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What do we anarchists think about "conspiracy theories" ?

+1 vote
I started to develop an argument against "conspiracy theories" in the topic about ISIS, and it just made me ask myself "what do you people think about conspiracy theories ?".

I wanted to ask the question "what would be a good anarchist critique of conspiracy theories ?" but I realise the question was a bit rethorical.

So, I'm asking you folks : what do we, as anarchists, think about conspiracy theories ?


My opinion :

I could agree with the idea that one of the foundation of the state is to conspire. It's seems quite evident if you open any book from Machiavel or Clausewitz. But it's not the very principle of it, nor is it its major foundation.

And more than anything, I think that most of the infamous things that the states are actually doing doesn't need to be "hidden".

I also think that the "conspiracy theory mentality" tends to produce mostly obscure and uncheckable assumptions more than real theories or hypothesis that can be confronted with known facts (and by that I mean things that more or less make a kind of "inter-subjective consensus" -not to say "objective"-).

As I also had the opportunity to say it in the topic about ISIS, I think that conspiracy theories also reinforce the myth of invulnerability of the State, or of any power, and most of the time encourages apathy. Indeed, if everything is controlled and manipulated, and spied on : then, every thing is doomed. And so, what is to be done ?

Finally, I don't know much about conspiracy theories in the US, but what I know is that a big amount of conspiracy litterature (concerning "zionists", or the "reptilians", or "the Illuminatis", or "NWO", "9/11 was a hoax", etc) is not exclusively, but largely produced and/or edited by reactionnaries, fascists or far rights organisations and founds.

I would say that such theories have a link with the specific anti-scientific and anti-rationalist philosophical tradition of far-right, tending to reject any rationalist method or empirical approach.

That could also explain why even facing evidences : some of them are always ready to pretend that the french revolution was the fact of a "pedophile-satanic jewish-masons conspiracy", that the nazi holocaust didn't happen (or that gas chambers didn't exist), that dinosaurs were living at the same time than humans, or even that the moon doesn't exist (yes, some people actually believe that shit : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cq1q4_ZzEUQ ).

Just like anywhere else. Just like in france :

asked Feb 27, 2015 by okapy (2,100 points)
edited Feb 27, 2015 by okapy
i don't have the head space to think about conspiracies/race politics/the difference between the u.s. and europe right now, but there was an editorial about conspiracies in an ajoda

that might be interesting for you.

mostly i wanted to say it's an interesting question, and to acknowledge the writing you've done on this and the isis question.
Thank you for showing concern. And thanks for the link also. :-)

Enjoy this discussion I found in the coments of a libcom.org article on the topic :

"Salviati wrote:

   How many of today's 'conspiracy theories' will turn out to be tomorrow's declassified history?

tastybrain wrote:
Well if most world leaders turn out to be reptilian aliens I will be very surprised..."


you can read the whole stuff here : https://libcom.org/library/against-conspiracy-theories-why-our-activism-must-be-based-reality
conspiracy theories are an inside job, sheeple only buy in to them because of mind-controlling chemtrails.

i agree with everything you say, i used to be a 9/11 truther and got pissed of by all the libertarianism that shows up at these movements.

I would like to enquire though....how did building 7 collapse in the manner it did? I guess im still convinced of the conspiratorial elements of 9/11
Have you heard about "The Protocols of Zion", by Marc Levin, a 2005 documentary film about 9/11 theories ?

I don't remember if it answers your question, but it's a interesting piece concerning the rise of conspiracy theories and a critical point of view on it.

Its weakness to me is that it talks a lot about the resurgence of antisemitism (which is a reality, that is to be denounced and fought back with vehemence) but not enough the parrallel rise of islamophobia and more generally racism that targets people seen as "barbaric" (since 9/11).   

Actually, a very similar thing is happening in europe right now with attacks attributed or claimed by al qaeda or ISIL (aka "islamists"). The french governement and parliament actually debating and writing a law project called "french patriot act" by the media (history repeats itself, again and again).
yeah, it's pretty stupid how many people turn to racism as a mode of thought, and how people get so riled up about these tiny terrorist attacks represented by the news media. Of course, the state will look for any excuse to expand its policing power...

ill watch the documentary when i have the time, thanks

3 Answers

0 votes
conspiracy theories undermine the ability to take real action.

