conspiracy theories include the following:

  • In August, 1964, an American report concerning two allegedly belligerent interactions between US Naval vessels and North Vietnam suggested that North Vietnam was responsible for at least one and possibly both of the two incidents. This event, known as the Gulf of Tonkin Incident, led a Congressional resolution that authorized President Lyndon Johnson to “take all necessary measures to repel any armed attack against the forces of the United States and to prevent further aggression” by the communist government of North Vietnam – effectively launching America’s full-scale involvement in the Vietnam War. These events became very controversial over the years and led to the widespread belief that at least one, and possibly both incidents, were false.
  • President Ronald Reagan’s director of communications, Pat Buchanan, fueled an AIDS conspiracy theory. He wrote in 1983, “The poor homosexuals — they have declared war upon nature, and now nature is extracting an awful retribution.” That same year, Buchanan demanded that New York City Mayor Ed Koch and New York Gov. Mario Cuomo cancel the Pride Parade or else “be held personally responsible for the spread of the AIDS plague.” And in 1990 he wrote, “With 80,000 dead of AIDS, our promiscuous homosexuals appear literally hell-bent on Satanism and suicide.”
  • Shortly after 9/11, Evangelist Pat Robertson used a shotgun approach and fueled a conspiracy theory about the many groups he opposed. On September 13, 2001, on his 700 Club show on the Christian Broadcasting Network, he proclaimed with an air of righteousness, “I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way, all of them who have tried to secularize America, I point the finger in their face and say, ‘You helped this happen.’”
  • In 2003, President George W. Bush used a weapons of mass destruction (WMD) argument to launch the second Iraq war. Whether deliberate or not, the existence of WMDs turned out to be false.
  • In 2006, Reverend John Haggee asserted that since a homosexual parade had been scheduled in New Orleans on the Monday that Katrina came, that the hurricane was, in fact, a judgment of God against the city;
  • In 2007, Reverend Jerry Falwell exclaimed, “AIDS is not just God’s punishment for homosexuals. It is God’s punishment for the society that tolerates homosexuals.”
  • During President Obama’s presidency, the “birthers” loudly proclaimed that Obama had been born in Kenya as a Muslim.
  • Currently, the theory in vogue seems to be the “deep state theory” – that there is a hybrid association of elements of government and parts of top-level finance and industry that governs the United States without reference to the consent of the governed as expressed through the formal political process.

My points are these:

  • Conspiracy theories have been with us for a long time;
  • Conspiracy theories are used to affect our thinking and behavior;
  • Conspiracy theories depend on false premises that lead to desired conclusions;
  • Conspiracy theories seek to prompt desired action;
  • Conspiracy theories are communicated effectively through ever-changing technology and are repeated over and over again;
  • Conspiracy theories work!

So, you say, “So What?”

Well, there isn’t much you can do about keeping conspiracy theories from existing – and appearing now and in the future. You will be bombarded by such theories from all sides.

But you do NOT have to believe them at face value.

The BEST way to test if you are being bamboozled by a conspiracy theory is to examine the premise – often by simply opening your eyes. Challenge the premise for TRUTH – don’t rely on FAITH. Check to see if the premise that is used is actually the conclusion that is being drawn.

Of course, this requires thinking . . . and thinking is hard work.

But such thinking needs to be done – IF we want our constitutional republic to survive.

And that’s my point.

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