What is a Conspiracy Theory?

Let’s get back to basics. The term Conspiracy Theory is very much maligned and associated with crazy people. However there is nothing crazy about the words conspiracy or theory, so what makes the combination of the two crazy then?

Let’s look at the meaning of the word conspiracy. The Merriam-Webster online dictionary gives these explanations: “a secret plan made by two or more people to do something that is harmful or illegal” and “the act of secretly planning to do something that is harmful or illegal”. I like both explanations. It also mentioned that conspiracy is an “Agreement between two or more persons to commit an unlawful act or to accomplish a lawful end by unlawful means.” Reminds me of fascists like Hitler and Bush-Obama.

What sort of people conspire then, you might ask. I’d say most people conspire in a way, but the most common association with conspiring people are “bad guys” such as secret societies, politicians and other criminals. However other people can conspire too, such as the resistance movement in Nazi occupied France did certainly conspire against the Nazis. Whether they attacked German soldiers or conveyed information to the allies they did harm to the Nazi occupation and broke the law, since the Nazis ruled France and could write the laws. The French resistance are generally regarded as “good guys” in my opinion. Generals conspire when they devise military strategy which is meant to harm the enemy. Corporations conspire against people by their advertisement strategies to fool people into buying their products, not because they need them, but to make the people want them. Even regular people conspire against their friends and relatives out of spite or even greed on occasion. You go to a movie with some friends, but you all agree not to tell that one guy, because he’s sometimes annoying and go without him. Heck, even farmers conspire against livestock to feed them and take care of them only to butcher them when the time comes.

The Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines the word theory as follows: “an idea or set of ideas that is intended to explain facts or events”, “an idea that is suggested or presented as possibly true but that is not known or proven to be true” and “the general principles or ideas that relate to a particular subject”. That doesn’t say much, does it? A thing that says something about something. We have the Theory of Gravity, Theory of Evolution, theories on development of society, theories on homosexuality and so on. Basically a theory is an attempt at explaining why something is as it is. Except not quite. I’ve encountered the exchange on a few occasions that person A says: “The Theory of Evolution is just a theory. It does not mean it’s true.” And B counters: “It still based on decades of scientific research and observation. It’s still the best explanation we have.” I agree with both arguments. (Those who’ve read more of my blog should know I’m not a big fan of the Evolution stuff, but it still the best scientific theory regarding our origin I’ve heard. It’s just that if I speak one word of Arabic and my friend doesn’t speak any, I’m the one who speaks the best Arabic here.)

I’ll de-digress, i.e. get back to the point. A theory is an explanation about something with some basis in fact. For example, I’m looking at a tree outside my window with half of the leaves yellow and the other half green. If I was to say the other half is yellow because someone poured paint on it, since it’s not factual at all. The leaves are yellowing because it’s autumn, and I’m pretty sure biologists have a very good theory on why the leaves turn yellow. The point I’m trying to make is, some things that are laughed off as conspiracy theories are not really conspiracy theories. They are more like conspiracy stories.

There is a guy called Andrew Basiago who claims he was involved in US secret project called Project Pegasus which involved time travel and going to Mars. He, and another guy who was with him William Stillings, claim that Obama was also on Mars in the seventies. They personally met him there. There is a co-incidence theorist article titled: “Beam Me Up, Obama: Conspiracy Theory Claims President Teleported to Mars”. But Basiago and Stillings’ claim is not a conspiracy theory! It is merely a description of what they claim is their personal experience. It is not a theory. I went to the supermarket and bought bacon and eggs. That is not a theory, it is a claim about my personal experience (and untrue at that). Now I want to clarify I don’t believe their claim. I’ve listened to couple of Basiago’s interviews on Youtube. He doesn’t sound like an obvious fraud or crazy, but I still don’t believe him. That’s not the point. Basiago is making a claim which sounds outrageous and crazy, and some idiot of a journalist calls it a conspiracy theory just because of that, even though there is no theory involved.

Let’s look at a proper conspiracy theory, 9/11. There’s little doubt that 9/11 was a conspiracy whether or not you believe the perpetrator was Al-Qaida, the US government, Mossad, all of the above or time travelling Obama from Mars is irrelevant. 9/11 was a conspiracy, a complicated one at that. Therefore to ascertain what transpired on that day one must theorize. After all, the police often have conspiracy theories too. They see a crime which seems complicated enough to have been perpetrated by more than one person, which makes the crime a conspiracy, and in order to solve it they must engage in theorizing of sorts, i.e. they could be called conspiracy theorists. Take a few facts from 9/11 such as the fact that building 7 fell down even though no plane hit it, it looked like a controlled demolition and Larry Silverstein’s “pull it” comment, we have a solid conspiracy theory right there. 9/11 was a conspiracy, no doubt there. And we can theorize on who participated in the conspiracy based on those facts. That is a conspiracy theory. There is nothing funny about it. It doesn’t make you crazy to think about it. But, we only have a theory so far. It does not mean it’s true. It is however based on concrete facts and anyone with half-a-brain cannot dismiss it with laughter.

There is nothing funny or stupid about the words conspiracy or theory, nor should there be any such notion regarding the combination conspiracy theory. Yet, language doesn’t always work that logically. Words acquire new meanings over time for various reasons. To deny the connotations that “conspiracy theory” has to crazy or outrageously silly stuff, would be aching to claiming “gay” merely means “happily excited” with no connotations to homosexuality. Even though you can use the word gay in the old-fashioned meaning, which can be understood by the context, you cannot completely eliminate the homosexual undertones that modern readers see in the word, and therefore must take it into account. Same is true for the term “conspiracy theory”. However, I don’t think it is quite the same thing, (I don’t believe there is any conspiracy behind the changes of the meaning of the word gay). Even as a teenager I understood that politicians and other socially “important” people conspire to get ahead in society, and had a hard time understanding why people are so emotionally biased against conspiracy theories. Moreover we have the conspiracy theory that the CIA is behind giving the stigma to the term to dissuade people from discussing the conspiracies the CIA practices. As with all theories, it does not mean this is necessarily true why the public regards conspiracy theories in this pejorative way, but there are certainly facts to support it. I would certainly say this stigma the term has is Orwellian Newspeak to dumb down people so they couldn’t even think about the conspiracies the government is waging against them.

I’ve written about this topic many times before, and I’ll probably write about it again, since it is important we understand what words mean. If we are to communicate with each other, which we must, and I mean actually communicate, instead of spamming popular memes to experience the emotion of belonging, we must understand what words mean. I am filled with disgust and disappointment when I see useful idiots such as the journalist who is making fun of Andrew Basiago’s claims. I have suggestion for you: how about simply having a look at what Basiago has to say instead of using his obvious “craziness” as an excuse to boost your ego. You might actually learn something. I don’t wanna live in an Idiocracy (movie reference).

Links:

Beam Me Up, Obama: Conspiracy Theory Claims President Teleported to Mars -article http://www.universetoday.com/92359/beam-me-up-obama-conspiracy-theory-claims-president-teleported-to-mars/

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