The answer i always give is even if its true or not what can we do right here right now what activity is going to undermine authoritarianism and generate empowerment.
answered Mar 7, 2015 by peteranarchy (180 points)
+3 votes
Okapy, your commentary here is excellent, and helped me to frame some of my thoughts on the matter.  As peteranarchy also intimated, conspiracy theories for the most part just distract from the real structures of domination that we live under in our everyday lives, misdirecting our rebellious energies to focus on something that doesn't exist and therefore can be 'safely' rebelled against without challenging anything of any consequence.  Rebellion, critique, questioning the status quo is turned into a hobby and safely contained.  Conspiracy theories also train us to look at things myopically - to direct our critical eye at individuals, obscure organisations and to look for the most minute inconsistencies, to the exclusion of looking at the big picture - systems of power that are larger than any individual, like capitalism, civilization, the state, religion, social moral norms etc.

I think that's a large part of the attraction of conspiracy theories - they allow us to assign blame to something specific, compact and easily comprehended - real individuals, imagined clandestine organisations, and in some cases real organizations that do deserve criticism, but for far more mundane forms of domination.

Maybe thats it - maybe conspiracy theories are partly a reaction to the horrifying mundanity of domination.

Of course conspiracies do exist, and some have shaped history quite profoundly - The Suez Canal Crisis, Operation Ajax, The Tuskegee Experiment, MKULTRA - these are all examples of conspiracies that actually happened.  However, there are some important differences between these kinds of conspiracies, and the kind of conspiracies that are the subject of conspiracy theories.  

Conspiracy theories often feature powerful, competent, clandestine conspirators that are confidently maneuvering in secret to gain more power.  However the conspiracies that have shaped history the most have often been motivated by the fear that the conspirator's power is under immediate threat - In the Suez Canal Crisis it was Britain and France's domination in the Middle East, and specifically the fear of losing control over the Suez Canal (which was a key supply route to their colonial empires), Operation Ajax was motivated by the same fear, and MKULTRA was first created out of the fear that the PRC/USSR had developed successful mind control programmes, and that the USA was therefore losing the arms race.  This fear of losing power was also what motivated all of the escapades in south and central America carried out by US government agencies like the CIA.  Historically, most of these conspiracies backfired spectacularly, and while conspiracy theories often assume competent conspirators, historically the result of the immediate fear of losing power is mostly desperate incompetence.

On a more cheery note, some of history's most famous, dramatic and consequential conspiracies have been conspiracies of resistance - the assassination of Tsar Alexander II by Narodnaya Volya, the assassination of Arch Duke Ferdinand, the assassination of Luis Carrero Blanco (the expected heir to Franco as dictator of Spain) by ETA, and the Gunpowder Plot by Catholics including Guy Fawkes are only a few.
answered Mar 8, 2015 by Yosemite (5,880 points)
edited Mar 8, 2015 by Yosemite
+5 votes
I like Okapy and Yosemite's comments, especially Y's "maybe conspiracy theories are partly a reaction to the horrifying mundanity of domination." They cover all the points I would have made, except I would also make room for acknowledging the issue of skepticism.

Conspiracy theory shares with anarchy a disbelief or distrust of the dominant story or stories of world events. For most of us the disbelief consists of a critique of history as the chronicle of rulers, and a preference to tell and listen to other stories that flip the point of view and/or morality of the script. Or, alternatively, to read between the lines and against the grain of history, listening to the voice of power but with our critical faculties engaged, pointing out and unraveling the nakedly, offensively, hypocritical and propagandist moments. (Though the unraveling and flipping do not have to end at that, or any particular point.) The conspiracy theorist also resists the story, but I would call their attitude distrust and ours disbelief (we perfectly trust the rulers to tell their truth, without ourselves believing it).

When it comes to telling our own stories, the anarchist and conspiratorial styles of counter-narrative have a crucial difference. A conspiracy theorist aspires to discover and uncover the truth, and believes zealously in their own narrative which often perfectly mirrors the official narrative, and more importantly measures itself up to the same standard. Anarchist counter-narrative at its best (I do not claim that we usually succeed in this) breaks down dominant narratives without aspiring to replace them.

So where Okapy says "such theories have a link with the specific anti-scientific and anti-rationalist philosophical tradition of far-right, tending to reject any rationalist method or empirical approach," I don't agree. From what I've seen, conspiracy theorists love to present mountains of evidence and proof. Rather I think society enforces a doctrine of uniform reality and polices this through education, psychology, etc. This policing produces at least some of the conspiracy nut's paranoia and insistence on their version: "If they didn't have anything to hide, what's with all the propaganda and stuff, maaaan?" (...) We can consider the wingnut as a man of science, but one who has taken the discipline astray from its intended ends, twisted it into a hyperbolic form and unintentional parody of normative science.
answered Mar 31, 2015 by anok (18,620 points)
When I speak about anti-scientific and anti-rationalist tradition, I don't imply that we may be "pro-science" or a-critic about "science", and dogmatic "pure rationalists" but mostly that the tradition is specific to far-right. But I think that what I say is more revelent concerning the french or european contexts I'm living in.

