The Case for Conspiracy Theory

After writing far too many letters to The Guardian, I accept the responsibility to do their job for them, to explain why our fellow citizens and friends choose so-called “conspiracy theories” over “science”.

By the end of 2021 a great deal of unrelated material had been collapsed together in an attempt to discredit any and all points of view divergent from public health policy. Derogation and censorship have forced intimacy upon subcultures that might otherwise have remained separate. Thanks to the wholesale vilification of “vaccine hesitancy” pacifist alternative health movements find common cause with Trumpist militants and European neo-nazis. They deserve disaggregation.

Social critics are those who don’t believe the hype. On the Left this has meant sympathy with those seen as undeserving: refugees, convicts, dissidents, gays, cripples, laborers, women, slaves. Leftists listen to those deemed less-than-human about their experiences of power, and further examine what this tells us about the legitimacy of power itself. The Left has shown us that even what counts as “truth” is some subset of reality annointed by money and authority.

Every overlooked inventor will agree that technological progress is not a rational, meritocratic assembly of innovations, but a rigged game of networked investments which insures that the house almost always wins.

Apolitical East Germans and ecologist West Germans alike saw their futures destroyed by the blessed “reunification”.

Those with the presence of mind to recall the ardent anti-colonial revolutions easily recognize the diverse onslaught of corporations, foundations, and the CIA as self-serving imperialists in a cruel guise of democracy and development.

Meanwhile generations of investigative journalists and historians have unearthed scandalous abuses of political and economic legitimacy, from lynching and sterilization to the machinations of the military-industrial complex and staggering piles of cases of corruption of every institution on which rely, from the war on drugs to banks.

Given the evidence, scepticism is only sensible, and disbelief entirely reasonable.

Given the evidence of a callous disregard for truth and propriety, a willingness to distort science and policy for fraudulent ends, and a symphony of financial and social interest between most of “the media” and contemporary projects, it is only wise to take what we read and hear with the proverbial “grain of salt”.

And it should surprise no one when this scepticism is over-salted. When people believe that their governments might well be hiding other things as well, that they might be doing to their own citizens what they have done abroad, that they might be colluding with nefarious entities, mis-regulating new technologies, or producing false texts.

After witnessing enough occasions on which governments or politicians have eluded or distorted the truth, it is only obvious that they will be selective and interest-oriented in selecting and regulating science.

This is all quite alarming and frightening, unsettling, and earthquake in our moral landscape. Since we seem bent on living with a sense of order and purpose, we need a cosmology and a sense of power. Some people can still find this is science and government. Others cannot. They seek explanations they find more believable, more convincing, more verifiable. They may prefer the recommendations of a fellow citizen to an elite highly-paid scientist or policymaker. They may prefer data of personal experience to statistics. They may prefer substances they can handle and sense to those that are invisible.

Racism is a convenience of conquest. It is a cultural weapon wielded by every kind of movement, cropping up in some “conspiracy theories”. It is not what distinguishes them. Neither does their scepticism, a core principle of not only the Left, but also of academic inquiry in general, and sound science in particular. Where they diverge from the sort of  inquiry that inspires investigative journalism, critical social theory, and the daring of social justice movements is only this: a total failure of trust in authoritative pronouncements.

Considered this way, those who follow one or another conspiracy theory are motivated by empiricism and rationality. Meanwhile, those of us who believe against odds and ever-mounting evidence that the scandals and misdeeds are outliers, reparable, or yielding to democratic forces offer an irrational faith to our political and social institutions.