The Nature of Conspiracy
May 14, 2020 · C.E. Carter
A recent episode of a Christian podcast that I listened to on the nature of conspiracy theories, and how they ought to be dealt with in the Christian life, was a gauntlet of strawmen. Our present situation has spawned a host of conspiracy theories as to the nature of it, some more extreme than others. No doubt you’ve heard them, so I find no need to enumerate any examples here, and I won’t be discussing the veracity of any of them. I would like, instead, to provide a bit of a response to a pattern which I have witnessed concerning the general presentation of conspiracy theories in public discourse.
Conspiracy theories are presented as a dilemma: a double proposition of the two extreme explanations of the phenomena at hand. Either every detail of the situation was orchestrated, front to back, top to bottom, using the latest technology and the most sinister tools of the deepest echelons of the government, or else the mainstream narrative is the truth. If the cogency of the former preposition can be shown to be fallacious by virtue of absurdity, then the usual rules of inference would force us to conclude the veracity of the latter. Either we must pick A or B, and A is absurd, so we must conclude B: there is no other possible inference.
“Conspiracy theory” merely denotes that the explanation for a situation can be traced back to a group of people conspiring to bring that situation about. That is pretty much all of what the study of human history is. Every event which arises as the result of thermodynamic entropy (read: “bad luck”, or less often, “good luck”) which is experienced by humans, is exploited by humans where it is possible for them to do so. Thus, the nature of conspiracy is a mixture of both unplanned events and planned events. Humans, in their depravity, cannot resist tampering with their current circumstance to bring about a world which is more pleasing to them. The straw man conspiracy theory would say that they engineer the ends of their prerogative entirely, but a more realistic one would say they pounced at the opportunities that arose to enact the change they wanted, worked hard in some places, got lucky in others, sometimes succeeding, sometimes only brought about a portion of the change they wanted, and sometimes failed entirely. Such are the entirety of the affairs of the life of any man, let alone those who have been granted copious amounts of power. I don’t think it’s possible to overestimate the evil present in man, nor the effectiveness of his politics, nor the immensity of his appetites. I know, because I am a man myself, and if other men are like me, some with better character, and some with worse, then conspiracy theories of the kind I have described are not only reasonable, they are powerful and effective tools of explanation.