I think that from bakunin to feyerabend, a lot of valuable critics have been made concerning the logic of science, and the way any kind of power use the idea of science so as a new god. (a good sum up of this to me is this book : https://libcom.org/library/review-science-capital-radical-essays-science-technology-various).

But, for example, as far as I'm concerned, as anarchists we may subscribe to the principle of "reasonable doubt". By that I mean that it should be a good start to considere that people who deny simple and basic inter-subjective realities (as "2+2=4", to take back the famous point of Orwell) should be regarded with skepticism.

On the contrary, most of far right "intellectuals" right here reject this idea of reasonable doubt by asserting things without any evidences, just arguing that "the actual power is trying to hide everything from us". Here it's very linked to the anti-communist intellectual tradition, as if so-called communist regimes were the only ones that used methods of falsification of history, mass propaganda, etc.

I also disagree on the idea that conspirationnist give evidences of their claims. Most of them on the contrary give a lot of ultra-skeptic arguments, and then ask you to give evidences that what they say is wrong.

This method is very close to the religious rhetorical methods of fallacious argument.

I give you an example : I say that god exist, and that it's a big electron floating in space looking at us. Prove me I'm wrong. You can't ? Then maybe I'm right. This this type of argumentative method is essentially based on false inferences rather than logical deductions .

This reject of reasonable doubt and ultra-skepticism (but always partisan and always negating certain aspects of reality -be it the principle of oppression, or the violence of the state, or historical facts, or even the existence of the moon...) is always used to bypass any contradiction or even facts that enter in conflict with their political theories and authoritarian perspectives.

To me, it seems that anarchism, as a set of methods of struggle and analyse, tends to base itself on practice and try to accept the facts (be it always again established on inter-subjective consensus about "reality") even when they go against some of our own ideas, theories or principles.  

To be more specific, it's not a coincidence to me if the vast majority of people who deny the existence of the nazi genocide are far-rightists or neo-fascists, as it's no coincidence if most of the creationists are actually are religious bigots and theocratic charlatans. It's linked to their ideologies and their paradigms. When we can't think about the deep causes or real aims of such theories, we shall take look at who broadcast it, and their immediate consequences.

Then, about new age shit conspiracy theories ("ancient aliens", illuminati stuff, reptilians, etc), I would say -if I didn't say it before already- that most of it should be called something like a form of modern mythology intended to confuse the brain of the exploited, dominated and/or excluded people.

In fact, I would say that the new-age conspiracy theories are a sounding board for ultra-authoritarians to cover their shit, and especially (but not exclusively, stalinists and some other leftists are to include) neo-fascists and far right theories and analyses of society.

Antisemitism (or other forms of systemic racism) fulfills some of the same features, including diverting possible social anger and rage against power towards invisible enemies or scapegoats.

You would quickly remark, if you read a bit about it, the dazzling similarity between the old conspiracy theory  designating the Jews (or "the zionists") as an "organized community " or a " secret society "aiming to dominate the world (or already controlling it) and the rest of the modern conspiracy theories involving a secret plot for world domination, and a pyramidal structure.

The other big problem with this idea is that it doesn't analyse society as the result of contradictions, movements, and antagonisms, or as a set of oppressive and coercive systems or institutions, or even as a complex web of social relationship, but only as the product of an "invisible hand" that would have created it all.

I partly agree with the idea of anok that conspirationnists share with anarchists a trend to be very critical concerning any kind of official truth, but the big difference that make the seperates them from "us" is that anarchists designate themselves (simply by calling themselves anarchists) as advocates of a certain ethic, implying to me what I call reasonable doubt.

This raises two questions : should we doubt everything ? And can we really reasonably doubt everything ?

On the principle, I would say yes to the first question, without any doubt. To the other, I doubt that it should be possible. ;-)

edited to make a comment

I agree with most of what you present here, including that it's a far-right position, especially the parallel to antisemitism. I doubt that aspect is very different in the US than in your context.

The conspiracy stuff I've seen (the film Loose Change is a good example, and I also recall some documentary film that intended to prove the rich and powerful of the US were having satanic rituals at an annual retreat the woods in California...) was all about presenting evidence, so I suppose we've seen pretty different stuff.

This bit about the new age conspiracy stuff: "intended to confuse the brain of the exploited, dominated and/or excluded people." I do think it has the function of confusing our brains, and channeling people into a really self-defeating form of resistance, but, as I am maybe less of a conspiracy theorist on this point than you ;), I would not say this has to be intentional: it could be the outgrowth of paranoia, right-wing politics, and geopolitical events.

Wonderful conclusion.